Gamification in eLearning is a serious topic of discussion and action. From schools to leading corporate giants, gamification is being successfully used to train students and employees, respectively. Gamification of learning is not just an afterthought or a filler but a core pillar of modern workplace learning and training.
Over the years, we have published several blog posts on gamification in learning and HR and how it can help organizations meet their L&D goals. This blog post takes the best of those posts and is updated to reflect the changes that have taken place in the eLearning world, like LXPs, microlearning, social learning, and learner experience.
Table of Contents
The Science Behind Gamification
Gamification is the application of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to encourage users to solve problems. A 2015 study by Research and Markets estimated that Gamification in E-Learning would grow to $319 billion by 2020. It would be interesting to see the data in 2020 and examine the prediction.
How and why are game mechanics and game dynamics touted to be capable of achieving what other, more direct forms of training can’t? An interesting model might answer that:
Fogg’s Behavior Model (FBM) states that for a specific behavior to occur, three elements must converge at the same moment. These are motivation, ability, and triggers.
Motivation: When the person is naturally motivated to perform the behavior because of pleasure, pain, hope, fear, social acceptance, rejection, etc.
Ability: When the person perceives that carrying out the behavior is simple.
Triggers: When the person is triggered to do the behavior by being signaled, cued, reminded, asked, etc.
Games provide a mechanism to converge all these three elements at the same time. They drive players above the activation threshold (motivation) and trigger them to do certain actions by gradually enhancing their ability to do those actions. However, it is important to remember that gamification is NOT about the game. It is about taking the essence of what makes games so appealing, decoding the mechanics that make them work and applying them to achieve learning or behavioral outcomes.
Accenture identified seven elements of gamification that makes it so alluring. Let us explore how they support Fogg’s Behavior Model.
The possibility of status and recognition among peer players creates the right motivation to play games.
Milestones or levels in games gradual build players’ ability and competency. Milestones also act as motivators when a player completes a level because he wants to explore further and gain a higher status.
When players have both the motivation and ability to play a game, the competitive element acts as a trigger. It serves as a reminder that they must improve their skills to do better than the others in mastering the game.
Rankings are a measure of competitiveness. By adding a ranking system to your eLearning games, you are essentially creating a socially driven motivator which will continuously trigger participation.
Social connectedness in a competitive game-like environment releases endorphin. When endorphin is released, a learner is mentally more involved (by being ‘excited’) in the process which leads to better retention of knowledge. The ‘social acceptance’ or fear of ‘rejection’ also act as factors to motivate learners. (“When everybody does, I will look stupid to not know/learn this”)
By presenting immediate, doable and often life-like problems, players are immersed in the virtual world. Exciting animation and interactive graphics trigger the right notes of ability and motivation.
Games that are customizable to the extent that players can manage and track their progress, comment on one another’s performance, share their experiences, and create a sense of ownership.
Five Reasons to Use Gamification in eLearning
From a very tender age, we are exposed to games: Chess, Monopoly, Scotland Yard… And that is for a reason because games make learning not to seem like ‘learning’. Our mind inputs far more concentration and participation in a game rather than something we are otherwise taught. As we grow up, such informal learning is replaced with a more structured, more formal way of instruction – the effectiveness of which has been questioned time and again. Thankfully, with the introduction of high-end gamification in learning, we now have back what was lost being a child – a powerful medium of learning in the adult, corporate world. Interactive games that resemble real work roles or use simulation to immerse the learner in a life-like environment provide several advantages to the organization:
Digital games positively influence learning achievement
The sense of ‘achievement’ is what makes a game so captivating. A learner wants to achieve ‘more’ points or ‘higher’ levels than what he has previously accomplished. Thus, games increase learning motivation.
Games help in the development of cognitive ability
Practice makes a man perfect, doesn’t it? When learners try and retry to play the various levels and scenarios in a game, they are revising the idea that you are trying to instill through that game. For example, a simulated game that has trainee engineers repairing different machines that get more complex as they complete each level: will ultimately develop their cognitive ability in that area. Games are also known to improve hand-eye coordination.
Games improve concentration
If you have ever tried interrupting a young kid in the middle of his/her video game, you’d know what we are talking about. In fact, even the kids with poor academic performance are often excellent gamers. Research points to the potential use of games to improve comprehension in kids with learning disorders and attention difficulties. In the corporate setting, a pilot trainee will have far greater levels of participation and concentration in a simulated cockpit, than if he is given a lecture on the same.
Gamification can teach abstract concepts
Abstract concepts like good communication or interpersonal skills, team management, resource management, ability to handle critical incidents, etc. are mostly behavioral in nature. They cannot be taught; they can only be learned with experience. Gamification allows learners to ‘learn’ these professionally important behaviors.
New technologies have opened new frontiers for mobile-based gaming
Emerging technologies like motion-sensing which includes edge-detection, region-detection, and optical flow, as well as the use of gestures and camera applications to capture details, have opened a world of possibilities to use the current accelerometer-enabled smartphones for gamified learning.
Making Learning Fun with Gamification
53% of the respondents participating in a Pew Research study found said that by 2020 gamification will be widely adopted by most industries with a special focus on the communications and education sectors. With all the hype about transforming simple training into a holistic and integrated ‘learning’ and thereby development process, this should hardly come as a surprise.
Now the question is, how to make learning fun? Yeah. Gamification. But how exactly to integrate it into your learning function? We’ll help you through.
First things first. Gamification is the integration of game-like elements into any activity in order to encourage engagement in it. Simply putting up any random game to increase the fun part within or at the end of your learning programs will only prove counterproductive. For this to be avoided you need to identify two things: the activity and the game-like elements.
What is it that you want your learners to learn through this game? Is it decision making? Charting out strategies based on available resources and constraints? Learning how to trade stocks in the market? Or the dynamics of brand building?
Basically, what instructional or eLearning based training program would you most truly want your employees to undergo? The answer which you get is the activity you want to gamify. For example, IBM successfully implemented a game called Innov8 which had players dealing with a fictional company to understand the relationship between IT and business processes.
Elements of Gamification
Here comes the fun part. You know what you want them to learn. Now is the time to wrap it up in something that’s fun and gets them going by themselves. For example, integrating point earning systems or giving virtual currencies that can be traded for extra levels are sure to increase engagement by presenting a learner with challenges and finally achieving a sense of accomplishment. Moreover, if you have a social learning LMS in your organization, learners will automatically be self-motivated to outperform their colleagues.
It may sound too good to be true, but the result of this will be a win-win situation for all. Your learning function gets what it wanted while creating a self-propagating, healthy learning environment which is both challenging and competitive.
Integrating Game Thinking in eLearning Design
The focus is now shifting on creating learning experiences that integrate games organically into the eLearning course content rather than a forced inclusion. This is precisely why; some gamified eLearning content works better than others.
What is Game Thinking?
Andrzej Marczewski, one of the most reputed names in game thinking and game design has this simple definition for ‘Game Thinking’:
“The use of games and game-like approaches to solve problems and create better experiences.”
It may seem like a rudimentary definition, but one needs to understand how critically it affects the outcome of a learning program and how a well-designed game can make or break the value of an eLearning program. Gamification can be classified as a resultant output of game thinking that leads to the addition of a game / puzzle element within learning content. It is not restricted to just eLearning design and gamification can be used successfully in a regular classroom set-up to help students in school learn better.
Thinking like the Learner
Game thinking requires the learning experience designer – both the instructional designer and the graphic designer contributing to the learning content to think in terms of the end-user learner. It is no longer enough to just stitch together a storyboard from reference content given by the customer and then go ahead and animate it in sequence.
Put yourself in the learners’ shoes! What is the outcome of this course or program going to be? How is it going to benefit me (the learners) if the course is completed successfully? Does the course flow logically and coherently with regular spaced intervals and assessments that allow the reinforcement of learning? And most importantly, at the end of the course, do the learners achieve the learning objectives stipulated at the beginning of the course? These are the questions that learning experience designers need to ask themselves when they are designing an eLearning course.
Gamification in eLearning is no longer a fad to just add an interactive element or break the monotony of learning. There is a specific science to integrating games within eLearning content. When the target audience is someone at the C-level of the corporate hierarchy, it becomes even tougher to think like a C-level leader and develop appropriate gamified learning.
Here’s an incredible graphic, again from Andrzej (Thank you again) that seeks to distinguish between the different off-shoots of Game Thinking. This was originally conceptualized in 2013.
By 2015, Andrzej had published an engaging and highly informative book – “Game Thinking. Even Ninja Monkeys Like to Play: Gamification, Game Thinking and Motivational Design”. The book features an updated variant of the graphic and in 2016 this graphic was enhanced further, and the author also shared it on his personal blog
Marczewski, A. (2015). Game Thinking. Even Ninja Monkeys Like to Play: Gamification, Game Thinking and Motivational Design (1st ed., pp. 15). CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform.
ISBN-10: 1514745666 ISBN-13: 978-1514745663
The evolution of the two graphics shows the increase in the scope of game thinking in eLearning. As learning switches to the smartphone; and we focus on eLearning apps and the mobile LMS; we also need to come up with innovative embedded games within eLearning. Games that offer a seamless learning experience, irrespective of the device that the learners use to access the learning content. We all love to listen to stories, stories that have a personal connect, stories that have a strong purpose, spread values, and have a powerful message. This is an essential element of modern eLearning design that focuses on storytelling, the personal connection, intelligent game thinking influenced design, and result-driven learning.
In the next section, we will see how gamification can play an important role in making the function of HR teams easier and more engaging.
Gamification for HR
Gamification is being used across different roles and functions within organizations. Gamification uses 75% psychology and 25% technology. It banks on the competitive spirit within and creates scenarios that encourage and motivate the user to keep moving forward.
According to researchers in 2012, less than one in 10 employees were actively engaged in their work whereas the others were ‘not engaged’ (60%) or ‘actively disengaged’ (32%). Gamification helps employees to engage themselves in their work by encouraging them to be more interactive as a team and by setting achievable goal standards with reward points. Companies started adopting gamification as a medium to motivate their employees in their work environment and this slowly seeped into the HR recruitment process as well.
Several companies are coming forward to adopt gamification in their HR frontier. For instance, Marriot International Inc. used gamification in its recruitment process by creating an interactive environment like Farmville for its prospective employees to give them a feel of the organization’s work culture and hotel environment. TCS has revamped its team player quotient by encouraging its employees to be a part of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPG) which integrates real-life game environments with network features to create virtual teams and work environments thereby encouraging harmonious role-playing among its users and also decreasing the dreariness of solo-training and solo-project management.
Gamification does not stop with recruitment and can also be effectively used in work-behavior modification, teamwork motivation, interactive training, and many such areas that could use a little bit of gamification magic. Gamification helps create gamer profiles for its users and this can be used to rank employees based on their interaction, team-player qualities, and can also be upgraded to include features that evaluate the employee’s lifestyle and health. LXPs are the new buzzword in eLearning and organizations are looking to deploy microlearning and gamified learning nuggets that can be deployed on LXPs with ease. The challenge is to create compelling gaming experiences that hold the attention of the learner and allow the learner to remember what they learned.
How to make the most of Gamification?
It is crucial to understand that gamification is a valuable resource and its ability to morph itself into an application that serves multiple purposes should be banked upon effectively. Its flexibility should be used for all the right reasons as this is the key to unlock doors to many ideal innovations that serve its intended purpose without a glitch. When it comes to gamification in HR, the following points will help you better understand its features and scope.
Define your goal first and then evaluate how best it can be used in the domain of your choosing. Gamification applications that are restricted to recruitment are designed with specific goals in mind. This gets more personalized based on the profile for which the candidate is tested. For instance, a person in question for the post of an engineer will be tested differently whereas a candidate for a managerial post will be subjected to a different gamification experience.
Gamification banks on the competitive spirit within and creates scenarios that encourage and motivate the user to keep moving forward. It is therefore important to understand the mentality of the employee and create gaming programs that could be of best use to them in their work environment.
The key to the successful implementation of gaming in HR lies in keeping employees engaged and motivated. Plan your gaming landscapes and rewards to keep your target users occupied and encouraged for longer periods of time.
Gamification, when deployed properly, can help departments achieve their goals. Be it HR for recruitment, L&D for internal training, or an eLearning project for a client, gamification makes learning fun and engaging. Do you have any thoughts to share on gamification in eLearning? Share your thoughts in the ‘Comments’ section below.