Not Just for Kids– Gamification is For Teachers Too

Sean Oakes bio picture Sean Oakes

In edTech product design circles, we often talk about gamification as a way to reach young learners. After all, using game mechanics in edTech products is a proven way to increase student engagement. Designed with intention, game mechanics can also reinforce learning goals and pedagogical strategies, making your product more effective and valuable.

But there are good reasons to consider gamification for teacher-facing products, too. Corporate learning has long used game mechanics to tap into powerful intrinsic motivators that all humans share, including autonomy, mastery, purpose, and social interaction. If these motivators sound familiar, it’s because we often use the same principles to describe user goals that surface in UX research findings!

Incorporating gamification into learning products for teachers will also impact your bottom line. With regular use, game mechanics make it more likely that teachers will use your tool with fidelity, giving you long-term data on teacher efficacy and other success measures. Whether you’re designing a professional learning product or an assessment tool, edTech products are ripe for this type of business opportunity.

Below, we break down how gamification intersects with the teacher persona and discuss three ways game mechanics support verified user needs. Let’s dig in!

Gamification and Your Teacher Persona

Consumer design is a constant source of inspiration for solving UX and design problems in edTech. And the commercial sector has already figured out delightful ways to gamify their products to build engagement.

Remember: teachers are people, too! They use all kinds of commercial software, from fintech to Weight Watchers to Duolingo. We can apply the gamification mechanics teachers are used to seeing in other parts of their life to edTech tools that improve teacher efficacy or help teachers meet professional goals. 

By better understanding the motivations and goals of educators, edTech brands can target their teacher personas with age-appropriate gamification. Simple, delightful rewards and feedback systems inspire better professional learning and increase teacher fidelity to specific curricula or pedagogies.

For example, all educators must complete state-mandated professional learning, including earning continuing education credits. If you design reward systems in your software as a way to build momentum in their professional learning endeavors, you’ve created an easy win for your teacher persona. The administrators, principals, or coaches who must track engagement, completion rates, or other success measures will be happy, too.

Ultimately, the pandemic changed teacher familiarity with technology for the better. They’re not only used to digital learning tools, they also have higher expectations for the edTech products they consume and advocate for. When product owners are able to deliver on those expectations by drawing from consumer trends like gamification mechanics, teachers notice—and find real value in the tools that help them succeed.

Boosting Teacher Engagement with Gamification Features

Incorporating game mechanics into teacher-facing edTech products drives important behaviors around professional learning. Whether your features provide crucial feedback systems or build positive behavior over time, game mechanics will build momentum and boost user engagement.

Here are three common engagement strategies gamification mechanics support:

  • Improving teacher efficacy. Encourage teachers to use your tool with more fidelity by gamifying onboarding or feature exploration. If you can find a way to introduce fun and rewards, you’ll encourage teachers to complete initial tasks that will help them learn how to engage more fully with your product.
  • Providing teacher feedback. From just-in-time quizzes to testing for understanding, your tool can give teachers data and feedback in a way that helps them see their improvement over time.
  • Building positive behaviors. Encouraging streaks is also a great way to show teachers how they’ve built a habit that they don’t want to break. When users see that repeated actions lead to feedback and rewards, they’re excited not to break from that behavior.

How Gamification Increases Feature Adoption

Game mechanics are a simple way to encourage educators to try out new features. Right now, teachers are less afraid than ever of “breaking” learning tools by experimenting or trying new things. Help them continue to develop bravery by showing them how easy and low-commitment your new feature is.

This strategy is beneficial from a product standpoint, too. The best way for your users to understand the full value of your product is by exploring new or advanced features. You want them to feel comfortable incorporating new features in their day-to-day work. If the goal of your product is to help teachers make a bigger impact on their own professional development or to improve outcomes in their classrooms, you want them to adopt the features that will help them do so.

Teachers are especially apt to try a new feature if it’s clear that there’s a minimal time commitment. Use game mechanics to show your user that tackling things a little bit at a time leads to progress toward a bigger goal. For example, maybe your software attaches an award to completing a very short task. Or perhaps you can help teachers break bigger professional learning goals into smaller pieces.

Teachers will feel like it’s possible to complete a complex, required training in smaller increments, while still getting all the benefits of your professional learning content. This is a huge win for teachers who have limited time to learn new tools or complete a 30-minute training session in one sitting. 

Most gamification features demonstrate forward momentum or progress in a visual way. After all, when teachers see how far they’ve come, it seems more valuable to continue. Whether they earn stars and badges or check off items in a digital road map, it’s important for your users to get excited about completing tasks. 

Consider how the task planning tool, Asana, designed flying unicorns and brightly colored walruses to reward its users for powering through a to-do list. Teachers need to experience delight, even as they are reminded of the evidence of their progress—especially if progress in your tool means improving outcomes in their classrooms.

Increasing Efficacy By Gamifying Improvement

Engagement in edTech products is more complex than in commercial products. After all, you’re not trying to boost usage hours of a product just for the sake of it. 

The stakes are far higher.

In edTech, the goal is often for educators to use a product more effectively and improve learning outcomes in their classroom. Or, if you’ve designed a supplementary tool, the goal might be to give teachers broader context for teaching a specific content area and making a bigger impact as a teacher.

Because of the importance of showing improvement over time, edTech is very good at measuring outcomes. If you can reflect these outcomes back to educators, administrators, and parents, you’ve solved a real need for each of these personas.

When educators engage with a product and see real evidence of its impact in the classroom or in their own confidence levels, you’ve established the most meaningful reward and feedback system of all: empowering teachers with tools for their success.

How A Gamification Technique Helped Educators Use Listening to Learn More Effectively

Listening to Learn, a professional development tool that helps teachers assess students’ numerical reasoning skills through oral interviews, provides instant feedback and reasoning through its “Labs” feature.

Educators watch a short video of an expert interviewing a student. Next, they’re asked to identify which problem-solving and reasoning skills the student demonstrated throughout the recorded conversation. 

When a user chooses a response, they instantly discover whether they answered correctly—and get just-in-time feedback about the answers an expert would have chosen. When users are correct, it feels like they’ve gotten a reward: an expert in numerical reasoning skills agrees with their assessment!

This type of gamification works well for Listening to Learn, a product that represents a paradigm shift in professional development. Teacher training in numerical reasoning and problem-solving skills does not often incorporate process skills. In English Language Arts, on the other hand, it’s much more common for teachers to receive training on how to identify reading comprehension and other ELA process skills.

Powerful shifts in pedagogy can be new and scary for many teachers. Listening to Learn asks math educators to think about using process skills in a different way. It also asks them to reconsider their role as a teacher by listening to evidence of how a student thinks, rather than solely reviewing written work. By incorporating game mechanics, Listening to Learn helps educators develop this new skill in a safe environment, with immediate feedback from an expert. 

Bite-sized lessons also make the content easier to digest, and expert feedback serves as a reward for making progress. Without ever feeling overly commercial or “kiddish,” Listening to Learn motivates its users and ensures that they’re becoming more effective interviewers in the classroom.

Consumer technology will continue to shape teachers’ expectations for learning tools, especially as the pandemic accelerates technology adoption. Because of this, edTech brands will find more business reasons than ever to incorporate UX and design elements like game mechanics into their products. 

Whether these strategies help teachers use learning software more effectively in the classroom or in professional development contexts, there are many ways gamification can feel sleek, professional, and supportive. Gamification isn’t just for kids, anymore—it’s for teachers, too!

Are you considering how to use game mechanics in your teacher-facing products? Find out how Backpack Interactive can help with UX research or a workshop! Reach out in our “Let’s Talk” form.

Let’s build the future of digital products together.