10 Ways to use gamification in eLearning

When designing eLearning content, gamification strategies could come in handy to enhance the engagement and motivation level of students who are using the training platform. 

What exactly gamification stands for and how can it be used to make more effective courseware? Keep reading the article to find out. 



Gamification can be defined as a set of rules borrowed from the world of games which have the objective of applying game mechanics to activities that have nothing to do with the game. In general, gamification dynamics are used in training to achieve students’ involvement and increase knowledge retention

However, it seems important to clarify that the use of gamification strategies in e-learning does not only imply the creation of game-like lessons: these techniques are mostly applied at courseware organisation level  – namely at Instructional Design level – and not always as part of the lesson content elements. 



How can we apply those gamification strategies to our training program? There are different ways to do that, in relation to different needs and objectives, but always keeping an eye on improving students’ engagement and motivation


The first and easiest way to exploit game-like dynamics in training is to present learning objectives as achievements to reach during the learning process. In order to motivate the student, they should always be available and there should be a visual representation of each one achieved


Directly related to achievements, another gamification strategy could be presenting the content of a course or lesson using progress bars and a feature called “Completeness Meter”, which shows the percentage of completion of each task. Once again, this exploit the motivational factor of having a visual representation of the learning path: seeing progresses and results helps students to keep motivated and focused, by letting them envision the final achievement and associating it to past acts of completion, somehow anticipating the endorphins rush


Badges can also be used as visual indicators of achieved results, namely a certain level of knowledge or particular competence in a specific subject. They act as some kind of validated displays of accomplishment, skill or quality that can be earned in a learning environment. In this case, the exploited dynamic is the challenge mentality, triggered by having something available to all students who meet the set criteria, but not so easy to earn.  


Badges and points dynamics are often associated with rewards, namely achievements given to students who reach a specific goal during the learning path and aimed to regulate the access to new contents. This strategy can exploit different factors at the same time: challenge and motivation to obtain the reward, and engagement to unlock the new content. 


An unlockable content is a new content or an in-depth resource that is inaccessible at first and is not mandatory for the courseware completion. It becomes accessible once the student gather enough points, acting as a reward for making progress in the learning path. If it is perceived as useful, this content can increase motivation, making students willing to access it and therefore challenged to improve their score, reach the achievement or earn the badge in order to unlock it. 


With a view to create a gamified system for the training environment, another useful tool can be leaderboards, namely visual representations of where a student ranks in comparison to other peers. In this case, it is fundamental to involve small groups of users of the same organisation or department, not to lead to rivalries: on the contrary, if used properly this feature can help to improve engagement and focus, leading to positive competition within the group. 

In order to be encouraging, it can be better to avoid showing all the ranking positions, especially when the user is at the bottom of the list. The students should always be shown somewhere in the middle of the standings, regardless of where he/she actually ranks, unless he/she is among the top, in which case this should be evident to boost motivation. 


Most of the gamification strategies we have described can also be used in order to improve teamwork and cooperation within students, if they are associated with team goals instead of individual ones. One example of this dynamic is represented by “snowflakesbadges: this specific type of badge can be unlocked based on common actions done at the same time by each user, facilitating team building and helping to improve engagement. These strategies are also connected to social learning, especially if a “social area” is activated in the learning environment to allow students interaction


Talking about learning content, a classic game feature to implement is a timer. It lets the student know how much time he/she have to complete a specific task or test, creating that sense of urgency useful to motivate and keep him/her focused while carrying on the eLearning process.  


To help the student feel engaged, a useful strategy can be creating an avatar: a graphic representation of the learner going through the training path, according to the set learning objectives. This role play strategy can boost motivation and also make the student more involved in the storyline of the lesson or course.  


Going in depth at the courseware level, last but not least way to exploit gamification is to engage the student in immersive activities. Without having to think about Virtual Reality or much complex technologies, this kind of exercises can require the learner to use directly the taught tool or competence, for example following a procedure to complete a task or putting specific skills into action in a fictional scenario. This can help to keep the motivation and attention levels high, since the student will need to show to have learnt all the preliminary information given prior to the exercise to be able to successfully bring it to an end. 


As you may have understood, the use of gamification strategies within an eLearning program is closely linked to the target audience, the results of the training need analysis and the set learning objectives, as a way to make training more effective, which is always the main goal of any instructional designer.
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