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Edtech gamification tips to boost your audience and keep them engaged

Jacob Dunn

Nearly half of the world’s schoolchildren — 850 million currently — are stuck at home trying to piece together a remote education. The full effects of this COVID crisis on young learners is unclear, but it does highlight the growing role — and spur the development of edtech applications. A growing edtech sector promises to fill this urgent need for useful and effective tools for remote learning. The aim, of course, should be on augmenting the role of educators and ensuring quality education for children with new tools. Just how technology will do this remains a fascinating topic.

One small but crucial part of an overall design strategy is to introduce gamification elements to your edtech app. Gamification is a bit vague, of course, so I’d like to offer some specific examples of what that means for education technology. 


Edtech gamification

One outcome of this pandemic will be to show that education, as well as office work and a whole host of other daily activities, can carry on without face-to-face meetings. While it may be a seductive idea to swap out teachers and schools for mobile devices, especially for cash-strapped governments, making sure edtech applications actually help students learn something is vital. Espeo client TinyApp is a pedagogical assistant that keeps student data and lessons in one place and helps teachers keep track of student performance.

 Building applications that are both useful for students and educators is the overarching goal of any new solution. Tools to rate the effectiveness of edtech apps are also vital. Finnish startup Kokoa does this particularly well. 

Designing edtech apps in a way that’s user-friendly and engaging ensures that students get the most out of their time. Introducing some seemingly simple features can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the application. Bright achievement badges, brief animations and unlockable content are just a few of the gamification features that can encourage users to engage and make learning more fun.


Achievement badges

For most edtech apps, there are courses with a series of modules for students to work through. For subjects that the student might not find interesting, this can be a slog that kills motivation to keep learning. Without an engaging teacher guiding you through the subject, this can further demotivate young learners and cause them to fall behind. One design trick to combat this, is to introduce a series of achievement badges for successfully completed modules. Mateusz Małys, head of design here at Espeo pointed out that achievement badges are a subtle way to reward users for completing a course.

“As you go through a course with many lessons, a poor user experience would be to just list those lessons. If you implement gamification, each level could increase your experience points. When you gather enough experience points, you get a badge when you finish the course. That leads to higher engagement rates.”

 These little badges show users their progress and encourage them to continue working toward new achievements. It’s a tactic taken from actual games mostly to give users a bit of a dopamine hit. There’s a line here in increasing engagement to boost learning and making edtech applications purposefully addictive, but a balanced approach that puts learning outcomes first can yield good results.

“The goal for an app aimed at elementary school children,” said Małys, “should be to encourage them to go through all the necessary material. When I was in school, some of the topics were boring but by applying gamification, you’re making this experience more engaging. Students who aren’t interested in a specific topic need to go through all the necessary material. By introducing gamification, you’re encouraging him or her to go through it. Even if he or she is not interested in that particular topic.”

Depending on the target audience, everyone in the course could see the achievements of others to add in some friendly competition among group members. Espeo client Mightifier has similar community-building features where students can compliment and encourage eachother virtually. But for older schoolchildren, seeing other people’s achievements can boost engagement according to Małys.

Mateusz pointed to a previous project that revolved around gamification. “The application was for universities, not so much for young schoolchildren,” he recalled. “But we developed different levels for the number of courses users finished. We included a badge system — so a person who completed a lot of additional things had more badges.” 

Similar tailored features could go into edtech apps depending on the specific use case. 



Adding animations and sound can really increase the effects of badge achievements and increase engagement. These visual cues set off the reward center in the brain and can increase the gamification qualities. 

Mateusz pointed to a previous project that revolved around gamification. “The application was for universities, not so much for young schoolchildren,” he recalled. “But we developed different levels for the number of courses users finished. We included a badge system — so a person who completed a lot of additional things had more badges.”

He also cited a design program he uses that adds popups and cheerful music to notify users that they’ve earned a badge. While it’s not explicitly an edtech application, these lessons can easily go into the design of one depending on the specific use case.


Unlockable content

Another tactic to include is to offer unlockable content. After you’ve earned enough points, or the right combination of badges, exclusive content might appear. This can break the monotony of online courses and can be part of an attention span reset for users. For an app that targets older students or even adult learners, these side quests could be a way for users to explore and enrich themselves in a topic that they’re particularly interested in. Having some control over the overall experience is a way to build curiosity and encourage further engagement. 

Małys envisioned an app with secret levels that go beyond the required curriculum all with achievement badges, of course. 



With any new technology, design decisions affect the outcomes of the final application. Edtech is no different. As many of the world’s schoolchildren continue to learn from home — with no return to physical school in sight, the demand for effective edtech applications will only grow. Including some seemingly small features can have a huge impact on engagement and ultimately on learning outcomes. 


For more details on the essentials of edtech applications and how to build them, drop us a line!


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