Gamification: make learning fun!

Evie Schellens

We all saw those ‘smiling’ traffic signs on the side of the roads which displays a smiley when the road user follows the maximum speed. Holle Bolle Gijs is also well known; the child friendly trashcan in the Efteling who calls ‘Paper here’. These are examples of gamification: activities to which game elements are added which ensure a change of behaviour to appropriate conduct. Gamification can thus influence behaviour, but can it also be deployed for trainings aims? The answer is a wholehearted yes! We’ll explain you how.

What's gamification?

Gamification concerns applying playful techniques in a non-game context. It’s based on three basic principles: attraction, reward and retention. A high ‘fun level’ ensures a great attraction to the activity. When an activity becomes gamified, a game element is added to make the activity more playful and fun. Moreover, it’s important to reward appropriate conduct, that’s why people continue this behaviour and remember the knowledge. In this way game elements ensure that an activity remains challenging; one works towards the reward. When using rewards you use the intrinsic motivation of people.

Does gamification work for learning processes? Yes, it certainly does! Think of the app Duolingo for example. This is a mobile app in which you can playfully learn new languages. You can collect points and badges when you progress in the learning process and it has a competitive game element. Gamification can also contribute to one’s career with a high learning efficiency, for example trainings. A game element can be added to a training, such as a quiz. A grading system or competition element can be interesting here. Obtaining a higher score or position is a form of ingame rewarding. Acknowledging learning achievements by an employer is a from of real life rewarding. By challenging employees in this way, gamification increases the learning efficiency.

Three tips for applying gamification

1. Set SMART goals.

Be clear in what you want to achieve with gamification. Set specific, measurable, acceptable, realistic and time-bound goals. Next up, it’s important to monitor these goals. A goal can for example be to make the onboarding process 20% faster and more efficient within 1 month. Add game elements and rewards for the onboarding course. 

2. Agree on clear rules of play

It’s important that it’s clear for the employees within which framework the game is set. Make clear when they can expect their rewards. When you apply gamification in an online learning platform, employees can develop themselves without the involvement of supervisors. This can give a safe and familiar feeling. Employees can decide for themselves when they want to work on their development goals.

3. Add a competence list

When other employees, supervisors and HR officials can view the progress of employees, it can be motivating for employees to try their best. Having a better score than the rest gives a good feeling. Competence elements can thus ensure extra motivation among employees. 

Important side notes

It’s important to stress that gamification not only concerns the development goals of a company, but mainly the development goals of the employees. Despite it being a good aim for a company to speed up the onboarding process of the company, the essence of gamification is motivating employees to develop themselves. Game scientist Yu-Kai Chou states that there are eight intrinsic motivations that can stimulate games and work motivating for people. 

  • Meaning: a game is motivating when it gives meaning to the world.
  • Empowerment: a game motivates when one receives tools to improve oneself.
  • Curiousity: people want to discover new things.
  • Avoidance: a game motivates when you give people levers to prevent making mistakes.
  • Shortage: people want to take chances. 
  • Ownership: people want to be in control of their own learning process.
  • Social pressure: when there are competition elements in a game, this motivates having better performances.
  • Achievements: progress and rewards motivate. 

A good game motivates people by means of several stimulations. As you can see, a good game isn’t only a competence and reward method. There are endless (counted 52!) game mechanisms to active the eight intrinsic motivations among the ‘players’. You can for example add a storyline/theme to a training, but special challenges or time bound rewards can also work stimulating. Blended learning, a combination between online and offline learning, by means of gamification is also possible. For example by adding visible (online) score boards for players who already did a certain course. This can challenge other players to finish this course as well. When everyone has finished a course, you can link this to an offline group activity. This stimulates working together and triggers a discussion.