A Five-Step Gamification Formula That Will Boost Your Online Course Performance

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Did you know that less than 10% of the students who enrolled in Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) actually completed the courses?

Online courses are notorious for low completion and low engagement rates. I remember what one of my undergraduate students once shared with me, “for online courses, you simply need to remember that you are actually taking a class.” To me, that statement indicated the likelihood in not completing online courses. Even as an educator myself, I am guilty of completing maybe only 20% of the several online courses sitting in my computer, some of which I’ve already paid for.

Given how hard it is to get students to engage in online courses, I was excited to have my friend, Zsuzsanna Kisvardai, join me on my weekly Facebook live show to share benefits and best practices of using gamification as a teaching method. Zsuzsanna is an online course creation expert.

Whether you are an entrepreneur selling online courses or an academic teaching online courses, this article is for you. You can click on the image/video below to watch the replay of our live interview. You can also read my recap here, where I share with you a successful five-step gamification formula that can help you boost your online course performance: including student engagement, course completion rates, and even sales.

Who is Zsuzsanna Kisvardai?

Zsuzsanna is an online course creation expert. She has her own business, My Online Academy, where she teaches people how to create online courses and how to use gamification as a method to boost course performance. Zsuzsanna is an experienced educator and entrepreneur — an edupreneur, as she calls herself.. To learn more about Zsuzsanna, please visit her Website, and connect with her on LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter.

Defining Gamification In The Context Of Online Courses

As the word suggests, gamification has its root in video games. In the context of online courses, Zsuzsanna shared that gamification means “applying video game elements in teaching or education.”

There are definitely underlying connections between gamification and content creation. Games are based on stories. Likewise, content creators are storytellers. What is it about video games that can make people become so addicted to their stories? Can we apply the same philosophy to creating content for online courses?

Zsuzsanna has been using gamification as a teaching method for many years, with tons of positive feedback. Based on her personal experience, she created a five-step gamification formula to help people create content for their digital courses and help students be engaged in learning.

Read the five steps below to understand what each step means and how you can apply it to your own teaching.

Step One: Create A Superhero Avatar

What is the first thing that you do before you start playing a video game? You craft or select an avatar. An avatar is a gaming persona where the person playing the game can choose his or her own name, facial expressions, hair, eye color, vehicles, tools or whatever weapons you will need to play the game.

The same step can be applied to creating online courses. Ask students to create a superhero avatar that they wish to become upon completing the course. Doing so gives students an opportunity to “identify themselves with the superhero they wish to grow by doing your online course,” as Zsuzsanna explained.

You simply need to identify a few Superheros in the specific niche that you are teaching. For example, if you are teaching a health and fitness class, your students can have the top fitness celebrities as their avatars. Having this preconceived image helps students relate to your course content better and understand exactly where they want to be upon completing the course. As Zsuzsanna shared,

Use avatars to represent the learning outcomes and objectives of your course, students can relate to it a lot better.

In addition, Zsuzsanna clarified that these superhero avatars do not have to be visual representations. Course creators don’t have to go crazy about creating graphically complex and stunning visuals. Instead, simply listing out superhero names is sufficient. I think creating such avatars is more so the purpose of activating certain emotions that course takers don’t typically get, than creating stunning images. Zsuzsanna shared some superhero avatars that her students have created such as Barak Obama, Oprah Winfrey, etc.

What a brilliant idea! I cannot wait to ask my students to create their own course avatars.

Step Two: Project A Road Map or Journey

During the second step, you project a learning journey for the students, outlining the steps or points that you student need to complete to transition from where they are to where they want to be. As Zsuzsanna explained,

You create a road map for your students, so that they can see exactly how they go from zero to hero.

Seeing this transformation evokes excitement in the students and motivates them to reach the finish line.

In addition, just like an avatar doesn’t have to be a visual representation, Zsuzsanna reiterated that a road map doesn’t have to be a map. Instead, it is more like a metaphor that symbolizes the stages that the students have to overcome to become heroes.

Step Three: Offer Super Power

Super power describes the extra points or reward points that you offer your students. For every step along the way, you reward your students with bonuses.

For example, we shared a health and fitness class earlier. For this class, if the student completed the required 50 sit-ups, the student can unlock the superpower to have a cheat meal or have an one-on-one consultation with the course instructor or any coach in the course instructor’s network. That’s a simple example of using a reward point to supercharge a student for completing a challenging task or homework. In other words, offering super powers, “open up territories outside the course realm to reward your students,” as Zsuzsanna shared.

Step Four: Provide An Existing Strategy

Depending on what subject you are learning, taking and completing a course can be an intimidating task. You want to help minimize your students’ chances of failing or quitting before they finish the course.

For example, if a student is showing signs of quitting or not being able to complete the assigned tasks, the instructor has to offer the student a quitting strategy. What this means, as Zsuzsanna explained, is that the instructor has to “channel the student into a less challenging part of the learning process.” In this way, the student can still move forward and not quit.

Step Five: Presenting A Way to Move Forward

I think the English word “commencement” illustrates the meaning of step five well. Commencement means graduation ceremony on the one hand; and the beginning of a new chapter on the other. In the context of creating and delivering online courses, once a student completes the course, the instructor has to suggest a way to move forward, a bridge to the next level. In this respect, the instructor can offer a series of courses to keep students on the learning curve and help students become lifelong learners.


The five-step gamification formula opened my mind to think of more creative and fun ways to engage students in online classes and to boost course performance. Give this formula a try and see if it can improve your student engagement, course completion rate, or enrollment numbers. As “building a school in the cloud” is becoming popular, maybe gamification will be more widely adopted as an effective teaching method.

What do you think? Have you ever tried gamification as a teaching method? Please share your experience with me.

Ai Addyson-Zhang is a professor, speaker, live streamer, social media expert, and digital learning consultant. She connects the dots between social media and education. Ai is on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram @AiAddysonZhang. She’s the host of a weekly Facebook live show, Classroom Without Walls — Using Technology to Reimagine Education, on every Wednesday at 5PM, EST.

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