Re-engage Low Achievers: Effect of Meaningful Tangible Rewards in Gamified Online Learning



Many online learning platforms rely on voluntary participation, which exacerbates the participation and performance gaps between high and low achievers. The latter often lack the motivation to participate in such platforms, nullifying many gamification–based engagement measures that are contingent on their participation. To jump-start low achievers’ participation and improve their learning performance, we propose a reward scheme that combines meaningful tangible rewards and gamification-based intangible rewards. We test such a scheme in a large-scale field experiment with six middle schools. We find that the two-pronged reward scheme improved the participation, engagement, and learning performance of students overall and low achievers in particular, while gamification alone failed to do so. Our findings add to the understanding of, and a solution to, the achievement gap issue in online learning. By showing the benefits of adding meaningful tangible rewards to gamified online learning, we clarify the boundaries of the motivation crowding theory that emphasizes the negative effect of tangible rewards. Our findings also underscore the limitations of gamification designs that rely on intangible rewards.

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