Gamification with Moodle LMS

10 min read

 In this article by Natalie Denmeade, author of the book, Gamification with Moodle describes how teachers can use Gamification design in their course development within the Moodle Learning Management System (LMS) to increase the motivation and engagement of learners.

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Gamification is a design process that re-frames goals to be more appealing and achievable by using game design principles. The goal of this process is it to keep learners engaged and motivated in a way that is not always present in traditional courses. When implemented in elegant solutions, learners may be unaware of the subtle game elements being used. A gamification strategy can be considered successful if learners are more engaged, feel challenged and confident to keep progressing, which has implications for the way teachers consider their course evaluation processes. It is important to note that Gamification in education is more about how the person feels at certain points in their learning journey than about the end product which may or may not look like a game.

Gamification and Moodle

After following the tutorials in this book, teachers will gain the basic skills to get started applying Gamification design techniques in their Moodle courses. They can take learners on a journey of risk, choice, surprise, delight, and transformation. Taking an activity and reframing it to be more appealing and achievable sounds like the job description of any teacher or coach! Therefore, many teachers are already doing this! Understanding games and play better can help teachers be more effective in using a wider range of game elements to aid retention and completions in their courses.

In this book you will find hints and tips on how to apply proven strategies to online course development, including the research into a growth mindset from Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. You will see how the use of game elements in Foursquare (badges), Twitter (likes), and Linkedin (progress bar), can also be applied to Moodle course design. In addition, you will use the core features available in Moodle which were designed to encourage learner participation as they collaborate, tag, share, vote, network, and generate learning content for each other. Finally, explore new features and plug-ins which offer dozens of ways that teachers can use game elements in Moodle such as, badges, labels, rubrics, group assignments, custom grading scales, forums, and conditional activities.

A benefit of using Moodle as a Gamification LMS is it was developed on social constructivist principles. As these are learner-centric principles this means it is easy to use common Moodle features to apply gamification through the implementation of game components, mechanics and dynamics. These have been described by Kevin Werbach (in the Coursera MOOC on Gamification) as:

  • Game Dynamics are the grammar: (the hidden elements) Constraints, emotions, narrative, progression, relationships
  • Game Mechanics are the verbs: The action is driven forward by challenges, chance, competition/cooperation, feedback, resource acquisition, rewards, transactions, turns, win states
  • Game Components are the nouns: Achievements, avatars, badges, boss fights, collections, combat, content, unlocking, gifting, leaderboards, levels, points, quests, teams, virtual goods

Most of these game elements are not new ideas to teachers. It could be argued that school is already gamified through the use of grades and feedback. In fact it would be impossible to find a classroom that is not using some game elements. This book will help you identify which elements will be most effective in your current context. Teachers are encouraged to start with a few and gradually expanding their repertoire.

As with professional game design, just using game elements will not ensure learners are motivated and engaged. The measure of success of a Gamification strategy is that learners continue to build resilience and autonomy in their own learning. When implemented well, the potential benefits of using a Gamification design process in Moodle are to:

  • Provide manageable set of subtasks and tasks by hiding and revealing content
  • Make assessment criteria visible, predictable, and in plain English using marking guidelines and rubrics
  • Increase ownership of learning paths through choice and activity restrictions
  • Build individual and group identity through work place simulations and role play
  • Offer freedom to fail and try again without negative repercussions
  • Increase enjoyment of both teacher and learners

When teachers follow the step by step guide provided in this book they will create a basic Moodle course that acts as a flexible framework ready for learning content. This approach is ideal for busy teachers who want to respond to the changing needs and situations in the classroom. The dynamic approach keeps Teachers in control of adding and changing content without involving a technology support team.

Onboarding tips

By using focussed examples, the book describes how to use Moodle to implement an activity loop that identifies a desired behaviour and wraps motivations and feedback around that action.

Gamification with Moodle

For example, a desired action may be for each learner to update their Moodle profile information with their interests and an avatar. Various motivational strategies could be put in place to prompt (or force) the learners to complete this task, including:

  • Ask learners to share their avatars, with a link to their profile in a forum with ratings. Everyone else is doing it and they will feel left out if they don’t get a like or a comment (creating a social norm). They might get rated as having the best avatar.
  • Update the forum type so that learners can’t see other avatars until they make a post.
  • Add a theme (for example, Lego inspired avatars) so that creating an avatar is a chance to be creative and play. Choosing how they represent themselves in an online space is an opportunity for autonomy.
  • Set the conditional release so learners cannot see the next activity until this activity is marked as complete (for example, post at least 3 comments on other avatars).

The value in this process is that learners have started building connections between new classmates. This activity loop is designed to appeal to diverse motivations and achieve multiple goals:

  • Encourages learners to create an online persona and choose their level of anonymity
  • Invite learners to look at each other’s profiles and speed up the process of getting to know each other
  • Introduce learners to the idea of forum posting and rating in a low-risk (non-assessable) way
  • Take the workload off the Teacher to assess each activity directly
  • Enforce compliance through software options which saves admin time and creates an expectation of work standards for learners

Feedback options

Games celebrate small and large successes and so should Moodle courses. There are a number of ways to do this in Moodle, including simply automating feedback with a Label, which is revealed once a milestone is reached. These milestones could be an activity completion, topic completion, or a level has been reached in the course total.

Feedback can be provided through symbols of the achievement. Learners of all ages are highly motivated by this. Nearly all human cultures use symbols, icons, medals and badges to indicate status and achievements such as a black belt in Karate, Victoria Cross and Order of Australia Medals, OBE, sporting trophies, Gold Logies, feathers and tattoos. Symbols of achievement can be achieved through the use of open badges. Moodle offers a simple way to issue badges in line with Open Badges Industry (OBI) standards. The learner can take full ownership of this badge when they export it to their online backpack.

Higher education institutes are finding evidence that open badges are a highly effective way to increase motivation for mature learners. Kaplan University found the implementation of badges resulted in increased student engagement by 17 percent. As well as improving learner reactions to complete harder tasks, grades increased up to 9 percent. Class attendance and discussion board posts increased over the non-badged counterparts.

Using open badges as a motivation strategy enables feedback to be regularly provided along the way from peers, automated reporting and the teacher. For advanced Moodlers, the book describes how rubrics can be used for “levelling up” and how the Moodle gradebook can be configured as an exponential point scoring system to indicate progress.

Social game elements

Implementing social game elements is a powerful way to increase motivation and participation. A Gamification experiment with thousands of MOOC participants measured participation of learners in three groups of “plain, game and social”. Students in the game condition had a 22.5 percent higher test score in the final test compared to students in the plain condition. Students in the social condition showed an even stronger increase of almost 40 percent compared to students in the plain condition. (See A Playful Game Changer: Fostering Student Retention in Online Education with Social Gamification Krause et al, 2014).

Moodle has a number of components that can be used to encourage collaborative learning. Just as the online gaming world has created spaces where players communicate outside of the game in forums, wikis and You Tube channels as well as having people make cheat guides about the games and are happy to share their knowledge with beginners. In Moodle we can imitate these collaborative spaces gamers use to teach each other and make the most of the natural leaders and influencers in the class. Moodle activities can be used to encourage communication between learners and allow delegation and skill-sharing. For example, the teacher may quickly explain and train the most experienced in the group how to perform a certain task and then showcase their work to others as an example. The learner could create blog posts which become an online version of an exercise book. The learner chooses the sharing level so classmates only, or the whole world, can view what is shared and leave comments. The process of delegating instruction through the connection of leader/learners to lagger/learners, in a particular area, allows finish lines to be at different points. Rather spending the last few weeks marking every learner’s individual work, the Teacher can now focus their attention on the few people who have lagged behind and need support to meet the deadlines.

It’s worth taking the time to learn how to configure a Moodle course. This provides the ability to set up a system that is scalable and adaptable to each learner. The options in Moodle can be used to allow learners to create their own paths within the boundaries set by a teacher. Therefore, rather than creating personalised learning paths for every student, set up a suite of tools for learners to create their own learning paths.

Learning how to configure Moodle activities will reduce administration tasks through automatic reports, assessments and conditional release of activities. The Moodle activities will automatically create data on learner participation and competence to assist in identifying struggling learners. The inbuilt reports available in Moodle LMS help Teachers to get to know their learners faster. In addition, the reports also create evidence for formative assessment which saves hours of marking time. Through the release from repetitive tasks, teachers can spend more time on the creative and rewarding aspects of teaching.

Rather than wait for a game design company to create an awesome educational game for a subject area, get started by using the same techniques in your classroom. This creative process is rewarding for both teachers and learners because it can be constantly adapted for their unique needs.


Moodle provides a flexible Gamification platform because teachers are directly in control of modifying and adding a sequence of activities, without having to go through an administrator. Although it may not look as good as a video game (made with an extensive budget) learners will appreciate the effort and personalisation. The Gamification framework does require some preparation. However, once implemented it picks up a momentum of its own and the teacher has a reduced workload in the long run. Purchase the book and enjoy a journey into Gamification in education with Moodle!

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