Gamification as a concept has been around since 2002 when Nick Pelling coined the term but has become increasingly popular in the last decade. In a nutshell, gamification refers to the use of game elements in a non-gaming context to drive user engagement, loyalty or motivate the desired action.
When done right, using gamification in learning contexts can have multiple benefits, including an improved attitude towards learning, higher motivation, and better engagement rates. As a course designer, of course you want your learners to be engaged with the materials you offer them and motivated to finish your course.
There are many ways to include gamification in an online course, but you need to test various techniques to find out exactly which ones your audience responds to. While there is no perfect recipe, the following three ideas are a good way to get you started:
Start with levels of progress
People are drawn to a little competition; that feeling of being better is the best feeling. And even though your online course does not require learners to compete against each other in any activity, you can still include levels of progress in your course design.
Your learners can be better than how they were yesterday. This sense of personal progress can be far more motivating than any other classic competition.
Using a progress bar or any other method to show progress within a learning module works well for people who prefer to reach the next level of any learning module by improving on their previous accomplishments.
Knowing exactly where they are in the whole learning journey — how many and what kind of activities they need to do to get to the next level; how many levels there are in total — contributes to better management of time and resources.
One thing to keep in mind when creating a gamified course is to gradually increase the difficulty of the course game. This principle is the same for simple, match three balls of the same color games, as well as for more complex, strategic, network games. The first few levels are easier to pass, but things need to get more serious and demand more skills from the players/learners as they progress along the learning path.
Don’t forget about rewards
Gamified online courses need a little more than a set of social features to make users feel their learning progress is really appreciated. That's where rewards like points, leaderboards, badges, trophies, and certificates come in handy. Positive reinforcements contribute to a pleasant learning environment and increase motivation.
Here are the most useful — and used — rewards within a gamified online course:
- points — the more the merrier; 1,000 is better than 100 and 1,000,000 is better than 1,000;
- leaderboards — working harder to get there and showing everyone else who they're dealing with;
- badges — striving for perfection and being proud of one's mastery of skills;
- trophies — always starting and always finishing a job, no matter how difficult;
- certificates — just in case someone doesn't seem very convinced with the spoken words.
However, there's no use in collecting hundreds of thousands of virtual points if those points don't mirror knowledge retention and real-world improvement of skills, so make sure to connect rewards with real outcomes for your learners.
Offer instant feedback
We live in a fast world. Everyone is hurried and everything needs to get done faster: we speed walk on our way to the workplace, we speed dial people during the day, we even speed date after hours. So you shouldn’t be surprised that your learners demand instant feedback regarding any aspect of your course.
Feedback needs to be delivered as fast as possible and on target. Otherwise, your learners will add up new knowledge on top of bad or unclear information and this eventually leads to poor learning outcomes and also poor reviews of your course.
From "Time's up!" and "You need [insert big number of] points to unlock this level" to "Wrong answer! [followed by a detailed explanation]", you have plenty of ways to deliver timely and relevant feedback to your learners and keep them on the right track to success.
Try to include personalized feedback on any learning activity that has the potential to be unclear. This way, you'll minimize the chances of misunderstandings and maximize the results of each learning module.
Gamification takes a look at the elements of fun, interactivity, and rewards that make gaming so addictive and works out a way to apply them in education and work. Including gamified elements in your online course is a great way to keep your learners hooked.