When it comes to gamifying your online course, it’s not all fun and games. I’ve been piloting several gamified courses and the frustration level can sometimes be overwhelming, despite having amazing results in terms of course completion and student engagement. Incorporating gaming elements into your design takes intense planning and creativity.

I’ve picked my top 5 tips for avoiding the burnout that accompanies this energy intensive type of online course development.

Beginner’s note: If you are just new to gamification, read my beginner’s guide called How to Start Gamifying Your Online Course.

Here are the 5 tips for avoiding burnout:


1. Keep it simple

If you’ve seen an online game like Call of Duty or World of Warcraft your bar for how fancy YOUR course should be is probably a little high. Unless you have a million dollar budget and 10 other people working for you, you need to think a little simpler. Building any online course is a lot of work, both technically and in terms of content/assessment. When you start adding the gamification piece your hours-on-project start to climb.


Your learning curve.

Gamification in online education is fairly new. It typically requires a more advanced understanding of your LMS (Moodle, etc) and what it can do. Even advanced course developers are typically still learning how to gamify as they actually do it. Each learning piece that you create now has the extra burden of triggering a gamified element like a badge or points. You can think of each object you create in the course really having a value of 3x in terms of time and technical difficulty.  This is ESPECIALLY the case if you’re new to online course design and just learning your LMS.

Gamification is about shaping the behavior of your learner.


  • Start with the Holy Trinity of gaming elements (points, badges, levels) and make them simple to offer your learner. Gaming behavior is driven by things like recognition and competence. Eventually, you can build your course to include narratives and more complex gamification ideas, but when you are first starting out gamifying can be as simple as awarding a badge, or using a progress bar throughout the course. It doesn’t have to be a production from Skywalker Ranch to be engaging to your learner.


  • Think of gamified course development as a multi-stage process. Your first stage may only include adding badges to the course and watching how that plays out as learners run through the course. Stage two might be adding more sophisticated elements like levels, player avi’s and conditional events (reward messages, youtube videos, Easter eggs).

The goal is to create a solid course that gets the results you need. You can’t achieve this if you’re burned out, spending too much time on one project, or (worse) turned off gamifying courses because it seems like a waste of time. It’s not, just don’t bite off too much the first few courses you work with.



2. Map it out

Another major challenge to gamifying courses is that much of the roll-out is purposely invisible to the learner. All those cool graphics and conditional events you have set to appear later in the course are hidden from view. Unfortunately, this makes it hidden to the course designer as well, even in student view. This makes it tough to get a picture of what you’ve done and whether you’ve tied events together the way you intended. You think you will remember what passing that quiz or entering a new level is going to trigger but chances are, you probably won’t. It’s a huge time suck because you are constantly flipping into the edit mode of each object to remember what you did.

My solution? Mapping it out. Like a company flowchart you get a bird’s eyeview of the path learners take and what’s going to happen for them. Here are some ways to do it:

  • Sketchnoting (my favourite idea)
    Start here, and then have fun with this.
sketchnotingImage from uxmastery.com

It doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to give you a snapshot of the layout of the course.


3. Avoid too many “slaves”

A slave, in design language, is an object or event that is tied to something else. An example might be a quiz that appears only after a lesson is viewed. Or a series of lessons you reveal one at a time. Lesson one is finished … the learner gets a congrats message and lesson two appears. This type of “reveal” adds a very dynamic feel to the course and can make the course feel very personalized to the learner.

But .. and this is a big but … the more complex the design, the greater the potential for problems. If you have several events tied together it becomes very complex to figure out what went wrong.  And believe me, something is not going to work the way you intended. Usually you discover this as learners are working their way through your course for the first time.


Like a set up of dominos, build in some spaces where nothing happens. Avoid the temptation to make too many dependent objects. You need the flow of the course to have some stable non-gamified sections.


4. Repeat elements (Don’t keep reinventing the wheel)

Gamified courses typically have a lot of visuals in them. Whether it’s the graphic at the top showing off the “Alien Invasion” or “Wheel of Fortune” or the badge/points/level they are being awarded, gamifying means more graphics. As a designer I always get my small core of graphics and use them everywhere. Repeating elements saves time AND creates a more cohesive look to your course.

Here are a few ideas to save you time:

  • Create a collage of images for your logo then separate them and use throughout course.
  • Take “slices” from an important graphic and re-use it. You get a lot of use from one graphic and it ties the look together. Below is an image from Adam Kuczek divided into three slices:alien-slice
  • Never create what you can buy. Your time as an educator and designer is not worth fussing in photoshop for hours getting it “just right”. My favorite sources for copyright safe images are 123rf, Pixabay, and for creative commons music … the wonderful Scott Buckley.

… and now we move to the final tip (and probably the least talked about challenge) in having a gamified online course …


5. Consider Management in your Course Design

Creating a course is one thing but actually teaching it is another. The vast majority of “course designers” (especially in Moodle) are educators. Gamified courses can be tricky to manage because there is the added layer of “events” that happen alongside the content. Try to design with an eye on how the course will be to actually teach.

Here are some tips to maintain your sanity while running a gamified course:

  • Create a welcome video letting learners know they are in a gamified course, and how it should unfold for them. I usually make this mandatory and keep the course locked until they view it. I use screencast-o-matic.
  • Place invisible labels or symbols for yourself at important or tricky spots in the course.
  • Have “check ins” sprinkled in the course to see how learners are enjoying and performing with the gamified elements. I ask for feedback every few weeks, especially when the course is new. This can be a quick 3 question survey, or a longer response piece. This has been my most valuable design tool … listening to my learners.


 The Take Away

Gamifying your online course encourages a more active exploring of course material, and dramatically improves course completion. In my design work, the gamified courses are also the most fun to work on despite the challenges I’ve talked about in this article. It’s all about engaging our learners and bringing a sense of joy to the learning.

If you are just new to gamification, read my beginner’s guide called How to Start Gamifying Your Online Course.

Any questions? Drop me a note in the comment section below! I’d love to hear from you.