3 Keys To Successful, Low-Cost Gamification

Low-Cost Gamification: Remembering The Gamification Essentials

As the popularity of gamification in eLearning continues to grow, I find myself watching for its appearance in other parts of my life. Last week, my daughter and her friends had a Star Wars movie party where they somehow decided to start with Episode 1 (kids today). When they got to the pod-racing scene, life began to imitate art. They headed to the garage, and, within minutes, turned old boxes into pods and were running around the house, screaming and laughing in piles of Star Wars-geekiness. The entire event was a success, but the most engaging, exciting part of it wasn’t the movie or the food (not even the TIE-fighter-shaped snacks) but the spontaneous, completely free game they created themselves.

The moral of the story is not only that our corporate training should involve more pod-racing than it currently does, but also that gamification doesn’t have to be an expensive, complicated venture. Here are 3 keys to successful, low-cost gamification:

  1. Tap into learners’ creativity.
    Psychologists Richard Ryan and Edward Deci argue that self-determination is one of the most important variables in engaging activities. They found participants need to have some sense of control over the action to be truly engaged; perhaps one reason video games have brought in more than double the revenue of movies in recent years. We can enhance self-determination in gamified training by focusing on three principles described by Amy Bucher: Autonomy, competence, and relatedness. By helping learners feel in control, gain a sense of accomplishment, and connect to others in the game, we can achieve the stickiness that will make our training truly effective. More open-ended activities help learners feel more like invested participants and less like experimental subjects.
  2. Provide goals that are just hard enough.
    A recent study by Manu Kapur and June Lee compared the performance of students who received directed math instruction with those who were given “complex, ill-structured problems” and allowed to fail in their attempts to solve them. The latter group performed significantly better on future math tests, suggesting there is a strong learning value in “productive failure”. Struggling forces us to consider a variety of options, and we are often pushed outside our usual perspective. Too often we are afraid to make learning difficult, lest our learners get discouraged and give up. And though we probably don’t want to ask our learners to solve Goldbach’s Conjecture, we shouldn’t shy away from giving them challenging problems. Paired with the previous principle, this can be especially effective: As we offer difficult, open-ended problems, we may be surprised at the creative solutions they find.
  3. Design for competition.
    James Banfield and Brad Wilkerson recently conducted a study in which they measured the effect of the intrinsic motivation provided by games on learning and confidence to solve future problems. They discovered that gamification principles made learners almost 20 times as likely to “organize knowledge and relate it to existing knowledge”. This ability to connect new information with existing knowledge significantly increases the likelihood the training will lead to true performance change. Perhaps even more importantly, the intrinsic motivation of games can help learners believe they can tackle new challenges. In the same study, Banfield and Wilkerson reported that 90% of students who had taken a gamified course about the Windows operating system believed they could “figure out how to do anything in Windows”. Only 28% of those who took a traditional lecture-based course agreed. This confidence in facing new tasks is one of the most important outcomes of any training, and it seems to be independent of the technological sophistication of the game - it’s all about the competition. The social interaction of competition helps build learners’ intrinsic motivation, leading them to want to learn more for their own satisfaction.

Gamification is an important tool in corporate training, but many people think it’s out of reach because it’s too complex or costly. But effectively gamified training does not have to be prohibitively expensive. We can build cost-effective gamification principles into web-based training if we focus on the three concepts above: Learner creativity, productive failure, and competition.

With some thoughtful design, we can develop gamified training that will help you produce the most creative, motivated, and engaged employees your company has ever had. And those pod races are always fun to watch.

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