January 28, 2021

eLearning Gamification: How to Implement Gamification in Your Learning Strategy

By: ELM Learning

elearning gamification
Artwork by Kevin Bannister
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If the idea of gaming at work conjures images of isolated employees hunkering over their laptops and secretly playing Minecraft in their cubicles—think again. Gamification training, or the use of game play elements in a learning experience, is one of the hottest trends in corporate training.

What is Gamification Training?

At the most basic level, gamification training or gamification of learning is the use of game play elements in a learning experience. At ELM, we know that gamification training, when backed by an understanding of brain science, can be a powerful tool for inspiring learners to challenge themselves. 

 

At the heart of gamification is dopamine, which controls the pleasure center of our brains and affects our mood, memory, and thinking process. We—like lab rats in a maze getting food rewards for correct navigation—also respond to rewards such as levels, points, quizzes, badges, progress tools, timers, and sounds, which are all elements in gamification. 

 

Not only that, when your brain releases dopamine while you’re learning, you’re more likely to retain what you learned long-term, and have a pleasurable experience at the same time, making gamification a powerful AND fun eLearning tool.

 

If gamification is so great, why haven’t we been doing it all along? 

 

In truth, gamification has been around for a long time. Astronauts spend years playing games on terra firma before leaving the bounds of gravity, and there’s a reason the military exercises that simulate battlefield conditions are called “war games.” If games can keep these heroes alive, just think what gamification could do for your corporate training.

Why Gamification works in Corporate Training

Here are some of the reasons why gamification is a great tool for corporate training:

 

  • Motivation. Because gamification rewards learners and challenges them to keep going, they are motivated to improve and/or beat the competition. 
  • Learner Autonomy. Gamification allows individuals to learn at their own pace and level, and taps into intrinsic motivators like competition, improvement, and completion. 
  • Instant Feedback. Games provide feedback as players demonstrate their mastery. If they do well, it’s onto the next level; if not, they get another chance to see what they missed.
  • Social Learning. Friendly competition and collaboration allow learners to forge new connections. A 2020 article in Educational Psychology Review found that learners respond positively to mild social pressure when they are competing with members of a community. 
  • Emotional Connection. Gamification often uses storytelling to help learners apply what they’ve experienced in simulated situations, which creates an emotional connection (and, in turn, stronger neural connections). 
  • Meaningful Goals. Leveling up and completing games gives learners meaningful, tangible goals to work toward.
  • Cognitive Relief. Brains love to multitask, but multitasking can hurt training efforts. Games direct attention to one task at a time, which increases focus and reduces the cognitive load on the brain. 

3 Common Mistakes in Gamification

It sounds like a no-brainer: Getting learners excited about training and development by throwing in a game-based element. But just because you offer something other than Powerpoint doesn’t automatically mean gamification will be a success. Just like any other training method, learners can lose motivation and you could end up shelving your efforts. Want to avoid a total game over scenario? Nix these three common mistakes out of your design.

Long-Term Competition: When it comes to gamification, you want to drum up a lot of interest from your learners, so you might plan an organization-wide competition. The problem? If you create a competition that is too large in scope, you’re bound to motivate those at the top of the leaderboard, but you’ll probably lose those who are consistently on the bottom, without any chances to move up. Instead, plan on short-term competitions in a variety of applications, and create a leaderboard that resets after a week or so to give everyone a fair chance.

Unclear Goals and Rewards: Planning game-based training is great – unless, of course, your learners don’t really understand the purpose. Without clear game goals, like target scores and outcomes, learners could lose interest. And, without clear rewards, such as badges and prizes, learners could lose motivation. Both goals and rewards should be an integral part of the planning and development stage of the game.

Missing the Point of Gamification: There is such a thing as “trying too hard” when it comes to gamification, especially if you’re so focused on the aspect of fun that you miss the point of training. You could create the world’s most exciting game, but if learners perceive that it has little to do with their training, they might ditch it for something more conventional. Respect your learners’ time and remember that while edutainment is important, subject matter should still be on point.

Examples of Gamification in Corporate Training

Here are a few examples of gamification training we created for our clients. 

Car Rental Company Training: ELM was tasked with making a compliance course for a car rental company more “tolerable.” We went with a road trip theme and issued each user a Compliance Passport, which they used to collect stamps after completing each micro course along the simulated road map. The stamps worked liked badges, rewarding employees for completing a module, and the map showed users where they were going – and where they had been. The following image shows the course map for the compliance training, and the Compliance Passport.

Beer maker Training: Our client wanted an engaging way to teach their employees about the history of malt beverages, how to set up kegs, and pour the perfect pint. We created an adventure theme where learners navigated through three different scenarios in “Joe’s Bar” using drag and drop functions. During each scenario, learners received instant feedback from the narrator and other staff in the bar for correct and incorrect answers. After learners completed each scenario, a virtual chalkboard appeared with a satisfying checkmark. 

For the final test—serving a beer to a customer—we upped the dopamine release with an element of uncertainty. If the customer reacted with a smile, they were good to go! If the customer frowned and complained—it was back to the bar. Rewards presented with just the right level of uncertainty are very powerful.

How do I know if Corporate Gamification is the right fit?

If you’re thinking of gamification for your next training, first ask yourself, “What motivates my audience and what gaming features make the most sense?” The game should translate to the workplace and not distract the learner from productivity. Next, the game should relate to your specific business goals. Finally, don’t overdo it! Gamification can be taken too far and ultimately do more harm than good.

 

Corporate learning can be fun and motivating. Thinking about gamification for your next training? Contact our team today.