15 March 2018

How Gamification Drives Learner Motivation

  • Gamification
  • Learner Engagement
Author: Declan Mulkeen

The Modern Learner – the impatient, overwhelmed and distracted employee – is now the most common corporate learning challenge that HR and learning professionals face today. With so many work-life pressures, it is no wonder that today’s employees find it difficult to engage with learning initiatives. There is hope on the horizon with organizations now exploring how gamification techniques can be harnessed to drive learner motivation.

You will no doubt recall with vivid reality some of the best games you played as a child, where your imagination was the best toolkit available. The sights, sounds, sensations, and even smells have been imprinted onto your memory thanks to the simple everyday act of playing.

As an adult, we now know that ‘Gamification’ of Learning, where game elements like challenge and reward are used to enhance learning can be key to learner engagement. It does much more than just create learner motivation, gamification of learning is serious business and can also start to tackle serious challenges faced by businesses in an era of massive cultural and technological change.

Demystifying the Modern Learner

How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

Gamification: a serious business

So how does gamification work? Quite simply, it triggers emotions that are linked to positive user experiences and creates a learning environment of reward for effort. 

Gamification motivates learners to get involved, stay motivated, and retain outcomes much longer. So how does gamification work? In simple terms, gamification: 

  • Motivates learner through gradual progression and achievement
  • Recognizes excellent performance or strong participation
  • Creates friendly competition amongst learners and teams

While it’s commonly assumed that gamifying learning courses is merely a pleasant distraction or attention grabber, it is far more useful tool than people tend to give it credit for.

Learners now learn differently than (they) did even a generation ago” and “you can’t hold people’s attention the way you used to.

According to educational video game designer Marc Prensky, “students now learn differently than they did even a generation ago” and “you can’t hold people’s attention the way you used to.” Because of this apparent attention drain games are becoming more important than ever when it comes to learner motivation.

As gamification makes seemingly mundane tasks fun, using it appropriately can boost participation rates in learning courses, increase employee motivation and even improve retention.

Transformation through motivation

Making work, and learning, more fun increases employees’ ability to retain skills by 40%. 

Research shows that 70% of business transformation efforts fail due to lack of employee engagement. This level of ‘failure to engage’ clearly isn’t sustainable and businesses need to engage employees in such a way that they don’t just sign up for the job—they sign up for the entire ride.

Engagement or lack of it isn’t a new problem. It’s just an increasingly important one that can be fuelled by workplace favoritism, lack of feedback and transparency, and ill-defined goals; all things that erode the loyalty, happiness, and motivation of professional teams.

Motivation through gamification promises to breathe new motivation and engagement into employees.

Learner motivation: from fear to fun

So, it’s time to get serious about playing because when it comes to learning, gamification isn’t just for fun. Fun is merely a part of the delivery mechanism. For some, work is not considered to be fun and poorly delivered work-related training is no exception.

If you can make something more fun, and include notions of play, you can get people to do things they otherwise might not want to do.

Apart from ‘not being fun’, for many, there is a natural element of fear and anxiety associated with learning. Starting a training session with these preconceptions is clearly counterproductive since common sense tells us that learning under duress will be less than a positive experience.

Gabe Zicherman, author of the book “Gamification by Design”, has carried out research which suggests that Gamification is a way to not only make things more fun but also more productive.

Making work, and learning, more fun increases employees’ ability to retain skills by 40%. 

Zicherman also goes on to say, “If you can make something more fun, and include notions of play, you can get people to do things they otherwise might not want to do.”

This increased willingness to participate and engage is supported biologically by dopamine, which is released when a person experiences pleasure and increases motivation to continue doing the thing that gave them pleasure. This is how gaming rewards work.

Further reading

Gamification:The Key to Learner Engagement?

Gamification in Learning: Much More Serious than Just a Game

The Impact of Gamification: 10 Ways Gamification is Changing Corporate Learning

Conclusion: The clear science of gamification

If playing games, or at least using game elements to induce learner motivation is all it takes then surely anyone can do this? Maybe not. This all comes down to changing human behavior and that isn’t exactly easy. Stanford University’s experimental psychologist Professor B.J. Fogg, says that there are three elements that must converge in order to change behavior:

  • Motivation
  • Ability
  • Trigger

One more thing. They all have to happen simultaneously. Some learning vendors are already ahead of the game when it comes to integrating these elements into their learning programs and know that successful gamification tools work because they:

  • Give users the motivation to do something (the chance to win, receive rewards or gain recognition)
  • Give users the ability to carry out a task – by facilitating it, or breaking each task into bite-size chunks, increasing the perceived capability for the user
  • Give the user a trigger or cue to complete the action

Gamification; it’s hardly child’s play, so when it comes to learner motivation, trust the experts. They’ve been playing with gamified learning for years.

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