Game On! The Gamification of Learning and Why Few Companies Are Doing It Right


Gamification is a hot new buzz word in corporate training departments. Despite this hot new trend, few companies are actually applying gamification to learning.

So what is gamification? According to Kevin Werbach from Penn University, the definition of gamification is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems such as business impact and social challenges.*

According to recent studies, learners retain more information when gaming is used. In fact, knowledge retention is 17% higher when educational games are used in comparison to traditional lecture based training courses. Recent studies have also looked at the knowledge retention rates of education games versus group discussions, and gamification is still the better approach with leaners having a 5% higher knowledge retention rate when games are used. **

Why is gamification so successful at helping learner retain information? Learners are fully engaged at all times in a game, while this not always the case with other delivery methods.

So why aren’t more companies and corporate training departments using games? The reasons why are simple!

  • Most of us don’t know how to develop a learning experience where traditional storyboards are not used. - Most of us know how to develop eLearning modules and curriculums for a classroom environment but what about for a true game, where actions happen on every screen and they change every second based on the actions learner’s take? This type of interactivity can’t be scripted out in traditional storyboards, leaving many people unsure of what the instructional design process is for gamification.

  • ELearning programmers are very familiar with how to use authoring tools like Storyline, Captivate or Lectora but gaming engines are something new. – Many programmers use authoring tools with templates to develop eLearning. Using a gaming engine or something other then an eLearning authoring tool is something that many programmers have never considered and quite frankly, many programmers might not be willing (and in some cases might not have the skills) to use.

  • Change is scary - Change is hard work and the fear of failure by trying something new, is scary for most people. It is far easier for instructional designers to stick with storyboarding traditional eLearning modules, than to try something new, like gamification that requires more time and new skills.

So what do you do to create highly engaging learning games and how can you get beyond these three barriers?

We have recently developed some highly interactive mobile learning games for some of our Fortune 500 clients (think Candy Crush or Angry Birds) and in my next blog post I will share the process we used to get beyond the traditional storyboard approach and to create truly engaging and interactive learning games for any audience.

* Kevin Werbach. "(Re)Defining Gamification" Springer Lecture Notes in Computer Science 8462 (2014).

** Sitzman, T. (2011) A meta-analytic examination of the instructional effectiveness of computer-based simulation games. Personnel Psychology. Review of 65 studies. Chapter 4 “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.”

For many, gamification means a fun test for understanding like a Jeopardy game at the end of an eLearning module to test what the learner knows, but this is not true gamification.

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