Training Strategies For Better Gamification
Gamification has become a dominant trend in the corporate training industry. First popularized in 2010, multiple studies have demonstrated the positive impact of certain aspects of gamification, like increasing user engagement, motivation, completion rates, learning outcomes, etc. However, using gamification in a way that is effective may require more than common practices. Many gamification strategies are easy to use and the relationship between engagement and learning outcomes is well-known; however, using gamification in a way that is more effective may require going beyond the status quo.
Common Practices: Effective Vs. Ineffective
People often misunderstand the term gamification. There’s a common misconception that gamification consists of converting training content into a game-like format. On the contrary, it’s more about using strategies that are common in games and incorporating them into a learning strategy to enhance the User Experience.
When implemented successfully, these strategies promote people’s natural drives toward competition, learning, status, and achievement.
That being said, it’s important to remember that not all gamification strategies are created equal. A few common practices include:
- Performance graphs
- Meaningful stories
Looking at the research that criticizes gamification, it’s clear that the most effective practices, such as storytelling, are often the most underused, while the least effective, such as point systems, are overused.
For an example of an overused strategy, let’s examine points. Having a point system is a popular strategy because it can easily increase engagement and it’s easy to implement. But the problem with a point-based system, at least on its own, is that it does little to create lasting positive behavior changes. It can also create a false sense of accomplishment when the points are assigned arbitrarily. The points need to have value based on the effort it took to get them. Moreover, the points should be assigned on a variable-ratio schedule of reinforcement. While points do certainly help—the effects of positive reinforcement with point systems are well-known—this gamification tactic needs to be bound to best practices in behavioral science.
Now, let’s look at an example of a more effective strategy: storytelling. Unfortunately, it’s underused despite the significant impact on learning outcomes. People are hardwired to see the world through narratives, and a great story will promote empathy and provide relevance. But, the infrequent use of storytelling is most often due to difficulties in creating a great story. Drafting relevant, engaging stories requires more artistry than mechanics. A good story is also very difficult to replicate and apply to other situations.
While effective gamification strategies require more work to implement, the payoff will be worth it. Using ineffective strategies (e.g., point systems), unless coupled with more powerful strategies, will lead to mediocre results at best.
Gamification In The Corporate Landscape
While gamification is often helpful and has been put to creative use in a wide array of industries, it’s not always the best strategy for your learning objectives. Before determining which strategy to use, it may be useful to consider whether gamification is appropriate for your content. Furthermore, it can be difficult to capture definitive performance data through games. Unless the game prompts critical thinking, game scores may not be representative of knowledge and acquired behaviors. In that case, it may be best to use gamification to augment traditional training modalities and strategies.
Various industries have made use of gamification in the User Experience Design, and it goes well beyond corporate training:
- Marketing: effective strategies include brandification, transmedia, and advergames
- Inspiration: a study at MIT demonstrated that gamification is effective at generating ideas and boosting creativity
- Health: typically, point systems used for gym visits, specific exercises, and adhering to diets
- Education: from Khan Academy to DuoLingo, gamification has also become popular in the education sphere
Gamification has been used to great effect in many other areas from politics in China  to crowdsourcing research  in Washington State. Whether it works or not though will depend on a combination of proper research and skillful implementation.
While gamification is quite popular, it’s often not used to great effect. While the easy-to-implement strategies like point-based systems offer some improvement and increased engagement, doing more to create effective learning experiences through storytelling and creative combinations of the other practices could create better results than expected.