Gamification: Gimmick or Actual Learning?

I am one of those people who likes to learn for the sake of learning.  To me, learning is fun and I don’t have to be encouraged to do it.  If I’m curious about something, I jump into research and try to find out as much as I can about the topic at hand.  That’s why when the term “gamification” surfaced years ago, I was skeptical.  “Is that really even a word?”, I thought.  Adults don’t need to be coaxed to learn.  Why would something have to simulate a game in order for it to be interesting?

As it turns out, gamification is a word.  Merriam-Webster defines it as “the process of adding games or gamelike elements to something (such as a task) so as to encourage participation.”  And while adults don’t necessarily need to be cajoled into learning since they’re curious and bring a wealth of experience to learning situations, there is something to be said for making learning more interactive.  Gamification, and its close cousin “serious games”, can boost learner engagement and post-training job performance.

The following can be elevated when gamification techniques are used:

  1. Fun. We live in a society that provides plenty of opportunities for distraction.  Adding an element of fun to e-learning can be a necessity in order to keep learners happy and engaged in a world that competes for their attention. Inserting leaderboards following a learning activity, for example, can add friendly competition to an otherwise dull topic.
  2. Retention.  Repetition helps knowledge retention. By adding game-like exercises and simulations to courses, learners are encouraged to practice skills.  Doing this frequently in order to recap reinforces the information and encourages retention.  According to research by Capterra and TalentLMS, 83% of LMS users reported their students retained course content better using gamification.
  3. Motivation.  Many people like to play games and compete, which makes gamification a natural way to enhance motivation to engage with the learning experience.  By implementing reward systems that include points, levels or prizes, e-learning designers move participants towards completion.  This is particularly true for those gamer types who are characterized by their fondness for achievement over exploration or socialization.
  4. Feedback.  Learning Management Systems (LMS) include tracking functionality.  This facilitates the reporting of scores/progress and encourages advancement.  When the internet was in its infancy and load speeds were slower, we were more patient.  But the expectation for top speeds has grown.  According to Kissmetrics, 47% of consumers expect a web page to load in 2 seconds or less. Immediate feedback not only feeds our need for instant gratification, but it provides just-in-time information regarding mistakes that allows for quick learning.

Gimmick or learning? When designed well, gamification is no gimmick. Fun, retention, motivation and feedback are just a few reasons to consider adding game elements to serious e-learning courses.

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