Using Game Concepts to Create a Gamified Online Course Template

by Jacob Guerra-Martinez

We hear the word gamification a lot, however it still remains quite a mystery to many educators. As I have mentioned in past posts, Gamification is not simply adding games to courses, but is instead the utilization of gaming concepts in courses. So where exactly do you get started when creating a gamified online course template? My last post suggested that you think of your students as heroes and use their journey to come up with materials for your course. But you can also take things one step further and use game components (instructions, story, levels) to make your gamified template work even better.

Instruction Booklet (Better Known as the Start Here or Getting Started Module)

If you have been teaching online for a while, you might already implement some of these ideas into your course. However, if you are just starting out and aren’t sure where to start, it may help to think of your course as a game; and what do all games start with? Instructions. Think back to the booklets that came with your favorite board or video games and look at what they all had in common.

The Story

For starters, there was a background to the game, or a story that the game follows. In the classic game Clue, the story was that you had to solve the murder of your host, Mr. Body. Using this type of overview in your template gives an idea of what the course is about and what students should expect. It also provides a route for students to get started with the course by providing them with the next steps to take.

How to Play

After the story, games usually provide instructions on how the game is played. Your syllabus is the equivalent to this. There the students are provided with the rules of the course, and how things are scored and what it will take to be successful.

A Map

Some video games contain vast worlds that players have to explore in order to complete the game. In some cases, you will find a map that helps students know where everything is located and shows them how to get to where they need to. You can do the same in your course by providing a roadmap for students that lets them know what they need to complete to get started in the course. You can even place one in each individual module. It also does not have to be a highly designed spectacle, and can simply be a list of bullet points that students can check off.


Another aspect that you may want to think about is placing the equivalent of FAQs in your course. These are the frequently asked questions that students might have when it comes to get started or turning something in. You can either do this in the syllabus, create a special content page, or manage the questions through a discussion board.

Sample Quest

People who play a lot of RPGs (role playing games) know the value of the first few minutes, since that is when a game usually goes through the mechanics of the game and allows players to get used to the controls and other nuances. This is usually done through a sample quest, such as fighting an initial villain or unlocking a treasure. You can do the same for your course by adding a practice quiz or assignment. While optional, the sample quest is a great way for new or hesitant online learners to familiarize themselves with your course and the learning management system (LMS).

Game Levels

Video Game levels are the different stages a player must go through to successfully complete the game. Each one builds on the last, and normally involves skills that were picked up along the way. When designing your course, you can think of the individual modules as levels. Each one builds upon the other other and asks students to utilize skills in order to complete certain tasks, such as an assignment or quiz.

One thing that you need to keep in mind is that most levels in games contain a “boss” that must be defeated in order to progress. The boss, in terms of online courses, can be an assignment or test that asks students to master the objectives presented in the module. Once the “boss” is defeated, they can move on to the next level.

Tip: Most LMS’s can lock future modules while the current one is being worked on. Once the student meets a certain set of criteria, the module is unlocked.

Big Boss

While all the other levels contain a boss, most games also have a “big boss” that is presented at the end of the game. This boss challenges the player at the highest level and asks them to use everything that they have learned previously in order to win. Think of this as the big project (group or individual) that students must turn in at the end of the course, or perhaps the final exam. Every assessment before measured a small part of the course, but now they have to show that they understand what the main objectives are. If they succeed, they have passed the course.


So what happens when someone isn’t successful? Normally (especially in today’s world), troubleshooting guides or other helpful resources exist that allow people to successfully complete games. For online courses, the same types of materials can be provided. I mentioned that discussions can be used for FAQ’s, but they are also great for general community areas that allow students to freely ask each other questions about assessments, materials, or other general questions. You can also provide a “magic shop” that gives your students tips on what they can do to be successful.

One other thing you can try is to set up assessments that allow for multiple tries. After all, games usually provide a certain number of lives in order to complete the game. In this case, instead of  a “game over” when students run out of lives, you can use that opportunity to intervene and find out why mastery has not occurred.

Are all of these components necessary to have a gamified template? No, however it is a good idea to try and see which combinations works best for you.

Are you thinking of gamifying your course? What strategies have you tried?

If you would like to know more about gamification or want to brainstorm some ideas, contact Learning Designer Jacob Guerra-Martinez.