Top 4 Gamification Problems To Avoid

Top Gamification Problems And How To Avoid Them 

When the concept of gamification started trending in educational circles, game designers became a hot commodity within the eLearning industry. Companies were hiring them to help shift their training paradigms to accommodate their younger workforce, but many of the people making these hiring decisions didn’t understand the concept of gamification themselves. As a result, they dumped substantial resources into “enhancing” their training courses with mini games and leaderboards only to find their audience still wasn’t learning anything. This isn’t to say gamification isn’t effective, but there are some gamification problems that occur. Like any tool, there are right and wrong ways to use it.

In her essay titled “Everything is Game Design,” video game designer Elizabeth Sampat offers the following insight:

“Using badges and leaderboards and offering points for clearly-commercial activities isn’t a magic formula that will engage anyone at any time. Demographics are different, behavior is different - things that will work to motivate users of product X will not work to motivate users of product Y. Finding the reward structures and the rules that are already in place and the rules that are already in place, and figuring out how to make them more effective, is the key to making life better for everyone.”

There are many ways gamification can be rendered ineffective in an educational setting. Here are a few gamification problems to avoid if you’re considering adding an element of gamification to your training.

1. One Size Does Not Fit All: Know Your Audience 

The most frustrating part of gamification is that lightning doesn’t strike twice. Many designers have created an educational mini-game that was extremely successful in one course, only to turn around and have it completely flop in another. This doesn’t mean the game was poorly constructed, but it does mean that it was poorly implemented. You may have the most intuitive and aesthetically beautiful mini-game on the market, but if it doesn’t mesh with the goal of your training course, it’s not helping the learner engage with the content.

Keep in mind that your learners are consumers and your content is your product. If you want a game to work for you, you have to do a bit of market research, so to speak. By learning more about what motivates and engages your audience, you can take that information into game development. This process will also help you understand whether or not a gamified course will even be effective. If you discover your audience is made up of people who don’t like video games, then you’re not going to want to include an element that will likely make their learning experience more difficult.

2. Gamification Is Complex: Keep It Genuine

Gamification is a tool, but calling it that tends to oversimplify the concept. Yes, it’s a tool designed for a purpose, but it’s important to remember that both the tool and purpose are extremely complex. Not only does misusing gamification in a training course result in wasted resources, but learners will have no patience with a game once they discover it has no real purpose or it was created haphazardly.

If you don’t have a design or technical skillset, but you know a mini-game is the one thing that will elevate your course to the next level, then it’s time to spend some time with a game designer. Explain the learning objectives, discuss possible execution options, and, most importantly, listen to what the designer says. The extra work you put in to this process always comes through in the final product, which will translate into a better result for your learners.

3. There Is A Plethora Of Choices: Be Picky

Today’s game design landscape is filled with development tools that make it possible for anyone with a computer to create a game. While this is great for the tech community, it also tends to negatively impact overall quality. This means Instructional Designers need to be selective about the type and quality of games that they decide to incorporate.

Remember, you’re trying to “sell” your content to your learners, and if you parade a slurry of half-baked pixels in front of them and call it an educational game, you’re going to lose them. Once you’ve incorporated a complete game into a training course, make sure to play it yourself. If you don’t know what makes a game look and feel good, find someone who does and offer them lunch if they’ll give it a playtest.

4. A Game Can Be A Distraction: Tie It To A Learning Objective

Perhaps the most crucial pitfall of gamification is adding a game to a course without seriously considering its purpose. Throwing a Pac-Man rip off into a course without taking the time to tie it to some kind of learning objective wastes your time and the time of your learners. Keep in mind that when games are not educational, they are recreational. A game that isn’t working is nothing more than a distraction to your learners.

The best way to overcome this obstacle is to approach gamification the same way you would approach assessments, knowledge checks, and other core Instructional Design components. If there is a concept that can be reinforced or taught with a game, then make the presentation of that concept the game’s primary function. It’s better to scrap a game that isn’t teaching something than it is to keep a game that is just going to throw your learners off track.

Final Thought 

Perhaps the best way to remember how to avoid these and other gamification problems is to try and answer these two questions that Elizabeth Sampat poses in her essay: “What’s supposed to be the goal here? Is this experience set up to help or hinder my ability to reach that goal?” If you like the answers to both of those questions, then gamification can be a benefit -not a distraction- to your training course.

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