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Getting Started With Gamification

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

This is the first in a three-part series on Gamifiying Your Instruction. The series is written by Karl Kapp, professor of instructional technology and internationally known author of two books on gamification, both co-authored by ASTD.

Imagine you have just been assigned the task of “gamifying” some of your training program. Where do you start? How do you begin to think about using game-elements and game-thinking to create instruction that is engaging? How do you get started?

The first thing is to keep in mind is that gamification is not a technology-driven methodology. Instead, think of gamification as a design methodology. Don’t think of it as adding technology to solve a problem; think of it was a way to redesign your instruction to be more game-like.

This means adding stories to start your instruction, begin the instruction with a challenge, and create a game-like look and feel. None of these techniques require additional technology or a change from the tools you are already using.

This also means that you may need to spend some time educating others on the concept of gamification that you want to implement. In some cases, people will think gamification is the use of serious games—games for teaching. In other cases, people will think it is the addition of points, badges, and leaderboards. And some people will see it as the redesign of instruction to make it more game-like with the addition of themes, interactivity, and more feedback.

It is not that one definition is right or wrong; it is that everyone in the organization needs to have agreement on what the term actually means for your organization. I tend to think of gamification as a continuum. On one end is a high-quality, fully immersive, 3D game. Meanwhile, on the other end is the addition of a point system to learning.


You can also classify gamification as content gamification which is changing content to be more game-like and structural gamification, which is adding elements such as points, badges, and achievements to help motivate learners through content (see Two Types of Gamification). Both have their place, but you need to determine which is most appropriate in which case—just like all instructional strategies.

Work to develop a definition that can be articulated and demonstrated to the stakeholders of the organization. The more examples, samples, and case studies you can show, the better.

Once you have established the definition or definitions for the use of gamification in your organization, you can start to share the anticipated value and business outcomes expected.   Adding gamification to your instructional toolkit because it is neat, fun, or exciting are the wrong reasons. Adding gamification because it will engage learners, provide repeated exposure to content, and help them reach desired behavior changes is the outcome you are striving to achieve.

Bottom line: Gamification should be about driving learning and behavior change. Keep that as your focus and you will be successful.

In the next post, we will discuss best practices in gamification implementations.

Editor’s Note: For more information about gamification, see Karl’s two books: The Gamification of Learning and Instruction and The Gamification Fieldbook, both available from the ASTD bookstore.

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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