E-Learning Based on Gamification for Autism

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Introduction: The Research Area

The area of research chosen for the study is the use of gamification in e-learning to simplify access to distant learning for children with autism. Not only is this approach useful for autistic children but also all students obtaining education in the current complicated circumstances of the pandemic. However, for youths with cognitive disabilities, e-learning becomes an opportunity to socialize faster and not to experience additional discomfort, which they commonly face in ordinary schools. Hence, the creation of an innovative educational system cannot omit the crucial question of enhancing the e-learning methods and approaches and introducing them effectively.

Gamification has the highest potential to create a robust educational environment since children and adolescents enjoy the fun and excitement offered by game creators. Hence, the implementation of games in the learning environment is likely to add creativity and interest to the learning process. However, it is crucial to bear in mind that games created for e-learning must contain the educational element first of all rather than merely serve as a distraction from the studies. Thus, learning frameworks for gamification should be analyzed along with the mechanisms of introducing gamified elements into e-learning systems. Teachers’ opinions about e-learning and gamified elements should also be given attention to since these specialists are responsible for the beneficial outcomes of the learning process. At the same time, parents’ views on e-learning and gamification must be considered since in the conditions of e-learning, children’s families have become active participants in the educational process.

The main goal of the present review of literature is to analyze the current achievements and flaws of applying games into the e-learning system. Based on this review, a game will be offered later to help autistic students improve their educational level. A special emphasis will be made on Arabic learners since currently, there is a lack of e-learning platforms based on games for non-English-speaking children. Hence, the review of literature will be based on English scholarly papers to single out the elements that can be useful for Arabic learners. The prospective study, in the preparation of which the literature review is carried out, will involve the creation of an autism spectrum disorder non-verbal communication game that can be played via a smartphone. The present review will contain a brief discussion of scholarly articles and conference proceedings dedicated to the introduction of gamification and e-learning as viable approaches to simplifying the adaptation of autistic students to the modern learning environment.

Gamification as a Tool for E-learning

When analyzing gamification as a potential learning approach, it is necessary to evaluate the potential of this method’s mechanisms to increase users’ motivation. The articles by Ašeriškis and Damaševičius (2014), Dubois and Tamburrelli (2013), and Thiebes et al. (2014) focus on this issue. Ašeriškis and Damaševičius (2014) have investigated the psychological and social motives for gamification, concluding that the main aim of this approach is promoting users’ inclination to do their job better. Dubois and Tamburrelli (2013) also analyze the ways of motivating individuals to perform well, but this article focuses on software engineering. Finally, Thiebes et al. (2014) concentrate their research on end-users, stating that user specifics and social influences on gamification have a considerable effect on end-users motivation. All of these findings may be referred to the field of education since children are known to be highly competitive and to enjoy the situations in which they win.

Other articles under review are focused solely on the learning environment, which makes their contribution to the research purpose more essential. Scholars have analyzed gamification in various environments, including primary school (Kickmeier-Rust et al. 2014) and higher education (Khaleel et al. 2017; Urh et al. 2015). Both learning and e-learning have served as a point of interest for researchers studying gamification (Glover 2013; Landers 2014; Strmečki et al. 2015; Wongso et al. 2014). Scholars agree that gamification increases learners’ motivation and interest in the material, boost engagement, and leads to better learning outcomes (Strmečki et al. 2015; Urh et al. 2015; Wongso et al. 2014). Kickmeier-Rust et al. (2014) point to another crucial feature of gamification, which is the improved possibility of feedback and formative assessment. The opportunity for interaction is much higher in games than in traditional educational approaches (Glover 2013). Overall, scholars agree that gamification is a vital tool for increasing students’ motivation to learn. Hence, the studies’ findings suggest that introducing gamification may pose some difficulties for teachers, but the advantages of such innovation will outnumber the challenges met on the way to implementing them.

Gamified Interventions for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

Given the selected research problem, it is also important to analyze the studies focused on learners with special needs, particularly, those with an autism spectrum disorder. A considerable number of scholarly investigations have been dedicated to the use of gamified interventions in the work with autistic students. Researchers emphasize the potential of games to increase the accessibility to education for students with special needs (Cinquin et al. 2019; Karunamoorthy and Tahar 2020; Smith and Abrams 2019; Valencia et al. 2019). Other studies’ findings indicate that gamification helps to develop autistic children’s attention (Banire et al. 2015) and recognition skills (Laforcade and Vakhrina 2016; Tanaka et al. 2010). Finally, the increased level of independence and emotional intelligence of autistic students as a result of gamification interventions is analyzed by scholars (Camargo et al. 2019; Navan and Khaleghi 2020; Papoutsi et al. 2018). All of these studies emphasize the significant contribution of gamification and e-learning to improving the quality of life and simplifying the process of learning for autistic students.

Probably the most considerable asset of gamification for students with autism, according to the reviewed articles’ findings, is that of making these children feel more comfortable while obtaining an education. This opportunity is gained due to the possibility of staying at home and learning online, which is the most convenient option for them (Camargo et al. 2019; Navan and Khaleghi 2020; Valencia et al. 2019). Furthermore, according to Smith and Abrams (2019), gamified learning is a useful tool for increasing the academic achievement of students with neurological and cognitive disabilities. Hence, the method is highly suitable for youths with autism spectrum disorder, which frequently experience difficulty studying in the company of others. Another relevant opportunity provided by gamification is the enhanced level of social inclusion (Cinquin et al. 2019) and emotion regulation (Laforcade and Vakhrina 2016; Papoutsi et al. 2018).

Along with numerous advantages, gamification poses some challenges for teachers and learners, such as the need for additional training, the burden of work, and facilities’ or teachers’ perceptions (Karunamoorthy and Tahar 2020). Hence, it is important to take into consideration not only the benefits but also the risks of gamification interventions’ use in the work with autistic students. Only by predicting and eliminating the challenges will educators be able to make their approaches the most useful for autistic children.

Conclusion: The Room for Knowledge Contribution

E-learning based on gamification for autism has gained the proper attention of scholars, which is evident from the variety of subtopics to which researchers dedicate their studies. Researchers pay due attention to the problems of autistic learners and their teachers and families. Furthermore, the potential of gamification to enhance different areas of these learners’ development has been thoroughly analyzed by scholars. However, there exists a gap in current gains that requires consideration. Specifically, all of the reviewed studies focus on English-language-based games, whereas many Arabic students with autism do not possess sufficient knowledge of this foreign language. Therefore, a game aimed at promoting Arabic-speaking autistic learners’ education has been created by the author and will be offered for use in practice. There is an urgent need to utilize the advantages offered by gamification and e-learning for students, and it would be wrong to miss such an outstanding opportunity.


D. Ašeriškis, and R. Damaševičius, “Gamification of a project management system,” Proceedings of ACHI 2014: The Seventh International Conference on Advances in Computer-Human Interactions, 2014, pp. 200-207.

B. Banire, N. Jomhari, and R. Ahmad, “Visual hybrid development learning system (VHDLS) framework for children with autism,” Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 45(10), 2015, pp. 3069-3084.

M. C. Camargo, R. M. Barros, J. D. Brancher, V. T. O. Barros, and M. Santana, “Designing gamified interventions for autism spectrum disorder: a systematic review,” Proceedings of IFIP International Federation for Information Processing, 2019, pp. 341-352.

P.-A. Cinquin, P. Guitton, and H. Sauzéon, “Online e-learning and cognitive disabilities: a systematic review,” Computers and Education, 130, 2019, pp.152-167.

D. J. Dubois, and G. Tamburrelli, “Understanding gamification mechanisms for software development,” Proceedings of the 2013 9th Joint Meeting on Foundations of Software Engineering, 2013, pp. 659-662.

I. Glover, “Play as you learn: gamification as a technique for motivating learners,” Proceedings of World Conference on Educational Multimedia, Hypermedia and Telecommunications, 2013, pp. 1999-2008.

R. Karunamoorthy, and M. M. Tahar, “A gamification approach to teaching and learning for pupils with special needs in primary schools,” Proceedings of the International Conference on Special Education in South East Asia Region 10th Series, 2020, pp. 359-366.

F. L. Khaleel, N. S. Ashaari, T. S. M. T. Wook, and A. Ismail, “Gamification-based learning framework for a programming course,” Proceedings of the 6th International Conference on Electrical Engineering and Informatics, 2017.

M. D. Kickmeier-Rust, E.-C. Hillemann, and D. Albert, “Gamification and smart feedback: experiences with a primary school level math app,” International Journal of Game-Based Learning, 4(3), 2014, pp. 35-46.

P. Laforcade, and V. Vakhrina, “A domain-specific modeling approach for a simulation-driven validation of gamified learning environments: case study about teaching the mimicry of emotions to children with autism,” Laboratoire d’Informatique de l’Université du Maine (LIUM), 2016.

R. N. Landers, “Developing a theory of gamified learning: linking serious games and gamification of learning,” Simulation & gaming, 45(6), 2014, pp. 752-768.

A. A. Navan, and A. Khaleghi, “Using gamification to improve the education quality of children with autism,” Revista científica, 37(1), 2020, pp. 90-106.

C. Papoutsi, A. Drigas, and C. Skianis, “Mobile applications to improve emotional intelligence in autism – a review,” International Journal of Interactive Mobile Technologies, 12(6), 2018, pp. 47-61.

K. Smith, and S. S. Abrams, “Gamification and accessibility,” International Journal of Information and Learning Technology, 36(2), 2019, pp. 104-123.

D. Strmečki, A. Bernik, and D. Radošević, “Gamification in e-learning: introducing gamified design elements into e-learning systems,” Journal of Computer Sciences, 11(12), 2015, pp. 1108-1117.

J. W. Tanaka, J. M. Wolf, C. Klaiman, K. Koenig, J. Cockburn, L. Herlihy, C. Brown, S. Stahl, M. D. Kaiser, and R. T. Schultz, “Using computerized games to teach face recognition skills to children with autism spectrum disorder: the Let’s Face It! program,” Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 51(8), 2010, pp. 944-952.

S. Thiebes, S. Lins, and D. Basten, “Gamifying information systems – a synthesis of gamification mechanics and dynamics,” Proceedings of the Twenty-Second European Conference on Information Systems, 2014, pp. 1-17.

M. Urh, G. Vukovic, E. Jereb, and R. Pintar, “The model for introduction of gamification into e-learning in higher education,” Procedia Social and Behavioral Sciences, 197, 2015, pp. 388-397.

K. Valencia, C. Rusu, D. Quiñones, and E. Jamet, “The impact of technology on people with autism spectrum disorder: a systematic literature review,” Sensors, 19(20), 2019, pp. 4485.

O. Wongso, Y. Rosmansyah, and Y. Bandung, “Gamification framework model, based on social engagement in e-learning 2.0,” Proceedings of the 2014 2nd International Conference on Technology, Informatics, Management, Engineering & Environment, 2014, pp. 10-14.

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