Thanks to Mark Willems, Bart Cornille, Oiheba Bensaâd and my wife, my brain has been doing overtime concerning our Belgian Education System and how I would like to see it being different. It has been a strange ride, where most of the time I, like many others, was too much focussed on the current constraints and culture that drive the education system as it is today. Luckily, I’m one of those rare species that likes to drive themselves out of their comfort zone and of course I pushed my thoughts beyond the normal. I have met strange animals during the process…

strange thoughts

Reflecting on ideas, visualising them, allowed me to connect the dots and at a certain moment it struck me! Light in the darkness!

light by connecting dots

Gamify the Education System

Approach the education system in a progressive, yet open innovative manner, injecting the power of “Gamification” within the education system as it exists today might just be the next best step to take. The education system is at the core already a game:

But as Rajat Paharia is saying: “The education system already is a game — just not one that is well designed”. So let me guide you through some of the changes I feel are needed to increase engagement, motivation and results while playing the game of education. Let us also agree that from now on we use players instead of students in the context of this article.

Short feedback loops

In the current education system you’ll get lectures about a certain subject for weeks and weeks, closing the subject with a formal exam that will measure how much you know. Or how much you still remember from the last minute studying the day and/or night before. Splitting the subjects into smaller pieces, making them true “challenges” that you can accomplish very quickly one after the other would allow the players to go through the materials at their own pace. Adapting gradually to the complexity and difficulty of the subject, applying their newly discovered skills and/or tools for the next challenge. Pretty much like we love to discover what we can do with a recently achieved item in World of Warcraft.


A key factor of a good challenge is that you get players to spontaneously cheer with their achievements! This is a very visual and audible sign indicating that the player was intrinsically motivated and is proud about his/her achievement. It is this kind of motivation that will trigger the urge of the player to continue towards the next challenge that is slightly more difficult to go through.

Failure is allowed

Of course there is a limit to what is possible and their will be times that players will fail to get through the next challenge. How do we deal with that in the education system today? Well… the wrong way! Failing a test or exam has a very negative connotation to it, the term “fail” is already perceived negatively and on top of that the student’s environment is reinforcing this feeling. The student’s teacher is disappointed, the student’s parents are even more disappointed and yes… you already realised… the student is devastated about the result. Not really motivating, is it?! So, how do we turn this around? We turn it around by allowing players to go through their challenges at their own pace, when they do not succeed they can try again, and again, and again… By allowing people to try over, have an extra life in the game, we allow them to apply their previous learnings immediately and try even harder to succeed.

Make it social

Of course it is not only the challenge concept and allowing people to fail that will motivate them to play, that would be too easy in this complex world we live in. The most important part here is to come up with the right “story” that incorporates the challenges and all other game-elements. Without a good story, the players will not be attracted to be the master of math challenges, that wouldn’t be cool at all and the student would soon be the math nerd. For each domain, for each type of class one will need to find the right metaphor to build on, so achieving a challenge becomes something cool to talk about! How cool wouldn’t it be to be the first of your class to have tamed the math dragon? Or first to be called the math godzilla? Only the right story within the right context will provide the right ingredients for a successful gamification of the education system on any level. Without the right story, one will never have the social aspect covered, which is at the core of the gamification model. It is important to understand that students seem to come to school to meet their friends or because it is (legally) imposed to them. Because they are checked for physical presence and want to avoid trouble. Unfortunately, most of them are not really motivated from the inside to be there for the reasons schools really is for. Making the story so that players are eager to talk about it with their friends, share with their direct environment, is key!

Make it easy

As mentioned before, when we obtain a new item in World of Warcraft, we immediately want to discover how to use it, and that is no different from the learning a student got in one way or another. It is important that, within the education system, gamification is used to guide players to applying the newly acquired insights immediately. It should be clear to the players how they can apply the learning within the real world, or the quest they are in. In that sense, the education system should divert from lecture to more of a “do-er” mindset where students are encouraged to apply their new insights in individual or group experiments. Allowing players to experiment, discover new knowledge, getting them to talk about it and allow them to self-organize (within boundaries and with some purpose at hand) will increase the intrinsic motivation of the players within the system.

Encourage collaboration

Imagine that you extend the system with some kind of bonus system that will encourage players to collaborate on certain group challenges? Where all players earn bonus points for achieving the challenge on top of their individual ones.


And while we are on the subject of points we cannot forget the gamification element of “leader-boards”, a very visual representation of where players are within the game. A good leadership board should provide the answer to the following questions: How many points do they have? Which levels did they clear? Which challenges were achieved? Where are they within the quest of their educational quest compared to others?… This also means that, from now, on students will not score grades anymore but will acquire, earn points. Players will jump levels according to their skill level in a certain domain, there is no generalization anymore! One can be a “God of Math” while still being a “Visistor in France” so to speak, and age does not matter. We should stop thinking that everybody needs to be good (enough) at everything in a certain grade to be able to move on to the next level and, with this, also stop thinking that age is identifying the level a player is in the game of education. Skills and motivation are key! There is more in my head and I’m sure that, together with my business partner and game fanatic Erik Talboom, we can tune the above into something even more wonderful and motivating. So stay tuned for more…


I can already hear you thinking (yes, I’m a mind reader): “This is way to far fetched! This will never work in our system.” In that case I invite you to watch this short, +/-10min video from Paul Anderson, a biology teacher in Montana. I discovered this video while writing and searching the right references and quotes for this article. [youtube=]

Are you intrigued?

  1. Join one of our retreats as they are in their core setup based on almost everything of the above explained gamification concepts, except that we do not have the leader-board concept integrated (yet).
  2. Contact us if you are  interested in how Gamification could support your personal/organizational quest for better performance and/or quest to proper innovation ideas.
  3. As this article has it origins to a previous guest post: “Welcome to the Social Innogram: The Future of Education“, I would also suggest you to come to our Re:Think conference and help Mark and Bart change the system from within.

Let’s change students to players and shools to a game together!

When? 8 Maart 2013 Where? Ter Elst, Edegem (Antwerp, BE) How Much? 225€