Gamification isn’t just a gimmick—it’s a vetted and highly effective learning tool.

Anyone who’s ever had a teacher insist, with painfully false enthusiasm, that “learning is fun!,” may be forgiven for raising an eyebrow at the concept of gamification. However, there are many reasons to believe that gamification is actually the best path toward success for many educators. Our oldest recorded game, dates back to roughly 3,500 BCE—about the same time the first known writing emerged. It’s likely that many of us are hardwired for gaming—so it only makes sense that we use that to its fullest advantage in our learning. We’re not only playing to our strengths by making learning more entertaining, we’re probably tapping into our biological and psychological inclinations as well. Here are four reasons gamification is worth investing in for your online course.

1. Gamification helps learners feel their progress.

One of the biggest hurdles for learners to overcome is a sense that they’re spinning their wheels, or that the material they have to master is overwhelming. If completing a course is like a mountain the learner has to summit, then it’s easy to understand how many learners can view that mountain as insurmountable—the climb is too steep, and even if they’ve been working hard for a while, hitting a plateau can cause many learners to lose momentum.

Gamification helps take learners’ minds off the difficulties ahead (many of which feel beyond their reach), and instead breaks those challenges into manageable components. When learners are able to tackle these smaller problems one at a time, they can earn faster, smaller victories that give them the motivation to keep moving forward.

2. Gamification engages learners for longer periods of time.

There’s something else those small wins do for learners—they help them stay engaged rather than walking away. When a learner can sense they’re making progress, they have a stronger motivation to keep forging ahead. Using our hiking metaphor from earlier, if a learner’s focus is on making it to the next turn in the path, or the next scenic overlook, pressing onward feels less like a burden.

Gamification also helps learners achieve the mental state of “flow,” where learners are more likely to lose track of time and become absorbed in their activities. Anyone who has spent hours on a task without noticing the time pass is familiar with this state. Flow manages to combine high productivity with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. It’s not only beneficial to learning, it can also be psychologically healthy.

3. Gamification reduces learning fatigue.

While we’re on the topic of psychological health, let’s roll into the concept of learning fatigue. Learning is always going to be mentally taxing. When learners also have to grapple with discouragement, boredom, and anxiety, that fatigue compounds.

Think about it: Most of us struggle to work out regularly. But most of us will happily work up a sweat playing a pick-up game of basketball, or some other physical game that feels “fun” rather than like work. The very fact that a task is enjoyable makes it easier for learners to press on, past a point when they might ordinarily feel weary. And most of that is due to not having to battle mentally against burnout.

4. Gamification lowers the cost of failure.

For many learners, engaging in anything that remotely feels like “school” can bring back a sense of anxiety. Learners who struggled in school may feel a lack of confidence that can make even a small setback feel like an outsized discouragement. And learners who traditionally succeeded may have their own struggles to navigate—higher levels of anxiety about failing, for instance, or difficulty coping with challenges they aren’t accustomed to.

A learner’s antipathy toward failure can show up in both large and small situations. An important course increases the pressure, causing learners to feel more stress. A less important course lowers the stakes, making it easier for learners to put it off or procrastinate if they’re feeling unmotivated.

However, turning course content into a game changes the entire framework by which learners view failure. Anyone who has ever played a game expects to fail many times—in fact, a challenge is what makes the game fun. Gamification transforms “failing” from a critical judgment on a learner’s ability to absorb material into an expected and even welcome part of the learning journey.

Learning is good for the bottom line, too.

Need any more reasons to incorporate gamification into your learning program? Here’s some food for thought: It improves your bottom line. And it shouldn’t be hard to see why.

Learners who are more motivated, who commit to your course for longer, who enjoy the time they spend with your learning program, and who walk away feeling good about what they accomplished are going to stick with your course until they finish. And then they’ll want to come back for more, and they may even tell their friends while they’re at it.

In other words, gamification inspires loyalty. How’s that for motivation?

Laura Lynch photo

About Laura Lynch

Laura is a marketing specialist with experience presenting at WordPress events in Ann Arbor and Vienna. She speaks Russian and German and holds a double MA (Hons) in History and Russian Studies from the University of Edinburgh.

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