September 2016
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September 2016
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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 is a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University in Bloomsburg, PA and is the author behind the widely read “Kapp Notes” blog and a regular contributor to ATD’s “Learning Circuits” blog. Karl has written or co-authored six books on the convergence of learning and technology including the bestselling book “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.” In that book, Karl explores the research and theoretical foundations behind effective game-based learning. He examines everything from variable reward schedules to the use of avatars to the use of games to teach pro-social behaviors. Karl’s latest book is a fieldbook which takes the ideas from the Gamification book and provides instructions for implementing those ideas. It’s called “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice.” Karl is committed to helping organization’s develop a strategic, enterprisewide approach to organizational learning. He believes that effective education and training are the keys to increased productivity and profitability. He can be reached at

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