Psychological theory and the gamification of learning

Richard N. Landers, Kristina N. Bauer, Rachel C. Callan, Michael B. Armstrong

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

132 Scopus citations


Research on the gamification of learning currently lacks a sturdy theoretical foundation on which to build new knowledge. In this chapter, we identify and explore several theories from the domain of psychology to provide this foundation. This includes the theory of gamified instructional design, classic conditioning theories of learning, expectancy-based theories, goal-setting theory, and self-determination theory. For each theory (or family of theories), we describe the theory itself, relate it to gamification research, and identify the most promising future research directions given that basis. In exploring these theories, we conclude that gamification is not a “new” instructional technique per se but is instead a new combination and presentation of classic motivational techniques. This combination may provide unique value over other approaches, but this is an unresolved empirical question. We conclude by making specific recommendations for both gamification researchers and practitioners to best advance the study of gamification given this sturdy theoretical basis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationGamification in Education and Business
PublisherSpringer International Publishing
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9783319102085
ISBN (Print)9783319102078
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015.


  • Expectancy
  • Gamification motivation
  • Goal-setting
  • Psychological theory
  • Self-determination


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