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Gamification: When Is it the Right Choice for Your eLearning?

Gamification has been a popular topic in the eLearning world for some time now and the possibilities keep evolving. But when is a gamified approach right for your eLearning course? And how can it be used to deliver the most impact? Find out more in this article.

We’re often asked about gamification here at LEO Learning and over the years our learning designers have explored its application to eLearning from many angles. This experience has given us a pretty unique insight into when gamification works and the best approach to getting real results.

But before we get into that, let’s define what gamification actually means—as there can be some confusion.

What Is Gamification?

At LEO Learning, we say that gamification is simply when gaming design themes from gaming are applied to learning. The goal of gamification is often to increase engagement with learning—to make it ‘sticky’.

Duolingo is probably the most famous example of a gamified approach to learning. While the conventions it’s borrowing may make it feel game-like to users, it remains, at its core, a language learning app.

There are a range of gaming conventions that can be used, but typically a gamified approach can involve the following:

  • Badges, achievements, tokens or awards
  • Point scoring systems (based on time to complete, for example)
  • Levels
  • ‘Health meters’
  • Multiplayer engagement, such as global leaderboards

Gamification is not the same as creating what we call, a ‘true game’. A true learning game is where learning happens as a result of playing the game and the game mechanics themselves support the learning outcomes. Whereas a gamified learning solution simply applies game design techniques to an eLearning course.

When Is Gamification the Right Strategy for Your eLearning Course?

The key thing to consider when thinking about whether gamification is the right approach is whether it will support your training goals and your audience.

As mentioned above, gamification is primarily a tool for engagement, to keep your learners in your course and/or coming back for more. It may not, in and of itself, make them ‘learn better’ or more effectively.

So, in that case, you have to consider if the audience for your eLearning is going to respond positively to this kind of learning experience. This isn’t just about looking at your audience and assuming that if they’re Millennials they’ll immediately engage with a gamified approach—it’s really about understanding the context of the learning.

For example, if your learners are time-poor, the extra ‘bells and whistles’ of a gamified eLearning course may frustrate them. Equally, the subject matter should also be considered. For example, sensitive subjects such as equality and diversity are unlikely to make good candidates for gamification.

But gamification can be useful in the following contexts:

  • The learning would be amplified by harnessing healthy competition through the use of global leaderboards. Here, learners could compete against each other or in teams.
  • The learning needs to be more exploratory and reflective, so a more complex scoring system would be appropriate (more on this in the next section).
  • The learning needs to be sustained over a period of time, rather than a one-off course. In this instance, awarding points or badges for repeated logins would be genuinely meaningful.

Gamification and Scenario-Based Learning: Ideal Partners

One of the instances where we’ve seen gamification really deliver extra value and engagement has been when it’s been used in conjunction with a scenario-based approach.

Scenarios are really effective for challenging learners to make decisions when a range of different factors need to be considered. And as mentioned above, a course where the learning is naturally more exploratory and focuses on the ‘grey areas’ is often where gamification can really come into its own.

A simple example here might be a scenario-based course focused on sales and negotiating skills. One health meter could represent profit levels, while another shows company reputation. Some decisions may initially raise profit levels but in the long term may damage company reputation (and therefore ultimately impact profit). This method of scoring, adds extra value to key learning points.

Gamification In Practice

In a recent award-winning project for life insurance company, LOMA, we combined scenarios and gamification to equip learners with the skills to deliver high-quality customer experience (CX).

In Impact CX: The Quest, learners must use sound judgment skills and empathy to respond to customer needs and make decisions that ensure the best possible CX across the entire customer journey.

Instead of being awarded points for progress, learners are awarded points based on the accuracy of their decision-making. Poor decisions have consequences and learners see the impact of those consequences both within the scenarios and on their score.

This type of approach is how we see gamification working effectively. The decisions learners face are genuinely difficult to tackle and the gamification serves to enhance the learning experience in a meaningful way, instead of being tacked on as an afterthought.

LEO Learning is listed in Training Industry’s list of top 20 gamification companies. If you have any questions about how gamification could benefit your eLearning projects, get in touch.

To find out more about how to create effective and engaging eLearning, download our ebook, ‘Quality eLearning for Your Budget: Our 5 Top Tips’.

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