enquiries@dvt.co.uk |  +44 203 848 9470

Trends and insights making an impact in your digital transformation journey

Gamification: Can it be applied to South Africa’s education system?
Thato Mailula

Gamification: Can it be applied to South Africa’s education system?

Gamification is the same thing as game design, right? Wrong.

A common misconception I’ve heard quite often is that gamification and game design are the same things. However, gamification is more related to psychology than it is to the development of video games. It’s more about creating experiences that tap into your mind and alter your behaviour to complete certain tasks that will enhance your overall experience.

Let’s define the term: Gamification is a set of techniques that are used to control the behaviour of users with the use of game elements. The most common game elements include scoring/points systems, levels, rewards, leaderboards and competitive rivalry, just to name a few. Gamification is centred around increasing motivation and driving engagement & participation – because of this gamification is a useful tool that can be used in the workplace or classroom to motivate colleagues and learners to complete certain tasks or challenges where there is a lack of participation.

Here are a few examples of applications that use gamification:

Discovery Vitality: The Vitality health programme encourages and rewards users for living well. The app supplies users with relevant information regarding their health and provides tools and support so they can improve their health while also being offered great incentives to motivate them along the way.

Gamification elements: Points, leaderboard, badges, social network

Waze: Waze is an immensely popular GPS app that is changing how we navigate traffic through crowdsourcing real-time traffic and road info. Waze incentivises users by allowing them to collect badges and rank up the leaderboard by driving certain distances and informing other road users about all traffic/road related issues. It is community-driven so the users are in control of the information that is being supplied to the entire community of “Wazers”.

Gamification elements: Narrative/story, badges, leaderboard, social network

Nike+ Run Club: The Nike+ Run Club app is a social app that allows users to connect and share their running distances and speeds with other users on the app. The app allows users to easily compare and compete with their friends and fellow runners on the distance leaderboard which can help motivate them to rank higher on the leaderboard.

Gamification elements: Competition, points, leaderboard, badges, social network

The psychology behind gamification

Let’s discuss the psychological aspect of gamification by referring to Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, a book written by a Hungarian-American psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihal. The book covers Mihaly’s theory that “People are happiest when they are in a state of flow — a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.”

In order to improve the quality of an experience, we have the option to either make changes to the surrounding environment or to change how we experience the environment in order to reach our goals. Creating an experience that will improve a condition relies on two factors; pleasure and enjoyment. Both pleasure and enjoyment are key to creating the optimal experience and it’s important to understand the difference between both terms and to know that one can exist without the other.

Pleasure: Is a feeling of satisfaction we experience when our conscious’ expectations of “social conditioning and biological programs” have been met.

Enjoyment: Is a feeling of accomplishment we experience when we fulfil a desire, but also a feeling of accomplishment when we are able to achieve the unexpected.

The main difference between enjoyment and pleasure is that pleasure can be experienced with no effort and it does not promote self-growth, while enjoyment relies on effort, it is not possible to enjoy an activity if there is no concentration on the activity, which allows for self-growth. Enjoyment allows us to gain control over the quality of an experience; in order for us to have any control over how we experience a situation, we need to learn how to make it an enjoyable experience.

Keeping this in mind, we are able to define the objectives before applying gamification in any context - if the aim is to drive participation in a certain task, then we need to find out how to make the task enjoyable in order to allow for self-growth and to create a desire for further engagement.

Gamification as a possible solution to SA’s education crisis

A recent study conducted by the World Economic Forum has ranked South Africa’s quality of primary education 121st out of 137 countries. A current problem we as a country are facing is improving and up-skilling the youth to eradicate the very low employment rate. It’s also important to not just get learners to pass, but to pass with grades good enough to help them gain the necessary skills they require in their chosen career paths.

If low marks are a result of learners’ lack of motivation and engagement, then gamification can play a vital role in the restructuring of the education system in South Africa. With the rollout of e-learning schools that the South African government has been implementing since January 2015 in Gauteng, it provides a great opportunity for the venture of gamification in this field.

Why would one implement gamification in education though? Simple answer: fun first, learning second. The basis of gamification is that if you take any tedious task such as studying for a test and infusing that task with game elements and principles, the expected outcome is an increased level of engagement. By making the learning fun, we are fuelling the learners’ motivation, which in turn drives further engagement resulting in an increased production of dopamine. This increase in dopamine production translates into an increased desire to engage.

The rule to remember: for a successful application of gamification, prioritise the fun aspect over the learning.


Learning is an activity that has defined outcomes and requires effort from the learner in order to meet these requirements, so before gamification can be applied into the learning process, there are three questions to consider:

  • Is there a lack of engagement and motivation within the learners?
  • Can we infuse gamification into a specific activity in the curriculum?
  • Would the implementation of gamification benefit certain learners over others?

The answer to these questions should provide some direction in the problem definition phase of the overall discussion around implanting gamification. Applying gamification sounds fun and exciting, but it’s essential to understand the context of the problem - are we trying to drive engagement or are we just trying to make it fun?

Applying gamification for the wrong reasons can produce unwanted results and can be costly if not implemented correctly to avoid this – analyse the target audience, define the objectives, identify resources and identify the relevant game elements that will be applied.


Discovery is a client of DVT, however there was no involvement or consultation with Discovery in the writing of this blog post. All views are the author’s own.