Engagement Isn’t Just for Students

How educators benefit from gamification in professional learning.

GUEST COLUMN | by Amy Vitala


In a recent Edtech Digest article, we stress the importance of Adult Learning Theory (ALT) when it comes to designing effective professional learning opportunities for teachers. Additionally, the article explores the nuances of adult learning in K-12 education and some essential elements of a modern professional development (PD) approach.

Briefly, the research tells us that adults want learning opportunities that are problem-centered, relevant to their roles, and respectful of their prior knowledge. They want to know the why behind what they are learning, and they like to implement newly acquired skills or knowledge immediately.¹

‘…the research tells us that adults want learning opportunities that are problem-centered, relevant to their roles, and respectful of their prior knowledge.’

A deep dive into a modern study, which examines PD preferences of K-12 educators, also illuminates the essential components of a modern professional learning approach in a virtual setting. We know from this research that educators crave learning opportunities that are:

• Self-directed: Professional learning leaders are encouraged to create PD experiences that afford educators at least some control over when, where, and how they engage with learning, giving them agency in their professional growth activities. 

• Competency-Based: We need to leverage modern technology that enables teachers to engage with competency-based PD that is hands-on and allows for feedback. 

• Sustained: We need to consider how to provide sustained, on-demand access to this PD so educators can learn anytime, anywhere.  

We now know that personalized, competency-based online PD increases levels of satisfaction and leads to a deeper understanding of concepts, as compared to a traditional, one-size-fits all professional development. In fact, teachers find self-directed, hands-on virtual PD 90% more engaging than traditional face-to-face training.²   

Training that is designed with the above in mind leads to increased engagement and support for our teachers, which can boost teacher morale and retention. Thankfully, various edtech tools enable leaders to provide increasingly personalized and engaging PD experiences, allowing for the creation of on-demand, self-directed, competency-based training that the research supports. 

Enter Gamification

Increased engagement is a wonderful byproduct of offering intentional PD that infuses the above elements, but we can strategically take engagement to the next level when creating virtual learning for educators.

We often discuss gamification of learning for students, but technology gives educational leaders the ability to seamlessly infuse principles of gamification into professional learning opportunities to further engage teachers. In fact, many educators in a recent study tell us that a little friendly competition can go a long way, revealing in interview questions that they “didn’t know how competitive they were.”² They discuss how gamification of their asynchronous professional learning improved their motivation to keep learning.

Most participants in this same study suggested that earning badges for their achievements was motivating to them, supporting the efforts of micro-credentialing in modern professional development. “The badging provides recognition. It actually feels good to reach a milestone. It is very encouraging.”²   

With so many teachers responding positively to the integration of gamified strategies, yet another important feature emerges when considering how to refresh our approach to teacher training. Virtual platform features such as micro-credentialing, experience points, and leaderboards enable us take engagement a step further, creating PD that celebrates learning and brings more joy to professional growth activities.

Guiding Questions

Gamification can enhance professional learning, which plays a role in why educators report a preference for asynchronous, virtual learning.² Below are a few guiding questions you can use for reflection or internal discussion as you consider how you might incorporate elements of gamification into your PD strategy.

• What are some methods you (or your leadership) use to motivate and engage teachers?

• Have you experimented with micro-credentialing / badging or leaderboards with educators?  If so, how was it received? If not, is this something you would consider?

• Are there specific elements of gamification you could bring to professional learners? If so, how might you use leaderboards, competitions / contests, or micro-credentialing?

• Which platform(s) might you use to get started?  

• Consider 1-3 engagement strategies you could leverage in order to kick off next school year with PD that excites your teachers and staff.


¹Vitala, Amy E., “From #edcamp to #edchat: A Case Study Exploring Innovative, Self-Directed Educator Professional Learning” (2016). Doctor of Education in Teacher Leadership Dissertations. 13. https://digitalcommons.kennesaw.edu/teachleaddoc_etd/13  

² Stagnaro, Wayne R., Educators Benefit from Personalized Online Learning Via Competency-Based Asynchronous Platforms.” (2021). https://cui.dspacedirect.org/bitstream/handle/11414/3483/Stagnaro%20Dissertation__Rev.1_FINAL-11.15.21.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Amy has been in the field of education for 17 years and is the Chief Learning Officer at MobileMind.  She holds an Ed.D. in Teacher Leadership and is passionate about teacher growth and satisfaction. Connect on LinkedIn.


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