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Gamification in E-Learning: How Does It Work?

Published Mon Aug 21 2023

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If you’ve ever been pitted against colleagues during corporate online training or started a new job where the health and safety compliance course involved quiz questions to progress through a series of levels, then you’re familiar with gamification. Gartner has defined gamification as “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” In other words, gamification uses gaming elements in a nongame context, which could be any situation where engaging people with an instructive process is necessary. Examples include recruitment, company inductions, brand loyalty schemes—or e-learning.

In traditional training situations, learners depend on the trainer’s enthusiasm and knowledge to engage them to finish the course. Adding gamification to the instructional design of e-learning programs is one way to increase engagement. It creates a more learner-focused experience and can improve learning outcomes.

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So how can gamification be applied successfully to e-learning environments?

The Elements of Gamification

Effective gamified experiences require the blend of two elements: game mechanics and gamification techniques.

Game mechanics are the actual activities of the game, such as moving through a virtual world, collecting tokens, or winning contests. Just as every game has an attractive narrative, every learning experience needs an engaging plot that captures learners’ attention. This serves to keep learners engaged in the learning process.

For instance, a gamified learning experience for a pizza company that’s training team members how to make a perfect pizza might follow the journey from receiving an order, through choosing the right base and adding the correct toppings in the right proportions, through the delivery of the pizza to the customer.

Gamification techniques recognize that learners can be stimulated by certain feelings or experiences, such as a desire for status or achievement, and that meeting targets can generate a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. This is why gamified experiences often include giving learners challenges to complete and then rewarding successes. In e-learning, a variety of techniques can be employed, including scoring points, earning badges, being ranked on leaderboards, or competing in leagues.

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Clear goals and objectives are essential in gamification to provide direction and purpose and help learners understand their progress. Keeping track of where you are in the learning process, and recognizing the progress already made, is vital to engagement.

The Future of Gamification

Gamification is here to stay as an e-learning strategy—for the simple reason that it works. With the significant shift toward remote work and digital workplaces in recent years, it has become crucial for companies and employers to rethink their approach to corporate training, with new strategies to capture their employees’ attention and improve knowledge retention.

Gamification will also continue to develop as the e-learning sector becomes more varied, with more people learning on the move via smartphones and social platforms. As virtual reality environments, such as the Metaverse, become increasingly sophisticated, new, creative gamification strategies will emerge that will feed into new and exciting gamified e-learning experiences.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will also have a part to play by analyzing user behavior in e-learning environments. AI can then use this information to further enhance gamification elements.

Gamification works because we’re human. One of the key advocates for gamification, Gabe Zichermann, said: “Gamification is 75 percent psychology and 25 percent technology.” Innate human characteristics that mean we enjoy competing, achieving, and winning also mean that we are much more easily engaged by a learning experience when it’s gamified. And because the experience sparks more curiosity, we learn more.

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