July 2021
Gamification in Remote Learning Innovation
<a href="https://sundbergferar.com/author/brendan-roarty/" target="_self">Brendan Roarty</a>
Brendan Roarty

Game Design Intern

In the wake of 2020, remote education continues to play a major role in schooling and several diverse applications, whether through a hybrid or all-remote approach, elementary or post-secondary schooling, employee training, and more. The realities of remote learning however, have raised abundant questions and challenges, many of which we’ve investigated first-hand in our design research and innovation strategy work with clients in the education industry.

The main points of tension when it comes to the online learning experience deal with interactivity and engagement. Teachers and trainers have a hard time reaching students; students have a harder time interacting with teachers and their peers, and each student’s environment is often very isolated. While there are educational software options with a breadth of chatroom and forum features that have their place, none of them simulate the energy and interaction of an exciting classroom. With these barriers to interactivity, students become less and less engaged. As the industry continues to strategize ways to improve remote learning and safeguard the future of education in all its forms, it’s absolutely critical to explore and leverage novel tools and approaches, grounding them in the foundational experience of first-hand stakeholders.

A great example of this is utilizing videogames and digital interactive media for their educational value to help solve many of the challenges unique to the remote classroom. Whether it is simply gamifying assignments and tasks to boost engagement or creating digital environments to simulate real classroom energy, the principles of game design are an important tool for creating effective remote education experiences.

Gamification in Remote Learning Innovation

The need for improved interaction in remote learning user experience design

In past years, research on remote education has mainly taken root in conversation around the island populations of the world. Researchers at the University of Hawaii detail their findings: “Students have the benefit of a structure that comes with being on a campus, interacting at regular intervals with peers, and having informal interactions with faculty and staff. For online learners, specific structures can be designed and implemented to address their needs for information, communication, and interaction.”[1] Much of their findings from 2010 have been reinforced in light of the 2020 – 21 school year by teachers and students alike, and many more challenges have been visible with younger students also requiring remote learning environments.
Pre-pandemic, teachers have already proven the legitimacy of using of games or gamified challenges in their live classrooms to bolster excitement and competition around a certain topic. Applying these same methods in remote education can lead to these same outcomes of a controlled, productive, and meaningful education experience for students.


Game design for enhancing remote learning experiences

Take the example of videogames, which currently maintain engaging and creative user experiences by utilizing the same structures that are already present in classrooms and other training environments. In school, students get graded on metrics pertaining to their performance on tasks assigned to them, and interact with the teacher, written material, and their peers to develop solutions to problems and grow to understand the information they receive. The world of gaming contains the same elements of information, peers, and the overall presence and influence of the developer. Moreover, the game itself can track metrics on tasks built into the experience. What videogames can offer as an educational medium in addition to the basic structure is a better remote environment, and the potential for more engagement. Videogames reinforce and reward players for behaviors that get results and allow them to constantly test and grow their knowledge by offering a safe space to fail and experiment. Digital environments can offer a real time interactivity that video calls lack. This is an opportunity to make remote learning more interesting and engaging for users, and fully controllable by the teacher or facilitator.

Gamification of remote learning with tools like videogames create the possibility for students to fail without consequence and experiment fully with the world around them. In the virtual world, students can have access to things that they could never have access to physically, or be engaged in processes that demand thousands of people, simplified to a degree and represented in a game. For example, Kerbal Space Program is a simulation style game that is widely used in education to teach users to launch and operate rockets. One user can build and test rockets, launch them, and man the controls to achieve a successful flight path. The systems of this game reward the player for reaching different places, experimenting with different ways to build their rockets successfully, and achieves a physical realness in its underlying systems. Students could be able to interact and engage in this learning environment with their peers remotely, allowing them to be experimental together. Students could be exposed to long term goals and achievements that they can work towards, instead of working from worksheet to worksheet, gaining a better understanding of how each subject fits in the bigger picture. Students could be given differing amounts of support and guidance within the game, allowing teachers to customize the remote learning experience for the individual. Each of these areas can be molded by the designer and the educator in tandem, and ultimately, they could design a more exciting, engaging, productive, and interactive remote learning space.

Utilizing games in this way can lead to fun and efficient learning, BUT the media itself needs to be designed for this purpose. It can’t simply be a copy/paste approach.

Multidisciplinary design teams are key to success

Utilizing games in this way can lead to fun and efficient learning, but the media itself needs to be designed for this purpose. It can’t simply be a copy/paste approach. There are differences in the approach by which virtual games are designed and built versus how educational curriculums and learning outcomes are built that must be carefully reconciled into a seamless experience leveraging the most beneficial aspects of both. The most successful remote learning experiences will result from videogames and digital spaces that are designed based on in-depth research on end-user needs, challenges, and desires, as well as stakeholders’ desired learning outcomes and proven classroom principles. This can only be accomplished by close collaboration between designers, developers, and educators to create an environment that is built on principle.

Our team at Sundberg-Ferar has collaborated with clients like Michigan Virtual to investigate and design the future of effective remote learning using the principles of design thinking and game design, along with rigorous research and strategy to create meaningful solutions to the challenges at hand. Learn about our work and findings in this article. The realities that are now a daily part of our education paradigms are unlike any that have come before, and if we are to create relevant solutions to the pain points of this new educational era, we must embrace a multi-disciplinary and collaborative approach to the problem, leveraging these new technologies and perspectives at our disposal.

This is a formative time of unprecedented opportunity for our training and educational systems, but also of increasing complexities, and we can’t afford to take a slap-dash or gunshot approach. Working collaboratively to create purposeful resources and products to safeguard the future of education will be our way forward.

If you have an idea or are looking for an innovation partner to tackle a design challenge, reach out to us. We’d love to talk!


Brendan Roarty

Game Design Intern

Brendan Roarty is a game developer and artist from Michigan. Having recently graduated from College for Creative Studies with a concentration in game art, he works on the game design aspect of projects, focusing on user experience and designing cohesive systems. When he’s not at work, he likes to read, code, and ride his bike, as well as occasionally release his own games.