Embedding Gamification in Meaningful EdTech Lessons for Students with ADHD

Jamelia Gay


Ontario Tech University


At the frontier of new, intriguing pedagogical approaches is gamification, using game design elements in non-game contexts (Deterding et al., 2011), where digital games aid learning, provide unlimited mastery opportunities, and catalyze meaning-making in education. Utilizing gamified activities as meaningful lessons has shown numerous benefits for learners of diverse capacities.  Miesenberger et al. (2022) argued that inclusive solutions are essential to improve user experience and overall accessibility. These inclusive solutions contribute to the autonomy, empowerment, and participation of students with exceptionalities and can enhance various learning contexts. The use of meaningful technology tools has the potential to bridge the gap between neurotypical and neurodivergent learners. Education technology (EdTech), integrating Information and Communication Technology (ICT) tools to create appealing learning experiences, has become a more frequently accepted support for and catalyst of learning. EdTech is revolutionizing the traditional classroom by integrating technology into routine learning activities that help teachers, students, and administration redesign the teaching environment and enhance the learning experience using abundant learning tools. However, technology by itself will not improve education. Teachers must align technology tools and pedagogical approaches with students’ individualized needs (Currie, 2016). As essential educational change agents, teachers are pivotal in implementing curriculum innovations and therefore require skills and knowledge that will enable them to implement high-quality lessons (Taole, 2015) as technology leaders. There is no substitute for a great teacher. However, EdTech tools can help teachers innovatively create meaningful curricula and help students reach learning levels that might not have been possible without technology (Currie, 2016).


ADHD, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, constructivism, EdTech, education technology, meaningful gamification, meaningful lessons, self-determination theory,


Traditional teaching methods have followed a teacher-centric approach with minimal lesson plans, making students’ roles passive (Iqbal, 2021). As institutions transition into a 21st-century framework, increasing student engagement, curiosity, and teacher-learner cohesion is imperative. Creating meaningful lessons requires a student-centric approach with compelling, authentic educator guidance that fosters student inclusion and active engagement. Technology’s practical use and application can further enhance and contribute to meaningful education and lesson planning and can help develop students’ expressive language and communication skills. By maximizing the effectiveness of education technology, diverse lesson plans can diminish gaps in student engagement and understanding and boost the intellectual abilities of neurodivergent learners, such as students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Using education technology and multimedia lessons via gamification enhances the inclusivity and advancement of the classroom curriculum.

Whether neurotypical or neurodiverse, each student learns and makes meaning differently. Targeting multiple intelligences using multiple modalities can increase engagement, understanding, distinction-making, and autonomy. The self-determination theory can meet these targets by addressing factors that facilitate or undermine intrinsic and extrinsic motivation (Ryan et al., 2006). Ferguson et al. (2015) highlighted the self-determination theory’s description of motivation as need satisfaction, whereby individuals are the most self-determined when the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and relatedness are fulfilled (Deci & Ryan, 2000).

EdTech presents meaningful opportunities for educators to create personalized learning plans for each student. This individualized approach customizes learning based on a student’s strengths, skills, and interests. Instead of applying a one-size-fits-all approach, using EdTech tools boosts all students’ learning capabilities, regardless of age or learning abilities, and fosters a sense of inclusivity. A crucial element in creating meaningful lessons is addressing the needs of neurodivergent learners and decreasing the gap between the educational experience of neurotypical and neurodiverse students. Included in the group of neurodivergent learners are students with ADHD, which will be the focus group of this chapter.

Background Information

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), ADHD is defined as “a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development” (American Psychiatric Association, 2013, p. 59). Barkley (2006) posited that students with ADHD face numerous academic challenges, often leading to problematic academic outcomes. As an executive function disorder that affects cognitive skills required for planning, organization, task initiation and completion, attention regulation, and working memory, students with ADHD struggle with many core skills essential to fulfilling academic tasks and demands (Pennington & Ozonoff, 1996). As a result, ADHD learners are more likely to experience low academic achievement, reduced engagement, and decreased motivation than classmates (Barkley, 2006). Students experience incomplete assignments, unmet requirements, task-induced fatigue, and decreasing academic grades resulting from the external expectations from teachers to maintain attention. Educators, parents, and guardians of children with ADHD often observe this cycle (Harrison et al., 2020). Monotonous lesson plans also lead to decreased student participation, retention, and motivation. Scientific evidence from neurodidactics has highlighted the occurrence of learning when the brain reward system associated with dopamine is activated. Gamification increases chemical substances such as dopamine and serotonin, which enhances students’ mood, motivation, and bonds essential for learning (Pertegal-Felices et al., 2020).

Bandura (1977) posited that self-efficacy reflects self-confidence in performing activities to achieve a desired outcome. Creating inclusive, individualized, meaningful, and appealing lessons can build self-efficacy for ADHD learners with multiple longstanding challenges. Efforts to create meaningful lessons and foster self-efficacy may include adapting lessons and activities to maximize success opportunities (Martin & Burns, 2014), promoting mastery learning approaches, and breaking activities into discrete, manageable sections for task completion and perceived competence (Martin & Burns, 2014). Personalizing learning activities (Schunk & Miller, 2002), developing learners’ goal-setting skills (Locke & Latham, 2002), and building students’ problem-solving skills (Young & Bramham, 2012) also promote self-efficacy.

Meaningful Gamification

Tan (2018) posited that publications on gamification in the classroom investigate the concept of meaningful gamification, where competency, autonomy, and relatedness are prioritized, in line with Ryan and Deci’s self-determination theory. One of gamification’s most frequently mentioned properties is its ability to reset the student’s attention clock via collective learning to retain new content (Pertegal-Felices et al., 2020). Gamified strategies to enhance attention, retention, and recollection are particularly beneficial for ADHD learners who struggle with their working memory and attention regulation. Meaningful gamification targets self-management development in ADHD learners. However, Harrison et al. (2020) posited that few studies had been conducted on students with ADHD. The results suggest that self-management in students with ADHD is less evident than in students without ADHD.

Meaningful gamification emphasizes the link to motivation by creating meaningful connections with underlying non-game activities and highlighting play elements rather than scoring. High-quality instant feedback which reframes incorrect answers supports the connection to intrinsic motivation (Tan, 2018), often deemed as a failure by ADHD learners with emotional dysregulation or Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (RSD), an intense correlate to the perceived failure to meet external or self-expectations (Bedrossian, 2021).  Pertegal-Felices et al. (2020) posited that Kahoot (Versvik et al., 2012) is an engaging EdTech tool that increases accessibility, autonomy, engagement, and intrinsic motivation. The easily accessible, free online software provides direct feedback on self and group achievement (Toki et al., 2018). Engaging in gamified experiences such as Kahoot helps boost the cognitive, social, and emotional development of ADHD learners. Using gamification meaningfully as an engaging pedagogical tool where students can practice skills in various quests helps students grasp critical concepts and positively impacts students’ motivation (Tan, 2018). Gamification has proved to be one of the most efficient teaching methodologies (Pertegal-Felices et al., 2020) that increases educational institutions’ likelihood of success and sustainability.

Appealing Lessons

Taole (2015) posited that the meaning teachers give to the curriculum and their attitudes will determine its success. Curriculum review and revision are vital elements in the improvement of educational quality. Appealing, meaningful lessons increase students’ willingness to attempt new challenges and participate in new activities, which can develop problem-solving and critical-thinking skills. Moreover, meaningful lessons can reduce students’ fear of failure. Creating and implementing appealing gamified lessons is imperative, with the abundance of distractions vying for students’ attention.  As a result, Pertegal-Felices et al. (2020) examined diverse and practical strategies to recover motivation, increase involvement, and minimize attention dysregulation in the classroom. Creating an inclusive gamified curriculum that enhances the experience of ADHD learners can also benefit students without ADHD and other forms of neurodivergence. Students with and without ADHD gain multiple attempts at the activities, facilitating mastery, initiative, and effort-building.

Constructivism Theory

Constructivism theory highlights learners’ ability to learn well when actively participating in the learning process (Iqbal, 2021). Mattar (2018) argues that learning occurs as a learner constructs and changes the thinking process using sense, language, experience, and the environment. When a learner encounters new ideas and experiences, the new concepts are verified with previous knowledge and familiarity (Partington, 2021). Experiencing new concepts and making new knowledge benefit ADHD learners who lose interest in monotony. This thought-provoking environment and approach encourage ADHD learners to work and make meaning together by asking questions, developing theories, planning investigations, and reflecting on actions. As children collaborate, they share their ideas or theories and exchange points of view. Thus, constructivist classrooms encourage active, shared learning experiences that lead to individualized co-construction of knowledge (Berk & Winsler, 1995).


In the study by Harrison et al. (2020), the implications of the results and previous self-management research highlighted gamified self-management as a more effective service for helping learners. The quantitative evidence of students’ intrinsic motivation study showed that most students viewed the game as engaging, fun, and more interesting than a traditional quiz, with enjoyment and autonomy ratings of 4.564 and 4.076 out of 7, respectively (Tan, 2018). The results suggest that gamification positively affects mastery in the curriculum through multiple attempts to get the correct answers while receiving instant feedback (Tan, 2018). According to Pertegal-Felices et al. (2020), experiments conducted over six years by Wang, Zhu, and Sætre identified benefits including more concentrated and involved students, a more significant interaction between students, encouragement to improve, and the modification of lessons in real-time depending on students’ learning challenges.

Conclusions and Future Recommendations

Cristea et al. (2018) highlighted potential adverse outcomes of gamification, including indifference, loss of performance, undesired behavior, and declining effects. However, these findings also showed positive or no observed effects, leading to the assumption of a lack of positive outcomes. The authors also posited that the issues occurred due to the need for proper planning frameworks and methods for gamification in a learning context (Cristea et al., 2018). Students experience gamified learning in multiple ways with varying effects due to the multiple intelligences and methods of meaning-making.

Karakose (2021) purported that a leading factor in the digital transformation of educational institutions is the vision of its leaders. Teaching is a moral profession with a moral purpose underlying good educators (Fullan, 2013). However, alongside moral purpose are a set of meaningful tools and strategies to enhance the curriculum and maximize learning and student efficiency. Among those meaningful tools is education technology using ICT interventions, such as gamification. Many young teachers are digital natives, while those who lead many schools and districts may not be (Schrum & Levin, 2016). Implementing gamification as a practical learning tool will require the willingness of educational leaders to transition to technology leadership. Students will also benefit from the willingness of institution leaders to complement the inclusion of EdTech tools with strategies to promote equity, diversity, and inclusivity (EDI) in the classroom.

Schrum and Levin (2016) posited that today’s students and many teachers use the Internet as a preferred learning tool, with new options, opportunities, and challenges emerging daily. However, planning for those changes must include flexible, responsive, and coordinated adaptive methods as technology advances. Planning for changes in EdTech should also incorporate catering to the learning needs of neurodivergent students, including ADHD learners. The additional benefit of inclusivity is that the approach benefits other students in the learning environment. Accessible design can help everyone, not just those with a disability (Miesenberger et al., 2022). Meaningful lessons empower and motivate students with differing abilities to embrace their potential and competence.


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