Gamification: The what, the why and the how

The term ‘gamification’ has gained increasing popularity over recent years, and seems to be popping up everywhere. It appears to be the latest trend in corporate training and e-learning courses, with Fortune 500 companies such as Nike applying its novel approach to learning design. But what does gamification entail, and how is this model applied? Moreover, how effective is it – particularly in an e-learning context?

As far as definitions are concerned, it is important not to confuse ‘gamification’ with ‘game-based learning’. These two models vary in both approach and application. Gamification, in particular, refers to the inclusion of game elements into a specifically non-game context. These game elements relate to the aspects that make games exciting and entertaining, and that concurrently stimulate participant motivation and engagement.

In other words, gamification includes the elements that make games inherently fun – so much so, that participants find themselves wanting to play them over, and over again.

Consider popular mobile games like FarmVille or Candy Crush Saga, for instance. These games are designed in a simple format, and their purposes are fairly straightforward (and even somewhat frivolous). However, through their reliance on well-crafted game elements, they manage to keep players enthralled for hours on end.

Now, imagine evoking a similar response from learners in an educational context. This is precisely what gamification aims to achieve. To do so, it specifically employs the following game elements:

  1. Player control: Allowing learners to navigate a course and repeat tasks at will. This creates a sense of freedom and autonomy, which in turn stimulates learner engagement and increases motivation.
  2. Immediate feedback: Providing learners with immediate online feedback. This serves to reduce psychological distance, and fosters feelings of support and encouragement.
  3. ‘Levelling up’ and mastering tasks: Rewarding progress with points, badges and new levels. This creates a sense of achievement when completing tasks, thereby enhancing motivation.
  4. Progressive mechanics: Creating a sense of social competition. This can be done by displaying learners’ points on a leaderboard, for example. By seeing their progress, learners will be encouraged toward greater participation.
  5. Social interaction and teamwork: Allowing for social exchange and collective problem-solving. This provides opportunities for interaction and collaboration, which enhances motivation and knowledge retention.
  6. Scaffolded challenges: Ensuring that learners are continually stimulated and face increasing challenges. This promotes scaffolded learning, learner engagement, knowledge absorption, and progression.

When applied correctly, these gamification techniques can challenge learners to interact with the content in a more engaged and committed manner – thereby improving the learning experience overall.

Interestingly, gamification does not only apply to e-learning. Its techniques can be adapted and applied to various different contexts, where individual motivation and engagement are paramount. Corporate environments can also make use of this model to motivate their employees and stimulate job performance; for example, by rewarding them according to a point system, for completing daily tasks. (Of course, it is useful to add a tangible incentive or ‘prize’ for reaching a certain level – e.g.  a voucher or cash reward.) Leaderboards have proven to be especially useful among sales staff, by increasing competition, and consequently improving the general work ethic. When it comes to gamification, the possibilities are virtually unlimited.

Based on the list of gaming elements provided above, it is clear that gamification can be especially advantageous to an e-learning environment. However, adopting these techniques does not require radical changes to be made to the course material. Even small changes can yield major results. Each course will have its own goals and objectives, which can be met through a variety of gamification models. It is therefore not a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach. Gamification techniques offer endless variety, and can be adjusted easily, to suit your specific educational needs. As such, gamification may be just the thing you need, to give you an edge over your competitors.

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