Let’s begin with two fundamental questions: “What is gamification and why use it?” It’s important to understand that gamification is NOT dependent on a particular authoring platform, feature set, or software version. Rather, it is a way of designing and developing learning experiences using tools such as Storyline, Adobe Creative Suite, and Audacity. According to the Engagement Alliance (http://www.engagementalliance.org/), the organization that has developed gamification certification training, “Gamification is the process of using game mechanics and game thinking in non-gaming contexts to engage users and to solve problems. Gamification leverages the game design, to create the optimal context for behavior change and successful outcomes.” You are already familiar with many examples of loyalty programs and behavioral economics but may not have known that they were tied to gamification principles. For example, are you a car rental gold member (tiered program), do you receive points toward cashback on your credit card (point system), or are you an Amazon Prime member (VIP benefits)?
Deepening engagement with content is recognized as one of the primary business cases of incorporating gamification, according to a leading expert in the gamification field, Gabe Zichermann. If this reason resonates with your business’s strategy or your department’s objectives, then gamification is something worthy of your consideration.
Within the context of eLearning courses, gamification strives to increase learner’s engagement with the course material, specifically to deepen understanding and ultimately affect positive behavior change and work performance. Gamification can increase learner’s engagement in several ways. One way is through the use of an intrinsic reinforcement loop. In this loop, learners are challenged with a gamified task, achieve it successfully, a little of the brain’s pleasure neurotransmitter (dopamine), which in turn motivates them to complete the next task. The key to this loop lies in the intrinsic nature of the reward we receive when we successfully accomplish a challenge.
Another way games increase engagement is by providing the learner an opportunity to shift his or her mental process, in effect, to get a fun break. Games, by their very nature, are designed to be fun. When used at strategic points in an eLearning course, games can energize learners by providing a break from the typical presentation of material, while still reviewing the content. Games are best utilized to surprise and delight the learner and can be used throughout the course. Use games at the beginning or end of sections, or when a new concept is introduced; the key is to vary when and how they are incorporated.
Games also provide multiple ways of engaging with the material. Learners interact with the content through multiple avenues, including auditory (sounds, music, narration), visual (graphics, pictures, icons), and kinesthetic (timed achievement tasks, drag and drop). Using these multiple avenues to process the activity activates more areas of the brain, and thus can increase understanding and retention of the material.