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Increasing your learner’s engagement in eLearning

How to use gamification to improve the learning experience

The world has been shunted forward and has had to embrace all things online in a very short amount of time. This advent has allowed for online learning to come to the forefront and for a lot of traditional educational institutions and models to be revisited and re-examined as to their viability in this new world order.

Currently, a lot of eLearning still follows the old methods of traditional learning. There’s too much rote repetition in what learners are doing. The process follows them learning theory, in a somewhat passive mono-directional fashion, and they are tested. If they fail they start from the beginning again and if they succeed they get to start from the beginning again but at a different level and/or with a different topic. And then the system goes into a ‘rinse & repeat’ mode: theory, test, theory, test, and so on.

eLearning especially requires much more interaction and engagement. Face-to-face learning has the benefit of the tutor to be there with the learner and to engage them on an interpersonal level. But this isn’t possible with eLearning, at least not always if the experience isn’t live. Therefore something more needs to be to eLearning to achieve the same levels of engagement.

Gameful Design and the gamification of eLearning, through the use of LMS’s and the like, should, therefore, be the highest priority for anyone wishing to provide any kind of education; traditional, corporate or otherwise. Not utilising this tool diminishes the value of the experience you provide and lowers the value that your learners will receive from the experience.

In this piece, I’d thus like to go through some quick introductory level concepts around how gamification can be used to improve eLearning and learning in general.

For those interested the TL;DR is:

  • Gamification 101 – a few quick definitions of what gamification is and it’s aims.
  • Learning and gamification – what gamification can provide learning and the outcomes it delivers.
  • Aspects of gamification in learning – the various features that a gamified experience has and requires so that learners are engaged.
  • Implementing gamification in eLearning – a quick run-through of the tenets that you need to keep an eye so that you can have an effective gamified learning experience for your learners.

Gamification 101

For those unfamiliar with what gamification is and the gameful design process, I thought it would be useful to quickly name and cover some of the main definitions around gamification. All the definitions given are from experts in the field and each covers an aspect of what gamification is and can be used for.

  • Gamification is the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities. This is what I call “Human-Focused Design” as opposed to the “Function-Focused Design.” It is a design process that optimizes for the human in the system, as opposed to pure efficiency of the system.”Chou, Y. K., What is Gamification.


  • “The use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”. Burke, B. (2014). Gartner Redefines Gamification.


  • “Gamification is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts.” Werbach, K (2012). For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business. Wharton Digital Press, pp. 26



Looking at each of these definitions we can start to see that the aim of gamification in eLearning and when implementing it in an LMS is to make the experience firstly ‘learner-centred’. This is so that secondly it engages the learner through the use of specific game mechanics and elements. And thirdly that it allows the learner to solve a real-life problem that thereby improves their learning.

eLearning and gamification

Implementing gamification into a learning process isn’t such a daunting task. Learning already inherently has a base gamified aspect to it. Learners gain knowledge and experience, go through challenges and at the end must test all this knowledge to get to the next year. Just like in a game where players practices skills and abilities to progress further and gain levels.

All that gamification is doing is building upon this and altering some characteristics so that they are more game-like in their experience and leverage the possibilities of gamification:

  • Increases engagement: To do this you will initially change the visuals and aesthetics of the learning experience. Making it look more game-like is the first step after all first impressions count the most, and the learner must see their LMS as something fun and exciting. This ‘look’ is what will help incentivise them to continue with learning and as they progress they will also ‘see’ the changes that happen to them, either through an avatar or some other visual representation.
  • Increase efficiency of learning: Altering the viewpoint of an experience will help to change the mindset that the learner has. As it looks more enjoyable, it will also be more enjoyable. Creating stronger positive emotions within an experience aids in knowledge retention and recall within the learner.
  • Increases accessibility: Learning anything is always a huge undertaking, having to memorise information and the often being required to regurgitate everything on-demand at a final exam. Gamification requires these huge tasks to be broken down into smaller milestones and mini-quests, making the learning far more manageable for the learner.
  • Holistic development: The gamified learning experience will be done holistically, creating one grand epic quest for the learner, that links all other mini-quests and the knowledge gained in them. This linking is the foundation for making it clear to the learner that all knowledge acquired is also relevant to the end goal and the real-world.

Aspects of gamification in eLearning

So what aspects does a gamified experience need for it to be engaging? I’ve named six below, but there are a few more and they are not always things that you can add like a mechanic. It requires time and effort to ensure that they are properly placed in the learning experience.

  • Enjoyment: With adding specific game elements and mechanics, the mindset of the learner can be altered so that an added sense of accomplishment is given when a problem is solved. This takes the of giving a sense of confidence in practising the knowledge gained. For this to be effective it does need to be part of larger journey narrative, otherwise, the elements, mechanics and the accomplishment will be empty.
  • Challenging: Aim to improve and get better at challenges, having a tangible sense of progress. As every human enjoys testing their abilities and defeating obstacles that they know and feel that they can overcome.
  • Feedback: Immediate feedback is a core feature of gamification. Having an instant feedback-loop for the learner so that they instantly see the outcomes and consequences of what they did is vital for continued engagement.
  • Motivation: Creating a clear journey narrative with a meaningful goal over the long-term will awaken and increase intrinsic motivation within learners. Short-term extrinsic motivation through rewards can help build the initial habits that will help support the development of long-term engagement.
  • Rewarding: Short-term extrinsic rewards are fun and can contribute to the player’s engagement, while long-term rewards will deliver lasting value to their lives. Both are needed and neither can exist without the other.
  • Ability to fail: A gamified experience should create a safe environment for learners so that they are no longer afraid to fail, as failing is part of the learning experience. Gamification should allow a learner to fail as often as required until they learn what is needed to progress.

Implementing gamification in eLearning

As a penultimate piece, I’d like to give you a few pointers and steps on what you should do and keep an eye out for if or when you wish to gamify your eLearning experience for your learners. If you wish to learn more, there are a wide range of books available on the topic, many that go in-depth into an implementation methodology.

First all, ensure that the learning experience has a holistic learning journey and narrative. This is the most important aspect, as the gamification of the learning will be that much more effective if all parts are interconnected and feed into each other. Having aspects of the learning that have no meaning beyond doing them for the purpose of doing them will break the experience. Having a strong story that binds everything into a cohesive concept is what will be the defining engagement for many learners.

Second, have a strong long-term objective for your learners. Many learners will naturally come in with an idea of what they want to learn, but be transparent about what they will walk away with at the end of the experience. Make it clear to them, and if possible allow them to have input on what the end goal is and how they can achieve it. In other words, engage them in the journey.

Thirdly, know what the win and fail conditions are for your learners within the experience. Let them know how they can achieve the win or fail to achieve it and have clear and comprehensive rules and limitations around these conditions. Learners will only truly be creative in their problem solving if they know where the boundaries are and what will cause them to fail and/or win.

Next, the game mechanics and elements you will use within your experience will be informed by the rules and end states that you have determined. There are hundreds of elements and mechanics to choose from, but when choosing them, make sure that there is a clear purpose for them and that they are not there without rhyme or reason. For example, the mainstay of many a gamified experience; PBL’s. These are fine as long as the learner gains value from them and their purpose is tied to the activity that the learner engaged in.

And finally, metrics and measuring. You need to be able to measure the engagement, success and fails of your learner to improve the experience. Make sure you have some kind of measuring system in place, this will also allow you to where the pain points are for your learners. On top of this, it will help you in continuing a long-term strategy for the learning experience that you have made.

Final Thoughts

Gamification can be a very powerful tool to increase engagement, but be aware to not fall into a few of the following traps.

  • Have a long term strategy for the experience – take the time to plan out the learner’s journey so that it isn’t too short or too boring for them.
  • Don’t create meaningless rewards – every reward should have a value and should further the learning experience of your learners.
  • And know your audience, be sure you understand who your learners are and what they want from the experience and what you can offer.

Everything is this piece is geared to the idea of online learning, but all of these concepts can be used for in-person learning as well. The methodology and processes for creating gamified experiences do not change from online to offline. Simply the tools that you use to facilitate the gamified experience does. In the end, all you are ensuring is that your learners walk away having learned something of value that helps improve their lives, either professionally or for purely personal satisfaction.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

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