Gamification: The Power of Gaming Features in Corporate eLearning

What is Gamification Training?

Gamification training, one of the hottest trends in corporate eLearning, is the use of game play elements in a learning experience. While games have enormous power, they aren’t the teacher! They are the experience in which the lesson lives and the means by which we drive the learning forward.

When gamification in eLearning is done right, the gaming elements inspire users to keep moving forward, reward them for correct choices, and even create friction and calculated frustration to challenge them. Gamification is a powerful, neuroscience-backed tool for measuring some behaviors and correcting or redirecting others.

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WHY Is Gamification Training Powerful?

It all comes down to dopamine, the most critical element in game play. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter or chemical, that sends signals between our brains and nerves in our bodies. It controls the pleasure center of our brains, while also affecting our mood, memory, and ability to think. Neuroscientist Eric Marr studies dopamine in relation to learning in his lab at Eastern Washington University. In Marr’s TEDx speech, he describes conducting experiments with rats in mazes, where they receive a food reward for completing a task correctly, while researchers measure the output of dopamine in their brains. He says, “Dopamine helps activate the learning centers in the brain. If your brain releases dopamine while you’re learning something, it helps you remember what you’ve learned at a later date.” Dopamine, then, promotes long-term learning.

What does dopamine have to do with games? A study done in London during the late 90’s proved conclusively that games cause two times the normal amount of dopamine release in users, who were asked to navigate a tank for a monetary reward. By observing such a strong surge of pleasure caused by the rewards (gaming features) built into the game, the researchers determined why games are so addictive.

Now we connect the dots: If games can affect huge surges in dopamine, a chemical which gives us pleasure and helps us to learn, then games can be powerful, fun learning tools. Gamification, the process of introduces gaming elements into a learning experience, then, is an awesome way to make the learning pleasurable and help learners remember the lesson for the long-term.

HOW is Gamification Training So Powerful?

By using gaming elements in a lesson, we can cause the learner’s brain to release dopamine during those crucial learning moments and really solidify and deepen the meaning of the lesson.

Everyone is motivated by something, whether it’s intrinsic rewards (altruism, sense of belonging and love), or extrinsic rewards (levels, points, badges, awards, missions.) Usually, either one or the other is enough to keep people interested. Gamification training seeks to combine both types of motivation.

Below we’ve listed a few game features and why we use them, giving examples of each in a training.

Achievements, points, badges, trophies, and rewards

These all fall into the same category because they achieve the same purpose. By providing checkpoints in a journey or process, they give users a chance to feel successful not just when they’ve completed a module or task, but throughout the lesson. This keeps them motivated and engaged. Also, they prove that a learner was successful in achieving certain skills or knowledge facets.

Gamification Training Example: Car rental company.

We were tasked with making a compliance course more tolerable. If you have ever taken a compliance course, you know that they aren’t super exciting. Since our client was a car rental company, we decided to create a road trip theme. Users would follow the course map, which would show the length of the course and lay out each topic visually. They would also be issued a Compliance Passbook, where they would collect stamps after each micro course was completed. We used the following gaming features to keep users engaged and get the dopamine flowing:

Achievements: The Passbook gave users a sense of satisfaction during the course, and when the course was completed. That way, we could stimulate small amounts of dopamine release in users’ brains to keep them engaged and interested. The Passbook was important for compliance as well, as it gave managers proof that learners had finished all of the modules.

Badges: The stamps in the Passbook functioned like badges, where users could see the results of their learning. The Map was also an excellent way to see where they had been.

Progress: Not only did the map show users where they had been, it showed where they needed to go, so they could feel even more satisfied as they moved along toward the end. The Passbook had shadowed, or ghosted, stamp outlines that indicated the chapters users still needed to complete.

 1. The Course Map for the rental car compliance training. 2. The Compliance Passbook to reward users


A timer is a visual representation of a countdown that gives users a sense of urgency on modules that are time bound. It also puts things into perspective and gives more of a real-life feel, especially with things like an elevator pitch or performing a task. The dopamine comes with the desire to beat the timer. You can create a timer with numbers, clocks, bars, and design elements such as circles that slowly disappear. The trick is not making the user feel rushed or frustrated, which can occur when the lesson is too challenging. If you can match the user’s skill level with the task, the timer makes the challenge fun and exciting.

Sound effects and music are very effective in evoking an emotional response, which in turn creates more dopamine. Timers can be made with music that builds or speeds up towards a crescendo or ticking, buzzing, or dinging sound effects.

Example: Healthcare company

Our audience was made up of professional and conservative business people who worked in a hospital. We found out that they either loved to play sports, like golf or watch sports, like hockey. The end goal of the course was to have their answers be second nature. We recreated an individually competitive atmosphere within a sports theme. By using a combination of timers, sound effects, and music, we orchestrated the intensity of the course, but not enough to cause them to stress out. Here’s how we used the sound effects. Click on examples of each to listen or download for free.

Clock Time Down: Extrinsic Motivation

A clock time sound builds a sense of urgency, which in turn forces the user to be engaged and motivated to finish the task in the time allotted. The sound starts off light and easy. Then, as the sound progresses it builds and creates an auditory excitement.  

Right Answers: Rewards

For the healthcare workers, we created golf clapping sounds to indicate they had answered a question correctly. This was a sound they were familiar with and associated with a win.

Wrong Answers: Feedback

When users answered incorrectly they heard a missed shot on goal that mimicked a hockey game. Incorrect sounds shouldn’t make the user feel stupid, but instead, give them a feeling of “darn-just-missed-it-so-close.” That way it’s not a punishment but more of a motivation to try again.

Progression and Levels/Leveling Up

By proceeding in tiny increments towards an end goal, while giving learners a visual representation of their progress, you give them a sense of satisfaction at seeing the end results, like checking something off a list. You can do this through status or progress bars and level indicators. This perceived achievement turns on the rewarded brain, releasing dopamine. Learners feel like they are building their knowledge by moving towards more complex things. You can use them throughout the module, or just at the end.

Example: A beer maker.

We were teaching the users about draft beer, starting with the history of malt beverages and going into how to set up kegs and pour the perfect pint. The client could have easily written it out and had the trainees read about it in a manual. Instead of that, we worked with them to create a click and point adventure bar theme where the learner would navigate through three different scenarios: a bar, the basement of a bar, and an event. We used simple drag and drop techniques so the user could assemble a keg, pour beers and clean beer glasses. The course became increasingly more difficult. At the end, users could pour a beer and serve it to a customer. If they did everything correctly the beer drinker would be happy. If not, the customer would complain about getting a skunky beer! We used the following game elements to get that dopamine release and not only make it fun but help the users commit what they learned to long-term memory:

Progress bars: Users saw a checklist, written out on a virtual bar chalkboard, like a daily special. When users completed a task, the chalkboard would appear with that module checked off. This creates that small feeling of accomplishment and motivates them to see it finished.

Leveling up: This happened as they moved through the three scenarios, or levels, to the final live event. The final event was the true test. Each scenario was a build up to the live event.

Feedback: Feedback was rapid, frequent and clear, coming from the narrator and the other staff in Joe’s Bar. It’s difficult for people to learn if they can’t link consequences to actions, which is why it was important that we gave learners scenarios that they could manipulate. The click and drag was really about playing with cause and effect. If users were wrong, they would get feedback and try again. If they were right, they would receive praise and move on, creating more dopamine release.

Element of uncertainty: A known reward excites people, but a reward presented with the right level of uncertainty is even more powerful—even more dopamine release. At the end of the game, users would give the customer a beer, then watch for the customer’s reaction. If the customer smiled—it was a job well done. If they frowned and complained, then back to the bar.

If you’re thinking of gamification for your next training, first ask yourself; “What motivates my audience and what gaming features make the most sense for them?” The game should translate to the workplace and not distract the learner from productivity. Next, make sure that the game and the lesson relate to your specific business goals. Finally, don’t overdo it! Gamification can be taken too far and ultimately do more harm than good.


The Definition, History, and Research Behind Gamification in Online Corporate Training

What is gamification?

The term gamification was originally coined back in 2002 by a British computer programmer named Nick Pelling. The term hit mainstream when a location-sharing service called Foursquare came out in 2009, employing gamification elements like points, badges, and mayorships to motivate people to engage more with the service and “check in.”

The term hit buzzword fame in 2011 when Gartner (the go-to company that assesses and decides whether to invest in specific technologies) officially added it to its “Hype Cycle” list. Since then, the conversation around gamification and its application to marketing and learning continue to rise in popularity, as businesses look to gamify different aspects of their work to increase both engagement and motivation.