Gamification: Engage Your Learners and Boost Return on Investment

Computer with mortar board
Summary: The goal of any L&D plan is to secure return on investment. Yet training roll-outs only tend to focus on the 10% of learning which is gained through ‘formal’ training, meaning 90% of the investment is lost. Here’s how gamification can help to solve the problem and boost ROI across the board.

When it comes to rolling out a new Learning and Development program, the issue at the forefront of your mind is probably how to secure an impressive return on investment (ROI).

Of course, it’s important to monitor return on investment in all areas of the business. ROI lets you establish whether your organization is getting the intended results, better informs your strategic planning and shows you whether you’re wasting your time on anything.

But when it comes to L&D, monitoring ROI is even more important, for you aren’t only ‘investing’ money but also time, effort, resources, accountability and support. That all adds up and makes it absolutely vital to ensure your training plan is a success.

What Does Success Look Like?

While it’s often quite simple to define ‘success’ in terms of, say, sales (hitting or exceeding targets), defining a successful training program is not so straightforward. Here are some things to think about when it comes to ROI on training programs:

  • What were the completion and pass rates of the learning content?
  • What was the traffic to the Learning Management System (or the average class attendance)?
  • Did learners enjoy their learning journey?
  • How much of the learning content have the learners retained after 1 week, 2 weeks, 2 months, 2 years?
  • Would learners rate the eLearning modules highly?
  • Would learners recommend the Learning Management System to others?
  • To what extent has the organization seen improvements after the training program?

As you can see, there are quite a few ways to look at the success of a training program, over and above the initial ‘did we get a return on the money we put into it?’

Boosting Success

It’s clear the success of a training program dictates its return on investment. But take another look at the list above. Does anything jump out at you?

The factors that come together in creating a successful training program revolve around learner engagement. Were the learners engaged with their training? Did they enjoy it enough to recommend it to others? Were they motivated enough to return to the Learning Management System often? Were they enthusiastic about pressing on in their development?

However you measure ROI, it should be obvious that engagement is the platform upon which success is raised.

Gamifying Engagement

Gamification is the secret to achieving higher levels of engagement and therefore better return on training investment.

If you’re not familiar with the term, here’s a very quick run-down: gamification is the application of gaming mechanics and metaphors to non-gaming scenarios. It involves awarding points and badges when learners behave in certain ways to reinforce the behaviour and also make the whole experience a bit more exciting for them.

To get a better understanding of gamification and how it is used in learning, take a look at my previous article on gamification for a more in-depth explanation.

Now, let’s think about the questions we asked ourselves above and see how gamification can help with each...

Man leading other menWith gamification, learners are motivated to complete their learning journeys. They can see points stacking up to bring them closer to ‘levelling up’, they can watch their steady climb up the leaderboard as they receive a badge for each eLearning module they complete and for answering questions correctly.

It’s a scientific fact that if something is fun, you’re more likely to repeat it. It’s just how our brains are hard-wired. Gamification makes learning fun, which causes an increase in dopamine in our brains. This dopamine then signals the brain to link which action caused the increase (in this case, learning) with ‘this feels good, let’s do it again’, meaning that not only do we enjoy performing the behaviour, but we’re more likely to repeat it in future.

Growth Engineering playbook share the loveAnd if you enjoy something, chances are you’ll want to shout it from the rooftops and share it with the world – or your fellow employees, anyway.
So, you know that you’ve had the traffic you were looking for and you’re pretty certain your learners enjoyed their experience and were engaged with the learning content. What’s next? Well, gamification also helps to make sure your learners retain their new-found knowledge.


In a previous article I spoke about the 70:20:10 problem and how it relates to return on investment. The reason that L&D plans sometimes fail to report a good ROI is that they focus on the wrong parts of knowledge – or at least, the smallest proportion of knowledge. As the ratio explains, only 10% of what we know is gained through formal training – yet L&D departments often funnel 100% of their resources into it! Clearly the sums won’t add up.

Bar chart showing formal and informal learningLuckily, gamification helps to access the remaining 90% which occurs through observation of others (20%) and learning on the job (70%). It does this by tying rewards into social interactions. So the more learners interact with each other, talk about the learning content and share their knowledge, the more ‘Experience Points’ they get.

These experience points add up to bring the learner who contributes most to the discussions to the top of the ‘Top Contributor’ leaderboard and crown them as the Best Awesome Cleverclogs Expert Who Ever Lived.

By sharing knowledge and talking about what they’ve been learning about, learners cement their knowledge more deeply and therefore retain it better. In fact, by sharing ideas, asking and answering questions, and expanding their knowledge into related areas of interest, a learner’s journey continues long after their ‘formal’ eLearning training – hitting 100% of learning.

Hopefully you can see how gamification works to secure a better ROI on your training spend. But we’ve only covered the tip of the iceberg here. To find out more, have a look at the free eBook my team wrote about how to get an awesome ROI on your training roll-out.


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