eLearning Gamification: How To Apply It and Win The Game

20 minutes
542 views

Figures confirm that gamification in training leads to a 60% increase in employee engagement. So, if training is gamified properly, employees who get bored quickly and stop taking online courses can get back in the game. For those who still think that gamification is juvenile, here’s some food for thought: 97 % of employees over 45 years of age believe that gamification would improve work. Checkmate! 

In this article, we’ll cover the essentials of gamification and provide you with eLearning examples on how to implement it successfully.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification is the process of adapting elements of games (levels, points, challenges, etc.) to non-game situations in life. Gamification mainly aims at making our obligatory, routine, or formal activities easier and more entertaining. In the last twenty years, gamification entered many realms of our daily life: civil administration routines, corporate loyalty programs, and so on. And the game elements do make a difference. 

One of the most famous examples is the speed limit lottery for drivers in Sweden. It demonstrates how game elements can improve compliance. To encourage people to observe the speed limit, road safety authorities installed a special radar camera. The camera would penalize drivers who drove above acceptable speeding limits and issue a lottery ticket to those who didn’t. The prize offered by the lottery ticket came from the fines each penalized driver paid.

The elements of a game added a competitive edge to the process, thereby making drivers obey speed limits. As a result, people started driving safely.

Gamification in Sweden

In eLearning, there are cases in which existing video games are leveraged for educational purposes. For example, the well-known Minecraft game launched its Minecraft: Education Edition for K-12 learners. This is a project intended to bring excitement to students while developing soft skills and studying 25 different subjects, including computer science, languages, and social good.

Minecraft: Education Edition

In the case of Minecraft, they enhanced the gameplay with educational content. That’s what we call game-based learning. In turn, gamification is a vice versa process. In gamification, it is online courses and other learning materials that we update with game elements.

The Benefits of Gamification in Corporate Training

John celebrates his new achievement called “The Ambassador.” He has scored more than his colleague Michael and made it to the top three. No, it’s not World of Warcraft or something like that. John and Michael are managers who work in retail. It’s the “Standards of Service” training program that they are so eager to progress through.

This is an example of gamification in corporate training. “Standards of Service” doesn’t sound fun, right? And it shouldn’t be. But what gamification gives is motivation to learn this serious discipline, continue through the course, and gain knowledge. 

Based on behavioral studies, gamification unleashes a learner’s positive feelings and motivations. Thus, the person becomes more engaged emotionally and enjoys the process more. As a result, one becomes more eager to learn (and work!) better. 

Gamification is intended to encourage friendly competition. It not only improves people’s engagement but makes them more productive. That’s how Microsoft achieved a 10% increase in the productivity of call center agents. The corporation used gamification to engage call center agents who struggled with tedious, excessive phone calls and had given up on training. Microsoft’s “Making Agents Great” campaign deployed leaderboards of the best agents in all offices. Those who had earned the most points in training and work became widely recognized. Friendly competition and social recognition resulted in better knowledge retention and more effective work. 

Also, scores and leaderboards can serve as tangible and countable achievements for learners.  They allow teachers and course instructors to observe the progress of their learners quickly and easily. Teachers are always aware of who is underperforming, and can readily give them a little nudge. 

So, the benefits of gamification for your business can include:

  1. Employees’ motivation to learn and work on repetitive tasks
  2. Positive feelings from the process, emotional engagement, and joy
  3. Measurable achievements and observable progress

Fundamental Concepts

Gamification is multi-realm and incorporates gaming elements, emotional outputs from play, and behavior patterns. Gaming elements are the basis, the mechanics of any game. That’s why they are called game mechanics. They fuel certain emotional reactions and, therefore, certain behaviors of players. Let’s consider these three realms one by one.

Gamification Fundamentals

Concept 1: Game mechanics

Game mechanics include highly recognizable elements like points, levels of difficulty and mastery, achievements (badges), ratings of best players (leaderboards), rewards, progress bars, and challenges. These will be the instruments that you leverage to a training course first, i.e., they will be the new mechanics of your course. However, when players overcome challenges and earn points, they are placed into a certain story or narrative. That makes storytelling another important element of game mechanics.

Concept 2: Emotional states of learners

In gamified processes, emotional states are what game mechanics make us feel and what we start to anticipate from a game. For example, unexpected rewards or bonuses bring us excitement and a feeling of surprise and accomplishment. The anticipation of these pleasures makes us eager to continue playing. 

Another example is the feeling that some process is incomplete. Remember when you binge-watched a TV series for two days straight? It’s the same with games and their game mechanics. This feeling makes us return to them because a mission hasn’t been accomplished, or some levels are unlockable so far. 

When well designed, the gamified process can create a state of flow. It is about mental concentration. People become more focused on the task at hand, and no matter how challenging the task is, they remain fully engaged and not easily distracted.

Concept: 3 Player behaviors

Player behaviors are the ways that players follow game mechanics, how they act and interact while playing. For example, some players can become more competitive and don’t want to concede. Remember the online “Standards of Service” course and John, who wants to beat his colleague? Here’s the cause.

Others become curious, they want to explore game worlds and go back with a game item or, in our case, knowledge. It is reminiscent of Pokémon GO players who have to explore surroundings to find all hidden Pokémon. Explorers are driven by ‘eureka’ moments and want to try new things. It makes them perfect testers for your new gamified courses.

The core drives of motivation: emotions and behaviors combined

One of the pioneers in gamification, the entrepreneur Yu-Kai Chou, defines emotions and behaviors in gamified processes as the eight ‘core drives’ and places them in a framework called “Octalysis.” According to Yu-Kai Chou, these are the factors that motivate us the most:

  1. Epic meaning. This is a sense of personal mission to make an impact on the community. It’s about feeling big. 
  2. Accomplishment. This is a sense of self-improvement, of mastering something that used to be hard. It’s about new levels. 
  3. Empowerment. It feels good to come up with solutions to problems and see the result and get immediate feedback. 
  4. Ownership. You want to own it. For example, a player may want more points or other virtual currency. Or they may want to take control of a game. 
  5. Social influence. Social recognition, people’s opinions about you; rewards.  
  6. Scarcity. It’s like wanting something you can’t have, something beyond your reach. A powerful drive to pursue goals and keep returning to the game. 
  7. Unpredictability. Being eager to see what’s next. Maybe you’ll win this time?

8. Avoidance. It’s about the fear of losing. For example, time limits in training make us hurry up – otherwise, we fail the task.

8 core drives of motivation

Now, when we know there is more to gamification than that which can be seen on the surface, the question arises. What will be the actual emotional reactions and behavior patterns of our trainees during gamified training? Experts say we can only guess at them. Everyone is different and driven by specific factors, so reactions can vary. But as long as people feel motivated to learn and perform better, it will mean that the gamification is working.

Two Effective Paths of Gamification: Gamifying Content or Structure

Gamification can be implemented in two main ways. It can focus either on content or structure:

  1. Content gamification. Gamification starts from content creation. The content is based on a certain story. A learner takes a journey through this plot, goes on some kind of quest, and gains knowledge.
  2. Structural gamification. Content can be non-game, but the process itself is gamified. While learning a course, a user takes quizzes, gains points and badges, and climbs the leaderboard. It’s a fast and easy way to gamify your existing courses. 

Next, we’ll look at both of these in detail.

Content gamification

Content gamification is about making content more game-like. More precisely, you create a story, add characters, and build challenges to engage and motivate learners. You can make your online training look like a quest, a detective story, or a journey. By the way, to explain how content gamification works, we can study the learning journey that Lingualeo has beautifully crafted. 

Lingualeo is a user-friendly platform for learning English and other foreign languages: Chinese, Hindi, Spanish, Portuguese, etc. This platform is one of the most famous examples of content gamification in action. It was created to delve into the language environment and employs the immersion method of learning. Let’s examine the four milestones of their path to gamification.

Lingualeo Quick Seeker

Creating a powerful story 

In the Lingualeo world, we meet Leo – a young lion that welcomes and guides us in the jungle of the English language. Learners can explore this jungle and adjust it to their liking. For example, they can make it a safe place with familiar words or a challenging vortex of advanced vocabulary. This means that they are in control of their learning path, and that is a good point. 

We follow Leo on this journey and see small episodes of his life. In some sense, we take responsibility for him – as we progress through the language training, he also grows and goes through changes. Once a young and inexperienced lion, he becomes a mature Leo Turisto. Character development is another strong point of storytelling.

The creators of Lingualeo used extraordinary names for the platform’s menu and components, to make us feel that this place is truly special, to escape the ordinary. For example, the content library here is The Jungle, the community is The Pride, and the game currency is meatballs.

Spicing it up with challenges 

Of course, learning in Lingualeo is not just wandering through the content. Every learner here needs to take on tasks and gain experience points. Tasks can look like “Find a song in the Jungle” or “Click on 5 unfamiliar words.” At the end of each learning session, one earns points and badges with Leo’s new clothes. Another challenge in Lingualeo is not missing a single day of training. It motivates users to come back to learn more every day and keep studying.

Lingualeo challenge

Implementing feedback loops

Feedback loops can be explained as the way the system promotes or punishes a player. It’s the “carrot and stick” approach. For example, while completing tasks, you ‘feed’ Leo. If a learner did well, Leo is happy and full. It’s a positive feedback loop – the ‘carrot.’ Or we recently mentioned the challenge to not skip a day of training. It’s a bigger mission, a series of spots on the map where Leo has to come step by step. If a learner misses one day, Leo fails on his mission, and one should start over again. It is a negative feedback loop – the ‘stick.’ 

Encouraging freedom to fail

One of the main principles of video games is the chance to start all over again. Do you remember players talking about “multiple lives”? In gamified learning, it’s called freedom to fail. Here, making mistakes is OK. And it makes us go back to the process, trying over and over. 

Freedom to fail is closely related to a sense of incompleteness. A learner wants to complete the task and avoid failure. In Lingualeo, a learner can lose progress if they don’t feed Leo by completing tasks regularly. But Leo has multiple lives, and a learner can make multiple attempts to improve their learning performance. After each completed task, one receives a gift, and it feels like a short-term accomplishment and brings a sense of joy.

Content gamification with iSpring

Developing such a complex gamified project as Lingualeo is a rather labor-intensive process. It requires a full-fledged team of developers, designers, writers, and so on. There is an easier way to gamify online learning content. For this purpose, you can employ a course authoring toolkit like iSpring Suite Max

iSpring allows you to create courses with storytelling, interactive quizzes with points, and role-plays. The toolkit comes with Content Library, which includes over 69,000 ready-to-use characters, backgrounds, icons, slide templates, and objects that will fit any learning situation and industry, so you can build eLearning content extremely fast.

iSpring Suite Max

To engage a learner, you can create courses with branching scenarios. These are storyline twists and endings that depend on learners’ choices. They can be implemented to demonstrate possible outcomes of situations. For example, the iron and steel company NLMK created a compliance course for their employees and used branched scenarios to demonstrate the consequences of an unsafe approach to gas treatment. If a trainee chooses the wrong way to react, they proceed to the slide that explains the negative outcomes of the choice.

iSpring Suite Max gamification example

To turn your course into an entertaining narrative, you can create dialogue simulations. They are role-plays in which learners choose how to reply to a virtual person. It is supposed to be the same way they deal with a dissatisfied customer or a potential client in real life. Dialogue simulations help one to practice and improve communication skills.

Dialogue Simulation

Another way to gamify learning with iSpring is to create interactive quizzes with 14 question types. Allow multiple attempts to give them “multiple lives” in training. For feedback loops, award points for correct answers, or set penalties to deduct points for incorrect quiz answers.

You can also make quizzes with objects and transform your course into a mystery with missed items. This is one more example of how you can make compliance training engaging. This fire safety course prompts us to find the proper object and drag it to the system block to put out the fire.

Drag-and-drop quiz

Structural parts of gamification

For gamification, it is not necessary to remake existing learning materials. You don’t have to alter them to be game like, you can do so for a training process itself. The solution is to add the system of Points, Badges, and Leaderboards — the PBL triad. 

It is easy to do this in a learning management system (LMS). An LMS is an online platform where you can store eLearning content, enroll students in courses, and assess their progress. Many LMSs support gamification and allow the use of game mechanics for assessment.  Let’s see how you can leverage the PBL triad using iSpring Learn LMS as an example. 

Points

Learners can earn points and compete with each other. Award them with points when they take courses and complete tests, assignments, and simulations. You can set fixed points: award learners with 10 points for each course and 50 points for each test. The points will apply to all your content items automatically.

iSpring Learn points

Badges

Every time learners complete course materials, they can get badges. For instance, you can award them with a new badge for every 100 points, or grant them a “Best Negotiator” title as soon as they complete a contract management course. In gamification settings, you can view the list of badges and set the rules on how they are awarded. iSpring Learn provides a great built-in collection of badges; plus, you can enhance it with your own images.

iSpring Learn Badges

You can review the results of the training periodically and use external rewards to motivate your employees. For example, give them bonuses or nominate an employee of the month.

Leaderboards

Leaderboards motivate learners to get better results and help monitor their progress. You can check a user’s rank in an organization or group leaderboard and divide learners depending on their achievements. For example, pick the top ten performers who’ve completed a product training program, and include them in a talent pool.

iSpring Learn Leaderboard

Progress bars

A progress bar shows how far a player has progressed toward accomplishing their mission. In online learning, the mission is to complete the course. Progress bars in iSpring Learn are crystal clear and clearly visible.

iSpring Learn progress bars

Cases of Gamification in Corporate Training 

We’ve already provided some cases of eLearning gamification. Below are some success stories of gamified projects for onboarding, employee engagement, and skill development that you might find inspiring.

Domino’s Pizza

Domino’s Pizza is well known for its gamification experiments. The chain plans onboarding and induction online courses carefully. They launched a gamified microlearning course called the Pizza Maker. New employees strive to beat the records while playing pizza-making simulations and competing for best scoring. As a result, they improve their skills and recipe knowledge more quickly.

But it’s not the first time that Domino’s Pizza has reduced onboarding time significantly. Their mobile application was a game for practicing good pizza making. It was so popular that the company began to track the best results and frequently offered a job to the best players. While playing, the contestants had learned everything needed to make a pizza and be ready to work.

Here is the video of Domino’s Pizza’s gamified onboarding.

Domino’s Pizza onboarding training

Deloitte Leadership Academy 

Being a part of The Big 4 in accounting, Deloitte never stops improving itself. It launched a learning portal with materials on leadership skills for senior executives. But even the content from the best educational institutions was not enough to engage personnel deeply. Then, game mechanics were added to the portal. 

The solution was very simple, yet genial – to introduce leaderboards that refreshed every week. Now the leaderboards visualize the progress of learners as their Rank and Reputation on the portal. In their profiles, senior executives can demonstrate the rewards they get for successful mastering of the content and see what others achieved. It boosted senior executives’ engagement in leadership training.

Deloitte LA

Zombie Apocalypse Series

The Zombie Apocalypse Series was developed together with Karl Kapp, a world expert in gamification. The series provides skill training in Sales, Financial Sales, Instructional Design, and Educational Technology in the fantasy environment of a zombie apocalypse. Most of these versions are card games, but Zombie Sales Apocalypse is the flagship project and available as a video game. Here, the learner (a sales representative) has to persuade a zombie to buy the antivirus using their organization’s trusted sales model.

Conversational elements of the game are customizable and can be based on a certain sales model. Together with the setting, they constitute a powerful story that immerses learners. Choices made by the sales representative can be tracked and analyzed. And of course, a zombie story establishes the fear of failure. The Zombie Apocalypse Series includes the freedom to fail aspect by default.

 Zombie Sales Apocalypse

Tips on Gamification (Dos and Don’ts)

See what can make or break your gamification endeavors if you plan to launch it in corporate learning. 

                                      You Win!                                    Game Over!

Make the training valuable

Ensure that the training meets your employees’ goals and gives them knowledge that they actually need. They should know why this training will be useful.

Ignore your business objectives — FAIL!

The primary rule of any training implementation is to match the training goals up with corporate needs. Once you do that, make sure the game mechanics are tailored to the training goals you’ve determined.

Establish a sense of mission

Once a learner knows what to study and the purpose it serves, completing the course becomes a mission. Support this sense of personal mission in online training. Divide one main goal into certain tasks to complete. Keep this main goal in focus.

Launch gamification instead of product refinement — FAIL!

When a product or service needs refinement, gamification cannot address this issue. Fix it before planning a gamification strategy.

Write a good story behind it

Use imagination to create a training course that immerses trainees in its microcosm. It can involve an epic legend, a funny story, fictional characters, or backgrounds – anything goes.

Make them compete when they don’t need to — FAIL!

Gamification may not work when it is collaboration that is needed. For example, Lingualeo, which we mentioned earlier, deployed a rating system among colleagues. Competition is not an appropriate solution here, as the entire work was based on mutual help and interconnection. The team decided to decline ratings and focus on game elements in their product.

Let them see their progress

Increase the complexity of training gradually. Celebrate small achievements every step of the way. Make learners see that they are moving forward.

Set the bar too high — FAIL!

If the game mechanics are too difficult for your employees, they will give up on the training. Challenges should not be so difficult that it becomes disappointing and not so easy that it feels boring. We suggest that you plan game mechanics that will leave trainees with a sense of accomplishment in the short term and make them strive for more.

Provide feedback loops

Spice up your training. Include the mechanisms to promote your trainees in the process when they succeed. Or set time limits and deduct points for incorrect answers.

Provide employees with no external rewards — FAIL!

Support them not with money, but with recognition. Make it a part of the annual performance evaluation.

Bring surprise

Unexpected rewards or sudden recognition will be good motivators to keep them progressing through the course.

Settle for the first version only — FAIL!

Keep testing, revising, and updating the game mechanics in your online training 

Empower people

Learning should provide a sense that the learner became stronger and more qualified.

Refuse to try it yourself — FAIL!

Test-drive it yourself. 

Conclusion

Gamification has huge potential to impact learner performance in your online training, thereby improving employee performance in your company. A clear understanding of game mechanics and your goals will help you leverage gamification in corporate training properly. Have you ever thought of trying it? Or is your organization already familiar with gamification? Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

iSpring Learn

Fast LMS

for your mission-critical project

The right LMS to deliver your training faster
iSpring Learn
The right LMS to streamline training
Learn more