From books to complementary digital products and services, Pearson Education specializes in creating educational content and learning tools for students of all ages. It partnered with Atlanta-based vendor mLevel to explore whether gamifying content for an introductory business textbook could stimulate student engagement in the subject.

Business challenge

College students interested in pursuing careers in business are often required to take one or more introductory classes before they are permitted to delve into material that may be more aligned with their specific interests or majors. Such classes generally feature basic information, including a great deal of terminology and vocabulary. Instructors struggle with disengaged students who don’t necessarily want to take these required courses, and who often find mastering the concepts challenging.

Seeking a solution, Pearson Education partnered with mLevel, which specializes in gamifying content for the corporate market. “We decided to do a quick pilot, adapting supplemental content used with existing textbooks and uploading it into mLevel’s grid system,” explained Brian Surette, manager of learning tools at Pearson Education. “The intention was to create a small suite of pilot games to share with some students and schools around the country.”

Solution design

They decided to test gamification with the newest edition of a popular introductory business textbook. The team loaded content, tagging the concepts by learning objectives and topics. Once loaded, the content could be used in various games. “We have a variety of templates and can present the same content in new and different games,” said Grant Hansen, who handles business development for mLevel and worked with Surette on this project.

The result was a series of short games or “missions,” mapped to chapters in the textbook. Students interacted with the content while engaged in the game interface, receiving immediate feedback and a review of the correct answers. Analytics were captured in real time. When the students got questions wrong, they were able to add those particular sections to a personalized study list. A leaderboard allowed them to monitor the stars they had achieved and benchmark their mastery in comparison to their peers’.

Figure 1: Short games or “missions” were mapped to chapters in the textbook

Figure 2: Missions featured fun interfaces, such as this driving game 

Figure 3: A leaderboard allowed students to benchmark their progress against others 


“The results from the four-week pilot were phenomenal,” Surette said. There were 86 students in the pilot study, who combined had more than 6,200 game plays—over 70 game plays per student, on average. “Remember that these were disengaged students,” he said.

Figure 4: Engagement statistics were impressive   

“In reviewing the early results, there are two data points that would suggest mLevel Learning Activities are definitely improving student engagement,” Hansen wrote in a blog post, “Are You Ready to Engage Tomorrow’s Workforce?” He continued, “One of the data points does specifically deal with the number of times that the students kept coming back to the content. The other addresses the student and instructor thoughts on how engaging the experience was.” They found it more engaging than some of the most engaging lectures.

Hansen differentiates between engagement and entertainment. “‘Engagement’ is the level of mind share and mental effort devoted to a learning activity by the learner once the training begins,” he wrote. “If I simply spend time in content but don’t focus on what it is, understand what it is, or how to apply it, I am simply ‘experiencing’ content but not really engaging with it.”

He called the numbers from the Pearson pilot “significant” and “compelling.” According to Hansen, 82 percent of the students in the pilot program felt mLevel was more valuable compared to any study tools they had used in the past; 95 percent found the leaderboards and competitive aspects of the games motivating; and 91 percent said they would recommend mLevel to a friend.

Students interviewed about the pilot program said:

  • “It was fun, so it made me want to do more.”
  • “I think all classes should have this, or something like it.”
  • “I loved mLevel because it was entertaining and I feel like it really helped me learn the material.”

Figure 5: Student responses were quite positive

Feedback from instructors in the pilot program was equally enthusiastic. “Gamifying the learning process reached students more effectively than the most dynamic lecture,” reported Ted Tedmon, an educator at North Idaho College in Coeur d’Alene.

“As students enter the classroom, it is important to introduce material that they can relate to. They are eager to engage using their mobile device, and that’s what makes the use of technology such a great asset for my course,” said Caroline G. Yarbrough, assistant professor in the business and technology division of Delgado Community College in New Orleans. “Using interactive gamification technology motivated my students to come to class and challenged their participation with each other, which was great.”

The overwhelmingly positive response motivated Pearson to scale the authoring solution to three other introductory business textbooks it was intending to launch. Although Surette was concerned that Pearson’s other priorities would limit available time and resources for the program, he was pleasantly surprised at how quick, easy, and inexpensive the process was.

“Suddenly this early exploratory project became feasible to scale, even within our existing budget,” Surette said. “We ended up creating four to five game ‘missions’ for each chapter, with content specifically aligned to each textbook. There are 15 to 20 chapters to each book. So we are talking hundreds of games in just a few months.”

The expectation is that the relatively small dollar investment will capture an unprecedented amount of valuable data that will allow instructors to more effectively assess student knowledge gaps.

Pearson may apply mLevel’s learning solution to other arenas. “We are hoping this is going to make some waves in the Intro to Business market. We are evaluating this in other markets, as well,” Surette said.

Pearson and mLevel’s gamified learning solution, “Increasing Student Engagement in Business Education,” won The eLearning Guild’s Best of Show–Vendor award at DemoFest during FocusOn Learning 2016 Conference & Expo in Austin, Texas.

“This award validates our partnership with Pearson, which allows us to be a key part of educating today’s students on important business skills that they will require to be successful and productive members of tomorrow’s workforce,” said mLevel CEO Jordan Fladell.  

Key takeaways

  • Students are more apt to absorb material they are not particularly engaged with when it is presented in a fun, gamified manner
  • mLevel’s system made it easy for Pearson to upload content, which could then be mapped to a wide assortment of games
  • While this particular solution makes a lot of sense for students who are comfortable using smartphones, it can be an effective tool for learners of all ages in the workforce

Additional resources

In this short video, Surette describes the gamified learning solution that mLevel created for Pearson Education.


Click here to access a webinar about the DemoFest winners at FocusOn Learning 2016 Conference & Expo. Pearson and mLevel’s entry, “Increasing Student Engagement in Business Education,” won the Best of Show–Vendor award. To isolate that particular segment, select “#1 Grant” in the left-hand column of the Adobe Connect recording.