As I sit here at my favorite coffee shop to write this short piece on gamification, I couldn’t help but relate the experience to gamification.

What made me come here today, spur of the moment? To be honest, it’s not a day I felt like leaving my home office—but I came anyway because (drum roll here) I had a free beverage waiting for me.

I frequently buy this shop’s caffeinated drinks regardless of whether they are free. But getting them gratis gives me extra (extrinsic) motivation to show up, sit back in one of the comfy chairs, get some work done on the free Wi-Fi, and perhaps buy another item at the store before I leave.

What did I do to get that free beverage? I had completed previous purchases and perhaps answered a couple of surveys.

Defining gamification

Now, about gamification: There is a lot of confusion about the differences between games per se and gamification.

What is gamification, in its simplest terms? The most-used definition of gamification is the application of game mechanics to non-game situations. What are common game mechanics? The lowest-hanging fruit are points, badges, missions, and achievement levels.

Applying the principles

So, back to my coffee outing this morning:

I am already intrinsically motivated to buy this shop’s coffee regularly. Yet the store provided me with extra extrinsic motivation, such as stars, levels, and points with every purchase and for other sorts of engagement, such as answering surveys. This loyalty system isn’t what you’d consider a game. There is no story, no end state, and I wouldn’t call it “fun” exactly. The coffee shop didn’t create a new multilevel digital game with characters, or game boards with player pieces and dice. It simply added the idea of points and status (levels) with some clear rewards (free beverages) to something the customers already did anyway (buy its products).

Using gamification in your curricula

The same can happen to your curricula, whether on a traditional LMS, enterprise social media portal, or elsewhere. You can add game mechanics to existing assets in order to give your learners extra motivation to access your learning content that otherwise isn’t exactly a game.

Here are some recommendations for delving into gamification for your organization’s learning experiences:

  • Don’t gamify everything in your LMS and other portals. Consider a thorough approach that curates the best content you already have, and use game mechanics to support different roles in your organization. For instance, if you have three different experience levels for coaches (junior coach, experienced coach, senior coach), make your “game” levels reflect those levels. That is, use gamification to add engagement and value around programs, competency models, and other HR data.
  • Reward proper behaviors. That is, reward competence, not the mere completion of menial tasks. Instead of rewarding the players for simply clicking links, reward them for clicking the links and then performing a task with what they learn. For instance, if you ask them to go to your LMS and complete a course about delivering powerful presentations, make sure their next step is to create a presentation based on what they learned and post it on your internal social network for other players to provide feedback.
  • Use gamification to help create context around existing content, as well as to tighten interest in completing meaningful tasks.
  • Relate the experience to real-life awards such as eBooks, prizes, or limited experiences that add perceived value to your target population. For example, offer new employees a chance to meet executives in a smaller, more personal setting, plan a local scavenger hunt, etc.

In conclusion…

There are many vendors and many approaches to gamifying your content. However, no matter how you implement gamification, treat it like any other instructional design project: Start small and start from your business needs, audience, and learning objectives.