Stacking the Deck: Using Gamified Learning to Make Career and Major Exploration First-Generation Friendly

By Kerry Lay and Karley Clayton

At Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis (IUPUI), over 30% of the undergraduate population are first-generation college students. Often referred to as the hidden minority on college campuses, these students tend to have more obstacles when it comes to career planning. Many may not be aware of career development resources on campus and may not have had the same exposure as their peers to the world of professional work (Maietta, 2016). Likewise, many IUPUI students come from low socioeconomic households (with over 40% of the undergraduate population being Pell grant eligible) and have limited social capital, which is another barrier.

Major and career exploration can be intimidating--if something is made more fun to do, it presumably becomes less intimidating (Glass, 2018). Over the past two years, career development staff in Academic and Career Development (ACD) at IUPUI have re-designed how they engage first-year students to reduce intimidating decisions and increase student engagement.

What is Gamifying?

Gamification is defined as incorporating an element of fun to a “productive activity” (Huang & Soman, 2013). Various studies suggest that higher levels of learning at the post-secondary stage are derived from participation in a gamified activity, primarily because the current generation of college students have grown up in a fast-paced and stimulating world (Kiryakova, Angelova, & Yordanova, 2014). The use of gamification has been implemented across various industries including marketing, wellness initiatives, and education (Dicheva, Dichev, & Angelova, 2015). Gamification is not necessarily just about playing a game to win. Gamification could also include using badges, leader boards, quizzes, challenges, or really anything that makes content interactive for the audience.

How do Games Break Barriers for First Generation Students?

Career development professionals are tasked with creating programming and resources to expose students with less social capital to all the different options they have on campus. Gamification is an opportunity to level the playing field for first-generation college students by making the exploration process more approachable and less intimidating for these populations.

How are Games Being Used for Major and Career Exploration?

ACD staff members have developed a method of “gamifying” career development concepts (IUPUI, 2019), by modifying board games (such as Taboo or Telestrations) or television shows (such as Family Feud). When used by instructors in the classroom, these games help students better understand the breadth of major and career options available to them, encourage them to think creatively about the importance of transferable skills, and start to suggest that, in many industries, their choice of major largely does not matter.

In activities such as Career Telestrations, the goal is to give students exposure to careers and majors they may not have known about or considered before. Students, arranged in a circle of eight or ten students, are each given a card with career title they most likely have never heard of before along with a description of the career. They are then asked to attempt to draw a picture of the career without using any words. Their drawing is then passed to the person to their right who then attempts to guess the career by writing the career title on the paper. The game continues by alternating guessing and drawing the “mystery” career until the drawings and guesses have returned to the first student. By the end of the round, the original career title has typically evolved into something completely different than it began. Students are then asked to reflect on the experience by considering the career they are exploring and add related careers they learned about during the game. A career consultant facilitates the discussion based on student reflection and answers questions that may arise from learning about new career options and transferable skills.

How do Students Respond to Gamifying?

Academic and Career Development staff administered a post-presentation evaluation for classroom presentations. Career consultants presented to a combined 1,134 students in the fall 2018 semester and survey results gathered from 371 individuals suggest the majority of students who participate in a gamified activity agree or strongly agree that they have learned about themselves as a result of participating in the workshop (Table 1). Likewise, in a time when presenters are competing with students’ phones and other technology, these gamified presentations have resulted in 97% of students reporting that the instructors were engaging and interactive (Table 2). These findings support our belief that gamified activities positively influence student learning.

Table 1.

As a result of this presentation, I have learned something about myself (371 responses):

Lay And Clayton Figure 1

Table 2.

The speakers were engaging and interactive (371 responses):


Lay And Clayton Figure 2

How Can I Implement Gamifying in My Work?

The gamify initiative at IUPUI, based upon initial assessment, suggests gamification made learning about career development approachable and fun. Gamification is a simple strategy to create a higher level of engagement in any type of career development programming. Here are three steps to get started on gamifying, as recommended by the career team at IUPUI:

  1. Identify a concept you want to gamify. Once career center staff have the concept, such as networking, determine and write the desired learning outcome.
  2. Brainstorm as many different ways you and your team can think of to make the concept engaging. Get creative! Recruit your team members and use design thinking to come up with at least three prototypes to explore, so long as the main element increases audience participation. Create your activity, write directions, and design your activity to intentionally lead the participants to the learning outcome.
  3. Test your prototype. At IUPUI, peer advisors and other staff were utilized to test gamified activities. Work out the bugs in your gamified activity before bringing it to the classroom to ensure optimal learning can occur.


Gamifying is a tool with the potential to transform career development conversations from a daunting topic to something that is lively and approachable. Knowing that first-generation college students are less likely to seek career development support (Maietta, 2016), it is imperative for career development practitioners to start conversations on career exploration resources in a “fun” way. As the world continues to become more fast-paced, higher education professionals can anticipate needing to be more creative in their approach to achieving student engagement, particularly in terms of career development.


Dicheva, D., Dichev, C., Agre, G., & Angelova, G. (2015). Gamification in education: A systematic mapping study. Journal of Educational Technology & Society, 18(3), 75-88. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdf/jeductechsoci.18.3.75.pdf

Glass, G. (2018). Have you considered gamifying your classroom? Childhood Education, 94:2, 72-78. doi: 10.1080/00094056.2018.1451693

Huang, W. H. Y., & Soman, D. (2013). Gamification of education. Research Report Series: Behavioural Economics in Action, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. Retrieved from http://www.rotman.utoronto.ca/-/media/files/programs-and-areas/behavioural-economics/guidegamificationeducationdec2013.pdf

Indiana University Purdue University-Indianapolis. (2019, July 18). Gamify Items [Word Documents]. Retrieved from https://iu.box.com/s/t2a30juewb4st8ks0xhyie5bmm62oxin

Kiryakova, G., Angelova, N., & Yordanova, L. (2014). Gamification in education. Proceedings of 9th International Balkan Education and Science Conference. Retrieved from https://goo.gl/RHgKSdMaietta, H. (2016). Career development needs of first-generation students. NACE Journal. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Imwm6U

Maietta, H. (2016, November). Career development needs of first-generation students. Retrieved from https://bit.ly/2Imwm6U


Kerry LayKerry Lay graduated from Colorado State with a bachelor’s degree in Human Development and Family Studies, as well as a master’s degree in counseling and career development. Currently, she works at IUPUI as a career consultant for the Arts, Humanities, and Human Services Cluster in University College. In her free time, Kerry enjoys spending time with her Golden Retriever Winston and her partner Brian. She is also, unapologetically, a Disney and opossum enthusiast. She can be reached at bondsk@iu.edu

Karley ClaytonKarley Clayton serves as the STEM career consultant in University College at IUPUI. She graduated with a degree in biology from the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. After learning that podiatry and zoo keeping were not for her, she earned her Master’s degree at Ball State in Student Affairs Administration in Higher Education. Karley enjoys wearing Chacos, learning languages, and plotting her next travels. She can be reached at kamclay@iupui.edu


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