How can gamification be used to enhance e-learning?

Gamification in e-learning has had some bad rep lately, probably because people are finally starting to see for what it is. The hype and shouting that it would fix all engagement issues are thankfully coming to an end. It is making way for real projects with realistic goals and intentions. Unlike some in the gamification industry, I have always maintained that on average between 10 to 20% of improvement comes about from gamification in user engagement, knowledge retention, etc. But that happens only if and when the basics are also covered,

What are the other basics that need to be in place to make gamified e-learning work?

The learning experience always starts by exploring what your learner already knows and where they may benefit from improving. Based on this starting point a learning designer would map out content and work with subject matter experts to generate an engaging learning design. The learning designer in tune with learning science will know when to create theory and when to build in practice.

Prove it framework of learning gamification
Prove it! Learning gamification framework by An Coppens (2014)

In order to create a gamified learning journey, you need to understand why the learner learns and what level of proof they want. When you know this, then you can start applying game psychology to encourage them to repeat steps and explore how their choices may result in outcomes that may be different from what they intended. Content gamification can make the content more interesting through the use of narrative, scenarios with choices and consequences, insights and feedback as you go.

When you are then moulding the content into a learning module, the design and functionality become the next focus. Today’s learner is used to great user experiences from the apps they use for personal use. Anything less will drive them away and will basically make them go to social media or other online resources to learn about the content. User experience, graphics and ease of access are critical for your e-learning to succeed above and beyond gamification.

In my Prove It framework for the gamification of learning, I include a number of elements that allow for first-person learning, which is a departure from passive click through e-learning where you are merely an onlooker. In games you are the active player, this should be the same when you apply gamification to e-learning. You may still have instruction happening, so one doesn’t rule out the other by default.

content gamification in the prove it framework
Prove it! Learning gamification framework by An Coppens (2014)


What get’s them started rarely keeps them going

When you are new to a subject, you may have the enthusiasm of a novice and look for anything and everything about that topic. Once you have reached some level of mastery, you may need nudges to revisit materials or to continue levelling up. It is here that systems gamification can help you forward.

The underlying assumption here is that your e-learning also increases in difficulty to match the learner’s expansive mindset or it has a good reason for repetition to be critical. In the language learning app Duolingo repetition is seen as a good thing, to encourage this they have included login streaks for daily practice and energy levels to indicate when you last went through some vocabulary. Keeping the energy up is encouraged, just like keeping an unbroken streak.

If you try to apply the same game mechanics to e-learning that requires less practice and where the learner really doesn’t see the point in it, is missing the core learning science behind it. In my learning gamification framework, I listed some of the learning reasons behind game mechanics which I see as essential to applying the right gamification mechanics in the right place for the end-user.

Here are some of the gamification elements that may enhance the process of systems gamification. Normally I would expect to see them in your learning management system or learning experience system for best effects.

Level 2 or systems gamification to enhance learning through gamification
Prove it! Learning gamification framework by An Coppens (2014)

How will you know they have learned?

e-learning in most companies needs to deliver business results. A lot of learning teams are now working with business results in mind. When you have these the level of proof required from learning will also become easier to find. If these business intentions then match the personal intentions of the learner, you have a win/win learning scenario.

If only it was that simple, I can hear some of you thinking. And yes, it is true that what organisations want their people to learn doesn’t always match what the individual wants to learn. Equally in some companies giving the business reasons for training is not yet standard practice and I would strongly suggest that you look for it regardless of whether it is given. Knowing the ‘why’ from both angles can help you create a way more meaningful and impactful learning experience.

In my 3rd and final level of the Prove it! learning gamification model, I included some of the ways proof can be established. Also, know that some people actually don’t require proof they just want to know how to do something. For example, an accounting student may have forgotten how to add a particular formula to an excel sheet, so a quick answer or cheat sheet will do the trick. you don’t need them to take a whole e-learning module no matter how gamified it is.

Level 3 evidence of learning in the learning gamification framework of An Coppens
Prove it! Learning gamification framework by An Coppens (2014)

Some of the levels of proof in learning are what you would like to see from learning management or ticking boxes perspective. I would urge you to look at it from the learners’ point of view instead. Did they get what they came for? If yes, you have achieved the learning objectives from the learner.

Learning outcomes on an organisational level may still be there and then become part of the larger performance question. Are your people buying into these outcomes? For best results, they at least should be willing to consider them as important enough to invest the time and effort.

I hope we went some way in explaining how gamification can be used to enhance e-learning. In any case, we would love to talk to you further about your learning related gamification projects, you can contact us any time.

Is mastery just a matter of hours spent at a topic?

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Why Facebook groups are not effective for membership, training and support

Facebook groups were originally seen as an easy way to build up a group, without the need to build your own platform. Facebook did a great job enticing a lot of us into their platform and setting up groups. These days I see a greater and greater number of membership and training providers turning to Facebook groups for their membership element. Even software companies have set up support groups on the platform. I believe this is a majorly risky strategy…

Why it is a risky strategy

Facebook will change their algorithms at will and you have 0 control over it as the group owner. User posts no matter how valid will disappear and you only see what Facebook deems interesting enough according to their rules. As a member of a number of groups, I see my posts disappearing in the swamp and never receive an answer. No matter how good the owner is, I only receive answers when it is a group that is relatively inactive.

I understand that when you are starting out cheap and cheerful is the way forward. At that stage, you may use a Facebook group to test your market and try out if your idea for a community has actual wings. If it has, then move the community onto your own platforms aka website as soon as you possibly can. One of my mentors James Schramko calls that concept “Owning the racecourse”, he is an internet marketer with a very successful community following for years, where you as the owner set the rules and own the knowledge and data and you control everything that happens in the group.

So if the algorithmic risk is something that doesn’t bother you, then explore the risk of Facebook closing your group down at any time when they change the rules. You instantly lose all the members and their data as well as any knowledge shared within the group. You wouldn’t be the first, it would have happened to.

Why is it not effective

From a member, client or course participants’ perspective, it immediately screams cheap and for some of us a bit worried about our privacy it raises a concern because we know that is Facebook’s biggest priority. If I have paid good money to be part of a course, use a tool or belong to a membership group, then I would like to be given something useful in return. A group where my messages and questions get lost, is not high on my useful ranking. In these groups, the squeakiest wheel get’s the most attention, often to the detriment of other quality questions and knowledge sharing.

I am making the big assumption that you created a course, membership community or software tool to help your end-users and that you care about them and their success with your stuff. In my view dumping them in a Facebook group is not the solution, nor does it show them much respect for their investment in your product and services.

I recently signed up for a few courses with experts and paid good money for them and both offered me a Facebook group. I suffer from distraction overwhelm when I have to enter their groups. A question I posted earlier will likely never be answered because it has vanished in the never-ending stream of others. The more this happens the less likely I am to engage in their communities. I am not sure if this has happened to you, but I hazard a guess that you may have found yourself looking for something specific on Facebook and 20 minutes later you are still there trawling through stuff without actually remembering what you were there for in the first place.

Is that the customer experience you want to be associated with?

What should you do instead?

This day and age you have absolutely no excuse to not have a community on your own website or on a dedicated community platform. If you have a website, then explore the plugins or add-ons available to set up your community there. If you are not sure even where to start, tell us what your website is working on and we can help you find a solution, even within small budgets.

If you are hosting your courses on other platforms look for those that have in-built communities. More and more course hosting tools have these tools built in and if they can’t facilitate it within their tools, explore others or link two of them together. Yes, it likely means a bit of an investment financially, but then if you want to be taken seriously and give a great customer experience, having the control strings in your hand in my view is an advantage.

For your client it means they find all your good stuff in one place, without the shiny object distractions lurking in other parts of another platform. It gives them stress-free access to what they bought from you in the first place. Customer experience matters and keeping them with you on your platform for as long as possible is what companies like Facebook, Netflix, Amazon, LinkedIn and others have figured out.

I am a member of a few communities and I truly value those that I can log into and find what I was looking for in a heartbeat. The owners of these communities made sure I knew where to find things, how to post and what to look for when I was a new member. Typically here I find that the owner is also the one answering questions.

This is the kind of user experience I am happy to pay for and appreciate.

Do you learn better when you feel part of a community?

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Creating a feeling of achievement

Gamification is often used to add feelings of achievement into an experience. Achievement is earned over time through completion of challenges or tasks. The effort the end-user has to put in to earn their achievement will determine how strong the feeling of achievement will be.

Climbing Mount Everest

People that climb Mount Everest and other major mountains, often cry when they get to the top. The climbers may comment afterwards that they didn’t expect to cry but their sense of achievement sort of expressed the amazing feat for them. Tears act as a safety valve by releasing excess stress hormones such as cortisol. To create this kind of response the effort is one that that takes preparation, planning and in a lot of cases more than one attempt to make it all the way to the top.

In a work setting a Mount Everest style achievement, may be making a promotion that you have worked hard for or closing a deal that has taken a number of months, meetings, pitches, proposals and more to realise.

Designing for achievement in gamification

When we are designing for achievement in gamification, we may also need to build in effort and tough levels. Some of the early gamification efforts gave badges somewhat like confetti under the premise of creating a sense of achievement, most of us have realised by now that this doesn’t work. They can be useful as milestone markers but their frequency and what you need to do to earn tell you quickly how valuable they are.

In learning, we associate major achievement rituals at graduation after a 4-year degree programme for example. However, completing your annual compliance training will be much less exciting, the virtue of having to do it each year is one thing and then the added perception and sometimes reality that you have seen all the material before. Making compliance and other training of this kind unnecessarily hard is also not the answer, if you want your people to comply.

Best suggestion for this kind of programme is to make it as relevant and real as possible with tangible scenarios and having your people make choices with consequences. One consequence can be that they go to jail or cause the company a big fine, of course, it needs to be a real potential risk. The more thinking and chances there are to be slightly wrong and having to start again will create a perception that first of all this isn’t as easy as I expected. Secondly, it will stimulate a bit of brain activity to make sure they read the scenarios and choices better next time. If it then takes a few run-throughs before an individual can hit a perfect score with a clean record of no bad choices, you will have evoked some stress along the way and the chances of them feeling a bit of pride and achievement are higher.

Achievement differs on an individual level

We can’t discuss achievement as a blanket approach. How we experience the world is vastly individual. Not everyone cries at the top of Mount Everest, some just sit and take it all in and others may resort to a victory dance of some kind. The work in gamification by Nicole Lazzarro around easy and hard fun as well as the player types by Andrzej Marczewski combined gives some insight that preferences exist depending on player types. Although the image is a bit old and newer versions are available, it still illustrates the point that knowing that there are differences in what players respond to and the type of level of challenge to create.

player types and fun keys

From a gamification design perspective, it is therefore good to be aware of what kind of players you have in an organisation and when they experience a sense of achievement at work. I suggest asking them in your user research when starting a project.

Achievement mechanics

The game mechanics that can create a sense of achievement are quite plentiful, here is a selection of them:

  • Levels: bronze, silver, gold
  • Status: novice, intermediate, master
  • Quality indicators: 1-5 stars
  • Progression markers: badges, points or progression bars
  • Certification
  • Victory points
  • Resources gained

You may not need to use all of them, but you may want to build them up over time and effort. The critical key is to make them meaningful by keeping them relevant to the process, the job and the level of ability you expect players to have. Another important factor is to indicate how these achievement markers can be earned, otherwise, the exercise will become pointless quite quickly.

Roadmaps and visual prompts can serve as a great reminder of the journey taken. When you are standing on the top of the mountain, you can look back to where you started. Giving a visual prompt through an image or a heads up display where all the data are gathered can again increase the sense of achievement an individual experiences.

Just understand that everyone will react differently and whilst some may do a victory dance, others will prefer to just smile knowingly and in private.

Gamification trends for 2019

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When platforms make it hard for end-users

In a world where you need a password or pin code for everything platforms can really make life ridiculously hard and prevent people from even finding your great content. I recently subscribed to a number of courses from a number of different thought leaders. As it turns out they happen to use the same platform to deliver their courses from.

Failure to login

Unfortunately thanks to the ridiculous platform login, none of them have a distinctive personalised login URL, so there is absolutely no way for the end-user to log in to the relevant course without having to request new password several times on each potential version of the platform.

After 4 unsuccessful tries, I went on and logged into to my audible account and listened to a book instead. I was keen to listen to the materials I had bought, but first thing in the morning password soup is not a great starter for a productive mood.

bad user experience design at login

I guess it is user experience 101 for platforms. If you have multiple people selling individual programs from your platform, you need more than my as the login URL. When I asked support for the platform to help, they referred me back to support for each and every course provider.

We give a lot of advice to buyers of platforms and occasionally also to platform providers, so here is another thing to add to our list namely to make sure you have a unique login URL from your platform providers so that your end-users have an easy user experience logging on.

In a corporate setting, platforms tend to be all set up with a single sign-on, to make it easy for employees to log in once to their computer and then to automatically have access to everything they need and have authority to use. In a small business, single sign-on is not always a given due to IT probably not being in-house.

For the platforms where the creators of courses are likely to sell to an end-user also known as B2C models, it is a must have to have unique URL for all your course creators. Unless of course you would think even further outside of the box and create a way for the end-user to merge courses on your platform, where they sign-up once even with different providers and access everything they have bought with one login.

With gamification often delivered through the use of platforms, we have to pay special attention to the user experience. Most of the time the gamification platform is integrated on existing platforms through API’s and no additional login is required to view your achievements and progress.

Login failure is the cause for many people to desert your platform and well-intentioned and possibly great content or tools. It is like showing up for work and not being able to get in the front door.

Failure to onboard

Another frequent missing part of user experience is that the design, first of all, isn’t user-friendly enough nor intuitive for users to naturally find their way around. Or it may just require a little bit of instruction to get people going and working on things.

I recently started playing a game and although I reached level 6 in the game by randomly clicking around, I am still not sure how it really works. A quick walk through or some strategically placed help buttons can alleviate this hurdle.

When it comes to learning design, learning management and gamification platforms, a lot of them require a bit of knowledge for you to be able to create a meaningful experience. On one learning design tool, we are 6 months using it and still trying to figure out in an easy way to style our work they way we want to. Having too many choices is not necessarily a good thing.

On a learning management application I was uploading some materials for a client and when I checked the release my content never showed. I couldn’t figure out why, so I had to spend useless time with support to get it fixed, whereas on-boarding would have made this something I didn’t need support for.

On a gamification platform, the choices and menus are often named slightly different from one provider to the next. Having more choices again doesn’t mean that it is actually better. Some of the best I have worked with provided simple choices and configuration menus, it makes it easier for me as the gamification designer, but also for the in-company admin or editor if they need to make changes.

Observation is key to success

I reckon a lot of these user experience issues occur due to lack of user testing or observation of the users trying to work with your system. At the end of the day, it is the end-user who will give most feedback and if in a company a vast majority complains, eventually the systems will come up for reconsideration. In a business to business sales model, you may receive feedback only from the administrators, so it is your responsibility to include end-users of all abilities and lack thereof to use the system you provide.

In business to consumer model, your buyers will quite quickly do the telling with their lack of use. Telling them to submit their improvements to an idea bank for your development roadmap is rarely satisfactory. Observing them while you are building the platform and going back to people for user testing is critical in my view to get to the right balance.

The best way to test if people find your platform intuitively easy to use is to observe novice users in their journey to get started. If you need to explain, you are missing a trick. If you need to build a course to have them understand what to do then again you need to re-think what you have built and simplify.


Why understanding the process is key for gamification design

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Reflecting back for progress feedback

In accounting your annual accounts provide a great opportunity to reflect back on the previous year and how certain deals or decisions lead you to the outcome you have today. In games going back to a first level or the beginning of a game often gives you a feeling that you have come a long way. If you are stuck on a particularly hard level, it is a fun thing to go back down a few levels and regenerate your confidence and efforts.

feedback is the breakfast of champions

Feedback is the breakfast of champions

So where is this all going, you may ask? Well, what brought this blog post about is signing up for a course and starting their online package. The online course whilst containing good value information was effectively a set of podcast recordings. I prefer reading, seeing and listening altogether to make the most of an online course and also some element of interaction (don’t get me started on the lack of structure and how it made it super hard for me as the learner). But the podcast raised a point, that I knew I had covered before in another live course and I wondered if I had actually moved on from that point, so I went looking for my course notes and the handbook.

As I went through the notes of the live course and my own thinking from 2007, it was fun to see progress and also interesting to see how some of the things I wanted then are so far removed from what I want now. I will be doing some of the exercises from that course again and save them in the folder to maybe reflect back on 10 or so years from now. It is insightful. Either way, I felt I had progressed but also not as much as I would have wanted. Hence going through the exercises again with a different mindset.

In order to improve, we look for feedback on our self today most of the time. I would say looking back and reflecting on your progress to date based on courses, notes or journals you had is useful feedback too. Probably also much more personal and close to the bone, because it is your reflection of you. Seeing it with fresh eyes and very likely after 10 years a different reality and mindset will hopefully give you some additional feedback that you hadn’t counted on.

Practise makes better

The course exercises were fun to revisit and I am thinking of adding them to my annual review process, just to take stock more often and build up an improvement trend analysis. Some exercises will prove useful regularly and some potentially become redundant over time because you have mastered or achieved what you intended.

As a big consumer of books, courses, articles and member of specific mentoring groups, my focus is on implementing what I learn as I go. Each course has edged me forward incrementally thanks to my execution on the gathered knowledge. I am good ad deep diving in new areas if they interest me and when it is new, the application may be conceptually clear but not always immediate from a putting it into practise perspective, this is another reason why reflecting back to progress can be useful.

How does this relate to gamification?

In my view, feedback and progress tracking is pretty much core to everything we have worked on in the past number of years in our gamification design. Seen that a lot of people follow my blogs for personal development or in the learning space, I thought I would share some personal approaches that help me move forward and maybe it can inspire someone else to go back and find useful exercises to bring back to today. Repetition is known to be useful for retention of information. Repeating an exercise with fresh eyes a few years after the first time, may give you surprising new insights and drive you further forward.

Is comparing good for you?

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