6 Tips for Successful Gamification in E-Learning

Dec 9, 2015

While working on Geenio, we were surprised to find that the document specifying the functional requirements of gamification proved to be the source of hottest debate in the company. We had to rewrite it from scratch five times before we had something on our hands we all could agree on. However, this helped us formulate a number of rules we decided to use as a basis upon which to build meaningful and effective gamification tools. We would like to share our findings with the community to save others the pain we went through and help people get gamification right from the get-go.

  • Motivate, not Entertain
  • Refuse the Classic Gamification Tools
  • Do not Abuse the Awards
  • Create Interesting Challenges
  • Keep Your Eyes on the Objective
  • Gamification is not a Game

Motivate, not Entertain

Gamification, when you get down to it, is not a set of game mechanics. It is a content development paradigm meant to make a task that is perceived as boring or dull - say, reading a textbook - into something that is fun and interactive. It pays to remember that the main purpose of gamification is to motivate and engage the user, not to stage a break in the middle of a course and offer a diversion that is somehow related to what is being taught. It is a common pitfall, and one you would be wise to avoid. Gamification is meant to improve the efficacy of instruction, not entertain. There is no need to interrupt the course for a quick game of Tetris. Instead, game mechanics and concepts can be put to better use to check how well the material was understood and retained. If it turns out that the imparted knowledge has not been sufficiently absorbed, help the student consolidate the gains in game form. It pays to be creative, so don’t be afraid to dream up new gaming tools that no one has thought of before and put them to use. Perhaps it is your idea that will become the new standard in game mechanics.

Refuse the Classic Gamification Tools

Having decided to use gamification in your project, treat the standard set of gamification tools - points, badges, and leaderboards - with suspicion. Many companies have failed to implement gamification effectively and stopped using it because they used the classic triad of gamification tools without considering whether they actually fit their projects. There are no universal, one-size-fits-all gamification techniques. The purpose of gamification is to increase the effectiveness of training and help the student better understand and retain the material. To achieve this aim, it is necessary to carefully pick the tools that will enhance the effectiveness of the course, not detract from it. If you believe that an already existing mechanic is appropriate for your course - wonderful! Use it. If not - develop your own unique tools for the project. The beauty of gamification is that, contrary to the public opinion, it is not limited to a handful of common game elements. It allows you to create completely new solutions to achieve the desired objectives.

Do not Abuse the Awards

If you do decide to use badges in your project, do not overuse them. Many gamification attempts fail due to handing out badges for every chore, which defeats their very purpose by making rewards trivial. How do you know if the badges are being overused in your course? Quite simply - create a test account and start performing typical user tasks that take little effort to complete. Obtaining a badge every 10-15 minutes most likely means that the number of rewards being given out is too high. Awards should be rare, and earning one should feel significant and come as a result of considerable effort being shown by the student. Otherwise, he is unlikely to assign the achievement much value.

Create Interesting Challenges

Nothing motivates a diligent student better than a challenge that is hard, but stimulating. If the challenge manages to catch the student’s interest, he will spare no effort to solve it. However, to keep the student’s interest, the challenge has to be hard, but beatable. A task that is too complex for the student to realistically complete will result in them losing interest and the desire to continue. However, if tasks the student faces are too simple and require little effort, he will most likely quickly grow bored and lose interest in further problem solving. It takes skill to create a challenge that is just complex enough to give an average student a run for their money without overwhelming them.

Keep Your Eyes on the Objective

Stick to the objectives set for the course. Gamification should not distract the student or divert his attention, but help him achieve the main objectives. It is very easy to get carried away while implementing gamification, concentrate on showing the student a fun time using game mechanics, and forget about the objectives of the course. To prevent this, it is important to always keep in mind the end goal that the student is meant to achieve. Before adding game mechanics, first think if they help the student to better understand and retain the received knowledge, or the opposite. Unless game mechanics serve a purpose, it is necessary to revise and replace them, or perhaps even abandon the use of gamification in your course altogether. I would like to reiterate that gamification is meant to help the student achieve the desired results, not hinder.

Gamification is not a Game

Gamification and games are two different things. Gamification uses certain game mechanics, but its purpose is completely different. If you cross the line between motivating game elements and an actual game, the student may well participate in the mechanical game process, but the main purpose of the course - learning - is unlikely to be achieved. Companies big and small face this issue, and newcomers to the industry are most likely to fall into this trap. A number of software vendors applying gamification concepts incorrectly - and failing miserably - did much damage to its reputation and led people to not taking gamification seriously. Game elements are not the same as a game. Remember that gamification must not be an aim unto itself. Instead, it should enhance the teaching process and so is best used to help make studying more fun and engaging, but not to replace it.