Gamification elements are often considered as crucial components of eLearning system because they help to engage students by presenting learning content in integration with game elements in a motivating way. And, as we know, motivation always leads to engagement. So It's no wonder that gamification market will have reached approximately $1.2 billion by the year 2020.
A lot of companies invest in elearning gamification but not all of them get decent ROI. The main reasons are:
- Not every organization treats eLearning gamification right
- Not every organization implements elearning gamification in an effective way
In this blog post, we try to address both of these issues by providing a clear definition of the subject and formulating the ultimate guide to effective eLearning gamification design.
What is gamification?
Many pieces of research and reports focus on the definition of “gamification” because a lot of people get it wrong. And there is no academic material that fully describes a particular subject of “eLearning gamification”. We’ve collected 5 best definitions from top influencers so that you can have a clearer picture of what eLearning gamification is.
Having a clear definition of eLearning gamification, it is much easier to build an effective gamification strategy and tactics because one can always test its relevance and potential effectiveness by asking the question “Is it going to do what it is supposed to?”. But still, building such a complicated system is not so easy. The next step is to understand gamification fundamental concepts and principles in order to use them as landmarks in the planning and actual implementation processes.
Gamification fundamental concepts
Michelle Schwartz, Instructional Design and Research Strategist at Ryerson University, formulated a list of 3 basic gamification principles which are drawn from the motivation and game theory:
- Autonomy. When learners feel like they are in charge of something, they are more likely to stick to it. In each game, every next step depends on choices that are made by a player. Accordingly, in game-based learning, learners are more engaged when they depend on their choices and decisions. To some extent, such a principle is also implemented in adaptive learning.
- Value. Good games add the value, which is available outside of game environment. Some games make people smarter, another develop strategic thinking or even affect the speed of reaction. When there is no “getting better” in the game, it is hard to engage a player. In online learning, the “Value” principle means that learners are more engaged when they feel that during learning/playing they get better at something that can be applied in real life. That is why different types of simulations including VR are used.
- Competence: “If you know that something demands hard work as opposed to some talent, you are more likely to keep trying it,” and the better you become at a task, the more likely you are to continue doing it (JISC). When students complete a task and move on to the next level, they get a sense of their own development as learners.
Gamification Designing Principles
Dichiva Darina from the Computer Science Department at Winston Salem State University made a research of different game designing principles that have been used in education to find what the common principles that are implemented in all of those cases are. As a result, she formulated 4 main eLearning gamification principles.
- Freedom to fail. There should be a low level of risk associated with certain submissions and learners should get multiple attempts to succeed. In the same way how video games give players a certain number of tries or ‘lives’ to complete the game or allow players to restart from previous point, learning games can eliminate a conventional focus on a final grade and fear of failure, and encourage students to experiment, take risks, and try again instead.
- Rapid feedback. Learners should receive immediate feedback and rewards. Games typically provide frequent targeted feedback as a game is played, either after the completion of an individual task or at the end of each level.
- Progression. Learners should be able to visually assess their progress on their journey to mastery. When games are divided into levels, players have an opportunity to practice what they have learned at recent stages, often building up requirements to apply all those skills at once to complete a final level.
- Storytelling. The most successful games usually involve a story. Structuring contents inside a narrative and asking players to participate in the creation of the story is a way to success.
Following the principles described above, you can build a really gamified online course. But what is the process? Who needs to do what to ignite that eLearning gamification magic? Here is the ultimate guide for online learning gamification implementation.
eLearning Gamification: Design Process (ADDIE+RACCI model)
Gamification is a process of enhancing online learning, therefore it is an inseparable part of online course development. We developed guides on how much does it cost to create an online course and how to create an online course platform with a detailed description of processes, roles, and deliverables. So, we are going to map the eLearning gamification development process on the online course development one. Thus, it should follow the same old ADDIE model: Analysis, Design, Development, Implementation, Evaluation.
And, for roles mapping, we’ll use the same RACI matrix, so it can be clearly stated who should do what on each stage.
Is gamification always useful? In many cases it is, however, in order to deliver ROI, it should affect some particular aspects of learning and certain KPIs. The first stage (Analysis) is the stage where these questions are answered.
Stage one | Analysis (Deliverables: Defined Gamification Strategy and Tactics)
Different games are created for different users. The same thing can be said about eLearning gamification - its implementation and mechanics should be different for various learner types (learner types are described in our online course creation guide). A learner type defines context and the context is what helps you to decide what to gamify and how to gamify it. The table below can be used as a guide for context analysis:
Context analysis results produce signs of eLearning gamification appropriateness and you’ve defined what KPIs should be affected by gamification, the next step is to define what mechanics to employ to achieve maximum effectiveness from gamified experience.
To do that, you should analyze your learners as gamers or, in other words, define ‘eLearning gamer personas’.
eLearning Gamer Personas Analysis
eLearning gamification will not be effective if you don’t perceive your learners as gamers.
You should consider:
- What are Reinforcement Strategies in eLearning?
- How to engage students in learning?
- What motivates millennials while they learn?
To combine a learner persona and a gamer persona, we recommend to use a mix of player types thelory and map it on learner types.
Richard Bartle studied players of MMOGs (massively multiplayer online games) and based on that identified four types of players that he placed on two axes:
- People <-> Environment (player can focus on game environment, or, as an opposite, on other players),
- Acting <-> Interacting (player can focus on acting e.g. hitting the target or interacting like in social games)
Each individual can belong to different types of players e.g. “killer” and “achiever”. Based on his research, Richard Bartle says that average person is:
- 80% socializer;
- 50% explorer;
- 40% achiever;
- 20% killer.
Below you can see more detailed descriptions of each player type.
- Explorers like going out into the world in order to bring things back to their community and exclaim “I discovered this thing!” In this case, the experience is objective. One example of a game suited to the explorer player type was PokemonGo. A player had to play a lot of games to find every hidden pokemon in their surrounding.
- Achievers are an integral part of any competitive game. They drive a lot of projects, services, and brands. The problem with game design for this player type is that it’s difficult to develop a system where everyone can win and achieve. And for achievers, losing the game will likely cause them to lose interest in playing it.
- Socializers are people who play games for the benefit of social interaction. Games focused on socializers comprise some of the most popular games throughout history - dominoes, bridge, mahjong, poker - the thread tying them together is that each game is highly social-oriented. To clarify, it isn’t that socializers don’t care about the game or winning - they do. For them, a game is just a background for meaningful long-term social interactions.
- Killers make up only a fraction of all of the player types. However, it's important to understand them. They are similar to achievers in their desire to win; although, unlike achievers, winning isn’t enough. Not only must they win, but they also need to see somebody lose. Moreover, killers really want as many people as possible to see the killing, and their victims have to express admiration/respect.
How to apply the knowledge of player types to gamify eLearning in the most effective way? To do that, you need to map gamer types on learner types.
Player Types vs Learner Types
Let’s see which types of learners match with which types of players
When your learner analysis is finished (the process is described in our online course creation guide) you can define who your learners are, what kind of players they are, what gamification approach can suit them and thus what KPIs can be improved with gamification. In other words, you can formulate your general eLearning gamification strategy and tactics. The next step is to define how and where gamification should affect online course content.
Stage two | Design (Deliverables: Gamification plan)
Gamification is going to be an essential part of learning content, so it needs to be planned during the Design stage of your online course development. In other words, eLearning gamification design has to be fully aligned and integrated with online course design, including:
- Gamification tactics and tools needed to positively affect KPIs that reflect Learning objectives
- Tactics and tools aligned with your course sequence
- Tactics and tools complying with instructional strategy
- To know more about learning objectives, course sequence and instructional strategy for your online course, please refer to our “Online Course Creation Guide” part “ADDIE stage 2: Design”
Where to start? Start with your online course sequence:
What you should already have:
- Detailed analysis of who your learners are and what type of players they are
- What are the course learning objectives and how learning content should be delivered there according to an instructional strategy
- What gamification approaches will work for your learners/players
- What KPIs these approaches can positively imply
What you don’t have at this stage is how exactly and in what form these approaches need to be implemented.
Badges? Leaderboards? Contests? Game scenarios? What is suitable, what will work and where should it take place?
All gamification tools and specific ways they work are gamification elements and essential building blocks of a gamification plan.
Any leaderboard, badge (and similar things given to learners), every “gaming character”, “status”, “rating” is a gamification element.
And any gamification element can be defined from two perspectives:
Below is a comprehensive list of modern gamification mechanics and dynamics that can be used to choose the most suitable gamification elements for a particular case.
According to suggestions from game developers, game dynamics is a combination of players’ (learners’) behavior and their emotions which are created by game mechanics, and by interaction with other players (learners). Game dynamics gives players a reason to keep on playing or learning.
Combinations of mechanics and dynamics are actually ways to introduce gamification in an eLearning project. You may introduce:
- Group competition to unlock some particular team task completion which will give a team an additional amount of course currency to buy some real-life trophies (This would work for Achievers and Killers to increase retention and course completion rates)
- Individual profiles with avatars that change when a learner gains a high score (for successful completion of certain types of problems) and gets new status (This would work for Socializers to increase retention)
- Leaderboard based on a maximum score after the course completion; top-5 get real-life trophies and such achievement is reflected in their individual profiles (Achievers, Socializers, Explorers)
- Challenge to finish a module in half of the default time with the highest score that will be doubled (Killers, Achievers)
The list can be infinite. “Mechanics-Dynamics” matrix is a great way to spark imagination and create engaging eLearning gamification elements - you are only limited by:
- Your course goal
- Your learning objectives
- Your players’ profiles
- Your technological constraints (we are going to discuss it in the Development phase)
One more thing that is going to help you in planning gamified experiences throughout your online course is a psychological background of gamification - it will help you to keep the balance and to avoid overloading your students with different elements, at the same time keeping them engaged.
Fogg's behavior model and Engagement Loop
Each of us has tried computer/mobile games. Some of them are dead easy, some are intricate: what affects what, what upgrade would be the best, how to deal with all the controls… And some of them capture all your attention and you want to get back to the game again and again.
How to gain such a level of engagement? There are two concepts that are aimed at achieving similar goals: Fogg’s behavior model and “engagement loop”.
Fogg’s Behavior Model
Fogg’s behavior model (FBM) makes it easier to understand a player’s (learner’s) behavior in general. As shown in the image above, there are three key factors that define an individual’s behavior:
- Motivation - the main reason why an individual is encouraged to perform some action (pleasure, pain, hope, fear, acceptance, rejection).
- Trigger - internal or external signal right after which the action is performed (cue, reminder, call to action, etc.). The most important aspect of a trigger is timing.
- Ability of an individual to perform an action (performing factors can include time, money, physical effort, brain cycles, social deviance, and non-routine). Ability is usually linked to skills. Fogg’s behavior model states that ability could be defined with time, attention, mental capacity or any resources that a user might need to complete a task. Without an ability, motivation decreases, and sensitivity to triggers reduces.
Behavior scientist BJ Fogg emphasizes that it’s important to realize that people are naturally lazy. They feel resistance when there is some need to put in an effort, and this is also true when it comes to learning. Doing something uncomfortable and dealing with procrastination is much easier when:
- There is motivation (directly connected with learning objectives or personal learner/player persona characteristics)
- There is ability (time, conditions, understandable rules…)
- There is a perfectly timed trigger (notification, leaderboard, progress bar…)
Modern professional instructional designers can help in implementation of these principles.
Engagement loop principle is similar to Fogg’s behavior model. It only adds three additional “layers”:
- The feedback that a player (learner) leaves after any action
- Player (learner) journey: the stage where a player/learner is currently situated
- Loop: every feedback after action needs to be followed with the next level of motivation
Designing engagement loops is not an easy task that can be provided again by advanced instructional designers and gamification specialists.
Stage three | Development (Deliverables: Gamified System Structure)
Understanding gamified app elements (mechanics and dynamics) and engagement loop stages, we can move further to the development of a gamified system structure.
It is worth noting that game design specialists divide the development process into two parts:
- Storyboard creation
- Graphic sketches creation
Development of the structure for eLearning gamified app also contains these parts, nevertheless it includes some additional components and properties. Here are some infographics below which shows what gamified components are and how it fits in with the engagement loop stages.
Let's take a look at each gamified system component separately:
1.“Road Map” Definition
Road Map is an essential map of planned progress according to your eLearning course.
How it looks
To provide a clear visualization of learners’ current status and progress. Also works as a tool for providing direct feedback for other components.
2. “Learning Guide” Definition
Step by step learning guide to gamified app in an inspirational and engaging manner
How it Looks
To create a fast and efficient introduction to increase understanding of the gamified app and how to use the system.
3. “Log” Definition
A tool for the user to, in an easy manner, explore one’s log and see how each task correlates to personal goals and the road map.
How it Looks
Create an overview of the log and to increase understanding of how tasks are affecting one’s position according to learners personal goals.
4. "Community" Definition
Implemented support for user-to-user feedback throughout the gamified system through comments, discussions and knowledge sharing.
How it Looks
To institute an additional feedback system which will provide meaningful feedback in a direct manner
5. “Game” Definition
The last component is a grouping of motivational mechanics which purpose is to motivate and promote general usage of the system. These mechanics may include avatars, customisable elements, progress bars etc. The motivational mechanics should be connected to game mechanics to promote learners activities. This component contains such traditional gamification elements such as coins, badges etc.
How it Looks
To create motivating incentives to change behaviour
Mentioned above components make up your Gamified System Structure, which should be used in the next stage "Implement".
Stage Four | Implement (Deliverables: Gamified eLearning platform)
An implementation of the developed gamified system structure is the most complex process which includes iteration of programming, graphic design, prototypes and system testing.
Therefore if you don't have a gamified eLearning platform, and you don't have enough assets to implement it, we recommend you to look at “ready to go” solutions.
There are more than 100 gamified platforms on the Web. To decide which one meets your requirements you need to сheck out the main gamified components mentioned in stage 2. Among them are:
- Points - Badges - Leaderboards (PBL)
- Progress Tracking and Reporting
- Customization Options
We completed the list of top 5 gamified lms platforms according to industry leading forums like Technology Advice, Capterra, elearninfo24/7, and Training Industry with highlighting gamified components and its their pricing.
"GrowthEngineering" is a multi-award-winning learning technologies company. They focus on engaging learners with their training and are specialists in applying gamification to online learning programs. Among their solutions are the Academy LMS, NextGen LMS, and Genie, a game-based content authoring tool.
"SweetRush" has found its place in the area of corporate learning with an effective formula for improving employee performance. Clients seem to love and trust SweetRush and its culture of caring and commitment, backed up by an award-winning portfolio. Together with blended learning, ILT/VILT, gaming, mobile and VR, they deliver good online learning solutions.
3. G-Cube Solutions
"G-Cube" is an end-to-end eLearning solution provider. It has worked with varied array of clients from different industries. As a result, it has developed substantial expertise in the conceptualization of learning units and content development, as well as providing support for learning strategies like game-based learning and gamification.
4. The Game Agency
"The Game Agency" creates educational games and platforms to complement and improve eLearning and instructor-led training. They provide emotionally and intellectually stimulating experiences that both engage and trigger students and employees. They track everything users know so educators can measure the effectiveness of their activity.
5. Talent LMS
With "TalentLMS" you can bring your course to life with Badges, Points, Levels, Rewards and Leaderboards. You can customize your gamification experience to the maximum through its Gamification Engine.
In addition to the mentioned gamified LMSs, you can also use off-the-shelf gamified applications to make your eLearning programs shine. Below, we selected top 7 of the most popular gamified apps which can be used in modern eLearning:
"Socrative" features a game called “Space Race,” which involves students racing spaceships across the screen by answering the questions correctly. Students can compete individually or in groups, and you have the option to customize the spaceship icons
"Classcraft" is a fantasy-based game in which students can be warriors, mages, or healers. They form teams, and points are earned or lost based on the classroom behavior and performance. You can also gamify your existing curriculum encouraging students to “fight battles” against your questions.
3. Minecraft: Education Edition
Using "Minecraft" your students will interact, collaborate on projects, and share portfolios with their peers in a game world related to the content you’re teaching. You can build your own Minecraft world, there are pre-built worlds and lessons already available on the app.
4. Breakout EDU
Here is you can find or build digital puzzles, games, and ciphers designed to promote critical thinking. One game, for example, requires elementary students to correctly solve riddles and puzzles to “catch the bus” on time.
"Quizfit" is an interactive learning and engagement tool for business. It features gamification elements to enable employees to acquire and retain new knowledge. It includes videos, infographics, courses, audio materials and associated websites.
6. Clever Badges
"Clever Badges" is perfect for students who have trouble typing or remembering complex passwords - especially younger learners. Badges allow students to hold up a physical badge to their device's webcam to get logged in, instead of typing in their usernames and passwords. Teachers get more time to teach, and students get more time to learn.
We described the fastest ways of implementation your Gamified System, so you can significantly reduce your costs at the start of the project. If you want to implement your own gamified eLearning platform, Raccoon Gang is always ready to give you advice and assistance.
Gamification is an application that is developed to be used in the long run (in most cases). Therefore, the evaluation of the impact and efficiency is a necessary step in your eLearning strategy. Let's look at "Evaluate" stage in details.
Stage five | Evaluate (Deliverables: Metrics Toolkit)
What is the purpose of the evaluation?
Evaluation of your gamification outcomes can give you a powerful impulse for further custom eLearning development. You can tailor your content to become more attractive, effective and profitable. But bear in mind, there is no clear definition of evaluating efficiency of gamified application and metrics are vague (evaluation process can vary depending on your type of application and the chosen strategy). We have therefore sought to organize all possible metrics and principles which can be used in the evaluation of your gamification project.
According to the eLearning experts, metrics toolkit consists of:
eLearning specialists say that this toolkit is taken from the Web analysis and such commercial projects as Google Marketing Platform.
The main drawbacks of these metrics are unclear figures and long analysis. That is why it is a good practice for a custom eLearning gamified app to create metrics which will perfectly fit both gamified app and the chosen eLearning strategy.
Here it is. You have the comprehensive eLearning gamification guide in one blog post. Creating gamified experience can be challenging, but if you know your audience and core message of your course program you'll just need right people for corresponding roles - good specialists will do the rest when you're good with the basics.
After your first run through the five stages outlined in this post for gamification design process, it will become increasingly easier to build your future gamified platform.
- The International Journal of Advanced Computer Science and Applications, Vol. 6, No. 2, 2015. “Study of Gamification Effectiveness in Online eLearning Systems”
- The 51st Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS). “A Theory of Gamification Principles Through Goal-Setting Theory”
- Free online course from The Georgia Institute of Technology. “Accessible Gamification for Business”
- Kristoffer Frang and Robin Mellstrand, Lund University. “Enterprise Gamification of the Employee Development Process at an Infocom Consultancy Company”.
- Janaki Mythily Kumar. “Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software”
- Neil Davey. “Gamification: The metrics and measurements that matter”