The What And Why Of Gamification
“That wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was pretty cool!” When you hear these simple sentences, you know that you’ve successfully gamified learning. A game is something someone wants to play. In a learning environment, a game provides enjoyment, challenge, and opportunity. Participants find they were so engrossed in the activity that when it is over, they are satisfied with what they have learned. What a surprise.
Empower Learners With eLearning Gamification
eLearning gamification well done entices, motivates, challenges, and empowers learners so they willingly achieve higher objectives. It is more than entertainment, although games need to be fun. Games lead to deeper engagement, and that brings better retention and changes in behavior. Learners explore concepts, make strategic decisions, receive immediate feedback, and willingly re-engage after unsuccessful attempts.
As learners pass through levels of difficulty, they master skills and apply content within a context of lifelike scenarios and narratives. The objective is to harness a learner’s natural curiosity, sense of ownership, drive to succeed, and desire to relate.
The Development Of Games Through Time
Throughout history, most games were created with specific goals in mind. Most sports were developed on the idea of training young people for battle. These involved patterns of offense and defense, opposing goals, and learning to work in teams to achieve an objective. The board game checkers and its more advanced cousin, chess, teach strategic thinking within a defined set of rules for movement. Many of us were first introduced to capitalism through games like Monopoly. Almost any game you can think of is trying to teach us something.
Games And Mind: Mastering Skills
There is serious brain science behind every successful game. Dopamine is a wonderful substance produced by the human body. Early attempts to understand its function connected this brain chemical to pleasure. More recent studies, like one done by Henry Chase and Luke Clark in 2010, are more nuanced . Dopamine, it turns out, has more to do with stressful and rewarding situations. Naturally produced by the body, dopamine gets released when we expect that something good will happen to us. That’s why it’s known as one of the “happiness hormones.” We are compelled to play. The dopamine released while playing a video game rises by nearly 100%, “roughly the same increase triggered by sex” according to the Washington Post .
Completion badges and progress bars provide learners with feedback that communicates they are on the move.
Any parent of a teenager is familiar with the dopamine-fueled struggle involving screen time, video games, and willful children. But games have also taught many generations how to think, how things work, how to relate to others, and how to master skills necessary in the adult world.
So how do we apply the mechanics of game theory to learning? Let’s begin with some distinctions and definitions. First of all, we need to be aware that there is a difference between game activities and game structures.
Game Activities Vs. Game Structures
The activities of a game present a learner with choices and feedback that add engagement and deeper learning for a specific section of a learning module. In other words, some but not all of the modules contain elements of a game. Common types of game feedback inside a module include things like the following:
Scores And Leaderboards
Scores can be compared to a desired metric like getting 8 out of 10 possible points. Here, the learner is playing against an already established objective. Or, they can be part of a leaderboard in which learners’ scores are matched up against others who are taking the same module.
Progression Through Levels Of Difficulty
Successfully completing one section or an entire module leads to the opportunity to move into more complex and difficult learning. The experience is not unlike climbing a mountain.
Visual, Verbal And Sound Effects Feedback
Getting immediate feedback is an important part of most games. That’s why fans at sporting events enjoy cheering or booing so much. Completion badges and progress bars provide learners with feedback that communicates they are on the move.
Greater Powers, Capability, Or Tools
Completing a section successfully gives the learner access to great capacity or abilities.
Game structures refer to the process of housing an entire module within a themed setting. The content is presented in order to progress through the game and the learner’s choices produce results. There are many types of game structures.
A learner completes puzzles or quests to advance to higher levels. They often begin with the backstory of a character who is required to complete a mission to win the game.
A learner becomes the protagonist or leading character in a story and makes choices to save the day. The character often has statistics that can be monitored and improved over the course of the game based on the choices they make.
A learner progresses through the game by means of tactics like skillful thinking or planning. Luck, force, and technical proficiency are minimized. The idea is to enhance strategic thinking skills.
A learner is presented most often with enemies who can only be defeated by quick action and fast reflexes.
A learner is immersed in an environment that closely simulates real life. Simulations are often based on case studies where the situation is real and the outcomes are known.
Including eLearning gamification into our training means that we make intentional decisions about which format we want to use in our design processes. The distinction between game activities and game structures is an important one. Learning objectives should be the guiding light for determining which type of eLearning gamification to use and which type of game to play.
There are factors to consider when creating a game structure or game activities. Keep in mind that game theory drives each stage of learning, not just the outcome. Whether or not a learner will dive in is dependent on an organization’s internal marketing for the product.
Not all elements will be possible or even desirable in every game but each should be considered depending on the type of game being build and the learning objective:
- Relevant content
Is the content important and meaningful to the learner?
- Look and feel
Are the layout, colors, and branding consistent?
- Learner motivation
What motivates the learner to engage with the material?
- Material chunked right
Too much or not enough? Manageable? Boring?
Will the audio support the game and engage the users? How will you use it?
Will the learner be able to self-navigate?
What confirmation exercises will be included?
- Social learning and community
Will the learner play alone or be part of a community?
- Application and follow-up
What skills will be attained and applied? Will there be exercises to reinforce what has been learned?
Game theory drives each state of learning—not just the outcome. Whether or not a learner will begin is dependent on how the organization promotes the tool. That said, the success of the game and the learning attached to it will be largely determined by how the learner feels at various stages of the game and once they complete it. One surprise is that the desired feeling is not necessarily positive. Even negative feelings draw people back to games until they find success. Some feelings common to gamified learning are:
- Empowerment: The hope and experience of success
- Productive, satisfying work: Accomplishment
- Purpose: Meaning, tied to something larger than self
- Curiosity: Surprise
- Ownership: Legacy
- Relatedness: Connection and social influence
- Scarcity: Impatience
- Avoidance: Loss
“That wasn’t so bad. In fact, it was pretty cool!” If you hear this, you’ve done well. Maybe we can add something more to this. When learners recommend your gamified learning to others and they return to play again until they’ve mastered it, you have arrived at learning gamification. It is worth the effort and we want to encourage you in your journey to learning excellence. Download the eBook What Is eLearning Gamification And Why Is It Vital For L&D Professionals? to discover how to bring eLearning gamification to your learning with solid theory and great case studies. Also, join the webinar on the same topic and find out how to create a winning eLearning gamification strategy.
References: Gambling: The almost-winning addiction  The next level: Video games are more addictive than ever. This is what happens when kids can’t turn them off