The Learning System

E-Learning: Gamification Points and Leaderboards best practice?

A vital and ashamedly missing part to my clickschool website is some kind of rewards mechanism. And so in the next update this piece of the jigsaw will be finally implemented. Hurrah!

e-Learning points statement
E-learning points statement


The term ‘gamification’ sounds great but what does it actually mean? I love the definition of it being ‘making non-game contexts more appealing‘. i.e. taking something that is clearly not a game, and making it more appealing. The easiest way of doing so is to add a rewards mechanism, and at its most basic level is to reward users with points.

An accumulation points can be used to achieve ‘levels‘.

And specific skills can be rewarded with ‘badges‘.

The above seem to be the three current holy grails of e-learning rewards.

I’m just working on the ‘points’ right now, which is what the rest of this is about along with good practice for when it comes to leaderboards.

Rewarding learners

The prospect of getting a piece of paper with a level/grade stamped on it two or three years down the line after hard-study can be all too much. We want something sooner. Learners want some kind of recognition at least.

Awarding ‘points’ has benefits to learners such as:

  • Feeling rewarded for putting in effort
  • Increased motivation
  • Increased engagement
  • Increased competitiveness (for those that are competitive, more on which later)
  • …and ultimately end up being more productive because they are engaging more.
Rewarding learners with points

And what’s interesting is that even if these points are essentially worthless, the very act of awarding them shows recognition and generally makes people happy and happier to engage than they’d otherwise do.

What will be interesting is how learners respond to points being issued by an insentient computer rather than a human. From a teaching point of view it is great as points are awarded automatically and consistently with absolutely zero effort.

However, with automatic points, leaderboards are generated with ease. These can be shared with a class to celebrate on a human-level.

Now of course you need to make it so that points aren’t too easy to get and learners can’t easily play the system. This is why I’ve implemented some limitations on the number of different types of points that can be awarded…all work in progress.

Doing something with those points

My idea is eventually for learners to be able to spend points on some kind of Tamagotchi type creature – perhaps by keeping it alive or furnishing its virtual house with virtual goodies. Considering it has taken me this long to implement points then this might be some way down the road… but just putting it out there if someone else wants to take this on.


I’ve seen leaderboards being done well and not so well. Let me explain.

When it comes to leaderboards, I’ve found that there are generally three camps.

Camp 1: Those that are crazily competitive and super motivated to want to beat others. They’re always within the top 20% of places on a leaderboard. You know the sort. Whilst waiting outside a shop, a friend of mine was pacing up and down outside, just so that they could beat a friend with their step-count app. To me, this seems like crazy, and as such I’m probably in camp 2 most of the time.

Camp 2: These are people who are indifferent about leaderboards and aren’t that competitive. They see little point in exerting energy to get to the top of what essentially is something that is not that meaningful to them. But they could be competitive with some nudges.

Camp 2 can be cajoled into camp 1 by either offering more tangible rewards or making them feel bad for not being in cajoling them towards camp 1. However, some will stubbornly sit in camp 2, which in the grand scheme of things is not a bad place to be.

Camp 3: These are people who are at the bottom of a leaderboard and discover that when all their friends are doing better than them, they feel inferior, demotivated and want to give up.

What does this mean in practice?

When implementing a leaderboard, I suggest the following:

  1. Only show (and make it clear) the top 20%ish of scores. That’s not the top 20 in a class (because if a class had 20 people it would make no sense). In this way, if people aren’t on it then there is no public shame about being at the bottom, they’re just not in the top 20%…which is no-where near as bad. This prevents a lot of ill-feeling about leaderboards. A lot of popular quiz apps don’t really get this idea, and they should.
  2. Give people the option to opt-out. If they really don’t like the competitive nature of leaderboards then don’t exacerbate the mental anguish.
  3. Have a fresh leaderboard every week/month/suitable time period. In his way, it’s a fresh challenge every week. This makes it harder for the same person to be at the top every week and gives others more of a chance to reach the top sports.
  4. Have a variety of leaderboards as to give more people the opportunity to shine. i.e. one for each quiz, one for points etc.
What my leaderboards currently look like

So, there we have it.

Graphics The Learning System

Still using DrawPlus for vectors…

I should probably use a newer program for drawing vector graphics… I even bought Serif’s amazing looking Affinity designer but haven’t made the switch.

I toyed with colour icons but it looked too messy. I revamped the grey icons to pure black. Some students mentioned about having a ‘dark mode’ too. That’s not going to be high on the priority list but I am keeping in mind having different colour modes for viewing accessibility.

Which reminds me of this tutorial I made for students using Gravit…

The Learning System

Ramblings on The Learning System

Where would we be if “learning management systems” kept evolving at the same pace as say, WordPress, LinkedIn or Facebook? I bet we’d be spending much longer helping students instead of preparing learning materials.

Some of you might be familiar with the idea of anti-patterns: “A common response to a recurring problem that is usually ineffective and risks being highly counterproductive”. What if took this idea from technology and applied it to education? How many anti-patterns would we see?

Teachers spend considerable time collating learning material for courses (that inevitably change every few years!). How much of this process is replicated up and down the country? What if we had a website where the job of collating materials is divided between teachers up and down the country, overseen by a panel of experts for accuracy? How much time would this save?! Add a sign in system for students so they can access quizzes, tests and track their progress, and you’ve got one heck of a powerful system. Add a small army of media artists into the mix and you’ve got an impactful multimedia site.

Lockdown has brought about Oak National Academy. There is a lot of good content but how much more could it be developed? I’d like to think that a relatively small investment in such a site would pay immense dividends.

There are already a number of private companies developing learning systems. We have a stark choice to make, and one I think that needs making pretty soon. We can either leave development of “the system” to the private world where the finest course material is only potentially available to those with the most money, and where data could end up being used for anything. Or have an open site that is committed to ethical use of data and help to ensure that every student has equal access to the best learning materials.

There is a fine line between tracking student process and then having them feel stressed knowing that everything is tracked. This is definitely something that needs careful management!

I’ve been working on and off on such a system, but it is only meant to explore what could possibly be done if investment was made to adapt or develop an existing system into a National Learning system.

I’m not advocating for computer AI to be used to automatically mark student work on the web site. The introduction of AI can cause strange errors that can have unpredictable outcomes. Take for example the 737Max or A330 “psycho plane” where the AI was literally fighting against the pilot. AI, whilst incredibly impressive is not something to sleepwalk into.

The essence of a system I’d like to see is as follows:

  • People work together to…
    • …rapidly create and curate content* (checked before publication by appointed teacher experts)
    • …decide how much money to charge and being transparent about where it goes, trying to give everyone equal access to resources no matter on how much money their school has.
    • …make sure that data is not misused.**
  • Anyone who is signed up gets access to everything.
  • Student progress is saved and monitored.
  • Save schools a lot of money that could be invested in physical resources.
  • Provide resources and tools to make life for teachers as easy as possible, freeing up their time to focus on helping those that need the most help and human encouragement.

* e.g. web pages, videos, quizzes, topic tests, flashcards, interactive activities etc.

**This is the only way that you can be sure that any income and data collected is used for the good of the site.