Gamification: What it is and Why it Matters

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Gamification is being implemented into elearning as more learning management systems, instructional designers, teachers, and organizations realize the benefit of including some form of game learning into their courses.  To some, the idea of gamification is rather new, but it actually has been around in some form or another for quite some time.

Thanks to some content developed by Mia MacMeekin, I was able to discover the origins of gamification, as well as the practical uses today. Gamification started as game theory, where a strategic decision-making module was first introduced to business and slowly evolved over time.  From there, game-based learning came about, as teachers from all over the world began to use games like Monopoly, Scrabble, Life, Oregon Trail, and the like to teach various concepts.

Gamification is the further evolution of game theory and game-based learning.  Gamification is the use of various gaming techniques/strategies in a non-game setting to increase the participation of users involved with the learning. It is “the process of adding game mechanics to processes, programs, and platforms that would not traditional use such concepts. The goal is to create incentives and a more engaging experience” (Swan, 2012, p.13). The very core of gamification is a “participation-and-reward system” (Swan, 2012, p.13) that keeps challenging users by offering points, badges and/or levels based on user interaction with courses.

Teachers and businesses are attracted to gamification because it creates an experience, as well as a measurable experiment based on user activity.  By looking at the points and awards users are achieving, you can better determine which elearning courses are resonating with students or employees. The idea of using gamification is to allow students to take risks that they normally would not take in a real-life scenario (Bajdor & Dragolea, 2011).  This in turn creates a “safe” atmosphere where teachers and employers can gain a better understanding of their constituents behavior, motivators, and general understanding of key concepts – very valuable information!

If you are on the fence about gamification, you should give it a shot before ruling it out completely.  For instance, adding a badges and point reward system is rather easy, depending on your platform.  See how your users react and if it encourages further interaction with your elearning content.  If it is well received, then consider expanding upon your gamification strategy by polling your content users what they would like to see implemented.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

8 Comments
  1. I worked on a team designing a boot camp training recently. Our WBT designer developed a great set of games to teach the technical tools to the participants. It was originally meant as an individual training, but because of a problem with the class computers the instructor broke the class into teams. The competition and fun the class had allowed the participants to step out of their comfort zone and learn in a new way. It was so effective we changed the course to continue it.

    • Lisa Lindsay

      Hi Jeff!
      Loved your Boot camp idea. Can you elaborate on the types of games you utilized and the object behind them?

      • Jeffrey Dyer

        Hi Lisa,

        There were a couple of games that we used. One was similar to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. There were also a Jeopardy and Crossword Games. The class was learning about the physical tools and materials for their new jobs and the game asked them to identify different items and parts of the tools and facilities. The WBT was an introduction to the module that the materials were being taught in, so it served as a pre-knowledge assessment. What do they know about what they are about the learn about. In the end, because of the competition and games, the participants had a more real connection to the material in the module, and they felt that they learned more in that hour than they had in any one full day.

  2. Tracey S.

    I took the Gamification MOOC offered by Coursera led by Dr. Kevin Werbach (Wharton School of Pennsylvania) this past Spring. It was a worthwhile experience and covers the good, bad, and ugly parts of Gamification. Here’s a link to my two articles I wrote about the experience: http://enerdtracey.wordpress.com/. I believe they are offering this course again this fall.

  3. Game-based learning and game mechanics in learning are important concepts to differentiate. While game-based learning has its benefits, I believe using subtle game mechanics in learning will have longer lasting benefits in enterprise learning due to the nature of how employees need to learn (on-demand, just-in-time, etc.).

    • Hi Guillermo-

      Thanks for the comment. We actually have some form of gamification already (leaderboards, point tracking, and badge awarding). Check out the BadgeOS integration or WPAchievements.

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