Not Games, Gamification

I recently attended the ATD (Association for Talent Development) conference 2018 in San Diego and, outside of Barack Obama as one of the keynotes, the biggest takeaway for me was seeing and hearing all the ways in which gamification has matured.  The idea of integrating the appeal of gaming into learning is not new.  In early iterations, instructional designers placed versions of Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit into courses in the hopes of keeping students engaged and interested.  Now we know that it’s not games themselves, but rather the dynamics of gaming that draw people back.  These dynamics are:

  • Points
  • Leveling up
  • Goals or “missions”
  • Badges
  • Leaderboards
  • Unlocking
  • Events
  • Notifications
  • Quizzing
  • Visual progress

People have different motivators.  Some are motivated by competition, so seeing themselves on a leaderboard, or giving them the ability to level up (changing their level when reaching a certain threshold), will draw them back to training.  Others are motivated by discovery and prefer mission-driven learning or unlocks as a draw.  The balancing act comes in enmeshing enough game dynamics to appeal to everyone.  The difference in today’s eLearning is these gaming dynamics come in forms that do not look or feel like games.  They appear as points for time spent learning, points that can be redeemed for free coffee or company-branded swag, or as automatic notifications sent to managers announcing a team member’s completion of a course.  These types of features trigger the parts of our brains that are drawn to gaming and allow instructional designers to create sophisticated, professional content without gimmicky avatars going on adventures or complicated trivia productions.

It was exciting to see firsthand so many examples of subtle yet effective uses of gamification delivering on its promise.  Next we can expect to see similar focus on development with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality!

By Pam Conway