If you’re in the e-learning industry, you’ve heard the term by now: gamification. Sounds fun, right? But true gamification is more than throwing together some badges and a leaderboard.

E-learning gamification is the application of game elements and gaming techniques to online learning content in an effort to make it fun and engaging. In other words, using game mechanics to encourage learners to explore and learn.

What are some of these gamification techniques, and how can you apply them to e-learning? Let’s take a closer look at some examples.

Narrative

A key part of many games is the narrative, or the story, behind them. These stories often incorporate a protagonist (a relatable character), an antagonist (a challenge the protagonist faces) and a plot (a sequence of events).

Creating a scenario is a great way to add a narrative element to your course. Scenarios involve characters that follow a simple plot or sequence of events. If you’ve never created scenario-based e-learning before, hop on over to this article for some tips: Writing Effective E-Learning Scenarios.

Rules

Rules are a critical part of any game to set expectations and parameters. They let players know what they can and cannot do.

When you’re incorporating game elements, it’s important to provide learners with specific and concise instructions. Clear communication about what you expect learners to do at every turn will ensure they’re never left guessing about what to do.

Player Control

Having control over the journey and the outcome is a common element of many games. Players love to feel in control of their potential for success.

One way to give learners control is to let them choose an avatar or character that appears in the course. Another way is to open up navigation to give learners control over how they progress through the content. For example, you could let learners access content from a main menu with several possible choices, instead of forcing them down a linear path.

Discovery

Games often encourage discovery and exploration; for example, people love to “hunt” for a hidden treasure.

One way to incorporate this technique in your course would be to ask learners to search for hidden nuggets of information to score some extra points.

If you decide to implement this technique, keep in mind that while looking for extra information is a fun add-on, you should never make a learner dig for a critical piece of information. Rather, hidden information should be “nice to know” information that’ll help learners deepen their understanding.

Also, be sure to provide learners with clear instructions about what they’re looking for. There’s nothing worse than clicking aimlessly without knowing what or where to look.

Interactivity

How many games have you played that required you to do nothing? None! Games are all about stimulation and engagement, whether mental or physical, and making a move is part of the process.

Adding interactivity doesn’t simply mean asking the user to “click” more often. The key is to craft meaningful interactions that require learners to think and make decisions. Instead of telling them the information outright, make them select the correct choice from a list and drag it into place. Instead of presenting them with the steps of a linear process, get them to order the steps themselves. 

For more information about adding interactivity in a meaningful way, check out this article: 3 Things to Consider Before You Add Interactivity.

Feedback

Feedback is a key part of gaming. It lets users know their action has been registered or recognized, and it provides a cue to players about how they are progressing. Feedback doesn’t have to be text. “Unlocking” new features, for example, is a type of feedback that lets players know they’re doing well.

Badges or checkpoints are a way to show feedback and achievement. Progress bars are also great for providing ongoing feedback and letting learners know how they’re doing.

Time Constraints

Games use time constraints to create a sense of urgency, which pressures the gamer to think and act quickly.

To simulate a real-life constraint, consider using a countdown or a timer on your quiz. For example, if your call center expects calls to be completed in less than five minutes, give your scenario a time limit of five minutes for the learner to pass.

Loss Aversion

Loss aversion refers to the tendency of humans to prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Studies have demonstrated that a loss is twice as powerful as a gain, and this mental propensity is used by many game developers.

Use a points system in your course to let learners know where they stand, and let them know points can be taken away for incorrect answers. You could also use a visual progress meter, such as a map with checkpoints, to show learners whether they’re moving forward or backward as they progress through the content.

Continuous Play

Continuous play is the ability for gamers to pick up where they left off and continue the game. This means that even gamers who “lose” the game can start over and try again as many times as they want.

When you design your content, consider giving learners the opportunity to keep going! It’s a great sign when learners want to retry or revisit content. It means they’re interested and intrigued. Remember: you want to encourage your learners to remember the content, so if they want to revisit it, why not let them?

One way to incorporate continuous play into your courses is to allow learners to retake a quiz or assessment if they fail. Another way is to give them a second chance if they answer a question incorrectly.

Rewards

Bonus points or rewards make people feel good, and are used extensively in many different games.

Consider giving learners “bonus points” for more difficult questions, or providing them with an ability to earn extra rewards based on good choices.

Levels

Achieving different levels, goals, or challenges is a common theme among games.

Instead of having chapters or modules, organize your content into “levels” and “unlock” the levels when learners answer choices correctly or hit a certain number of points.

Competition

Leaderboards are one of the most popular ways to encourage competition in the gaming world. Leaderboards rank players and their scores, and people love them because they like to get recognition for their skills and effort.

Use a corporate intranet page or your LMS to let learners see how their coworkers are progressing. However, be mindful of the information you share. Making low scores public could be embarrassing for learners, for example. It might be a better idea to focus only on high scores.

The Bottom Line

In order for gamification to truly add value to your courses, the game elements need to be well thought out and support the learning objectives. Want to learn more about gamification? Check out these resources:

And if you’re looking for some game templates, be sure to check these out:

We’d love to hear from you in the comments! Which of these gamification techniques have you incorporated in your courses? What did that look like? Are there any gaming techniques we didn’t mention? Please share your experience and insights in the comments below.

Follow us on Twitter and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

48 Comments
Nicole Legault
Nicole Legault
Marcus Erasmus
Belen Casado

Thank you for the article and the debate; it's really interesting. As you mention, gamification is getting into e-learning more and more, and I guess it's mainly due to the engaging aspects of game systems that it applies. I think that a thorough analysis of what motivates people is key to better understand the importance of gamifying a course. Otherwise we end up with just 'PBLs': points, badges and leaderboards. The interesting thing is to get someone doing something just for the sake of it, and this occurs more when what is done is intrinsic motivating. 'Players' or users, need to feel they're in control by having autonomy on the steps they take (as you mention) and also to feel that they're in relation to others whithin the gamified system. A very interesting 6-weeks cours... Expand

Nicole Legault
Marcus Erasmus
Nicole Legault