As a learning and development consultant I do a lot of ongoing research into learning behaviours, specifically how learners’ habits and attention spans are changing all the time. It’s interesting and at times terrifying the lengths that learning professionals now must go to, to create long lasting engagement with their content.
One of the methods that comes up time and again is gamification, for which Karl Kapp* gives a good definition “Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.” It’s been around for a long time now and it always interests me to hear reactions when it’s brought up in conversation. I find that responses are for the most part, largely tipped to one end of the scale or the other.
So, I find myself with each new project asking the same questions; why are opinions so torn? Is gamification as engaging as it’s made out to be? Is it worth implementing? If so to what level?
Most of the negative opinions about gamification can be drawn back to it being over-used or put in place with no thought, which then serves to demotivate. Imagine needing to use a new machine at work to finish a job, and you want to quickly look up an instruction, but first you must play a game that shows you around the machine, then answer 3 quiz questions before you get the content you need. You’d be pretty frustrated right?
It probably wouldn’t bring you rushing back to the learning platform to complete more training and you would end up with negative feelings towards an extrinsic reward you “earned”, rather than motivate you to collect more.
Now imagine that you are sat at your desk, you have some allocated time to complete training on a new skill related to your role, you have completed a course module and see that if you spend an extra 10 minutes completing the next part you will earn a badge, and possibly move ahead of some colleagues on the leader board. This would probably motivate you to sit more training and see what other relevant modules are available.
It has been proved time and again that people crave the minor endorphin hit supplied by reaching the next level, or by competing with others, and rewards outside of the intrinsic feelings of accomplishment, such as digital badges or physical rewards have been proven to motivate, although they need to be incorporated in the right way. From the examples given it’s clear that gamification can be an annoying demotivator, but used in the right way, it can be engaging, help to anchor content and make learning fun!
So, how do you know if gamification is right for your content and how do you strike the right balance? The first important step is the research, a good place to start is to consider the following questions.
- What type of content are you delivering? Such as, bite sized articles or long course modules?
- When / where / on what device will learners be consuming it? For example, will they be sat behind a desk on their lunch break or out and about on a mobile device?
- What demographic are your learners? Some demographics are motivated differently to others.
- What do your learners find motivating? Do some field research.
Then consider the level of gamification and how it will fit into your content and / or learning platform. Some examples are:
- Competitive Gamification. Points, badges and leader boards are an easy way to provide a fun competitive element to learning, whether against colleagues or themselves.
- Content Gamification. Learning content can be gamified by adding quizzes and assessments at a low level, all the way up to making a course an actual game, and incorporating choices, awards and brand or personalised characters.
- Immersive Gamification. A fully immersive gamification experience can allow the learner to make decisions throughout the course, taking personalised characters into the learning content and allowing learners plot their own path. Using VR or AR can take it to the next ‘fully immersive’ level.
People have different motivators and you won’t please every learner, but the more research that can be completed before implementing, the more chance you have of hitting that gamification sweet spot!
Learning and Development Consultant
*Kapp. K. (2012). The gamification of learning and instruction: Game-based methods and strategies for training and education. Pfeiffer.