Five Reasons to Use Gamification in E-Learning

A few years ago, my husband and I went to a swanky Christmas party. My friend’s party had been a long-standing tradition in our circle. Each year, as we all became a little more successful, it got more formal. One year, my husband and I volunteered to bring the champagne… and the extra Wii controllers. Our host had included Mario Kart with the evening’s festivities.

It might seem like an unusual addition to a cocktail party, but my friend knew her guests. Playing Mario Kart in a floor-length gown is one of my favorite Christmas memories. Like our black-tie Mario Kart tournament (which I won), gamification in your e-learning might initially seem out of place. But there are definitely times when games are a good strategy for corporate training.

What is Gamficiation in E-Learning Anyway?

Gamification in e-learning seems to be everywhere. One article proclaims it to be the future of training. Another says it’s nothing but hype. Multiply that by about a thousand. But what do people even mean when they talk about it? There seem to be countless examples and opinions, without a clear definition.

This literature review contains a basic definition of gamification in e-learning: games and game-like elements that motivate people, use psychology, and changing behavior. So gamification in e-learning borrows techniques and strategies from games to reach learning objectives and improve performance. This can come in hundreds of forms. It’s no wonder gamification in e-learning can seem overwhelming.

To help make sense of it all, here are five reasons to use gamification in your e-learning.

1. When the Content is Worth a Significant Investment

Making a game is complicated. In addition to the learning objectives, scenarios, content, and interface, you’ve got to set up the parameters of the game. You have to decide how to design an experience with rules and strategy, as well as how to explain the rules to the learners. That makes gamification in e-learning a significant investment. Plus, it needs to be fun. Save it for content you really need to focus on and content your learners will rely on for a long time.

2. When Repetition and Increasing Challenges are Useful

If your learners need to know how well they’ve mastered the material, gamification might be the answer. Whether you use multiple levels or add complexity as time goes on, you have a clear way for learners to evaluate their strengths and weaknesses with the content.

Someone who made it to level 3 last week can see improvement when she makes it to level 4. Someone who can play the game for three minutes knows he’s gotten the hang it of it when he can play for eight. The challenge naturally tailors itself to the ability of the player.  Gamification in e-learning allows you to give the learner multiple chances to practice the same activity, in several different contexts. It can make repetition interesting and challenging.

3. When Your Leadership (and Culture) Supports It

Of course, you want to consider your stakeholders. If your leadership is comfortable with the idea of games at work, gamification in e-learning can reinforce your values. If your leadership prefers to lock down navigation completely and bans fast-forwarding through the audio, how will they respond to a non-linear choose-your-own-adventure approach to sales skills?

4. When You Want Your People to Make (and Learn From) Mistakes

Like jobs, games are not good if they’re too easy. If every learner makes the same choices and succeeds right away, it’s not a game. (It’s probably not strong training, either.) Gamification in e-learning can surround the learner with real-life choices and force them to recover from a misstep. It can also illustrate the consequences of common mistakes.

5. When Your Employees Already Have Fun at Work

Gamification in e-learning is not effective simply because it’s fun. If poorly executed, it’s not even that. This Forbes article describes the paradox of mandatory fun. If you create a gamified e-learning course and require everyone to take it, they will. If it’s clear you want them to think it’s fun, they’ll even lie and tell you it’s fun. But they might not mean it and they might not absorb the information. If your people are already making little games or competitions, you have an ideal situation for gamification.

If you’re ready to say, “Game on,” to gamification in e-learning, check out this post, E-Learning Gamification Made Simple. What examples of gamification in e-learning have you encountered?

Sharon Gutowski

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