Gamification is often viewed as a magic pill that makes people more motivated, engaged, and able to retain the information they are learning. The concept has exploded in popularity over the past couple years, emerging in industries as diverse as language learning, healthcare, and charity fundraising. The overall market for gamification tools, services and applications is projected to be $5.5 billion by 2018.
While gamification is certainly a powerful educational tool, the concept is also surrounded by myth. Learning leaders must be able to separate fact from fiction in order to determine which tools are effective, and which are just trendy.
Simply put, gamification is an approach to instruction that facilitates learning and encourages motivation using game elements, mechanics and game-based thinking. Adding game mechanics into a curriculum does not ensure that you will forever gain and hold a learners’ attention, nor will it trick them into something something they really don’t want to do. Rather, it is a tool with advantages and disadvantages that vary across different situations and environments.
All the hype and misinformation swirling around this learning delivery method have caused four popular myths to emerge. Understanding these myths can help educators avoid pitfalls while integrating gamification into strategic learning plans.
Myth One: Gamification And Games Are The Same
Game-based learning uses an actual game to teach knowledge and skills. A learning game is a self-contained unit with a definitive start, game play and ending. Learners know they are engaged in a game and at the end there is a “win state.” Games are often used as a one-time instructional event online or in a classroom. They are best suited to teach skills such as resource allocation or decision-making.
Gamification, on the other hand, only uses a few game elements. Learners don’t play an entire game from start to finish. Instead, they participate in activities that may include earning points, overcoming challenges or receiving badges for accomplishing tasks. The activities are typically delivered to a learner’s computer, tablet or smartphone in two-to-five minute increments. It is a formal structure, but learners can engage with the content whenever and wherever they want. The material is not meant to be learned in one setting.
Gamification is particularly useful in situations where leaders have to continually update and refresh workforce knowledge. Common topics include safety policies, product specifications, and customer service.
Gamification is also a valuable tool for onboarding new employees, through activities that foster communication, collaboration, and cooperation. It is also an effective way to teach recent hires about a company’s policies, vision, mission and products. Software company SAP used gamification to keep recruited students in India engaged in the onboarding process by inviting new hires to participate and win medals by answering trivia questions about the company. Deloitte’s training programs now take 50% less time to complete and keep more students involved than ever before.
Myth Two: Gamification Alienates Older Learners
It is false that people of a certain age do not like games and, therefore, will not like gamification. It is also false that anyone under age 30 likes games and, therefore, will like all gamification efforts. People’s learning preferences have little to do with their age. There is no single training approach that every employee is going to embrace.
This is part of a larger myth that older people don’t play video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2013 report “Gamers Over 50 Study: You’re Never Too Old to Play,” 48% of adults age 50 and older say they play video games. Some 80% of those play weekly, while 45% play daily.
Thus the average age of employees is not an accurate barometer of whether an organization should employ gamification in its learning strategy. A better barometer is what type of content need to be learned, and how often it needs to be reinforced and practiced to have the desired impact. Gamification is a great way to keep older employees engaged in their own professional development and the evolution of the company.
Organizations often onboard new employees with a great deal of initial training, but don’t offer as much in the subsequent years. Rather than drag older, more seasoned employees back into the classroom, gamification techniques can be used to refresh their knowledge. Pep Boys, an automotive retail chain, had a 95 percent employee voluntary participation rate in its gamification efforts for employees of all ages.
Myth Three: There Is No Science Behind Gamification
Gamification is not all about fun and games. The most effective gamification platforms use two, research-backed learning practices — retrieval practice and spaced repetition. Combined, these techniques provide a strong foundation to increase learning and retention. One eLearning platform in the corporate learning space that does this particularly well has been developed by a company called Axonify. With hundreds of thousands of learners on the Axonify platform, they’re seeing the combination of gamification and brain science pay off for their customers in terms of improved employee performance.
Retrieval practice requires learners to recall information rather than re-read or re-listen to the material. It tests the learner, not for a grade or to evaluate, but to help improve content recall and retention. Georgia Southern University professor John Dobson conducted a study in 2013 which found that a series of brief retrieval quizzes enhanced retention of previously tested material by as much as 40 percent.
Spaced repetition provides learners with content spaced over time, rather than all at once. In a 2012 article titled “Using Spacing to Enhance Diverse Forms of Learning: Review of Recent Research and Implications for Instruction,” researchers found that to promote long-term retention of knowledge, “students should receive spaced re-exposure to previously learned information.”
When considering gamification as an organizational learning approach, ensure that sound research-based methods are an integral part of the solution.
Myth Four: Gamification Is About Points, Badges And Leaderboards
People don’t play a game just for points or badges. They play for mastery, to overcome obstacles and to socialize with others. The most effective gamification efforts contain narrative, problem-solving, and continual feedback, as well as a high level of interactivity. These are the elements that deeply engage employees in learning, and which will therefore lead to the largest impact for the organization.
Mike Keeler, vice president of operations at Capital BlueCross, said a well-designed gamification effort gets employees interested in their own progress. “They want to know [their scores] versus us wanting to know it. That’s a huge change in the learning environment,” he said.
Incorporating Gamification Into Learning Strategy
More than 70% of the world’s largest 2,000 companies are expected to deploy at least one gamified application by year-end 2014, according to Gartner. The principle is being used to get employees into the gym, generate business leads, and improve customer service — and the success rates are astounding. Of course there are examples of failures, but these often occur when gamification is not executed well, or thoroughly integrated into part of an overarching strategy.
Gartner’s research vice president Brian Burke said for gamification to be effective, it must have three key elements: motivation, momentum, and meaning.
“The vast majority of gamified applications today lack or misplace at least one of these ingredients, which means gamified applications run the risk of falling into disuse, once their novelty wears off,” he said.
Gamification can’t consist of a tacked-on melange of meaningless, superficial game elements. An effective strategy requires structure and a framework for employees. You must clearly describe the challenge before them, make it clear how they can succeed, and explain why gamification is an important part of the training. It has to be part of a larger strategy. The results will be reward enough.