September 2016
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September 2016
Newsletter Article

Types of Structural Gamification

Structural gamification is the application of game-elements to propel a learner through content with no alteration or changes to the content.

In the Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook, structural gamification is defined as “the application of game-elements to propel a learner through content with no alteration or changes to the content.” The content does not become game-like; only the structure around the content does. According to S. Nicholson, a common implementation of this type of gamification adopts the scoring elements of video games, such as points, levels, badges, leaderboards, and achievements, and applies them to an educational context. 

Continual Assessment Is Key

Structural gamification’s continual, real-time assessment of progress provides important information to both the learner and the administrators of the instruction as learners complete portions of content, take quizzes to gauge knowledge acquisition, and move toward the prescribed educational goals. The continual assessment of progress helps identify strengths and weaknesses. 

For example, a training organization employs structural gamification when learners are assigned content to be learned through a daily quiz-type game for a period of time via email or, more likely, a mobile app. If the learner answers correctly, they earn points and progress toward earning a digital badge and a place on a leaderboard. If they answer incorrectly, they are immediately presented with a short instructional piece specifically addressing the question’s topic.

Questions are repeated at various intervals until the learner demonstrates mastery of the topic. The quiz and instruction process takes 30 to 90 seconds each day, at either the beginning or end of the day based on the choice of the learner. As learners progress through the content, the number of questions they answer correctly is indicated on a leaderboard for viewing within an organization or sub-set of the organization. This enables learners to assess their progress relative to others, or the score can be grouped by teams to support team-based learning. However, the focus should not be on comparing oneself to others; learners should focus on assessing their own performance. 

Often with structural gamification the experience is provided to the learner on a daily or weekly basis, and questions are more frequently repeated if the learner gets the question wrong.  If the question is answered correctly, it’s moved to the back of the question queue.

Categories of Structural Gamification Emerge

Structural gamification appears to be developing several distinct categories. 

Casual games. In this version of structural gamification, the learner is presented with a short game to play before being asked a question. In this case, the game is not related to the content being taught. The game is simply a method of gaining the learner’s attention—clearing the mind so it can more easily absorb forthcoming content. It also acts as a motivator to drive the employee to continue learning. 

Here’s how it works: A learner will open the app or log onto a system, play a short casual game, answer a question, continue to play the casual game, and then answer another question. The casual games are often based on commercially available casual games, such as “Breakout,” “Bejeweled,” “Angry Birds,” and “Fruit Ninja.” The content of the casual game is not related to the content being learned; the two are separate. Two examples of vendors (among several) using this technique are Axonify and mLevel. 


Competition games. For this type of learning experience, learners are presented with a question that they must answer quicker than another player/learner. There are leaderboards to rank players, and the goal is to answer the most questions correctly within the shortest amount of time. 

Here’s how it works: The question typically appears on a mobile app and the player has to answer the question within a certain time frame. Learners respond to new challenges by clicking on the right answer and the interaction can include rich media (video) and social interactions with others. The competitive aspect of games drives motivation, as well as the actual design. It is used often to train sales forces. Two examples of vendors using this technique are Qstream and Insite Hub. 

Progression-based games. In this category, answering questions advances a learner toward a goal. The questions presented in the game are directly related to the content being learned. Questions are part of the game, so the number of correct answers directly correlates to how quickly the learner moves toward the finish line. 

Here’s how it works: If the goal is “climb to the top of the mountain,” a learner must answer questions to move his character up a mountain. Along the way, correct answers result in winning tokens and progress toward the top; incorrect answers stall progress and result in lost points.

Two vendors that provide this type of structural gamification are Bottom Line Performance with their product “Knowledge Guru” and Growth Engineering with their product “Genie.”  

Badge-based games. The idea behind this type of gamification is to provide competence-based recognition of knowledge with the awarding of a badge that employees can display digitally to convey affirmation of a learned competence. This also is referred to as micro-credentialing. 

Here’s how it works: The design of badged-based gamification revolves around the learner receiving badges for correctly mastering content. Badges can be divided into many categories, such as:

  • time (doing a task with a certain timeframe)
  • accuracy (doing a task with no mistakes)
  • learning (ensuring that learning has occurred)
  • competency (ensuring learning is competent at the task).

    Two examples are Digital Promise and OpenBadges. 

    Want to learn more about how to create games that work? Join me December 8-9 in San Francisco for ATD LearnNow: Game Design

About the Author

Karl Kapp has a worldwide reputation as one of the pioneers in the gamification of learning and instruction, having literally written the book on the topic. He's making headlines with his newest book, Microlearning: Short and Sweet. Kapp is an expert in the convergence of learning, technology, and business, was named one of LinkedIn’s Top Voices in Education in 2017, and is the recipient of the 2019 ATD Individual Contributor Award. He works all over the world helping employers (from Fortune 100 companies to start-up organizations) deliver effective, meaningful instruction using a game-thinking approach. He is a TEDx speaker, an international keynoter, and the author of several LinkedIn Learning courses as well the creator of Zombie Sales Apocalypse and Zombie Instructional Design Apocalypse, popular card games for learning. Follow Karl on Twitter @kkapp..

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