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Online Training and Gamification

Thursday 20 July 2017

“Gamification uses game mechanics and game design techniques in non-gaming context – it's a powerful tool to engage employees, customers and the public to change behaviors, develop skills and drive innovation.” Gartner¹

There are very few of us who have not been involved in some gamified activity – usually without realising it. For example, do you use a loyalty card that gives you rewards if you reach certain targets? That is a form of gamification.

When applied to training, one of the most important aspects of gamification is to introduce an element of playfulness and make the experience enjoyable. When you reach a goal in an online training activity, wouldn't it be great if you could have a reaction like the children shown here?

When you reach a goal in an online training activity wouldn't it be great if you could have a reaction like the children shown here?

children gamification

There are huge similarities between training and adventure games:

You start off with a quest (to learn a new subject); on the way you meet many challenges (some concepts are difficult to understand); you may take on side missions (take part in a case study); you often reach a state where you need to overcome the biggest hurdle you have faced (the final exam); and when you succeed, you have a great sense of satisfaction and reward (the fulfilment of passing and being given recognition for your achievement).

In game terms, this final state is often called “epic meaning” and has been described by Jane McGonigal² as “An outcome that is so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it”.

When we design online learning, we pay particular attention to “flow”. Flow is what some sports people call being “in the zone”. It is that sense of being right on top of everything and being completely in control.

To achieve this in training courses, it is important to match the challenge with the learner's skill set. At an early stage the challenge level is set quite low, but as the course progresses, it would become boring if the level remained low, while the learner's skills and understanding increases.

On the other hand, it would be extremely frustrating if the level of challenge was much higher than the learner is capable of meeting. Finding that sweet spot and staying in the zone leads to a satisfying and enjoyable experience, and provides greater motivation to continue. But it is important to recognise that this only happens when training offers challenges. People like to be challenged and test themselves – this occurs too rarely in some forms of online training.

Another aspect of games that we like to carry forward into online courses is to recognise progress with small rewards. As learners show that they have reached new levels of understanding, we reward them with badges that they can include in their collection and use as evidence of their achievement. In this newsletter, we regularly highlight one of the badges that can be earned.

Playing games, tennis, monopoly, chess or Pokémon GO, is something people choose to do. They are not compelled in any way. Our aim is to make online training a similarly satisfying experience.


1    http://www.gartner.com/technology/research/gamification/

2    TED Talk https://www.ted.com/talks/jane_mcgonigal_gaming_can_make_a_better_world

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