Gamification is a word that’s increasingly used in the elearning industry. If you haven’t encountered gamification before, it’s the process of applying mechanics commonly found in games, to non-game situations - including elearning courses.
“Gamifying” a course could involve anything from adding a quick quiz, to designing an interactive case study, or even presenting the entire course as a game, with all of your elearning content delivered within the context of that game. When used effectively, gamification brings a sense of fun to the elearning experience, which makes the learner more likely to engage with, and ultimately complete your course.
Here’s our top 8 tips for using gamification effectively in elearning:
1. Gamification must serve a purpose. Before adding any gaming content, you need to have a clear idea of how it helps fulfill the learning objectives. Even if your game is fun, engaging and has the learner coming back for repeat plays, if it doesn’t fulfill your learning objectives in some way, then it has no place in an elearning course.
2. Put some thought into your rewards. Badges, points and leaderboards may be popular rewards, but on their own they’re not always enough to motivate the learner. Rewards are your game’s main draw, so they should be as attractive as possible. Bear in mind that your rewards must always be meaningful, as learners quickly lose motivation if they realize the rewards they’re working for serve no real purpose.
There are many ways to increase the perceived value of your rewards, for example you could create profiles where gamers show off their achievements; design your course so that in-game rewards contribute towards the course's overall pass mark; or alert the learner when they’re closing in on a reward, to encourage them to keep playing. Amassed rewards could also unlock in-game bonuses, such as virtual currency or additional levels, or they could translate into real-life prizes.
3. Identify your players. It’s essential to have a clear understanding of your audience, so you can tailor the gaming content to suit. This involves identifying their motivations, learning goals, job responsibilities and day-to-day workplace activities. You should also understand the technology they have access to and their familiarity with technology in general. For tips on how to build a complete picture of your audience, check out our 'Designing eLearning: Know Your Learner' post.
4. Use rules to encourage desired behaviour. Decide how you want your learners to interact with your gaming content, and then set rules that push them towards this desired behaviour, for example setting time limits or restricting how many attempts the player gets before they fail the game. If you're designing a role playing game to simulate a high-pressure work situation, you could use time limits to encourage the learner to make decisions quickly.
5. Safeguard against cheating. If in-game rewards contribute towards the course’s overall pass mark, it’s particularly important that any opportunities for manipulating the game elements are addressed, as this could artificially inflate the learner’s overall score and give them a way to pass your course without actually learning anything. Even if gaming rewards don’t count towards the pass mark, you should still address any loopholes to ensure that all learners engage with your game in the desired way. Possible solutions are placing restrictions on the amount of time a learner can spend on a game, making player activity public so players can police one another, setting an upper limit on the amount of gaming points that can contribute towards the overall pass mark, or implementing a mechanism for removing points, in case a player is caught cheating.
6. Break instructions into manageable chunks. Even if you’re introducing a complex game, you should never give the learner all of the information and instructions in one large chunk. Kicking off a game with a multi-page manual will have the learner looking for the 'Skip' button!
An example of breaking lengthy information into less intimidating snippets can be seen in the incident management course we developed for the Environment Agency. This course features role playing scenarios with a full cast of characters, organisations and events that unfolded and changed over time. The learner must engage with all of these elements in order to steer the scenario to a positive conclusion. To make these complicated scenarios easily accessible, we staggered the information and instructions across the scenario, so that the learner is never confronted with a wall of text. You can view a sample of this course at our Zembl Showcase.
7. Make your games social. Putting a social slant on gamification can be a powerful motivator. This social element could take the form of public profiles where each player posts their gaming achievements, or adding ‘Share’ buttons so they can post scores on social networks. You could also create a public leaderboard, to either display individual scores, or to group them together into ‘teams’ (for example, different departments, companies or geographical location) to encourage competition and collaboration.
8. ....but don’t neglect your actual content! When creating gaming content, especially if you’re new to gamification, there’s a danger of focusing on this exciting new concept at the expense of your actual content. No matter how many levels, puzzles, or rewards you incorporate, the actual content is still the most important thing, so you need to ensure it’s effective.