Gamification Best Practices – Plus Six Ways to Incorporate Gamification into Your eLearning

This is the final post in a three-part series on gamification in eLearning, based on a recent webinar, "Gamify your eLearning! 6 Ways to Incorporate Gamification into eLearning" by Paula Yunker of Limestone Learning and Sean Hougan of Lambda Solutions. If you missed them, click here for Part 1 and here for Part 2.

If your finger’s on the gamification pulse, you know that gamifying your instructional design is a great way to engage learners by creating challenges and instilling the sense of accomplishment that comes with progressing through a game-like course. Gamification makes learners think and engage, and that gives your instruction more impact.

So what’s the best way to apply gamification?

Karl Kapp, author of The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, has created a great list of 10 best practices for gamification:

  1. Identify success criteria first. Before you embark on gamification, understand what success looks like. Is it defined by a score? A level of participation? Or business results? Get your stakeholders involved and define success clearly—and write it down!

  2. Seriously consider alternatives. Like any great tool, gamification has a time and a place. It should be used strategically—and if it doesn’t fit your learners or your material, you shouldn’t use it. Make sure gamification resonates with everybody at the table.

  3. Create a tie to business needs. Ensure that your gamification supports clearly identified business aims. In other words, make it meaningful.

  4. Create a story/context. Remember that gamification is most effective when it’s in context. Let your learners know why they’re scoring points—give them a reason to interact with your content.

  5. Use science to advance learning. Embedded in gamification are two mechanisms:
    --> Spaced retrieval involves providing learners with course/quiz content over a space of time. Studies show that spacing promotes deeper learning. It’s not about dumping information on learners all at once—it’s about parsing it out to them pieces they can process.
    --> Retrieval practice—asking learners to recall content and act upon that recollection, say, by completing a puzzle—is more effective than asking them to repeat it back. In fact, studies show that retrieval practice alone can improve performance by 10 to 20 percent.

  6. Making scoring and winning transparent. Make scoring easy so learners know exactly what they need to do to be successful. It’s not about duping them or confusing them—it’s about linking their actions to success.

  7. Keep the rules simple. You don’t want the experience to be about who can figure out a complicated set of rules; you want it to be about learning.

  8. Keep leaderboards small. If the learner sees only the top three “very best” learners, they may feel defeated from the get-go. Consider structuring leaderboards to include small teams or departments. You can even create a “relative” leaderboard in which the learner sees only a few learners above and below. That keeps the challenge realistic—and motivating.

  9. Use levels and badges appropriately. Know the difference:
    --> Levels guide learners through linear content. Let them know how many levels there are, and where the end is.
    --> Badges are good for showing non-linear progress. Plus they’re great for showing off, so make sure you have a “trophy” area for learners.

  10. Playtest the gamification experience. Don’t just release your gamified learning into the wild! Playtest it with a small test group before having all your employees tackle it. Guaranteed, you’ll find some flaws you didn’t know about—not to mention all the tricks and cheats your oh-so-creative employees will find!

Having these best practices in your back pocket is a great way of ensuring that your gamification succeeds. So how do you get started?

  1. Break the content up. “Chunking” your material supports spaced retrieval. Look at your material and see how you can structure it into memorable segments or chapters.

  2. Incorporate storytelling. Is there a way of turning your content into a quest or a narrative? Think about the components of a good story. What makes it compelling? Is there a “hook” to get the learner interested?

  3. Use a reward system. Establish how you’ll motivate learners. Badges and a trophy case? Or a leaderboard showing them their co-workers’ scores? How about points or levels? Think about duplicating that sense of fun we all get from playing our favourite games.

  4. Created graded levels. Show your learners their progress as they go through the learning, and how far they have to go.

  5. Track scores/achievements. Incorporate a backend dashboard for monitoring learners’ performance. Not only will this show you if your learners are succeeding at learning the material; it will reveal how well your gamified elements function by showing when players progress too quickly or too slowly.

  6. Create branching scenarios. The best part of an adventure is the fork in the road. Choices give learners a sense of autonomy and fun, plus the satisfaction of pursuing a line of logic to a successful conclusion.

So put your gaming hat on and think like a gamer. And not just for the fun, but for the success. Did you know that in a University of Denver study learners scored 14 percent higher after completing gamified eLearning courses?

How will you apply gamification? Let us know in the Comments section below!