Qetsia Nkulu was an intern that we had the pleasure of working with during Fall Quarter 2021. Check out this paper she wrote about her time at Change Lab and the significance of gamified learning in today’s day and age!

The Cognitive Aspects of Gamified Learning

Written by: Qetsia Nkulu

Qetsia Nkulu was an intern that we had the pleasure of working with during Fall Quarter 2021. Check out this paper she wrote about her time at Change Lab and the significance of gamified learning in today’s day and age!

“Gamification is an interactive learning method that attempts to harness the motivational power of games and apply it to practical issues. The problem that Change Lab wants to target is low retention rates in current teaching methods when it comes to fundraising.

 Educational technology provides a solution to this problem by optimizing retention with interactive learning and unique training experience. Nancy explained that gamification can be a powerful tool in supporting changes in retention because of the learning module’s self-paced nature. Educational technology, like Change Lab, can account for individual differences and be accessible to various populations in ways that traditional lecture-based methods are limited in. 

During our conversation, I told Nancy that I expressed an interest in the gamified approach of the Change Lab platform. I am an avid gamer in my spare time and the notion that gaming could be an educational tool was very exciting to me. Nancy facilitated my interest in gaming by saying that I could research game-based learning and generate informational content for the website as a part of my internship. I appreciated that Nancy gave me a task where I could cultivate my interest in gaming into a research project directly related to my major [Cognitive Science].

Game-based learning is a form of active learning, therefore the target audience would benefit more from first having a thorough understanding of active learning before presenting game-based learning.

 I decided to shift my research focus to producing content for the website about active learning. I began reading peer-reviewed articles about active learning in various journals and outlined my research in four parts: active learning versus traditional teaching methods, defining active learning, benefits and criticism of active learning, and gamification as a form of active learning. Comparing traditional teaching methods and active learning introduced me to the retention problem.

Traditional teaching methods are ones that rely on a lecturing teacher while students take notes. Correspondingly, most people learning about fundraising in the nonprofit sector do so by going to conferences to listen “lecture-style” to experts in the field. That is not to say that lecture-based learning is not useful. Lectures can inspire students, but many lectures simply do not do that because they are not engaging. I brought this point of my research to Nancy. We had a very interesting discussion on how she has seen this phenomenon in the nonprofit sector. 

Individuals in the nonprofit world are not being engaged when presented with information about effective fundraising. She told me that it was this problem that made them visualize Change Lab as a gamified platform. She also redirected me to the research folder that she and her team had compiled as they were conceptualizing the Change Lab platform. Analyzing the roadmapping that led to the Change Lab model made me want to explore the cognitive implications of active learning versus traditional learning methods in retention rates.

Active learning is based on constructivism. Constructivism is a learning theory that promotes the idea that knowledge cannot simply be transmitted, but rather must be constructed by mental activity through which learners create meaningful representations of new knowledge based on what they already know (Bernstein, 2018). It is the constructivist aspect of active learning that cognitively engages the learner. 

Cognitive engagement through active learning is the key to fixing the retention problem encountered by so many educators. Supporters of active learning advocate that they can improve students’ performance in a wide variety of subjects at academic levels ranging from grade school to grad school, while also providing advantages for students in underrepresented and disadvantaged backgrounds (Haak, Hille- RisLambers, Pitre, & Freeman, 2011). These bold claims about the benefits of active learning do not go uncontested.

 My internship at Brimhall & Associates gave me the opportunity to research the cognitive aspects of gamification through active learning. Active learning supplements the teacher-centered model and reduces the retention problem. I was not surprised to see that most definitions of active learning focused on getting students to learn by doing rather than passively absorbing information. Whether they are students or individuals in the nonprofit world, learners need to interact with the learning material in a way that engages them cognitively and not just passively absorb the information through someone talking to them. 

Game-based learning, also known as gamification of education, is a type of active learning that can drive learning behavior by changing users’ outlook on failure. Nancy introduced me to gamification by letting me look at the various documents and research that led to the conceptualization of the Change Lab platform. I was fascinated to learn about how games can change a learner’s perception of failure.


Games maintain a positive relationship with failure because the user can keep trying until they succeed, and they risk very little by failing. 


Gamification creates an environment where effort, not mastery, is rewarded. This educational setting encourages students to adopt a learning behavior where failing is a necessary part of learning and not a setback. Accepting that failure is not aversive plays a role in solving the retention problem. I was able to find literature on how changing the relationship with failure through gamification improves lower-order cognitive skills in healthcare professionals and facilitates the development of in-demand skills for 21st century jobs.”


Bernstein, D. A. (2018). Does active learning work? A good question, but not the right one. Scholarship of Teaching and Learning in Psychology, 4(4), 290–307.

Haak, D. C., HilleRisLambers, J., Pitre, E., & Freeman, S. (2011). Increased structure and active learning reduce the achievement gap in introductory biology. Science, 332(6034), 1213–1216.

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