Gamification and Games-Based Learning


Megan Park

Megan Park (
University of Ontario Institute of Technology


This chapter explores the use of gamification within the field of education through the game Minecraft (Microsoft, 2018c). Minecraft is a first-person perspective video game that allows players the freedom to explore and create within a three-dimensional block-based environment. Players use blocks and other objects to create structures, as they alter the virtual world around them. Developed by Microsoft, MinecraftEDU (Microsoft, 2018d) was created as an educational version of the original game to ensure educators were provided with the tools they needed to bring Minecraft into their learning environments. Within this chapter, the benefits and applications of MinecraftEDU will be expanded upon, as many curriculum expectations can be taught and accessed through the game. Recommendations for integrating this technological tool will also be explored, as educators need to feel comfortable introducing MinecraftEDU to their students. 

Keywords: collaboration, engagement, gamification, Minecraft, MinecraftEDU, motivation


Gamification in education is the process of adding games or game-like elements to a task, with the goal of increased participation and academic achievement (Yildirim, 2017). Studies have shown that games can increase student motivation through engagement and light-hearted competition (Turan, Avinc, Kara, & Goktas, 2016). One way to add gamification and game-based learning to the classroom is through integrating educational video games into the curriculum. Games provide students with the opportunity to fail, overcome failure, and persevere to achieve success (Yildirim, 2017). Through games students are provided a sense of agency, as they personally control their own choices. When games include feedback and rewards, there is an increase in student motivation to continue learning (Hanson-Smith, 2016).  

Through gamification there is the opportunity for blending curriculum areas and 21st century learning skills (Kingsley & Grabner‐Hagen, 2015). Minecraft is a gamification tool, which allows students to build, participate, and evaluate project-based learning activities (Callaghan, 2016). Educators can use Minecraft to teach and access curriculum expectations, while promoting motivation and engagement (Kuhn & Stevens, 2017). 

Background Information

In 2009, Minecraft was released in the early stage of development and quickly led the conversation on creativity in a video game environment (Nguyen, 2016). Markus Persson developed Minecraft and through money gained from the developmental release he created the game development company Mojang (Nguyen, 2016). After several beta tests and updates, Mojang released the full version of Minecraft in November 2011. In September 2014, the multinational technology company, Microsoft, bought Mojang and the ownership of Minecraft (Nguyen, 2016). 

Minecraft is a construction-based survival game that allows players to investigate, move, and build different types of blocks within the virtual world (Nguyen, 2016). It is classified as a sandbox game, as players are provided room for creative expression and given the freedom to craft what they desire. Minecraft can also be a massive multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) through a variety of different servers. It provides players with the opportunity to interact with their friends or other players from around the world (Tromba, 2013). Players can choose different worlds to participate and build in, which also makes it easy to save their progress. 

In January 2016, Microsoft announced the expansion of Minecraft into a tool for education called Minecraft: Education Edition or MinecraftEDU (Callaghan, 2016). MinecraftEDU was created with the exact same concept as the original Minecraft, although a few differences were included to ensure usability and adaptability for educators. There are added tools to support collaboration and structured learning, such as the option to download worlds that directly link to curriculum expectations from their website (Callaghan, 2016). There is also the ability to take in-game pictures, which are stored in an online notebook that can be easily shared with other students or teachers. When educational facilities or educators buy MinecraftEDU, students will have the option to download the game at home without having to buy their own version (Callaghan, 2016). Students can then continue their progress and learning at home. 

Literature Review

As the popularity of Minecraft rapidity increased, the research and literature surrounding the game and gamification expanded. Creativity is at the forefront of Minecraft, which allowed the game to transcend into the field of education. Educators began taking on the challenge of using gamification to introduce Minecraft into their practice.

Gamification. The subject of gamification has increased in popularity as it was linked to the promise of engagement, motivation, and productivity (Callaghan, 2016). Hamari (2013) conducted a field experiment in order to determine if gamification significantly impacted engagement and increased user activity. The results indicted that gamification mechanisms do not automatically increase engagement levels; although when rewards such as badges are put in place there was a significant increase in user activity. Ultimately, the badges increased motivation and fostered engagement (Hamari, 2013). While Zhang (2008) studied motivational affordances and determined the strive for achievement is a strong motivational factor. Games within the field of education often have rewards, which are put in place to increase the feeling of achievement and motivate the students to progress. There are published works that declare games should not be a part of education, although the majority of these are dated and reference games that are not used within education (Callaghan, 2016). 

Massive Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Games (MMORPGs). In the 21st century, games have progressed from being an individual source of entertainment to a way to share experiences with others (Cohen, 2014). The ability to interact with others through games has become an important factor in the success of newly released games (Li & Zhu, 2014). MMORPGs are 21st century games that are fully developed multiplayer universes. Players can communicate in this visual and auditory world, as they immerse themselves into the game (Li & Zhu, 2014). MMORPGs increase the motivation of players as they often work together or compete against each other to achieve a desired goal (Li & Zhu, 2014). The ability to collaborate with other players leads to the choice of implementing MMORPGs into the field of education. From his study, Callaghan (2016) determined MinecraftEDU created a genuine collaborative environment, as information was shared and objects were created together for mutual benefit. 

Link to Construction Toys. The choice of including Minecraft into the field of education is often based on the affordance of creativity. According to Nguyen (2016), concerns were raised about whether creativity was prominent in education for the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. Minecraft became the answer for supporting curriculum expectation and creative development (Nguyen, 2016). Many studies depict various positive outcomes relating to creativity of play-based learning through toys (citation). Nguyen (2016) explored how construction toys played a promote role in the development of STEM fields, which lead to his exploration of Minecraft and the virtual blocks within the game. Minecraft takes the classic block-based play and makes it virtual. Students have the opportunity to build anything their imagination fabricates, as Minecraft offers a variety of different virtual building blocks to use (Nguyen, 2016). With the freedom to be creative, students have built utopian island narratives for novel studies and ruins from ancient worlds, as the opportunities are endless (Nguyen, 2016). 

Enhancing Learning Behaviours. The study conducted by Callaghan (2016), explored the enhancement of learning behaviours such as motivation, collaboration, and engagement through MinecraftEDU. Educational games can enhance learning, while emphasizing an educator’s pedagogical beliefs of using technology within the learning environment (Hamalainen, 2008). The implementation of technology should be purposeful and useful. MinecraftEDU produced a genuine collaborative environment for students, as students worked together to complete assigned tasks (Callaghan, 2016). The final results of the study indicated MinecraftEDU allowed the students to further their 21st century learning skills by collaborating with their classmates, solving problems, thinking critically, and being creative (Callaghan, 2016). The levels of student engagement and motivation were exceptionally high, as students started their work immediately upon entering the classroom. Many other studies also resulted in positive enhancement in learning behaviours after using MinecraftEDU (Riordan & Scraf, 2017)


MinecraftEDU is a way to introduce gamification into the classroom within a safe and controlled environment. It is easily adaptable to fit different teaching and learning styles, as it is an open space for collaboration, creativity, and critical thinking (Cózar-Gutiérrez & Sáez-López, 2016). Through the MinecraftEDU edition, students can collaborate within the same world without a separate server setup. Educators can create a non-player character (NPC), which they can use as a virtual teaching presence to answer questions, add information, and provide instructions (Callaghan, 2016). Through the camera and portfolio option in MinecraftEDU, educators can collect evidence of learning and track progress within the game. There is the option to use chalkboards in the game, which can state learning goals, instructions, answers, and much more (Callaghan, 2016). Unlike in the original Minecraft, educators can control the students’ actions. For example, educators can allow or deny blocks to be placed, eliminate the ability to delete objects, move students to different worlds, or monitor and disable the chat feature. For further learning, educators can enable the code builder, which would allow students to write and edit in code in order to perform the desired actions, instead of simply using keyboard controls (Microsoft, 2018a). 

Curriculum Perspective

MinecraftEDU can be incorporated into any curriculum area from kindergarten to post-secondary school (Microsoft, 2018b). Through their website there are thousands of lesson plans available for download organized based on age and teaching subject. These lesson plans are submitted by educators and developers from around the world and can be downloaded for free. The majority of lesson plans include learning objectives, guiding ideas, skills to learn, student activities, performance expectations, facilitation guides, and the ability to download the world and immediately add your students (Microsoft, 2018b).  

Example of Lesson Plan. Vigelini (2016) submitted his mathematics lesson plan for area and perimeter to the MinecraftEDU website for other educators to access and use with their students. This lesson is for students aged six to thirteen, as students construct various quadrilaterals and other shapes to meet the required tasks within the world Vigelini (2016) created. During these tasks, students will develop their critical thinking, communication, and collaboration skills. This lesson directly connects to the Ontario mathematics curriculum for measurement in grades two to four, as it states for the overall expectations, “estimate, measure, and record length, perimeter, area, mass, capacity, volume, and elapsed time, using a variety of strategies” (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2005, p. 69).

Recommendations for Integration

As with all new technology, the technology acceptance model (TAM) proposes that it needs to be useful and easy to use (Davis, 1989). MinecraftEDU can be directly linked to all areas of the curriculum and it promotes high engagement and motivation levels for learning, hence it can be considered a useful technological tool (Callaghan, 2016). There is a slight learning curve in order to work this technology, although many students already play Minecraft at home. By harnassing the students’ prior knowledge, smooth integration can take place, as the students can become the more knowledgeable others for both the educators and their classmates (Abtahi, Graven, & Lerman, 2017). 

Microsoft (2018e) recommends the first steps to using MinecraftEDU in education is to get the students familiar with the concept and tools within the game. Emphasizing spatial thinking through crafting pixel art in MinecraftEDU can accomplish this task (Microsoft, 2018e). Pixel art can also lead into mathematics and visual arts curriculum expectations. The students can use various blocks and other objects to create their pixel art, which can be viewed by moving the camera above the ground. This task provides students with the opportunity to be creative, while learning how to operate the game. There are many lesson plans based on pixel art that educators can access as well (Microsoft, 2018b). 

Conclusions and Future Recommendations 

As gamification increases in popularity it is important to have useful and easy to use tools that promote motivation and engagement for students. Studies have concluded that MinecraftEDU extends the concept of play into the virtual world, as students build and explore their creativity. Through MinecraftEDU students develop 21st century learning skills by collaborating with others, solving problems, and thinking critically. Educators can use MinecraftEDU to make direct connections to curriculum expectations for teaching and assessment purposes. 

To further extend the use of MinecraftEDU beyond the premade lesson plans and worlds, students can create their own worlds and tasks that their classmates can explore and complete. The opportunities of MinecraftEDU are endless, as educators and students will continue to discover and create together. MinecraftEDU is a highly engaging and motivating way for students to learn inside and outside the walls of a classroom. 


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Technology and the Curriculum: Summer 2018 Copyright © 2018 by Megan Park is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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