Archive by Author | Joe Watson

What is gamification and when is it appropriate?

In this new blog series, we will be examining the use of gamification for eLearning.  Gamification it is rapidly becoming commonplace due to our advancing IT infrastructure, the effectiveness of game design, and shifting cultural perceptions as games become mainstream.

Indeed, many large companies such as Cisco, Samsung, Deloitte, Google, Domino’s and Microsoft are already using gamification for training or business needs:

Gamification - why is it appropriate? Graph with blue and orange bars

 

What is gamification?

Gamification refers to the application of elements and techniques found in entertainment games to enhance a non-game’s content or delivery thereof. It doesn’t mean you are making a game – simply that you are borrowing underlying mechanics or psychology from game design.

A simple example of gamification would be the incorporation of a progress bar into a questionnaire or eLearning course. Since they give immediate and visual feedback, they can be used to encourage completion by leveraging positive reinforcement, and our learned drive to see things in a 100% state.

Top view of smiling woman completing gamified online learning on her laptop

Finding the right tool for the job

Gamification is all about taking and using the best tools that games have at their disposal – but individual tools have a specific purpose and function, they are not to be used universally as a panacea.

This means you won’t always use everything in your gamification toolkit. There will be instances where a leaderboard (social interaction and competitive drive) is not the correct approach, but points-levelling (positive reinforcement) and daily challenges (short-term retention) might be, because they give different benefits that address different problems.

Adding gamification to a solution may be detrimental if it’s not fulfilling a specific purpose, as you will be incurring additional development costs and distracting from the content rather than enhancing it.

Image showing a businessman using a mobile device for gamified learning

What are the benefits?

The most observable benefits of gamification can be considered:

  • Clarity – games frequently employ modern user interface design, which presents information in a digestible format that is intuitively accessible. Many games will present their tutorials in textless images for example.
  • Engagement – games can immerse and seize attention, enticing participation. Through the same means they can evoke compulsion for increased reuse or retention, often using advancement or progression systems that positively reinforce the user.
  • Enjoyment – games are all about fun, but not all their fun derives from play. The design and feel of many supporting systems or the levity of an experience provide a fun factor. Simple examples would entail the use of colour, sound and interactive interface elements.
  • Influence – games can have a powerful social element. A number of experiences leverage this reach to impact wider networks or reinforce a target community’s uptake. Popular ‘self-help’ sites encourage users to provide answers to one another and to award a virtual currency to helpful users. Although the currency is worthless, it acts as a powerful status symbol, encouraging interaction within the community and users to help one another.

You should carefully consider whether the solution really needs gamification, or in what form. It might be that a Serious Game or Simulation might be preferable if you require a more thoroughly compelling or experiential answer.

Gamification – the application of game elements. For example, progress bar, badges, competition.

Serious Games – game for training, education or awareness. For example, The Oregon Trail, America’s Army.

Simulation – true to life reproduction for experiential training. For example, flight and medical simulators

As an eLearning example, mandatory training does not need to compel learners to participate or reach out to their colleagues – they already have to complete it – but perhaps making dry content more enjoyable or improving the clarity of dense information would lend to a better learning experience.

Team collaborating on their learning and using technology

Game over

The most important thing to remember is that gamification is a toolkit for addressing specific solution needs as listed previously, distinct as an approach from Serious Games and Simulations.

Following this brief introduction to the subject, future entries will explore specific examples of applying gamification to a solution, discuss the merits of gamifying learning in greater depth and give you some top tips when designing with gamification in mind. We may also see similar introductions to Serious Games and Simulations as their own topic.