5 Ways to Use Gamification in E-Learning

How to build engagement, improve learner outcomes, and create a course your learners can’t quit.

Gamification has been a huge buzzword in the e-learning industry for a while now, and with good reason. As a teaching tool, it’s proven both its effectiveness and popularity time and again. As such, e-learning programs with gamification functionality have been in high demand among learners and educators alike.

There’s one way in which gamification has been used for years, although few of us would think of it as such: grades. When you think about it, grades are similar to leveling up in a course, or achieving a high score on a leaderboard.

The main reason we don’t think of grades as gamification is because they’re not fun. Grades aren’t a game. They’re final. Immutable. For good or ill, you can’t change them.

Gamification, on the other hand, says the complete opposite: your scores are temporary. You can’t earn a top score and rest on your laurels, nor do you have to accept a bad score as a black mark on your educational career. You can try again. You can improve.

As we’ve covered before, gamification has many benefits for learners. Among them, it:

  • Boosts engagement
  • Provides motivation through goal tracking
  • Improves knowledge retention
  • Promotes team building
  • Offers valuable feedback

Of course, it does all this for a reason: it’s fun. And when something is fun, we don’t think twice about sticking with it. If you’re interested in adding gamification elements to your course, here are a few ways you can make it work.

1. Leaderboards

We’re all familiar with the allure of a new high score. Whether it’s beating our own personal best, or topping someone else’s record, measuring our standings against our peers can foster healthy competition. In your online course, you can institute leaderboards for any number of situations, from quiz scores to the time it takes to solve a tricky puzzle.

A tip with these, though: don’t make them permanent. Instead, based on the rhythm of your course, create monthly or weekly leaderboards. That way newcomers will have a chance to earn a high score, and longtime players (sorry—learners) will be motivated to stick around to defend their title.

2. Badges

Badges and other achievement trophies are popular well beyond the context of online education. Many apps use badges as a way to reward user engagement, and they’re also a staple of many video games (for obvious reasons).

When it comes to online education, badges can encourage learners to use certain functions of the learning platform, gain new skills, complete more courses, or even participate productively in the community. You can even take it a step farther by allowing learners to level up certain badges as they reach new achievements.

One of the appeals of having earned a badge is that, unlike a leaderboard score, badges are permanent. However, to keep learners interested, it helps to include a mix of badges that are more or less difficult to earn. That way the excitement of gaining some early badges will encourage learners to keep going till the unlock the harder ones.

3. Points and currency

Points are a variation on badges, and can also be used as currency within a program. For instance, you can offer learners a point for every comment the leave in the discussion forum, and then let them redeem a certain number of points for rewards and discounts.

Like badges, point systems can be used to instruct learners about the learning program itself. For instance, you could offer a few points to learners who fill out a profile, finish a lesson, or log in for a certain number of days in a row. You could even offer them points for winning badges!

4. Progress bars and “level ups”

One downside of many online courses is that, without a definite start and end date, it’s easy for learners to lose sight of their goal. They forget how far they’ve come, and aren’t sure how much they have left to complete the course. Many leave after a few weeks, even if they’re in the middle of a course.

Progress bars can help by visualizing their advancements. You can even add a bit of interest by creating “level ups” that unlock new course features.

5. Virtual scenarios

Simulation games—from Farmville to The Sims—are incredibly popular, in part because of their immersive content. What about a simulation game that helps your learners navigate scenarios in different environments?

While most instructors don’t have the resources to build something as complex as a full-blown simulation game, it is possible to create a number of thoughtful scenarios. Learners can work their way through the scenarios, then see how well they scored at the end. If they’re not happy with the results, they can try the scenario again to earn a higher score.

As always with gamification, plan your incentives carefully.

Of course, the big caveat with gamification is that it can set up some bad incentives if it’s not handled carefully. Consider the suggestion to offer points for forum comments: this could easily promote spam comments from learners who simply want to win a reward. To combat this problem, you would have to moderate posts and remove obvious spam content, but that might take up too much time or provoke a backlash among learners.

However, these situations are relatively rare, and just as incentives can go awry, they can also do a lot of good. Because in the end, gamification isn’t about dumbing down a course or making it more childish, it’s about supporting learners and improving outcomes.

Author

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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