Instructional Design

Playing with Gamification? Those Badges and Leaderboards Aren’t Enough

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The idea of gamification often feels way too good to be true. A training method that promises increased engagement and produces learners that actually want to access materials and content? It’s no wonder that organizations are quick to jump on the gamification bandwagon. Unfortunately, poorly-planned gamification almost always falls flat, leaving learners bored and administrators wondering where they went wrong.

We blame two things: badges and leaderboards. While both can be successful parts of a game-based learning solution, too often they’re the only parts. Simply delivering the same course but offering badges for completion or compiling users into a hierarchy doesn’t increase engagement or learner retention. Instead, relying on the lowest forms of gamification send a clear message: completion is the only goal.

The industry can do so much better than giving out gold stars for finishing a module. If you do plan on incorporating gamification into your training program, your program probably requires an overhaul. Here are some game elements worth revamping your training for.


If you’re going to use game elements to increase user engagement, the elements need to have a personal element. Forcing all of your learners through one storyline results in higher-level learners becoming bored, lower-level learners becoming stressed, and all learners feeling like the content is too broad. By building choice and unique paths into the game, users can choose the topics and pace that best fit their role and level of training.

That doesn’t mean that you need to shy away from any type of a challenge. In fact, a challenge is one of the best ways to motivate learners and keep them interacting with a training program. Just use challenges judiciously: a person on the Sales team doesn’t want to waste time interacting with a game experience that really only applies to Accounting.


Sure, leaderboards can help to inspire a little competition amongst learners, but it still leaves every man for himself. Learning benefits from a social aspect, and it needs to be more profound than who’s beating who. By introducing social elements to a learning program—think team challenges, communication, and the ability to share—you create bonds between the players.

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Think of learning more as a team sport. The more interaction users have with each other, the better the knowledge retention and memory transfer. Simply showing names on a board creates an overly simplified version of what “winning” really looks like for your learners.


We get it: You might not have the time or the resources to completely redo your current course. But when it comes to gamification, it’s best to do it right or skip it completely. If your only choice with your current platform is to offer a badge, you’re probably better off coming up with another way to motivate learners–one that doesn’t encourage completion over retention and change.

If you, however, have the resources to revamp your current program, think about switching to a platform that allows you to build in better game elements. Incorporating storylines, leading learners through win or lose scenarios, and coming up with end goals motivates your users. Choose a platform specifically created to allow for a high degree of gamification and personalization so you don’t have to shoehorn game-esque factors into a curriculum that doesn’t really jive.

Badges and leaderboards aren’t bad for learners, but on their own, they aren’t necessarily good either. Gamification might be a buzzword, but in our experience, it works. Of course, it needs to be done well in order to be effective. When it comes to game elements, trying to add a few token experiences won’t give you the results that a program built for better.