eLearning has been around for some time now, and as a result has found itself growing, shifting and changing all in the name of optimising the user experience. From its humble beginnings as an additional learning resource in the form of an editable online document through to today’s profile-driven, mobile-friendly eLearning apps, there has been a lot of growth and development in what eLearning is capable of doing and how accessible education can be to unique users.
One of the biggest factors for eLearning systems experiencing exponential adoption rates in recent years is the integration of game mechanics through their systems. It may sound like a goofy reason but there’s actually quite a science behind it. So the question remains, can you use a gamified LMS to educate, inspire, and engage your users? Lets take a look at what makes gamified learning so appealing to both educational bodies and students alike, but first a little look at what gamification is.
What is Gamification?
The term ‘Gamification’ refers to the application of game elements to non-game contexts to increase user engagement. In other words, gamification is about making a monotonous task into a game-like experience. In the context of learning online, it doesn’t have to be limited to clicking through and reading long-form pages, and typing answers into select fields. No matter who you are, we all like playing some form of games and there’s a multi-tiered reasoning for this. Beyond the entertainment value of a game, there are clearly defined goals & objectives, social aspects, feedback systems and established incentives & rewards.
The mechanics and dynamics behind a game's structure are essentially what makes the game a game at all, for example, take away the mechanics and dynamics from the game of Poker and you’re simply left with a deck of cards and a stack of player chips. Through the lens of learning if you can apply game mechanics and dynamics to education, there is naturally an established learning funnel that encourages users to not just try to be a sponge for new information but they truly engage and retain what is being taught.
Reflection and repetition lead to retention. You can get to this by presenting content to a learner, give them time to reflect on what they learned, then introduce a game where the learner needs to recall what they previously reviewed and had time to reflect on, in order to advance within the game; or compete with their peers.
Gamification is effective because it taps into people’s natural desires for competition and triumph. Teachers, coaches, trainers, managers and other professionals use gamification to increase participation and improve productivity. Gamification is also often an essential feature in apps and websites designed to motivate people to meet personal challenges. By tracking progress it makes it feel like a challenge.
Gamification vs Game-based Learning
Gamification is becoming a significant part of the Learning and Development strategy within both educational bodies and corporate organisations. When implementing an effective gamification strategy, an organisation can transform an ordinary topic into an interactive, competitive and rewarding experience, essentially, turning learners into participators. Some people can confuse gamification with game-based learning.
There are many differences between game-based learning and gamification. For example, when we are thinking of the term “game” what other corresponding words come to mind? How about “win” or “lose”? Winning or losing are outcomes of a game. Gamification does not have winners or losers, there are always more levels to advance to, or higher tiers to reach. With game-based learning, there is always an objective and the learner either wins or loses, or answers correctly/incorrectly, advances/has to try again.
While there is nothing objectively wrong with game-based learning, the tailor-made experiences can become restrictive after awhile. Gamification manages to walk a fine line between being personalised enough for users while also catering to a wider audience.
Benefits of Gamified Learning
If Badges are landmarks in accomplishment, then Points are the pathway unto those landmarks. Points are tangible, measurable evidence of accomplishment. Points help participants monitor their progress, both keeping score and establishing status. Points are awarded for completing activities, sharing, or contributing.
Points are the granular units of measurement in gamification. They are single count metrics. This is the way the system keeps count of the users actions pertaining to the targeted behaviours in the overall gamification strategy.
Levels are indicators that a user has reached a milestone. Levels are often defined as point thresholds, so that users can automatically level up based on their participation, or use levels to indicate status and control access to content.
Levels map to the learning journey and as the learner goes through each level, it signifies a step up in proficiency for them. Having established levels helps users to comprehend the progress they’ve made in educating themselves on a subject matter, as well as helping establish the educational pathway that lay ahead of them. This helps breakdown what could otherwise come across as an overwhelming undertaking of work into more approachable segments.
Creating tiers of achievement, helps build an overall sense of where a participant sits within a line of progression. By having levels in place, you’ve created an indicator of long-term or sustained achievement for participants in an initiative. Levels indicate that an individual has reached a point of achievement and progression that has elevated them into a more advanced ring of goals and objectives they are now deemed capable of achieving.
Levelling up is used to identify status within a community and to unlock new objectives, badges, activities, and rewards. Levels and goals help to map a users progression through a system. It can be as important to see where you can go next as it is to see where you have been.
These map to the learning objectives or learning goals and help to motivate users along the learning pathway. With established challenges laid before users, a task that could otherwise be as mundane as reading and answering a questionnaire can become an engaging task.
Challenges help keep people interested, just when participants may feel like they have mastered all that there is to master, when interest is starting to drop off, that is when you test their knowledge and provoke them in to applying it. Overcoming challenges will make people feel they have earned their achievement.
Challenges give people missions to accomplish and then reward them for doing so. Challenges give people goals and the feeling like they’re working toward something. The general approach is to configure challenges based on actions that you’re tracking, and reward your users for reaching milestones with trophies, badges and achievements.
Keeping individuals on their toes with strategically placed challenges means the longevity of participant attention goes further than if it were simply left in the hands of the originally outlined goals. Gamification is all about user engagement and challenges are a way of making the process less robotic, forcing individuals to get off autopilot and actually get involved in what they’re doing.
One of the best ways to motivate a user into giving the task at hand, all that they’ve got, is to show them how they compare to others, as an individual or in a team. The use of time-based, team and individualised leaderboards helps users see where they rank amongst others.
Leaderboards are dashboards that are used to provide a pictorial view of the overall progress—including against others. The analytics keeps learners connected to the learning journey and aligned to meeting their terminal objectives.
Leaderboards cultivate the social aspect of points and badges. The sense of competition that is built around a leaderboard, gives people a chance to prove themselves against others. It can be a way to win rewards, but can also be a place where new relationships are formed.
This feature not only facilitates team-building but also enables learners to leverage the support of peers in social forums or gain guidance from experts to meet their goals.
Rewards are viewed as a positive motivator that help identify accomplishment. The reward structure of any game plays a significant role in its success. If you constantly throw points, badges, and rewards at your users then they won’t take them seriously. It will suddenly become easy, the rewards won’t feel special.
Gamification is geared towards encouraging users to carry out specific actions, rewards are an indicator of growth and progression, whether it be tangible or intangible. By rewarding users for carrying out specific behaviours you can motivate them to carry out your desired results.
The social aspect of Humans innately brings forth a desire for people to achieve and retain the respect of others, social status, and attention. All elements of game mechanics drive the status dynamic, but having achieved a higher level is the primary motivator.
This helps learners know how they are faring against their learning goals and based on this, they can adopt the necessary measures to step up their performance. One of the biggest builders of momentum in people’s learning is having access to an established feedback system, as people thrive of having the knowledge of how well they’re doing at a task.
A large percentage of people in the world are completionists. They have an in-built desire to achieve, to fully complete, and to accomplish something difficult that others have previously failed at through prolonged and repeated efforts, and ultimately to win. People motivated by achievement tend to seek out challenges and set moderately difficult goals. Their most satisfying reward is the recognition of their achievements (referring back to Status).
Competition is often strongly tied to the rewards allocated, yet this isn't the only motivating factor associated. The status and achievement dynamics are well and truly interlaced within the competitive motivations of people.
This can be leveraged effectively as it helps learners assess where they stand against other peers or competing teams.
We gain a certain amount of satisfaction by comparing our performance to that of others, resulting in higher levels of performance from users. This is much the same as if you were to workout at the gym by yourself or with a partner, there is a noticeable difference in the level of energy your body can exude when there is another party present.
All elements of game mechanics tap into this desire, but the use of leaderboards is central to display competitive results and celebrate winners.
Trophies and Badges
An indicator of accomplishment or mastery of a skill is especially meaningful within a community that understands its value. Badges are often used to identify skills and expertise within a group.
As the learners go through the learning path and clear certain levels, they are given badges. These reflect affirmations for their significant achievements.
Once the participants have accumulated a certain number of points, they may be awarded badges. Badges are a form of virtual achievement by the participants. They provide positive reinforcement for the targeted behaviour. Unlike Leaderboards, that consistently update who is placed upon them. Badges are awarded to individuals as a landmark of their own personal achievements. A physical reminder of what one has accomplished. Badges address the motivational driver of collection and achievement.
Badges have a social aspect to them, as we humans often crave outward recognition for our accomplishments; gamification understands this and utilises this driver within initiatives to get the most out of participants.
A gamification Learning Management System (LMS) isn’t just a tool to appease modern generations and fuel their extrinsic motivation. It’s a fun and immersive framework that is established with the sole purpose of motivating users to take true ownership over their learning experience. Unfortunately, most standard schooling takes a singular form and does not look to cater towards individuals learning needs and requirements. Gamified learning allows for a variety of mediums to be woven into a learning experience, resulting in a more diverse learning experience for users.