Using gamification in education to win the battle against student attrition

/ 2 August 2018

Earlier this summer, the Australian Government released the final version of its Improving Retention, Completion and Success in Higher Education Report. In it, 18 recommendations were laid out for universities to help them ensure that students have the best chance of successfully completing their studies and transitioning into the workforce. With other reports indicating that up to a third of students in Australia do not complete their studies, it’s clear that reducing attrition remains a key priority for many academic institutions and will do so for quite some time. So, what are the ways they can do this and how can new technologies help?

“A student-centric institutional culture and well-targeted and well-communicated support services have a positive impact on student retention, completion and success.” Improving retention, completion and success in higher education, Higher Education Standards Panel

It’s widely known that when students are engaged they feel part of the academic community, contribute more to it, and as a result are much more likely to see their studies through to completion. In fact, the report itself refers to the importance on being student-centric and having well-targeted and well-communicated support services. However, the report also indicates that many are struggling to employ approaches that work across different cohorts, campus locations, or indeed faculties. To me, this comes as no surprise – a one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone.

A one-size-fits-all approach will not work for everyone

What it really comes down to is making sure relevant information is presented to students at the right time in their student journey, and that it’s conveyed in the way that they want to receive it. While on the surface it may look like all students follow the same path, we know that in reality this is rarely the case. Each student is an individual with their own reason for their choice of university and course of study, alongside their own personal circumstances affecting life outside of the lecture theatre. As such, treating each student the same when it comes to communications is sure to be unsuccessful in helping many students succeed in their studies.

Personalisation is one way of improving communications to students and for most institutions this is of course a given, especially since new technologies and access to data means that personalisation is no longer difficult to achieve. For example, the type of information a mature-age student needs, and when they need it, is very different from an international student even though they might belong to the same course of study. Understanding the demographic makeup of an individual, such as their age, subject being studied, or their residential and citizenship status, and ensuring content is relevant based on those factors is the first step that I’m sure most are getting right. But what else can we be doing? The next step is really understanding their needs and wants when it comes to information and how they consume it.

“Online students and campus-based students are taking on each other’s traits and increasingly becoming digital students, spending more time online and less time on campus and expecting more services to be delivered digitally.” Improving retention, completion and success in higher education, Higher Education Standards Panel.

How people consume information across channels is changing, and while we all know that a lot of it has moved to digital, even digital consumption of content is evolving. Students, in particular, face a bombardment of information across various digital channels such as email, social, websites, online portals, intranets etc. There’s only so much attention and time they can give to consuming all that information, which means little attention is paid to much of it and at best they may go away with a vague recollection of seeing some of it. This is all well and good until a student actually needs a particular piece of information or needs to know where and when to find it. What happens then? That’s why it is crucial that information is delivered in a way that is engaging and rewarding, and that you deliver this right at the moment they want to receive it.

Using the principles of gamification in education to motivate and engage students

This is precisely the work we do with clients across Australia and beyond. We use the principles of gamification to make sure our clients, including universities, reach their audiences and that these audiences are motivated to consume the right content at the right time, and are rewarded for doing so.

For universities, this is about bringing access to information, particularly in terms of support services, into a single, mobile-first, solution and affirming it as the ‘go to’ place for students, reducing the noise around communications as a result. In turn, students will then access the site/app whenever they need key information or have forgotten where they noticed something.

The next step, and where you can deliver real value to your students, is about motivating them to consume the ‘need to know’ information, or complete the necessary tasks that you need them to do. This is where the gamification really comes in to its own. By creating fun and rewarding experiences, students will consume the information they need and complete the tasks assigned to them and feel more engaged and part of the academic community. And, as we’ve previously established, the more engaged they feel, the more likely they are to complete their studies.

“Institutions need to take greater responsibility to ensure they retain the students they enrol.” Improving retention, completion and success in higher education, Higher Education Standards Panel.

As the competition within higher education continues to rise and traditional funding sources reduce, the battle for student retention is sure to remain a top priority for all academic institutions. While many have taken the first steps in developing communication programs to address the attrition and are seeing some success as a result, there is so much more that can be done, particularly in the application of gamification to these programs. And how can universities begin to embrace the competitive advantage that gamification can deliver? Well, the first step is to acknowledge the need to improve on existing programs by delivering a student engagement journey that is is fun and rewarding. The second is making it happen.

If you would like to know more about how 3radical can help you deliver a more engaging and rewarding student experience, please contact Tom at

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