Cells are known to sense and respond to the physical properties of their environment and those of tissue scaffolds. Optimizing these cell-material interactions is critical in tissue engineering. In this work, a simple and inexpensive combinatorial platform was developed to rapidly screen three-dimensional (3D) tissue scaffolds and was applied to screen the effect of scaffold properties for tissue engineering of bone. Differentiation of osteoblasts was examined in poly(ethylene glycol) hydrogel gradients spanning a 30-fold range in compressive modulus ( approximately 10 kPa to approximately 300 kPa). Results demonstrate that material properties (gel stiffness) of scaffolds can be leveraged to induce cell differentiation in 3D culture as an alternative to biochemical cues such as soluble supplements, immobilized biomolecules and vectors, which are often expensive, labile and potentially carcinogenic. Gel moduli of approximately 225 kPa and higher enhanced osteogenesis. Furthermore, it is proposed that material-induced cell differentiation can be modulated to engineer seamless tissue interfaces between mineralized bone tissue and softer tissues such as ligaments and tendons. This work presents a combinatorial method to screen biological response to 3D hydrogel scaffolds that more closely mimics the 3D environment experienced by cells in vivo.