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Gamification in Learning: What is it and How Can You Use it?

Zac Francis
Zac Francis

When it comes to successful learning, an immersive and engaging experience is pivotal. Gamification provides a way of making your learning experience enjoyable and rewarding - with some US companies seeing a 50%boost in productivity from gamified training features.

Keep reading to find out what gamification actually is, why it’s effective, and its benefits when applied to learning.

What is gamification? 

Gamification is defined as the application of game-like elements to a non-game context, leading to increased levels of engagement and motivation. Gamification successfully captures all of the advantages inherent to games and applies them to varying aspects of life.

Although the term ‘gamification’ is relatively new, the concept has been applied since the beginning of the 20th century, and has likely featured in many areas of life since civilization existed. For example, in the early 1900s, Boy Scouts could earn badges and ranks—an example of gamification historically.

It’s likely you’ve been motivated - unknowingly or otherwise - by the mechanisms of gamification. For example, when playing a board game, you’ve probably felt spurred on by the prospect of winning and having this feat acknowledged by peers, which made you engaged in the activity. By dangling verbal (e.g. acknowledgment) or tangible (e.g. a digital badge) rewards that signify achievement in front of an individual, it keeps them invested and compels them to do their best.

Is gamification effective? 

In short, yes. The benefits of gamification include creating a more enjoyable learner experience, increasing and sustaining levels of motivation, and improving knowledge retention. Let's take a closer look at some of these advantages. 

A fun learning experience

 Most of us have, at some point, been on the receiving end of the conventional form of learning - think long-form video with no breaks, or hour-long presentations delivered by instructors in-person - that required us to just sit and listen with no opportunity for active participation.

Gamification is made with the intention of bypassing this problem—and it works, creating an immersive and fun learning experience that encourages the learner to interact with the content.

And science agrees - playing games is proven to improve our mood by increasing levels of dopamine in our brain—the chemical responsible for making us feel good.

Increased motivation

Gamification is designed to encourage intrinsic and extrinsic motivation. 

Intrinsic motivation is when you want to do something because you have an interest in the task. The excitement that comes with gamification makes the experience that much more enjoyable. 

In contrast, extrinsic motivation is the desire to do something due to external rewards, such as trophies, points and badges. These game-like elements incentivize us to do our best and keep us invested in the task at hand.

What is gamification in elearning?

Gamification in learning involves using game-based components such as rewards, points, and trophies to increase learner engagement, help retain new information, and test their knowledge. It is increasingly used within the business sphere, offering employers a proven way to incentivize and engage their workforce as they learn which makes employees feel more socially connected to their peers (87%) and cement a greater sense of purpose and meaning in the workplace (82%).

In the context of training, examples of this include:

  •  Badges (level-based achievements) 
  • Leaderboards (social recognition forms of reward e.g. learner progress ranking against others)
  • Progress bar displaying training completion rate (enables progress to be visualized and incentivizes completion to reach the next level)

The pros and cons of gamification in learning

There are many benefits of gamification when it comes to learning, as are there some cons. Gamification engages, but it won’t be useful in all situations, nor will it complement all types of training. Businesses should factor into account the size of their workforce, their learning and development needs, and whether gamified learning is the right approach for them. 

Below are some of the advantages and disadvantages of gamification in learning in more detail.

1. It won't work if your training is long-form

Using rewards, gamification can incentivize engagement to encourage repeated learning. But if the training is too in-depth or complex (e.g. a 40-minute video), requiring substantial time and effort, then a learner might feel unengaged and unmotivated to complete training altogether.

If the quality of learning is a gateway to better workforce retention, organizations need to implement training programs that deliver value against the time your workers have available for it  - it’s worth remembering the average worker has only 1% of their working week to spare for learning and development.

Gamification has its highest success rate, and is best complemented, with short-form training which employees are more likely to see through to completion. For instance, lessons on eduMe see an average completion rate of 98% versus the average 15%, on account of their bite-sized nature.

As more learners are reaching the end in the first instance, more are able to reap the reward of doing so, and the benefits of gamification (e.g. the motivation needed to repeat an action) are unlocked.

2. Employees can grow tired of it

Think back to your last long-awaiting purchase - how long did it take for the novelty to wear off?

As workers relish the interactiveness and game mechanisms that gamification offers, the same novelty that keeps us engaged (e.g. winning rewards upon task completion) can wear off after some time. This is known as perceived task attractiveness, and it influences our perception and willingness to complete a task. In other words, the motivation that previously drove learners to training completion is diminished as the rewards become more anticipated.

Why is this? Our dopamine receptors are most active when rewards are unpredictable, which incentivizes us to continue playing. And the biggest dopamine hit occurs when learners anticipate a reward, rather than receiving one, which makes it important to keep learners engaged throughout the learning process, rather than relying on the rewards that come from the task completion itself.

3. The gamification design makes or breaks the learning experience

Training is a basic necessity for a well-rounded worker experience and, if not provided or delivered properly, organizations can risk their workers looking elsewhere - 40% leave within their first year when training isn’t provided.

Gamification is a tool that makes training more attractive, and by extension - you as an employer. However, 80%of gamification projects fail to meet business objectives largely because of the design aspect. For gamification principles to work, it has to complement the user experience - the more intuitive and user-friendly the design, the more users relish the experience.

In some cases, competition can become counterproductive if users fixate on the rewards over completing the learning outcomes and applying it in their work (e.g. how to lift heavy equipment properly). In extreme cases, bottom-ranking users may feel disincentivized to a point where gamification begins to have an adverse effect on engagement, as morale from their lower performance is quantified for others to see.

Now that we’ve discussed the challenges of gamification in learning, let’s take a look at the positives that come out of it for your workforce.

Why should I use gamification in learning?

There are many benefits of gamification in learning and development. Although the complete list is much longer, below are some of the more significant advantages of gamification in learning:

Improved workforce performance 

A major benefit of applying gamification in learning is improving workforce performance. In fact, 89%of employees believed they would be more productive if their work was more gamified. The gamification experience is an addictive one, promoting repeated engagement and interaction that, in the long-term, translates to increased productivity. 

Studies have also proven that those who learn using gamified content increase their long-term retention of the subject matter. Whilst immediate absorption of information is important, long-term retentionis also crucial to ensuring your workforce remains operating optimally over time.

Engaged and Happier Employees

Gamification results in happier and more motivated employees.

Research shows that companies who incorporate games in their training process enhance employee engagement by 60%. Additionally, over 66% believe gamification has helped reduce their stress levels. 

A natural consequence of happier employees is greater workplace retention. Employees with greater professional satisfaction are loyal and remain at a place of work for a greater period of time. Incorporating gamification in learning can therefore prevent churn.

Garner higher engagement with training

In gamified learning, the user experience plays an important role in reinforcing key concepts, behaviors, and skills that keep learners engaged - it informs on their progress when completing training. 

This is where positive and negative reinforcement mechanisms come into play. If a learner is on track to progress in their lesson, they’re more likely to repeat the behavior as the feedback given positively reinforces them to do so.  

Another point is that by using data-driven insights, organizations can make changes to their game mechanisms to incentivize higher rewards in return for completing training. For instance, businesses can adjust the user experience to highlight certain features that receive more attention and engagement than others which creates a smoother and more interactive experience that learners enjoy using.

Effective Safety And Compliance Training

Mandatory learning can sometimes be unappealing. Many of us have sat through disengaging videos that are dated and lengthy. And it doesn’t help that mandatory topics are often not considered valuable to an individual’s long-term career path. Companies are realizing that outdated training methods and endless PowerPoint slides are leading to unfavorable business outcomes—including poor safety and compliance. 

Gamified learning takes the very same content and presents it in a way that’s fun and interesting. Adding scores, showing progress and including visual and audio elements are ways to inject something engaging, resulting in higher completion rates and greater long-term retention—both of which contribute to a safer, more productive, and more efficient workforce. 

eduMe and gamification 

Gamification in learning is invaluable to ensuring your workforce is engaged, productive, and loyal. 

In eduMe’s mobile-based training platform, your employees can earn points for completing lessons and gain levels as they complete content. They can also see where they rank within the company—promoting a feeling of community whilst adding some friendly competition for extra motivation. We have also made it possible for users to view their progress, and see their level and rankings. 

Already some of our clients are reaping the rewards of our gamified learning, with rideshare company Alto seeing an average quiz score of 85%—providing the company with confidence that their new hires are upskilled enough to provide a 5 star service.

To see how eduMe can help optimize the performance, retention and safety of your workforce, get in touch 👇