Gamification And Using Game Mechanics: A Brighter Future?

Gamification And Game Mechanics In Learning
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Summary: With online and hybrid working being the new norm, will gamification come back into its own? Or is it time to ditch the label "gamification" altogether?

Gamification Enters A New Era In Learning

It was circa 2011 when the term "gamification" first began to gain traction in the Learning and Development world. The buzz around the application of gameplay elements in non-gaming settings prompted numerous TED Talks, a sold-out "Gamification Summit" in San Francisco, a glut of books on the subject of gamification, and bold claims about how it was going to revolutionize employee engagement. Then there was the inevitable backlash, typified by a widely read blog under the title Gamification is Bull**** by an influential and skeptical games designer, Ian Bogost.

A decade on and we’re—still—dealing with a global pandemic that has employers justifiably concerned about the levels of motivation and engagement in their dispersed workforce and how this is affecting productivity and resilience. So, do these difficult times provide gamification with the opportunity to really come into its own, get learners more engaged with workplace learning, and prove that it's more relevant than ever?

Let The Games Begin: The Evolution Of Gamification In Digital Learning

Kineo’s Chicago-based Director of Content Development Brian Beverly has been well-placed to observe gamification’s evolving role in digital learning in recent years—not to mention how it’s been frequently misunderstood. “I think the term ‘gamification’ implies that it’s a ‘game’ which probably led some in our industry to dismiss it and call it a fad. The reality is that it’s not about playing a game but rather about using game mechanics to add powerful tools to learning and tapping into the data-rich gamified interactions. Now more than ever, just clicking next to continue isn’t going to cut it for learners, and we think game mechanics is a vital tool to better engage them.”

For organizations who want their workplace learning to be as engaging as it is instructional, using these game mechanics allows them to get into the grey areas that exist between correct and incorrect, while also adding an element of risk and consequence when learners are tackling multiple-choice questions. For Brian, that means:

It’s getting way beyond learners’ responses being simply right or wrong. We can now collect data such as "confidence" from how much someone risks before answering a question. Using subtle mechanics like this makes the learner’s experience different and personalized to their own experience. I’d say this personalization aspect is one of the biggest strengths of gamification.

Gamification In eLearning: Substance Over Style

As for the suggestion that gamification elements are often included in a course just to make clients feel they’re getting the most state-of-the-art digital learning experience, Brian is keen to stress that's never worth using gamification for gamification’s sake. Instead, he suggests 4 key principles for digital learning content design:

  1. Start with clear goals, needs, and motivation for the employees
  2. Design for results instead of just building content
  3. Focus on behaviors that drive performance
  4. Achieve all of this via focused and engaging learning techniques

Before applying these principles, Brian stresses that identifying and defining the target audience is essential:

The more we start to interview and test learners, the more we can understand if gamification would work for them or not. As well as motivating employees beyond clicking "next" to continue, we can gather more data using gamification than we can with simple multiple-choice questions. This data can be highly valuable but for any gamification solution we’re going to offer, it’s vital that it aligns with the client’s business objectives.

To make gamified solutions more affordable, Kineo has spent over a year developing a plugin tool that gives designers a great deal of flexibility in devising ways to award points for learner interactions and question responses. The tool enables the gathering of endless pots of information and the tracking of factors such as time, money, and client satisfaction, to cite just a few examples.

“We developed our tool to remember how you answered one question early on and have it impact a question much further down the road of your experience,” explains Brian. “We layered in a ‘badging’ element that also allows you to collect things during the course, triggered by the game mechanics. We realize that not everyone’s competitive and would rather collect things and simply express themselves rather than moving up a leaderboard.”

So, with Kineo having already invested in the tech behind their plugin as part of their learning content offering, they’re now able to offer it to clients at a very affordable cost. This has also made Brian very optimistic about the future of gamification: “What we’ve developed is only as limited as our imaginations are at any given time. It allows us to be innovative for years to come, which is a tantalizing thought.”

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