Recently I’ve had the pleasure of running a number of workshops with some amazing clients and organizations who are looking at ways they can incorporate gamification into their learning function.

Gamification is a concept that has moved from the periphery into the mainstream, especially in the e-learning world.   There is a continued increase in the number of organisations who are starting to view games-based learning as a serious, viable option.  As a passionate gamer and learner, this is great to see. 

One of the biggest problems though are the instances where a ‘gamified’ learning intervention is developed merely for the sake of making a game.  There’s no focus on the user experience, the mechanics, the narrative..it’s just, a game.  And the end result is often underwhelming.

When developing gamification concepts at Junction-18, we frequently look to video games for inspiration.  With an estimated 1.4 billion gamers worldwide and a $96bn industry, the level and quality of games on the market now is truly staggering.

Below I’m going to break down what I would consider to be some of the key principles of gamification, taking inspiration from video games and using this as food for thought for e-learning.

Progressing to different levels

This is gaming bread and butter.  Level progression provides the learner with an incentive to complete the current level, a reward for doing so and a new challenge in the form of the following level.   Levels can vary from more basic progressions (ala Temple Run or Angry Birds) to more elaborate examples (think Tomb Raider, Uncharted).

In e-learning terms, levels also allow for scalable expansion as you add a new topic or learning outcome.

Scores

Scores are an excellent way to measure one’s successes or failures (so many matches lost in FIFA..) within a game and also a fantastic incentive to try and beat their previous score.

Scores in e-learning lend themselves particularly well if you’re looking to introduce an element of competition.  This is usually audience dependent, working particularly well for sales departments for example. 

Avatars

The ability to create, edit and manipulate an avatar allows the user to feel an element of ownership of their gaming experience.  Game franchises like The Sims were built around this premise, basically letting the user ‘play God’ and create their own characters, houses and towns. 

Competition with peers

As mentioned earlier, competition can be fun but also effective, as it increases uptake and allows for interaction with colleagues.  Sports games tend to excel at this, although increasingly team FPS’ such as Halo and Call of Duty have created legacies for themselves based on team-based gaming.

Social interaction with peers

Whilst developing the Xbox One and PS4, both Microsoft and Sony put a massive focus on the idea of sharing.  This is no accident.  The ability for gamers to share their scores, experiences and achievements is a win-win all round for the gaming platforms.  Similarly the ability for a user to share his/her success and experience in an e-learning module is an excellent way to increase uptake and usage.

Awards and achievements

Much like the ability to share, both Xbox One and PS4 games have almost countless achievements and unlockables.  These range from obvious things like top scores and fastest times, to more hidden ‘easter eggs’.

To a degree this has already been embraced within the e-learning sphere, with many platforms and modules opting to integrate Mozilla’s Open Badges (http://openbadges.org/) or creating their own achievement engines.

Immersive Environments

The size and scope of video games continue to get bigger and bigger.  With games like Grand Theft Auto 5, Skyrim and the eagerly anticipated Fallout 4, open-world gaming has never been better.  Without the rules, boundaries and restrictions of traditional gaming, the user makes their own choices and story 

This is something we don’t seen enough of within e-learning.  Learning is all too often dry, click-to-next learning.  Turning e-learning into a more free and open environment allows the learner the freedom to choose how they learn. 

Being part of a narrative / story

Grand Theft Auto is the perfect example of the success of a game that is driven by a powerful narrative (albeit a slightly more adult one than we may permit in the corporate environment..).  Particularly in the most recent game GTA5, where you were able to follow the intertwining narrative of 3 main playable characters.

Having a story provides consistency and builds intrigue for the learner.  It enables the learner to understand the subject matter within a context and envisage themselves within that particular situation.

Real time performance feedback

Perhaps one of the biggest bugbears with traditional trainers when discussing e-learning is the lack of real-time feedback that you can so easily give in a classroom setting.  However video games are excellent at telling you what you did well or where you failed.  Guides, mentors and companions all give you tips and tricks on where to gain information or what you need to differently next time.

This is something that can very simply be incorporated into e-learning yet have a powerful impact on the learner.  There’s nothing worse than feeling stuck or that your efforts have no consequences.  Rewarding the learner for their successes is crucial to any successful e-learning intervention.

Dream Big

When you’re coming up with a concept for a games-based learning intervention, dream big!  Have brainstorming sessions amongst you and your team.  Look at current trends, games, TV shows, culture.  Come up with your biggest and boldest idea and then you can always scale it down from there.

I would also emphasize that a successful learning intervention does not necessarily need all of the elements above.  Introduce the elements that are going to work best for your particular requirements.  Like with any learning intervention, it should focus on a) your content b) your audience and c) your overall objectives.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading.  If you’d like to discuss gamification in more depth or learn about how it can work effectively for your organisation, please feel free to message me or e-mail nick.ramsay@junction-18.com

Posted by: Nick Ramsay