The Importance of Gamification in Learning & Development

Written by Anandam Ravi

Learning is serious business. But that doesn’t mean that it has to be boring. Serious gamification has been around for quite some time now. But what is gamification in learning and development? Why is it important? This article tries to delve a little deeper into this topic.

What Is Gamification in Learning and Development?

First things first. What is gamification? By definition, gamification is the process of applying game mechanics to a non-gaming environment to increase engagement, happiness and loyalty. As such, gamified training is training that incorporates gaming elements or mechanics within its approach.

What are game mechanics? Game mechanics are the elements that have been taken from the realm of games and incorporated into the training environment. 

In other words, mechanics specify the learning goals and how players win or progress through levels, or earn points. Game mechanics typically include (but are not limited to) points, badges, levels and leaderboards. 

How Is Gamification Different from Game-Based Learning?

To the relatively uninitiated these two terms sound quite similar, but they denote quite different things. 

Game-Based Learning (GBL) specifically uses games to teach students certain skills or a specific learning outcome. This game would include clear and challenging objectives. 

Game-based Learning could be as simple and as ubiquitous as a Jeopardy quiz, but it could also be a complex custom-built game with its own rules, artifacts, objects and game boards. Companies have also used and built upon the concepts of known games like Dungeons and Dragons and repurposed them to corporate situations.

In short, Gamification is the process of using gaming elements and game mechanics in a non-game context, while Game-Based Learning uses a game or a variation of a game as part of the intrinsic learning process. 

Here is an excellent example of game-based learning that was shared recently on LinkedIn. This was an asynchronous activity where participants had to solve the mystery of who caused the crash of the new game-based HR platform by interviewing employees using a nifty little AI-based chatbot that simulated realistic Whatsapp chats.

Interesting as game-based learning is, in this article, we will talk about gamification. 

Components of Gamification

Gamification contains three main components that work together to create the gamified experience. The elements are as follows:

Game Mechanics

As previously discussed, game mechanics are those familiar elements taken from games and added to a learning experience. Game mechanics could include scoreboards, leaderboards, badges, virtual currency and a number of other elements used to reward players who succeed in achieving a certain level or task. 

Player Behaviors

When players are rewarded for their actions, they are more likely to engage in those actions again in the future. This is known as the principle of positive reinforcement, and it is a fundamental concept in psychology. Game designers use this principle to incentivize specific behaviors. 

By offering rewards for completing certain tasks or achieving specific goals, designers can encourage players to engage in behaviors that align with the objectives of the game. For example, in a role-playing game, players may be rewarded with experience points or virtual currency for defeating enemies or completing quests. 

Emotional States

Somewhere between the insertion of game mechanics and the behavior that it is intended to trigger, there is another element that completes the transaction: Emotion. 

Emotion is the enjoyment, competitive spirit or the reason that compels a participant in a game to demonstrate or exhibit the behaviors that we want them to demonstrate or exhibit. Without emotions, learners would not be motivated to play games. 

Emotions spur us into action and keep us moving through a game or an experience. Emotions use the chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins in our brains to keep us hooked on to our quests.

These three elements work together in inter-related harmony to achieve the intended objectives of gamification. The image below depicts this relationship.

As you might suspect, the difficulty of controlling these levels also increases exponentially. It is relatively easy to insert game mechanics in learning. However, game mechanics are only the means to the end. Behavior change, which is often the main objective of gamification, hinges on the players’ emotional states and their motivation or, in other words, their engagement. 

How Gamification Impacts Corporate Learning and Development

Learner engagement, especially in adults, has been the focus of much study. How do you define and measure learner engagement? Is it just flipping through the pages or being able to recall facts and concepts covered in the course? Is it the time spent on a specific interaction? 

According to a 2022 study from the Leibniz Information Centre for Economics on “GAMIFICATION AS AN INNOVATIVE INSTRUMENT FOR EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT,” the authors identified three parameters that needed to work together to affect employee engagement enough to cause a change in behavior. 

These three parameters are:

  1. At the individual level: This includes factors like the learner’s self-evaluation, self-esteem, internal energy, and optimism. Other components include curiosity, personal approach to work, perseverance, devotion, and emotional resistance.
  2. At the job level: This includes factors like the meaning of the job (task) and the opportunity to see signs of the contribution to the work done. In addition, the challenges and the complexity level, the suitability of the task, work control, and independence are also included here.

    Additional factors would be autonomy, role clarity, explicit expectations, skills needed to complete a task, and the variety of tasks.
  3. At the organizational level: This includes factors like feedback, assurance of the resources required for work, hygiene factors, freedom of opinion, psychological safety at work, and the safety of working conditions.

    You also have to consider recognition, learning and development opportunities; interpersonal and social relations, social support, organizational recognition and awards, procedural justice in the organization, career opportunities,as well as perceived organizational support. 

Game mechanics need to be built keeping in mind all or at least many of these attributes at all three levels. Only then can the game achieve the desired level of learner engagement. This is key to achieving the behavioral changes that are the desired objectives of the course. 

Examples of Gamification

Accenture’s Harry Potter-based Leadership Training

Accenture set out to transform one of their leadership programs. The original session for managing directors consisted of one week in a classroom with lots of physical simulations. This took place in multiple locations across the world. 

The simulation-heavy session was replaced by a tournament of mini-games inspired by (surprise! surprise!) Harry Potter. 

Learners were grouped into four “houses”. Participants could win (or lose) points for their house by performing tasks provided. At the end of the training, the house with the most points won the “house cup”. 

Accenture’s Bob Gerard, who heads a Learning Ingenuity team, part of the HR division, and whose team conceptualized the training said that by gamifying the experience, they found that learners (senior executives) far more receptive to new ideas as well as to feedback and coaching as they had been in the prior classroom sessions.

Accenture has partnered with Attensi, a gamified simulation training company and have created a number of gamified training modules in tandem including courses on finance and cloud technology.

Deloitte’s Gamified Leadership Training with Badgeville 

To engage a higher percentage of senior executives for leadership training, Deloitte developed a gamified curriculum in collaboration with Badgeville, a behavior platform company. 

They implemented three gamification elements:

  1. Rank and rewards: Points for demonstrating high-value behavior
  2. Missions: Milestones and challenges to keep the learners on track and complete their monthly learning goals
  3. Leaderboards: Scoreboards that tracked performance in Deloitte’s 12 key development areas based on contributions, skills and engagement

Gamification Using VR

Edstutia is one of the world’s first fully-immersive campuses in virtual reality. The campus is home to several buildings designed for teams to meet and train. Speakers from around the world can teleport to the Amphitheater for a presentation. Learners can also break out into small group training sessions in the Modern Main Hall.

Edstutia’s ICXR (Instructor Training in XR) uses a blend of traditional gamification with immersive learning. The course uses a leaderboard in the LMS (Learning Management System) that is visible to all participants that keep track of completion including pre-read materials and post-read surveys, which traditionally has always been a trainer’s hardest challenge to implement. In addition, a private scoreboard that helps track learners’ competencies across specific VR skills is also available, with the ability to return and retry unlimited times. 

Aside from Edstutia, Accenture’s VR Cybersecurity Adventure course provides a gamified experience that takes users through an immersive journey set in both real and fantasy environments. Accenture also made headlines last year by revamping its global onboarding program, making it VR-based and ordering 60,000 new headsets for new recruits. 

Things to Beware of While Using Gamification

Gamification, while powerful, like any powerful concept needs to be used with caution and care. A few points to keep in mind while infusing gamification into the learning plan are: 

Gamification cannot salvage a flawed design

Trying to gamify a training that is failing because learners are not finding it useful or relevant is like adding a golden carriage to a train whose engine has stopped working. Not only is it adding much more cost and budget to the program, it does not solve the problem. 

As an instructional designer, I had a client requesting gamification suggestions for a large program that was already underway. The program was struggling because there were too many assignments to do and too much expected of learners in too little time. 

As a result, interest and progress were both on the decline. The client wanted to add gamification to try and get the program back on track. 

My question was, “Wait, you want to add even more things to do in a program that already stretches its participants beyond their limits in an attempt to make them more engaged?”

Gamification should support the learning, not take over it completely

Games are great at adding more engagement. They attract and retain motivation. However, games may not be the best medium to deliver complex content that needs to be revisited time and again. 

Gamification may not work for all types of audiences or content

Rewards and leadership boards might work well with someone who is highly motivated by achievement and status. An avatar feature might better engage someone who is highly motivated by self-expression. It begins by understanding your learners. 

An SLE Journal 2020 study showed that introverted participants were more likely to get better results and score better when gamification and game mechanics like points and badges were introduced compared to extroverted participants. 

Conclusion

Gamification works because of dopamine, a neurotransmitter in your brain activated whenever you achieve something positive. This reward pathway plays an integral role in how we actually learn through reinforcement. However, using it wisely is up to us, those who design and execute training programs. 

Gamification can be an incredibly powerful tool in corporate L&D’s arsenal. The combination of immersive learning with game mechanics is a particularly potent one, one that is not seen in many training programs. 

Edstutia’s ICXR training is a 10-week course that makes strategic use of this combination. Click here to set up a meeting with one of our team members to learn more about the ICXR training.