‘Gamification’ must be a subject everyone’s heard of at some point or another. But, some may ask, what does it actually involve? You could have an entirely different idea to the next person, but who’s right and who’s wrong? Is there one specific way to approach gamification?
It can be difficult to really identify what gamification involves, but in the context of elearning, the idea is to apply game-like elements to courses in order to make them more engaging.
So, we decide that a piece of elearning should be ‘gamified’, a promising word that could pretty much mean anything for our budding course – from an intricate display searing streams of knowledge into the memory, to a tedious affair awarding you meaningless virtual points for reading eight paragraphs crammed onto the screen in excruciatingly small text.
This broadness does have its advantages – it means that the things you can do with gamification in elearning are incredibly varied. Unfortunately, it also means that they could be incredibly dreadful.
Let’s look at how we can avoid that.
How do you gamify elearning?
While gamification is a broad subject, there are some common features that make a game what it is. We could apply these features to an elearning course.
A feedback system.
An abstract challenge or goal.
Outcomes (you won, you lost, etc.).
To have a successful piece of gamified elearning, you don’t necessarily need to shove every single feature of a game into it, but in a broad sense, these are the tools you would be using. At this point, the hard part becomes figuring out what direction to take with your gamified elearning – these features are useful to know, but they’re a bit abstract. Let’s look at the practical applications.
Gamification in practice
So, using those features of a game, there are two main ideas on how they can be applied to elearning.
Gamify the learning content.
Gamify the supporting content.
Bear in mind that these two approaches aren’t mutually exclusive – you could use a bit of both in a module. In the example below, we’ll only use one of them at a time.
Let’s say that we want to produce an elearning module about customer service and we need to figure out how to set about gamifying it.
Gamifying the learning content
If we follow approach #1 – gamifying the learning content – our task is to replace textbook-like reams of information about the subject with a gamified version. There’s no one way to do this, but here’s what we could do:
Simulate customer service in real life situations.
One great way to learn is to simulate problems in a realistic setting. Simulations are a useful way of teaching people by allowing them to test the same actions in a safe environment. The ‘rules’ of the game will therefore encourage learners to do what they would do in a real scenario.
One of our own projects, The Network, simulates call centre conversations with different customer types that include The Chatterbox, The Complainer, The Happy One, The Know-It-All, The Impatient One and The Silent One. Each customer type was purposely developed as a bite-size elearning module aimed at customer service representatives who wanted to brush up on their skills.
Learners are rewarded with stars as they complete the objectives of each level.
The performance meters provide them with visual feedback on the accuracy of their customer service decisions and stars are awarded for every meter filled. They must be quick as well as accurate in order to score points and earn themselves a place on the leaderboard.
At the end of each level, they receive a personalised feedback summary as well as an opportunity to retry and collect any stars that escaped their grasp.
Create a zombie survival scenario.
The long-awaited apocalypse of the walking dead has finally come to pass. Zombies are chewing through cables, attacking staff members and not even waiting their turn in line. The customers at your bank are getting angry. The website has crashed, the windows have been boarded up and the contact centre is starting to receive complaints. The customers want their money to buy enough tinned food, sandbags and shotgun cartridges to see out the latest apocalypse.
This scenario combines what would otherwise be an ordinary customer service simulation with a strange theme and a basic premise. Because the theme isn’t something you’d normally associate with a subject like customer service, this can entertain people and help them to remember the information that they learn. The ‘abstract challenge’, or goal, will be to provide good service to all your customers, with feedback and outcomes dependent on how successful you are.
Create an adventure
Create a quirky adventure about a hard-boiled private detective hired to investigate cases for dissatisfied customers. In true film noir style, the detective spouts colourful one-liners and dubious metaphors in a loose-cannon quest to get to the bottom of it all.
The idea behind this is similar to the previous one, though this time the strange theme is also combined with a narrative. A narrative allows you to cover the subject in more detail, with multiple scenarios and interactions linked together. In this example, our gamified learning has the goal of uncovering the culprit behind city-wide incidents of dreadful customer service. In order to achieve that goal, you would have to learn information about customer service and apply it in order to complete interactions.
The interactions (or cases) themselves can take the form of mini-games, each with their own set of rules. Winning or losing these games could contribute to the overall outcome of the course. That is, if you fail too many of the interactions, your detective ultimately fails the main case. If you wanted to take things further, you could even have a more ‘neutral’ outcome, where the case is solved but the bad guy gets away. Learners would be encouraged to keep playing and keep learning until they get the best possible outcome.
We’ve worked on something like this ourselves, complete with snazzy period dress. That time was for a module on health and safety, but you can apply the same concept to any suitable subject really, including customer service.
In the end, you learn about what you’re meant to do, but in a way that makes it part of the game. However, you can see one pitfall of this approach – it often sounds fun, but it’s going to take a lot of effort and planning to create. On a different note, the content you want to teach might need to remain unchanged, for practical reasons or those of the client. This would be where approach #2 comes in – gamifying the supporting content.
Gamifying the supporting content
This time, the learning content remains more or less unchanged. Users will get the same kind of information about customer service as in normal elearning, but the way they access or interact with this information is what can be gamified.
Here’s what we could do:
Create an interactive menu.
This is as simple as taking a regular list-based menu and changing it to suit the theme. A customer service menu, for instance, could show a number of different customers queued up in front of you. After completing a section of the module, one customer will happily leave, with the module continuing like this until all customers have left and the user is prompted to click on a ‘closed’ sign, to symbolise the end of the module.
Through this approach, successful completion of the regular learning content influences outcomes in the interactive menu. We could take this further by adding risks – failure during the regular learning content could lead to an increasing number of customers in the interactive menu becoming angry, for instance.
Add completion rewards.
In another of our modules developed for Rugby World Cup 2015, we used a feedback system that rewarded people with badges for completing different sections of the menu, but we also awarded them a certain number of stars based on their performance. They didn’t need to win all the stars, but it gave them an incentive to do their best in the module.
If we wanted to take this idea further, special rewards could be unlocked after you’ve collected a certain number of stars. These could be tiered rewards as well – collect 10 stars and unlock a special congratulatory video; collect 20 for an outtake; and collect all of them for a special interaction where you pile your stars up and melt them down into a gold statue of yourself. There’s plenty of options to try out, but importantly this encourages people to learn the content thoroughly enough to collect all the stars and unlock better rewards.
Add mini games to the module.
Ideally, these would be interspersed between the regular content. They could be used as a way of giving the learner a break between reading information, or information could be unlocked as a reward for completing one.
These are only a few of the possibilities when it comes to gamifying content. Putting them into broad categories like this can help you to figure out the approach you want to take, especially in the unlikely event that an audience wouldn’t appreciate your desire for zombie apocalypse scenarios.
Since it’s broad though, the next step would be to dissect a piece of gamified elearning, in order to provide a clearer picture of the ways the ‘game’ bits and the ‘learning’ bits interact. However, that shall have to be a topic for another day.
For more information about gamification and how we could help you, contact us on +44(0)113 323 0760 – for a taster, you could also check out the gamified England Rugby World Cup 2015 elearning case study.
Gamification... Level 1: Complete!