Gamification: It’s Not about the Game

Gamification of Learning - Dr. Jim Guilkey - S4 NetQuest - Corporate Training - eLearning and Gaming

If you’re like most people, things that you know you need to do—like going to the gym—can be hard, and the work-outs themselves can feel endless. But find yourself in a pick-up basketball game on the driveway court with your kids, or in a fast-paced doubles game and you probably don’t view it as working out. It’s fun. The use of gaming as a learning tool is a lot like that. Learning can seem hard, or even mundane when it’s not designed correctly. But when designed correctly, gaming can be an effective component to any blended learning solution. Matching the instructional design methodology to the learning needs has a tremendous impact on both the level of learning and the associated retention rates.

What Does Learning through Gaming Look Like?

Gamified learning isn’t about the game, it’s about the instructional design. Simply adding a jeopardy game to your training will not ensure effective learning. The use of gaming theory is central to an effective design. An expert in instructional design will tailor a learning program to the needs of the content and to the core audience, and then they will link it to other learning approaches in a layered program. Gamification, like any learning approach, has to fulfill the scientific principles of how people learn. Like those recreational activities that make you forget you’re getting a work-out, gaming is inherently engaging. It also lends itself naturally to being competitive, which for certain learners is a huge motivating factor, and it can be “self-competitive” for all because well-designed games make you want to improve. What’s more central to learning than being motivated to get better? 

Learning in Action

S4 NetQuest developed a learning program for training technicians at a national automotive instant oil change company. Interacting with their employees, we saw that we had a nearly homogenous learner group—overwhelmingly males in their early twenties. A huge majority of them were gamers. So as one part of a multi-layered approach, we created a stimulating, visually appealing, nonlinear web-based training broken into modules. Within those modules were smaller segmented lessons (micro-modules), and within those we created animated segments that drew upon the student’s gaming familiarity and their desire for competition. The Technicians Cup was born. Based around a NASCAR theme, the modules became “races” and the lessons became “laps”. Within each lap were “pit stops” composed of testing activities where learners received points based on their performance. There were leader boards and virtual trophies. But most importantly, learners could repeat tasks to improve their performance. The end result: they volunteered for more learning!

More Information

A design approach that includes gamification isn’t for every scenario, but if you’d like to learn more about how it works or consider if it might fit your company needs, you can learn all about it in my new book: M-Pact Learning: The New Competitive Advantage.