There are 900 words in this article. Do you think you can finish reading it under 10 minutes? Only the most efficient readers can. Are you one of them? Let’s find out.
I’m not serious, of course. But rewind the clock ten seconds, and honestly think for a moment—wasn’t there a part of you that had all but readied itself to read this article at a speed fast enough to put a bullet to shame? I’m willing to bet that there was. Thanks to the incredible human impulse of rising to a challenge; to reap its rewards or even to simply bask in the glory of having ‘bested’ it. It is this very human impulse that gamification taps into and makes any banal process engaging and much more compelling.
When employed in the learning process, especially in eLearning, gamification can not only provide the much-needed intrigue and excitement, but it can also vastly enhance the learning experience, making it fun and even quite addictive. Now, much has already been documented on the myriad benefits of gamification, including statistical data proving that gamification dramatically improves learner motivation and knowledge retention. So, instead of trying to make the sale for gamifying your training, let us explore the actual process of how best to achieve that.
Know Your Audience
All the exemplary statistics of gamified learning notwithstanding, any gamification strategy is not guaranteed to work across all learner demographics. A sound gamification strategy must thus start with knowing and understating the target audience. Factors like their average age, job profile, technological proficiency and even cultural considerations play a critical role in selecting the right solution.
Consider the Content
Besides the target audience, the right gamification strategy largely depends on the knowledge material or content. While it has become a common practice to turn the content into your average scored and/or timed assessment questions, albeit packaged into a fancy gamified activity, not all types of content can be or even should be treated as such. In some cases, the content may warrant multiple viewings, revisions, and being largely retained in its original format. An alternative, in such cases, could be gamifying the learning pathway, or in other words, the progression of the learner as they navigate through these materials. It is never a good idea to try and fit the content into a pre-determined gamification strategy. Rather, the content itself must dictate what strategy would be right for it.
Pre-packaged gaming routines tend to be too familiar, resulting in learners losing interest soon enough. Your gamification strategy should let the learner control some elements of the experience. Options to select individual avatars, roles, environment settings and so on are a good place to start. You can also think about providing trade-off choices that can make the experience more interesting and ultimately, more rewarding. Sacrificing scores for hints, being able to select more points initially while giving up a ‘life’ are but a few examples of such trade-offs. Employing branching-scenarios is yet another way of letting the learner make key decisions and then showing them the consequences of those decisions. Whatever strategy you choose to go with, the end-goal is to ensure that each learner ends up having a different experience than another, based on their choices.
It can help your cause to tie together multiple gamified courses under a common theme or story arc, or even with common characters. Learners tend to be more engaged in subsequent “episodes” of the overall narrative, as they feel invested and naturally wish to explore further with much enthusiasm. However, to be tied together like this, it is important that the different training courses have a common business goal or similar learning goals. Continuity must also be maintained within a single course. The idea is to make the learner feel that the learning experience is a continuous, cohesive journey.
Provide Constant Feedback
While in some cases, it is conceivable that delayed feedback and gratification may be more helpful, a gamification strategy is best served when the learner gets to feel that their learning experience is, for lack of a better word, ‘alive’. Providing constant feedback in terms of hints, tips, comments, and recommendation shelp make the learner feel that what they are interacting with is talking to them, which enhances their engagement. You should also keep rewarding the learners with motivating feedback elements like badges, trophies, leaderboard ranks etc. However, remember to not over-reward them, else you risk trivializing the rewards themselves.
Up the Ante
The final critical element of designing a good gamification strategy is to not make it monotonous. Many a time, gamified solutions have the learners do the same thing over and over, across multiple rounds/levels. This gets old pretty soon as the novelty wears off. You must keep raising the bar of difficulty and challenge with each new phase of the solution. You can also introduce newer environments, newer features to tinker with and even newer types of rewards.
Implement these strategies correctly and you will have designed an effective gamified solution for your learners, one that they will enjoy experiencing. Gamification should not be about winning or losing or being the best right away. A great gamified solution is instead more about multiple revisits to ‘get it right’. It keeps the learner yearning for more.