Is Gamification Effective in Learning to Read?

In the quest to enhance educational strategies for young readers, especially those with dyslexia, gamification has emerged as a potentially transformative tool. By incorporating game design elements into learning activities, educators aim to boost engagement and motivation, making the reading process not only effective but also enjoyable.

However, the integration of gamification in educational contexts, particularly in reading, is met with both enthusiasm and skepticism. This blog post explores the effectiveness of gamification in teaching reading skills, presenting both supporting arguments and criticisms, and providing real-world examples from current educational apps.

GoLexic reading app game elements: spaceship quest
GoLexic App: the Spaceship quest

Understanding Gamification in Reading Education

Gamification applies game mechanics—such as point scoring, competition, and achievement badges—to non-game environments like education to engage and motivate learners. In reading, this could translate into digital platforms where children earn rewards for completing reading tasks, compete with peers for top scores, or advance through levels as they improve their skills.

The psychology behind gamification: balancing intrinsic and extrinsic motivation in reading

Building intrinsic motivation—that is, motivating children to read for the joy of reading itself—is crucial for fostering a lifelong love of reading and learning. Intrinsic motivation is associated with deeper engagement, better comprehension, and more sustained reading habits. Children who read because they find it enjoyable are more likely to explore a wider range of materials and develop critical thinking skills that transcend academic environments.

However, developing intrinsic motivation can be challenging, especially in early learners and those struggling with reading difficulties like dyslexia. These children might not initially find reading pleasurable due to the challenges they face, such as difficulty decoding words or slow reading speed, which can quickly lead to frustration and disinterest.

This is where extrinsic motivation comes into play and why it’s often easier to implement. Extrinsic motivators, such as earning points, receiving badges, or achieving levels in a gamified learning environment, provide immediate, tangible goals that children can understand and work towards. These rewards can make the learning process more enjoyable in the short term and can be particularly effective in encouraging reluctant or struggling readers to persist with their reading practice.

Nonetheless, while extrinsic rewards can be effective in initiating engagement and participation, they should be carefully managed to ensure they do not become the primary reason children engage with reading tasks. Ideally, extrinsic rewards should be used as a bridge to developing intrinsic motivation, gradually allowing the child to discover the joys and rewards of reading that are not contingent on external validation. This transition is critical for developing enduring reading skills and a lifelong engagement with literature and learning.

The GoLexic Approach to Gamification and Learning

Gamification paper prototypes for the GoLexic App

Understanding the delicate balance between intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, the GoLexic App is designed to minimize distractions during learning sessions while still leveraging the benefits of gamification. We use only a few gamification elements and animations within the exercises themselves, ensuring that these features do not overshadow the educational content or disrupt the learning process. This approach helps maintain the focus on reading skills development rather than mere game play.

Instead of integrating gamification directly within the exercises, GoLexic takes children on a narrative journey that unfolds as they complete their lessons. After finishing their reading tasks, children are rewarded with the opportunity to build parts of a spaceship and embark on virtual journeys to new planets with each level they complete.

This narrative framework not only serves as a motivational tool but also enriches the learning experience by giving children a sense of progression and achievement that goes beyond conventional rewards. By linking the gamification aspect to the completion of educational goals, we aim to cultivate a deeper, more intrinsic appreciation for reading while providing a fun and engaging context that celebrates their accomplishments.

How we did it:

We always involve children in the design of the GoLexic App.

Here, our UX researcher/designer Julia prepared several options using paper-prototypes, to test how children react to various gamification scenarios. Ultimately, the children put the papers-cuts together to show us what they wanted or expected to see.

The children knew exactly where they wanted to see certain buttons, what should happen when they move from one screen to the next, and what they wanted to do with the points they earn. They helped us understand the features and mechanisms that were motivating or captivating to them.

Children working on gamification UX using paper prototypes

How Gamification supports Learning to Read

Let’s take a look at how gamification supports learning in practice.

1. Increased Engagement and Motivation

Research indicates that gamified learning can significantly increase student engagement and intrinsic motivation. In the context of reading, engaging children through gamified elements can lead to more time spent reading and practicing literacy skills, crucial for learners with dyslexia who may require additional practice.

2. Immediate Feedback and Rewards

Gamification allows for immediate feedback, which is vital for learning. Immediate correction of mistakes and positive reinforcement through rewards can help solidify learning. Apps like “Endless Reader,” for example, use interactive puzzles and games to help children learn word recognition and meaning, providing instant feedback and rewards that help learners understand their progress and achievements.

3. Customizable Learning Experiences

Many gamified apps offer customizable difficulty levels, which can adapt to the child’s reading level. This personalized learning approach helps meet individual educational needs, which is particularly beneficial for children with learning differences such as dyslexia.

4. Encouraging Consistent Practice

The addictive quality of games, when applied responsibly, can encourage consistent practice—a key to overcoming reading challenges. Gamification can transform repetitive reading exercises into engaging sessions that children look forward to, thus increasing the frequency and duration of reading practice.

Why we use it with caution in the GoLexic App

1. Overemphasis on External Rewards

Dependence on external rewards for motivation might detract from developing intrinsic motivation to read. Some educational theorists argue that if children are motivated to read only to earn rewards, they may not develop a genuine love for reading or the internal drive to seek knowledge independently.

2. Potential Distraction from Learning

Critics argue that gamification might shift the focus from learning to game playing. If the game elements overpower the educational content, children might focus more on winning points or badges than on improving their reading skills. This concern is valid when game designs do not align well with educational objectives.

3. Insufficient Research on Long-Term Effects

While initial studies show positive outcomes, there is limited long-term research on the effectiveness of gamification in reading. Critics point out that while gamification might improve initial engagement, its long-term impact on reading proficiency and cognitive development remains underexplored.


The use of gamification in reading education presents a promising, albeit debated, approach to enhance literacy skills. For children with dyslexia, gamified apps can provide engaging, supportive, and tailored learning experiences that traditional methods might lack.

However, it is crucial for educators and developers to design gamified elements that enhance, rather than detract from, the learning experience and to balance motivational strategies between external rewards and fostering intrinsic value in reading.
Ultimately, whether gamification is effective in learning to read depends largely on how it is implemented. Careful consideration of game design, educational alignment, and the individual needs of learners is essential to ensure that gamification fulfills its potential as a valuable educational tool.

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