November 27th, 2018 Tips & Tricks

Gamification on mobile can create a learning experience that’s hard to put down.

Looking for a way to reduce drop-out rates, raise engagement, and turn your course into a program your learners don’t want to stop using? Don’t we all. It may sound like a pipe dream, but the key to creating just such an experience lies in an instructional design technique that has caught on in e-learning circles in a big way: gamification.

Gamification is awesome. If you can take your subject matter and turn it into a vibrant, compelling story, full of challenges, rewards, and quests, then the results are often more memorable and effective than the classic lecture format. Applying this technique to mobile can only improve your course by making it more accessible.

That said, as exciting as gamification is, it’s also painfully easy to create a course that falls flat. Maybe the game mechanics are bad, the story feels forced, or the incentives are misplaced. Or maybe the game is desktop-based, when most of your learners are more interested in a mobile version.

No matter the roadblock, the goal for educators remains the same: to engage and instruct learners by the most effective means available. Here’s how gamification can help you get there.

1. Make it challenging (but not too challenging).

There are two ways learners quickly drop out of a course: the course is too hard so they feel defeated, or the course is too easy so they feel bored. An overly tough course makes a learner feel lost and helpless, while an overly easy course feels like a waste of time.

Finding the balance between the two can be a challenge in its own right, especially as each learner will have a different threshold. A good way to test that is to “place” the learner, and have the system respond to the learner’s actions by making the material more or less challenging. (Machine learning is good at this.)

For instance, if the learner completes early tasks quickly, the system can send them harder material until the learner starts to slow down. Then the system adjusts to the new pace, and stays there until the learners speeds up or slows down again.

2. Show progress and reward their work.

We all want to feel like we’re making headway when we learn new material. Fortunately, if there’s anything gamification is good at, it’s giving learners feedback about their progress. Whether that means advancing through levels or showing a progress bar, learners respond well to anything that illustrates how far they’ve come and how close they are to making their goal.

Rewards can include a variety of achievements, from maintaining a streak for a certain number of days, to completing a challenge within a time limit, to achieving a success rate on a task. Rewards offer incentives, but they also set new bars for a learner to overcome. Leaderboards also encourage a spirit of friendly competition within a community.

3. Make failure an option.

Do you know what one of the most critical features of any good game is? The ability to fail. Failure in games is low-consequence. Yeah, you may lose some points, but the game by design will always let you try again—for as many times as you want to keep going. The game designers know that if you fail permanently—they lose.

More importantly, the possibility of failure frees the learner to think creatively. Because they can always try again, they can explore different ways to complete a task. That versatility helps them understand the lesson better, and even improves confidence.

4. Pay attention to mobile gestures and interactions.

Using a course on a mobile device—particularly a gamified course—means extra testing for gestures and mobile-specific functionality. Since your learners will mostly be using their devices one-handed, it’s crucial that they be able to complete actions as simply as possible. Typically these gestures involve basic tapping and swiping motions, although more game-specific motions can also be used.

The important thing is to keep the gestures intuitive and specific. Most mobile learners are accustomed to basic gestures enough to respond appropriately, but they can still slip up if you’ve inadvertently made some of the gestures too similar to each other, or used an unfamiliar gesture without explaining it.

Mobile learning games can also interact with your phone in ways that improve the learning experience. For instance, you can set push notifications to remind users to log in and keep their streak alive, or send them a note when their ranking on the leaderboard has changed. This can prompt the user to stay engaged in ways a desktop experience can’t.

5. Personalize the experience.

Above all, match your gamified course to the learner as much as possible. Use their name and let them set an avatar. Let them control what kind of push notifications they receive and be transparent about your privacy settings. Encourage them to set goals, and set up game mechanisms that will help your learners achieve them.

Gamification helps to re-frame education and keep it from feeling like a chore.

Most of us aren’t born learners. When we hit a barrier—difficult terminology, dull subject matter, complex lesson structures—it’s all too easy to turn to something easier.

It may sound cheesy to “make education fun” by “turning it into a game,” but the fact is: it works. Even the part of our brains that knows our new game is a thinly-veiled educational tool will still engage with it, simply because games are wired to feel gratifying.

So even if you feel a bit skeptical about the premise, take a closer look at your material and see if there’s a way you can restructure it as a game. You may find the creation process as satisfying as your learners.

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