Games have long held a position of power in the world of online content. Even before mobile devices became a popular form of game consumption, computer games were an excellent way for a user to interact with the online world. Gamification is so powerful because it is fun and addictive. People want to keep playing, they want to compete, they want to win prizes, and are happy to learn some important lessons along the way. So, if you are at all interested in exploring how gamification can play into your eLearning strategy, read on for 5 surprising benefits of this learning strategy. Is there a solution? Maybe—and you’ve probably already heard of it: Gamification.
A game revolutionIn the last few years, gamification (the incorporation of game-like elements into learning activities) has gained real credibility as a valuable learning tool. Free interactive sites like Codeacademy and incentive-based practices like the digital badge revolution are examples of how games make learning more accessible. Even the U.S. Army uses “virtual army experiences” (which look a lot like video games) to gain new recruits. And did you know that a group of gamers unlocked the structure of an AIDS enzyme using Foldit, a protein-folding game? This game solved a problem that scientists had been baffled over for a decade. Gamification is effective because it increases learner motivation, which some researchers say leads to psychological outcomes that change behavior patterns. For example, a dull training course on organizational procedures might be more motivating if the process was gamified; the resulting psychological outcome (enjoyment) could influence behavior patterns (more employees remembering, and following, correct procedures).
Games and motivationA 2014 literature review of all published empirical studies on gamification found learning outcomes to be mostly positive, especially where learner motivation was concerned. And here’s why: a basic function of gamified learning is that it rewards you for completing certain tasks. If learners are given an incentive for correct answers, the “reward center” in their brain is activated and they are far more likely to learn faster. The other thing that happens with reward is that the learner is intrinsically motivated to keep going. Like a person at a slot machine, a learner playing a game wants to keep going whether he or she gets an answer right or not—because the possibility of a payoff is irresistibly tantalizing.
Get started with gamificationIntrigued by the possibility of enhanced learner motivation and engagement? Then you might want to consider incorporating game elements into your own course. Here are two key tips:
- Figure out what motivates your learners. There’s a lot of chatter about “motivational affordances” in gamification circles. This concept refers to the way a learner perceives value in a certain action because she expects it might satisfy a psychological need. For example, a learner might be compelled to continue earning points for correctly answering questions because it delivers a sense of competence. There are many motivational affordances available in gamification design—points, feedback, narrative storyline, clear goals, and achievement/badges are some of the most common—but the affordance needs to fit the audience and the course content. Whom are you designing for, and what do they need to learn? Not all strategies are universally effective.
- Invest heavily in good design. According to one prediction, 80% of gamification efforts will fail because of bad design. Despite the slot machine analogy given earlier, game design takes more nuance than simply creating a flashy, rewards-based experience. This doesn’t mean rushing out to hire game designers; as one blogger put it, “[game designers] start with a blank sheet of paper and they create… an experience whose sole purpose is to entertain. Gamification is not a game design problem… [it is] an ‘interaction design’ problem.” What you need is an expert (or a team of experts) who carries a balanced understanding of instructional design and learner motivation, who knows how to develop seamless ways to integrate game elements into already existing content. Experience with gamification elements is crucial, but so is a full understanding of the instructional design process.