Learner Engagement

Using Gamification to Support Learner Engagement

By Ashish Rangnekar, Co-founder and CEO at BenchPrep

Gamification is crucial to the success of BenchPrep’s 6 million annual learners, and we expect that the gamification strategy will continue to play an important role in EdTech and adjacent industries.

When BenchPrep first started, it had only one game and one element of gamification. Since that time, the platform has evolved to include more and more gamified components to keep students motivated and moving toward their goals because we know these people are extremely motivated, but we also know that learning is hard.

After all, without any kind of support, most learners will forget around 79% of new knowledge after about a month.

What is gamification?

Because gamification has become such a big buzzword in circles outside of e-learning, it’s worth taking a moment to explain what it is.

Quite simply, gamification is the process of making something feel more like a game. It’s what happens when you apply the mechanics of gameplay—the definitely essential but certainly under-the-hood factors that make games feel and work like games—to non-gaming contexts.

There are lots of different game mechanics concepts, and with them you can gamify anything. Washing dishes, paying taxes, watching paint dry—all these activities can be converted to gamified experiences by bolting on one or more game mechanics, like earning points or having winners and losers or progressing to new levels.

The magical thing that happens after something has been gamified is people tend to want to spend more time doing it. The activity becomes more engaging. We use gamification to get our learners to spend more time studying so they can improve their learning outcomes and meet their goals.

Here’s how we do it:


The leaderboard game mechanic is an amazing tool for driving learner performance. In a game, the leaderboard keeps track of performance data and lets everybody know who’s currently “winning” at a given task. We use leaderboards to get learners to take assessments at a faster rate than they might otherwise feel like doing.

See, we know from user data that their platform engagement and overall performance will increase at a much faster rate as soon as they complete around 40 assessment items. Gamifying the assessment task with the leaderboard mechanic helps us push learners toward finishing those 40 assessments much sooner, and that helps them achieve faster gains.

Using leaderboards with your learners: The first step of designing a leaderboard is to identify the behavior you want to reward so you can assign point values that make sense. For example, if you want to target a learning habit like studying flashcards, then you would tie your points to the time spent on the flashcards, not on whether the learner remembered the right answers on the cards.

Leaderboard Tips

  • Make sure the high score is an achievable goal
  • Show learners the leaderboard before they play
  • Set up friendly competitions

Achievement Badges

Achievement badges are graphic icons that reward learners for certain activities. We award badges to learners whenever they hit key milestones in their lessons, engage with the platform, or collaborate with other learners in a meaningful way. For example, a BenchPrep learner may earn a badge for answering five questions in a row, using a platform feature like Notes or Bookmarks, or for answering a Message Board question from one of her classmates. Badges are simultaneously rewards and incentives. They tap into learners’ natural sense of competition and drive them to acquire more badges so they can show off their achievements and distinguish themselves among their peers.

Using achievement badges with your learners: For most people, goal-setting behavior tends to focus on the big-picture item. We want to get the promotion, buy the house, lose all the weight. Video games—and gamified learning platforms—do the opposite. Of course, they reward the big accomplishment, but they also provide praise for every little step along the way. Your use of badges should do the same. Identify your big-picture learning or behavior objectives and then break them down into small milestones. Then, reward your users for each one. Soon, the small steps will translate into big achievements.

Achievement Badge Tips

  • Badges should be attractive visually
  • Use badges to reward big and small achievements
  • Plan for scarcity—your more valuable badges need to be harder to earn

Progress Bars

A progress bar is a graphical tool for helping people visualize the amount of time a task requires for completion. As a game mechanic, progress bars encourage learners to complete a complicated or multi step task. The behavioral forces behind progress bars work in negative and positive ways.

The negative force is having to see that a task remains incomplete. It’s a little nagging reminder that something important needs to be done. The positive force is the satisfaction of seeing a completed progress bar. It’s a reward for staying on-task and achieving a goal. On the BenchPrep platform, we use progress bars to represent a learner’s progress through a lesson and the course as a whole to motivate them to continue studying.

Using progress bars with your learners: Progress bars are great because they provide instant feedback, but for that instant feedback to work, you have to make sure your learners know exactly what they’re supposed to be doing. Just as important, you need to make sure that you can let them know how they can get back on track if they wander off task. Also, it’s worth mentioning that any good game lets you start over and try again.

Progress Bar Tips

  • Be clear about the task whose progress is being tracked
  • The progress bar graphical element should be visible (but not obstructive) at all times
  • Allow learners to start over if they complete a task with an unfavorable result

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