Wanna talk gamification?

Apr 18, 2013

Hi, everyone: This discussion on gamification (using game elements to engage learners) started in the "Freelance Heroes" thread, and was so robust we decided it deserved its own thread.

Wanna talk gamification? This is the place.

40 Replies
Daniel Brigham

Posted Friday, April 05, 2013 at 6:52 PM  

Anne Pead said: Hi All

 I should have popped this up a week ago (sorry for being slow) but if anyone is interested in Gamification, there is a course on Coursera (https://www.coursera.org/course/gamification) that has just started and looks like it will be really good (I'm signed up for it!). Good networking opportunity too!

If you don't know Coursera it is an online site that is bringing together several universities from around the world with free, online classes.  Once you have a look you can say goodbye to free time and hello to lots of learning



ps - this is a great thread that I really enjoy following! Thanks to all the great contributors!

Bruce Graham said:

Whilst I "get" the whole gamification concept, I'm still struggling to se it's relevance to ANY of my clients :(

I just have this little chimp on my shoulder that keeps saying "Suggest that and you lose the contract...".

I know people love a challenge...I know people love to be competitive etc...but sometimes you just gotta' get on, listen, practice and execute.

Really struggling with this one.


Kevin Thorn said:

Hey guys, 

First, let's not confuse a 'game' with 'gamification'. Two different things and two different approaches. It all starts with the analysis of course, and then mapping out a potential design. I agree Bruce, it is not something I would come straight out and suggest to a client as a "design theme" as I would be falsely setting up expectations.

There are two types of gamification: Content and Structure. 

- Structure: The application of game elements to help move the learner through the content without alteration to the content itself.
- Content:: The application of game elements that alters the content or make it more game-like. There's more game thinking in this design.

Karl Kapp defines them better than I can and offers when and where you would use either > When To Use Which Type of Gamification 

Where I see the big #FAIL in this design approach is trying to design game-like elearning for the sake of it being gamey. Also known as "gamifying" content. It never works. Those that call them games such as the "Jeopardy" game is not a game. It's a quiz on steroids. A true learning game must start at the root instructional design level with game thinking and mechanics.

Gamification can be effective if done right. It's not about slapping a badge at the end of section/module in a course or "leveling-up" just for passing a quiz. It's about designing the learning path in such a way to engage and motivate learners "through" the content. That starts at the design phase of the project.

I've built a few courses using gamification and each client was extremely pleased with the outcome. Again, these courses were custom designed from the ground up.

Nancy Woinoski said: Hi Kevin, I totally agree with you about gamification - there is a big difference between inserting a few game-style quizzing interactions and designing a course from the ground up using a gaming structure and logic.

I typically steer clients away from adding games to courses because they seem to want them to "make the content more engaging"  In fact, I don't think I have ever included a game in my courses. I would love to do a course using gamification but have never approached a client about doing this. My concern is that the cost would be prohibitive. So Kevin, I guess my first question for you is how much longer does it take you to design and build a course using gamification vs. one without? 

And my second question is when can we see some samples of your gaming courses? Would love to see them!

Anne Pead said:

Hi All

Just checked in here as I think I managed to unsubscribe myself to the thread (oops!) after posting about the Gamification course on Coursera.  So, apologies that I'm a bit behind on the conversation but I'd like to add to some of the comments already made with regards to gamification in eLearning.  There are definitely a lot of conflicting ideas (and opinions) on what exactly classifies as gamification and where and when (and 'if') it is effective.

For myself, I see it as taking game elements (the things that make a game work - such as, it's 'fun', engaging, motivating, etc.) and applying it to a non-game environment. I think as IDs and eLearning developers the biggest gamification element we are already using is 'storytelling'. When we create learning as a story for the learner, rather than just linear, online reading material, we are making the experience more engaging and sometime more fun (or at least, less boring) for the learner.  I would class this as gamification. You don't have to have all the fancy badges, points and leaderboards to gamify. And really, putting in a game, is not gamification and I would argue that most of the time making it a game will not achieve your desired learning goals. But using gaming 'elements' can definitely be helpful.

I'm enjoying the Gamification course to understand where gamification is currently being used and how it can (and sometimes can't) be effective. 

Daniel Brigham said:

Hi, Anne: a belated welcome to Freelance Heroes. Thank you for that insight regarding storytelling and gaming. Hadn't thought of a story being a game.

As for me, I'm open to anything that works: puppets, basset hounds, cancer, games, references to the band Rush, what...ever. Of course, the game developers have a lot to teach us. And perhaps we them.

I've been meaning to check out two references on this, and will list them here, in case anyone's curious and hasn't read them already:

  • J.P. Gee What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy (2003) Macmillan
  • Julie Dirksen BAM! EEEEEK! POW! What video games can teach us about e-learning feedback (paper presented at the e-learning Guild Online Forum on Designing and Developing Online Assessments (2006, December)

Anyone else suggest some readings on the topic? (In addition, to the Karl Kapp Kevin referred to above)

Bruce Graham

Here's a game Phil and I built for a recent course.

Apologies if you saw it over on another thread.

Go to the Menu (3rd slide) and take the "Play the Market Research Game" option when you can.

Certainly a game, but outside the complete "Gamification" them per se.

In terms of "reading" - these guys in the UK (Growth Engineering) who I know very well are all over eLearning gamification, and doing very well with it. Juliette blogs and writes regularly on this subject, well-worth following.


Anne Pead

Hi Daniel

Thanks for bringing it all over here

I mentioned earlier that our use of storytelling, or a narrative, in our courses is already an example of gamification. One of the things that often engages or captures an audience most about a game is the story! So when we bring that into our courses and learning, it is using a game element to engage in a non-game environment.

Other elements such as branching (or choices), progression bars, feedback and challenges I would also say can fall under 'gamification'.  (I emphasise can because I don't think they will always be the case!)  I think these are really simple devices that can be very effective.  Of course, knowing when to use what is key.  I am not a fan of throwing things in because they are the latest 'thing' or because it makes it 'fun'.  Design must always be with purpose, otherwise I don't think it will be effective.  What are you wanting the learners to achieve and will adding this in help achieve that goal (or is it just meaningless bling?)

That's my two cents :)

Anne Pead

Bruce, thanks for sharing the Market Research course and game.  Really cool. As you said, the game in the course is a game but not gamification. I'd say that your use of progression and 'unlocking' of items in the course are excellent examples of gamification though.  It certainly made me want to keep 'stepping through' the course!

Thanks also for the blogs to follow

Juliette Denny

Hi all,

Thanks for the mention Bruce!

I completely understand some of the apathy (or outright distrust) of Gamification, but it shouldn't be treated like a meaningless buzz-word. If it can be used properly and effectively, to create some real results, why should we turn our noses up at it?

The key as always, is figuring out how to deploy gamification effectively (as Anne suggests!) whether it's in a piece of eLearning, or part of the functionality on an LMS (leaderboards, badges, etc).

Something we're excited about is how Levels, XP (and so on...) can be linked to succession planning - it makes designing, unique, specific and well-defined learning pathways super easy. Transparent and easy to management succession planning is lacking from a number of businesses and organisations and gamification provides an effective solution.

It's not all bells and whistles, there's more to it than that!

Michael Lacy

Hello All,

I really wanted to add gamification into my first course. The course is on food service safety and I created a story around an employee's first day at work. The learner guides Nigel though a number of tasks designed to demonstrate restaurant safety. I wanted the learner to be vested in answering the questions correctly so I created coins that they earn based on point accumulation. The higher the learner scores the more coins that are reviled.

I also added an "angry bird' star type reward system that scores the learner based on a series of questions. The results screen appears after a group of activities (normally three to four) to display the learner's progress.  (See screenr below)

My ultimate goal was to create a leader board where learners could track results against their peers. Unfortunately that will have to wait for another project.

Nick Leffler

Daniel Brigham said:

Now that I think of it, the super heroes concept is a game element, a way of indicating status.

Indeed it is and as I'm going through the Coursera course, it's the first idea that popped into my head. Even labeling how many posts a user has made is an element of gamification, who has the most? I've actually participated in forums before where the only goal was to increase your post numbers by any means necessary, this gamification was created by the users and not by the forum owners (as ridiculous as that sounds). That was well over 10 years ago too.

It's very common and has been around for a while but is just now being given an official name and being analyzed further.

Ben Arnette

Jane McGonigal has a nice talk regarding the potential power of game mechanics:


As an aside from the main thread here about definitions, I'd like to mention MissionRunner.  We're a free gamification service and we're currently looking for educators and non-profits to do pilots with.  If you know any educators who want to try gamification, we'd be happy to help out!

Daniel Brigham

Jerson, I believe you are referring to Captivate forum (if that's not the case, please let me know: I'm interested in learning communities, esp. the good ones).

I've got to say, there's something that rankles me about the whole points thing, especially when used in a learning community. I'm glad Articulate doesn't do that. I like the superhero concept better: it's left a bit nebulous, like most good things in life. How do you achieve that status? Well, you help and help and help and...

I'm not even sure you need to tally the number of posts: we know whose around and helping on a regular basis. Just as we do in the face-to-face communities we engage in.

If anyone knows of learning communities using game elements successfully, please let me know. Thanks, Daniel

Jerson  Campos


Yes I was talking about the Captivate forum. They don't tally the number of posts. A user is awarded points based if their answer is helpful (5) or correct (10). They level up in status based on the points received. This is a great way to get people coming back to help out the newbies.

The super hero status Articulate uses could be a considered a gamification element, but there is not progression track for it. To get awarded this you have to help, help, and help some more; but in the end it seems like it is up to Articulate that decides who is and who isn't. This doesn't really motivate a person to come back here because it seems like an unreachable goal. Most of us have intrinsic motivation to came back and help others because we like to help others. That may be better since we only attract users that genuinely want to help others and not just "badge hunters".

Don't mean to be preachy,  just spitting out what I've learned from the Gamification course. Pretty interesting stuff.

Daniel Brigham

Thanks, Jerson, for the feedback on the points thing. Yeah, you're right, many of us are intrinsically motivated to come back, but something like 90% of the people who visit just want quick help.

Any ideas on motivating those who want quick to help to linger?  You know, like Phil many a moon ago. Of course, this sort of relates to the courses we build as well. Appreciate your thoughts. --Daniel

Brian Allen

I'm also participating in the Coursera Gamification MOOC...  Been an interesting experience so far, and it's cutting down on my participation here in the Community unfortunately due to how time-intensive it has been for me.

Just past the halfway point of the class so far and have covered topics like history of games and gamification as well as game elements and the psychology around why games and gamified systems work or don't work.  Good stuff, but looking forward to the second half of the course now.

Natalia Mueller

Daniel- thanks for bringing this over. Great thread. 

I definitely appreciate elements of gamification done right. I know that I enjoy taking those courses. For my own purposes, I struggle with reconciling the increased timeline/resources with the potential value added to the course. I agree that when it's done well it absolutely adds value. But does it add enough to warrant the time and resources? I'm sure there are circumstances and courses where it absolutely does. I just haven't experienced it yet. 

@Phil- right there with you. I took and took and took and thanked and thanked until I couldn't help but want to return the favor. I don't think I've even come close to paying off that debt. 

Rich Miller
Jerson  Campos

@ Daniel

I think the biggest reason why people don't linger on this forum is how it is structured. They have basically 2 columns that show about 15 posts each side. Most people who come to check on the forum will only read whats on the main page. At most, it will only display what has been posted or commented on in the past 24 hours. So if someone hasn't checked on the forum for a couple of days, they won't see any of the posts they missed. I know this is what I do. I'll go to the forum, check out each side, scan the titles, read any posts I find interesting, help out when I can, than go back to work. I do this about every 2-3 days.

Other than an intrinsic motivation to help other people or the extrinsic motivation of being recognized by peers, the forum offers nothing to motivate somebody to help or linger around a bit. They can throw in some points, badges, and leaderboards to try to keep people looking around and helping, but without a well thought out design to address specific objectives than it won't serve any real purpose. 

Right now, when you click on a person's profile you see his bio, what posts he has replied to , and his friends. You can also find out how many posts he has made. None of it showing how helpful they have been or how many posts have been suggested as correct answers. So why bother helping out? Nobody is going to know really how much I have helped out? Nobody is going to know if I have provided tons of technical help on this product or that LMS.

Here is an idea I had. This came to me after reading a post  Bruce made  about how a client contacted him after going through the forum and seeing his posts everywhere. Why not connect how helpful someone has been to their profile? This way people will have a professional investment in the forum. The more helpful someone has been they  more points they receive. They more points they receive the more badges they unlock. The more badges and points they have, the more their profile shows how much they have contributed.

How I first envision this is that the forum be broken down into different categories. Technical help, LMS assistance, Instructional Design, etc. Every time somebody provides a helpful answer or a correct answer to a question in these categories, they get awarded points for that category. These points will be reflected on their profile in these categories by either a total sum points, or by unlocking badges. ( I think a combination of both). This way potential clients can click on their profile and get a general idea of the person. Yes the client still has to his/her homework, but it will still provide some insight on the skills the person has.

This is just some quick thoughts on this. 

Phil Mayor

The Microsoft forums do scoring, not sure if that added any value. also I doubt any of their MVPs was selected on the number of correct answers they gaveThis is also reliant on users verifying answers.  I like the informal nature of this forum, this is one of the big advantages over other forums.  There are no rules on how to post so new users are not intimidated about posting.  some people come an go, others stay others never return, but the majority of posts are answered how many forums can boast that?

i also think the scoring system can be counter productive, I a user wants to get themselves recognised and can see that one of his peers has 500 posts and 200 correct answers does he really want to use the forums as a way of wining recognition. There is also the likelihood of abusing both is system, at the momento users can mark their posts as correct, it is very easy to set up a second account and start having conversations with yourself and scoring points.

I would much prefer upgrades to the site to include better search.

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