The 3 Levels of Gamification (No One is Doing Number 3)

Gamfication has evolved into three distinct categories, and hardly anyone is implementing the third.

It is no secret that gamifiation can help make your course more engaging, which is why many course creation platforms make it possible to implement these techniques – especially WordPress & WordPress based courses.

Now, over the years we have seen an evolution of gamification elements. It is evolving partly because technology is just better, and partly because online learner expectations have continued to evolve. Today I would categorize gamification into three categories, from basic to more advanced.

Categories 1 and 2 are pretty common, but Category 3 is rarely done today and represents an huge opportunity for course creators. Below is a description of each, where do you fall?

Category 1 – Points & Leaderboards

Points represent an entry-level to gamification.

Relatively straight-forward, the concept is simple: complete a task and get some points. For example, if you post in a forum you get a certain amount of points. If you complete a lesson you receive points. Finish a course? You guessed it: more points.

These points can then be used to create a leaderboard. This is essentially a running list of users who have the most points. This kind of friendly competition can act as a motivating factor for other users.

But be careful! It can actually have the opposite effect as well.

People will see that they don’t have nearly as many points as the high-performers so they get discouraged. To combat this it’s best to show leaderboards for similar users. For example, you can display the point leaders for users who are part of the same course rather than across all courses.

Category 2 – Points, Badges, & Rewards

Moving past points we get to badges.

You are probably familiar with the concept. You complete tasks in a course and you receive points, but you also can earn badges to put into your digital backpack.

These badges are more engaging and are a nice visual representation of what you have accomplished. They also happen to be more entertaining than static numbers.

Now if you have points and badges then you are actually at Category 1.5. To get to Category 2 you need to add one more element: rewards.

Rewards refers to anything that the points and badges permit learners to do compared to learners who do not yet have enough points or certain badges. Setting certain courses to unlock once enough points are earned is one example.

Opening up bonus materials, forums, coaching calls, etc. when specific badges are earned is another reward-based contingency in this gamification category.

The importance of this is that it starts to apply meaning to the gaming elements which increases overall learner engagement.

Category 3 – Gamification Ownership

Category 3 is about creating a culture where the learners feel a sense of ownership for their gamification elements.

The biggest difference between the previous two categories and this one is that in Categories 1 & 2, gamification happens to the learner. In this category, gamification happens from the learner.

It’s a subtle difference but a major one. Let me give you a concrete example.

No too long ago I had  Bradly & Andy from The Great eCourse Adventure on a webinar to showcase their learning platform. If you haven’t seen it yet then check it out here. To date it remains one of the best uses of gamification I have seen.

Now what makes their program different to the majority of others is that they have immersed learners into the gamification to the point where they feel a sense of ownership on their accomplishments. In the case of the Great eCourse Adventure, one of the ways that they do this by implementing a made-up currency.

As learners go through a course they can earn points and badges which translates to a digital currency that can be used to purchase actual rewards. Content isn’t unlocking automatically in this case (though that is a feature they use). Learners are choosing what it is they want to “spend” their currency on. Gamification isn’t happening to them. They are making gamification happen.

(By the way, those guys use the LearnDash MyCred integration for this functionality).

This can have a profound psychological effect for the way people view your course content. It’s no longer just course content but it is now an experience. There is a culture with this two-way interaction.

Now, that’s all well and good but the truth is that even The Great eCourse Adventure is hovering at Category 2.5. Digital currencies in courses have been around for some time (though surprisingly not used very often).

So who is using Category 3? So far I have only come across one platform that is…

DuoLingo is at Category 3 of Gamification

I have written about DuoLingo before, what they are doing is pretty great with regards to gamification. It’s one reason why we see people create DuoLingo clones using LearnDash.

Recently I was on their platform to brush up on my French and noticed that they made some updates. Not only visual changes to their platform, but updates to the experience. Long story short, they are forging new ground in how gamification can be leveraged to increase learner engagement and interest.

If you have ever studied a language, then you know how important this can be.

It first occurred after I finished a module. The typical points and badges started flashing on the screen, but then I got this:

“Lingots” is the digital currency of DuoLingo. You can earn this currency and spend it on bonus material, among other things – so they have that part nailed down.

But can you see what DuoLingo is doing here?

They are challenging me… to gamble on myself!

Think about this for a moment. In most gamification circumstances we are somewhat competing against others. We see their points and badges and compare to our own.

But this is different. We are presented with a personal challenge. DuoLingo is asking me to “bet” on myself that I can commit to the course content.

What’s funny is that when I saw this my instinctual reaction was, “Bring it on – I can do that!” … and in doing so I made a conscience commitment to the material.

Genius. Truly it is.

No one is doing this today, but that may be in part because it really isn’t yet possible. In WordPress we are spoiled with gamification options. To name a few:

Of these, only MyCred makes it possible to use a currency – but they don’t yet have a method in place to “place bets” on your own behavior. They are halfway there.

In the coming years I see this as a major evolution in gamification. For those that use gamification as a main component in their courses then ascending to Category 3 should be the ultimate goal. This level encourages immersion and content engagement that far exceeds that of the first two categories.


Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by Fortune 500 companies, major universities, training organizations, and entrepreneurs worldwide for creating (and selling) their online courses. Twitter | LinkedIn

2 Responses

  1. Nice article Justin, but it would be great to have an article related to practically using gamification in LearnDash. Let’s say, how could we use courses relevant leaderboards in LearnDash without any programming or custom development?

  2. Interesting addition . Creating a money value as well as progress bar/badges. I like the ‘Up For a Challenge’ ! Should be able to be done in a standard Moodle. I like the idea of choice….very interesting.

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