Although the word "gamification" first appeared in the literature of training in the 21st century, the basic concept isn't new. According to the online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, "Gamification refers to the incorporation of game elements, like point and reward systems, to tasks as incentives for people to participate. In other words, gamification is about making something potentially tedious into a game." The technique is most often included in purchased training materials.

What's in the box?

By now, many who read this article will have seen gamification in the form of a Jeopardy-type activity used to summarize and review learning as part of a learning module. Other applications in purchased material use gamified activity for onboarding, compliance training, and skill development.

Purchasing gamified materials off the shelf is convenient but those materials do not always fit the specific learning objectives, and sooner or later learners will see those exercises as predictable, repetitive, and about as engaging as watching a stage magician pull yet another red rubber ball out of thin air.

DIY (Do It Yourself)

The good news is that with some understanding and a little work, instructional designers can create their own gamifications suited to purpose and just as capable of producing learning. Awarding learners badges for completing sections of training and posting their scores on a dashboard or leaderboard makes gamification an engaging way to produce these types of outcomes:

  • Encourage existing behaviors
  • Change behaviors
  • Improve recall
  • Provide immediate feedback and gratification
  • Track progress and effort

And there is more good news. It is possible to use almost any well-known game idea as the basis for custom gamification—from card games to board games to trivia that is not stuck in the television game show model.

The definition of gamification refers to "elements of game mechanics" applied to eLearning content. The necessary elements provide the ability for players to move up through levels as their skill set grows, the possibility of winning badges, or the appeal of competing with co-workers. But the content is not specifically designed as a game; game mechanics are simply overlaid onto eLearning content, or existing training materials are placed into a game-like framework. The mechanics in gamification are different in function and operation from the mechanics in games.

Mechanics in gamification mainly refer to progression through a series of challenges or levels or a virtual path or to social interaction (relationships among players). In games, during play the core mechanics operate behind the scenes to create and manage gameplay for the player, keep track of everything that happens in the game world, and work with a storytelling engine to help tell the story. In gamification there are three mechanics at work:

  • Presenting active challenges (example: the Jeopardy board)
  • Accepting player actions (example: the facilitator has cards with the correct answers)
  • Detecting victory or loss (example: software tracks each player's score)

Mechanics consist of relationships, events, processes, and conditions. They govern how the gamification works.

Developing the gamification

The designer begins by defining the outcome(s) desired, and a plan for the challenge levels or path. The plan may be as simple as the design of the display that will be used to present questions, or the dashboard. It may be necessary to create a "back story" to give the gamification a direction and an end point.

Next comes creation of the display or prompts that present the challenges or questions, and a simple draft of the rules for gameplay (will the participants take turns, or will they compete for the next challenge, such as by racing to ring a bell?) One possible role of the facilitator is to explain the rules of play.

There should be a plan for processing the gamification; reflection by the learners on what happened and on their learning.

At this point, the designer's work is done, other than packaging the materials.

Is that all?

Pretty much. Keep things simple.

Still want more?

The key ideas presented in this article will get you started, but there is more that it will be helpful to know. It is always good when trying something new to have an expert to guide you. Valary Oleinik will provide that help February 17, 2021, in Session 401, Engagement Escalation: A Gameful Approach to ID at The Learning Guild's Online Conference "Deepening Your ID Skills" on Feb 17, 2021. Valary, a project manager at the international law firm Weil, is one part artist, one part geek, and 100% committed to finding ways to help people develop and deliver more engaging and effective learning experiences.

Register today!