Gamification is now gaining rapid acceptance in the learning technologies industry, with more and more major organisations considering games to be a key component for learning and development. However, a lot of us don’t really know what it means, or how to begin to incorporate it within our training.
The concept of incorporating gamification in business and learning is nothing new, however this year it been at the forefront of many conversations at Learning Pool. It seems to be more than just a trend in the e-learning industry. But what does it really take to make a game that just works?
What is gamification?
First off, let’s make sure we’re clear on what we’re talking about here. In a learning context it refers to the use of game mechanics and game-based thinking and aesthetics to ‘gamify’ content. These features are usually applied to encourage engagement and motivate learners, which promotes them to solve problems and build faith in the content through interaction, instead of learning through static content.
Most of us tend to play games when we’re bored or have time on our hands, which means we voluntarily opt into playing them. Whereas learning, such as compliance training, is something that’s usually forced upon our learners. So this leads me to the question:
“How can organisations combine both learning and game features effectively to increase productivity and encourage their learners to voluntarily participate in learning?”
The answer is gamification. But is it as easy as just creating some nice visuals wrapped around a game theme? Done well, games are a lot more than that. So here we’re going to talk through what makes a game work, and how you can apply those concepts in a learning context.
1. Create a goal
There is always a certain goal to achieve when playing a game, be it getting the most points, or rescuing the princess from peril. Similarly, all learning has a purpose and set of objectives in which the training must fulfil. Learning games can utilise this goal concept in the form of certificates, badges, points and rewards. When applied in a learning context, these elements can become an effective source of motivation for your learners.
For example, with a smart points/scoring system learners are consistently and regularly awarded and recognised along the whole learning experience. This helps learners focus more on the carrot (what they want to achieve) rather than the stick (what challenges or threats they face on the way), essentially increasing their motivation to learn, as well as improving productivity levels.
2. Play by the rules
A game world cannot exist without rules, and most learners respond well to boundaries or limitations in a game format. They tend to accept them easily and as part of the challenge.
So, if you want to create a learning game that works, you absolutely need to include some rules. There are simple and complex rules that you could use, but the key is to keep it simple.
The learner must know what they need to achieve, and they need to understand that they will face a certain amount of challenges on the way in order to win/complete the task.
3. Embrace progressive disclosure
With games, we don’t always see all the information to begin with. It is often cascaded over time, leaving an irresistible element which entices the player to continue playing. With the yearning to find out more as the story progresses, the learner or player will continue to play on in order to reveal the plot of the game. As this goes on, their skill increases as the level and difficulty ascends.
Think about how you can break the learning down, progressively revealing more to the learner. Could you stitch a range of resources you currently have into a “Who Done It” style game around health and safety, or could you use video clips to reveal critical information to the learner over time?
Progressive disclosure naturally increases engagement rates as we allow our brains to soak up small bursts of information over time, instead of being bombarded with lots of important information all at once.
4. Right on time with instant feedback
Consistent and instant feedback is a key part of game play. Use it in a learning game content by informing the learner about their ongoing progress and performance (bonus points if you use a leader board or competition too). This feedback encourages regular self-evaluation and gives the learner insights into their strengths and weaknesses, and at the same time provides real opportunities in rewarding areas of success.
5. Keep it cyclical and on-going
We’ve all played Candy Crush. Sometimes it feels never-ending, but we still keep on playing.
All training has a definitive end point or goal. Traditional e-learning achieves this desired goal, but there is usually no incentive for the learner to come back and refresh their training, or upskill further. The fluid, never ending aspects of games prolong the experience, which is why people can get hooked on gaming (especially when there are rewards involved).
The increase in level and difficulty generates the urge for learners to complete the next challenge, the next level. This circular experience of game mechanics hooks in learners, and drives them to come back and repeat the game (learning) again, helping to boost and refresh their on-the-job skills.
6. Get involved with competition and collaboration
Competition and collaboration are a critical part of game play, and can drive interest and engagement in any subject if done well. I’ve seen this in all sorts of contexts, from company advocacy programmes with points systems and leader boards, to competing with my friends using my FitBit to encourage me to get more active. You can create this with your learners using features such as badges, leader boards and multi-player games.
For example leader boards explicitly show learners what’s possible with perseverance. They can also show the progress others have made and can encourage healthy competition. However, we understand that making all of your teams wildly competitive may not be successful for collaboration or effective for team work.
So why not utilise leader boards for those that work in teams, encouraging them to compete against each other? Alternatively, a learner could play against themselves and generate a leader board of their own scores, denoting their progress over time. An example of how this individual leader board could work is included below, from the brain training game Peak.
Key benefits and advantages
Games promote emotional reactions: In the real world, games promote emotional reactions from players mainly due to some of the game mechanics that we’ve highlighted so far, such as competition and reward. By ensuring you capture an emotional reaction from learners by utilising mechanics such as constant interaction, instant feedback and the challenge itself you can create a quantifiable, positive outcome from learners.So, those are some of the key facets of games in a learning environment; but what are the real advantages to using them? We’ve broken down the key benefits that we’ve seen in organisations who are using games.
- They prompt and trigger behavioural change: Giving learners the willingness to introduce new and different behaviours, as it provides a more engaging learner experience leading to an anticipated behavioural change.
- Games are usually voluntary, giving learners a sense of control: People tend to play games on their own terms and when they want to. Learners relate to games as something that’s fun and entertaining. They can be used to help learners feel like they are opting into learning, and it’s something that is not forced upon them, providing an effective and less formal learning environment
The outcome? Improved engagement
Learning games improve learners’ engagement and pass rates through rich visuals, audio, video and other media working together to create a unique and impactful learning experience. This interactive element of games makes the learning content more stimulating as learners are able to seek and achieve a reward, and gain noticeable progress throughout the learning process.
Utilising game mechanics in an organisational training environment has the ability to make online training exciting, as learners are actively participating in the learning process. But just because your learners are enjoying training doesn’t mean it detracts away from important learning outcomes, or serious compliance matters.
Similarly, they can have an impact on their learning retention rates, as the interactive experience is likely to have a larger impression on the learner’s memory, leaving them to retain more knowledge.
Interested to see our gamification in action? Check out how it transformed product knowledge training in Boots UK.