Skip to content
Suite dreams: The analyst view

Targeting the Behaviors that
Lead to Learning with
Gamification Motivational Design

Anyone that works in online learning has likely felt the frustration of having the learning opportunities they’ve created fall flat with their audience. A great deal of time and energy is often spent creating engaging and relevant activities and courses only to have learners fail to engage with the material in the way that was envisioned. A lot of this frustration stems from designer bias: the assumption that because the designer is interested in or passionate about the learning experience they’ve created, learners will be too. Another frustrating part of the elearning process is watching learners do just enough to get by. There will always be some high achievers, but many learners arrive with a “bare minimum” mentality. Motivating people to push themselves past the minimum achievement thresholds is a significant challenge but incredibly important to the learning process.

As an online educator, I’ve often viewed these challenges as being a result of the somewhat sterile or impersonal nature of elearning. When I listen to discussions of learner engagement and learner experience design in online learning, there is a lot of emphasis on making things look better, but not much on making elearning feel better. Gamification of the learning experience (typically points, badges, and leaderboards) has been around for a while now as an attempt to address these issues. If you’ve tried using gamification, perhaps you’ve come across some of the pros/cons. After spending time doing research on gamification and watching it in action with my own learners, I’ve moved away from being content with “gamification”. Instead, I prefer “motivational design” for encouraging the behaviors that lead to learning.

Current industry buzzwords speak to motivational design: “micro-learning” or “just-in-time learning”, for example. But what about “engagement”? Since we often don’t physically see our elearners and therefore can’t pick up on body language, hear tone of voice, or understand the context of dynamic discussions, what does an engaged elearner look like? And how can we encourage the behaviors that lead to improved online learning?

Here are some targeted behaviors that utilize a motivational design framework to significantly improve the results of online learning:


If you don’t have people enrolling in your learning program, no learning will happen. Improving your enrollment structures with features like single-sign-on and social media messaging can help. The next crucial step is to simplify the onboarding process so as to not scare away your learners. Keep the learner options minimal in the beginning and gradually add more choices as their experience grows. Adding tokens of appreciation for new sign-ups helps personalize the experience right at the start.

Timeliness and Frequency of Learning

Getting learners into the platform as quickly and as often as possible is crucial to learner success. Consistent repetition is core to any successful learning, so developing strategies to make learners want to interact with your learning activities is essential. Gamification has typically added points and leaderboards to help automate this.


Most elearning opportunities have criteria that need to be met in order for them to be completed. These could be a minimum grade to pass, a minimum number of forum posts, etc. Many learners are only willing to do the minimum required to move on. A great strategy is to use conditional release to unlock a “mastery” learning opportunity once the original activity has been completed. You may need to come up with nudges or incentives to get learners to complete these mastery activities since you’re competing for their time.

Course Completions

The most practical way to measure the success of your learning program is through course completions. In terms of tracking learning success and ROI, first find out what your completion rates are, then set a goal for where you’d like them to be. Consider adding a hot-streak reward when learners complete X number of courses in a certain time frame.

Personal Connections

Have you wondered how your learners feel about their personal connection with your organization? Does your learning environment enhance this connection? Building a community of loyal learners requires elements of choice, recognition, and collaboration, which can all significantly lead to improved learning results.

Explore our collection of blogs and resources here

Got a learning problem to solve?

Get in touch to discover how we can help

CTA background