What You Need To Know About Corporate Gamification of Learning

Gamification, corporate gamification of learning

Corporate Gamification – Where it all began

The word “gamification” has received a lot of hype over the last few years, and as designers and developers we continue seeing the term misused and misunderstood in the media and in conversation. Gamification deserves a much better fate than becoming a watered down buzzword with no substance, and we will explain why.

Businesses face a consistent struggle to engage and motivate people, whether it’s their own staff, or the target audience they are looking to serve, and seek an effective solution to this potential barrier. Gamification in its true application can be a viable and effective solution to these two inevitable problems.

To really understand anything you have to go back to the origin.

The term “gamification” was originally coined back in 2002 by a British computer programmer named Nick Pelling. The term hit mainstream when location-sharing service 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 in things like marketing and learning continue to rise in popularity as more and more businesses look to gamify different aspects of their work with the intention to increase both engagement and motivation.

Contrary to popular belief, gamification is not…

  • Simply creating a game.
  • A catchall for interactivity.
  • Simply adding points and badges to an activity and expecting it to magically become more engaging.
  • A design style.
  • An easy thing to do or to learn (an understanding of psychology, human behavior and much more goes into it).
  • The solution for everything.

So what is Gamification?


Gartner defines gamification as: “The use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.”

At ELM we define Gamification as “the craft of applying the best parts of gameplay (the mechanics and experience design that trigger intrinsic motivation factors and emotional connection) to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve certain behaviors or goals”

The key is in the mechanics like points, levels, and rewards, and applying specific mechanics when it makes sense based on your specific learners motivations and goals surrounding the learning material.

The mechanics are the various actions, behaviors, and control mechanisms that play into human psychology which are afforded to a player in a game context. They represent the moment-to-moment activity of players, and core mechanics are deployed to create specific patterns of repeated behavior.

So when you think about corporate gamification for learning, or even gamification for eLearning, you are really thinking about how you can take the mechanics from gameplay and apply them to your learning experience to both engage and motivate your participants to drive a meaningful behavior change.

There have been some spectacular successes when gamification is applied to learning, but your thinking behind its application must go beyond just developing a points system or a leadership board for simply the sake of it.

To begin the shift in your thinking around the corporate gamification of learning, let’s go into two of the most frequently asked questions we’ve received from learning leaders at a wide variety of businesses.

Case Study: The Deloitte Leadership Academy

Deloitte (the second largest professional services network in the world) launched a digital executive training program called “The Deloitte Leadership Academy” to make training more accessible for employees by utilizing top content from business schools like Harvard, Stanford, etc. The program delivers lessons to 50,000+ executives in 150+ companies worldwide.  

The Challenge: Deloitte faced the challenge of finding ways to motivate their employees and clients to log on and not only take but engage with the courses, and continue corporate training despite their super busy work schedules.

The Solution: Gamification including: giving consultants instant feedback on progress, creating clear learning paths, allowing for users to build a reputation, and other mechanics like rank, rewards, missions, and leaderboards.

The program content contains videos, “in-depth content”, and self-assessments ranging from interactive to PDFs. Every step of the experience offers a section for learners to interact with each other, and the learner’s home screen is similar to Facebook where they receive updates from users they follow and can interact with those updates. Learners must complete their first “mission” before beginning the online programs by watching a short video that explains how to use the website, and instructs them to personalize the website to their individual needs and goals.  

Learners receive badges upon completion of the onboarding mission and every completion of each learning program to mark achievement. There are also “secret” badges called “Snowflake” badges that are unlocked by achieving certain goals which are there to surprise and delight learners. The program also has a leaderboard which is set to only show the top ten performers that are at the same level as the user.

The Results: Since the integration of gamification in the Deloitte Leadership Academy there has been:

  • a 37% increase in users returning weekly
  • a 50% increase in the rate of course completion
  • a 47% increase in returning users daily
  • an average of 3 achievements unlocked per active user with top users earning 30+ achievements

A Need for Grab and Go

If you’re looking for the type of learning that users can grab and go while they’re on the run or on the job, that’s microlearning. Microlearning is meant to be a short-form version of information that is super portable and quick to digest. Product information or a brand new skill is delivered in a bite-size format, with all of the important information shed down into the most important points. Microlearning often takes advantage of the tech users already have on hand (think smartphones and tablets) so it can be simple and often less expensive to implement.

Designer beware, however, since microlearning can have its limitations as it’s not a great way to cover a ton of information exhaustively. Instead of a comprehensive view, learners get more of a “peek” of the subject matter’s most important information and continue to build and build upon that knowledge. Think of legos. Microlearning works best when you take one block, and continue to build upon it with new blocks of information to grow towards mastery of a topic over time. So microlearning might not be the best approach for something like sexual harassment training, but it’s a great option to grow and hone a new skillset over time.


Leveling Up Engagement

Here’s where some people get confused: Both microlearning and gamification are highly engaging ways to entice users to learn. But although both can have similar outcomes, the purpose is different. Microlearning is ideal for quick bites of information, but gamification has a great reputation when you need to trigger some internal motivation to gain full participation and high levels of engagement in a training.

Remember that gamification is not the same as a standalone game; it’s simply using the elements of game play as a learning motivator. Still, because of its lighthearted tone, gamification may not be appropriate for all topics. For information that should be served up in a less playful tone, gamification might be too glib.

Which one is it?

The truth is, gamification and microlearning aren’t the perfect solution for all scenarios by themselves, and there are plenty of other delivery methods to consider when planning eLearning. Both gamification and microlearning can be used (and even overlapped!) to create engaging training that really taps into how learners receive, process, and store information. Both allow learners to quickly experience the fruits of their labors and both encourage high completion rates– each works great in the appropriate deployment.

So the answer to what delivery method works best, especially with the millennial generation is: it depends on the content covered, training goals, and motivators of your employees. So the best way to find out what method is best for your business is to ask an instructional designer to complete an analysis of your training and the audience consuming it.


Here’s Why There Is No Such Thing As “Levels” of Corporate Gamification When It Comes To eLearning Solutions

One question we often get asked when it comes to customizing eLearning solutions for our clients that are curious to add gamification to their learning strategy is “What are the levels of gamification I can choose from?”

We agree that employee training would be a lot easier if it were more like picking lunch from a menu. A little of this; a little of that; hold the pickles. But contrary to many articles in the media, because eLearning is so individual and specific to topic, learner motivation, and application, it’s fairly impossible to create a one-size-fits-all, tiered solution, even with a method as versatile as gamification. You can read about this more in detail in our recent gamification eBook.

It’s true that gamification can be used for a variety of topics, but despite its versatility, gamification can’t really be distilled down to just a few levels or rankings for you to choose from. Unlike your lunch menu, gamification and its applications change based on a number of factors, including your specific learners’ motivations, to goals of the eLearning, and the content presented.

By working with an instructional designer, you can create a corporate gamification strategy that is specific to what you need, instead of choosing from a bland (and ineffective) menu that may or may not work.

There have been some spectacular successes when gamification is applied to learning, but your thinking behind its application must go beyond just developing a points system or a leadership board for simply the sake of it.

Games Vs. Gamification

It’s important to remember that gamification does not automatically equal games, and that’s why it’s difficult to create “levels” for each type of gamification. Games are, by nature, competitive play between two or more parties. A winner is crowned; there’s a sense of accomplishment. But gamification utilizes game mechanics that are utilized to drive engagement in eLearning by tapping into specific learner motivations.Games might have different levels of difficulty, but gamification only borrows inspiration, elements, and other bits and pieces from typical games to improve engagement.

How do I know if Corporate Gamification is right?

To figure out if gamification makes sense for your particular learning module, you have to look at both what the goal aiming to be achieved is, and what motivates your target audience (aka your learners). The same as a good instructional designer performs a full performer motivation analysis, gamification requires a deep understanding of your audience’s specific motivation triggers, what the step by step action would look like, and what game mechanics match up with that motivation so the learner is driven towards specific behavior change aligning with the goal.

This is why “levels” of gamification does not make sense. For example, let’s say that “level 1 gamification” (again which doesn’t exist) is discovery. There would be no guarantee that the content or what motivates the target audience will match up with the elements presented.

Gamification is also not a good choice when the topic is too sensitive or serious either, like sexual harassment training. It also doesn’t work when the context includes too many elements fighting gamification. Make sure you know what makes your learner tick before choosing a gamification strategy for your training.

In the world of gamification, there’s leveling up, but there’s really no way to reduce all the available elements and functions into one, simply leveled menu of methods. Instead, it’s up to you and an instructional designer that has a deep understanding of gaming mechanics to figure out which elements of gamification will make your learners sit up and take notice.


Why Understanding Learner Motivation Is Key For Gamification Learning

Just like eLearning can’t take place without a deep understanding of learner motivation, gamification in employee training won’t work without an understanding of what drives and motivates employees. Just adding points or badges to a learning module is not gamification. Each game mechanic taps into different motivators, so to apply the right ones, you have to understand what motivators you are trying to activate, and how they align to the goal of the learning experience. You can find an in-depth look at how different game mechanics appeal to different key motivators in our eBook here.

A great way to think about it is this. Dangling a carrot in front of a rabbit will motivate a reaction from the rabbit. But you wouldn’t dangle a carrot in front of a frog. The frog isn’t motivated like the rabbit is because carrots just don’t appeal to frogs. The same goes for game mechanics in learning. Rewards and leadership boards might work well with someone who is highly motivated by achievement and status, whereas an avatar feature would better engage someone who is highly motivated by self-expression.

The ARCS Model

Learner motivation can be anything from “I want to buy a new car” to “I want to be employee of the month,” but the trick is determining the best way to light a fire under learners speaking to their core motives for the best results.

The ARCS model of Motivational Design Theories (attention, relevance, confidence, and satisfaction) has been the gold standard for how to promote and sustain motivation in learning since the 80s when it was developed by John Keller, professor of instructional systems and educational psychology at the University of Florida. But while the ARCS model is a great place to start, instructional designers must delve deeper to really understand what makes their learners tick.

The analysis phase might seem like it slows the instructional design process down, but taking the time to assess and determine learner motivation reveals which game mechanics align with your learners’ driving motivators resulting in higher engagement and motivation (which basically means deeper learning that sticks).

Can I Have Your Attention Please…

It’s not by chance (or clever acronym) that attention is listed first in the ARCS model. Attention might seem surface-level at first, but it’s what makes learners sit up and take notice of the content. Discover what makes your learners’ ears perk up. In some cases, that might mean leveraging a bit of humor to lighten the mood. In other cases, it’s outlining the “what’s in it for me?” principle to prove to learners that the subject matter is worthy of their time. Whatever the case, good instructional designers know that without a learner’s attention, there is little motivation to continue watching, reading, or otherwise experiencing the material.

Make Sure to Stay Relevant

Have learners been there, done that? Does the subject matter even… matter? These are the questions asked before any information is put into an eLearning module and needs to be considered when applying gamification. It’s hard to get learners to care if, before they even start a program, their brains disengage due to irrelevant content. That’s where tools like analogies, storytelling, and even personal choice and autonomy can motivate learners: The material is modeled in a way that proves that it’s relevant and useful.

Be careful, though: Tying learning back to previous lessons can be a common and useful way to prove relevancy, but too much repetitiveness can turn off even highly motivated learners. Motivation happens when learners perceive value and acknowledge a potential knowledge gap.

Confidence is Key

Learners should know where they stand in order to enhance motivation. Creating key objectives and benchmarking from the start helps learners self-assess and know where they currently stand. A motivated learner needs to understand where they fall in the pack and how that position jives with their personal goals.

Part of increasing learner confidence is communication. An instructional designer might build in assessment and ranking tools such as badges or quizzes so learners are never left in the dark. But that same confidence can come from giving learners control over their own learning path. Learners who can toggle their learning speed, topics and prescribed materials feel confident that they are responsible for themselves.

Learner Satisfaction Guaranteed

Finally, instructional designers must assess how learner satisfaction can motivate–both intrinsically and extrinsically. Sure, a pat on the back might feel good, but it’s hardly enough to make a learner go back for more. Instead, assess the need for rewards as part of the learning process. Human’s all share the same core drivers, like reward, status, achievement, and so forth. Mechanics, like earning points and badges, as well as seeing immediate positive feedback from superiors (who are following along via leaderboard or LMS) can tap into these deep desires.

Doing the research and analysis on your learners’ motivation is what separates successful gamification from misaligned strategies and wasted time. Assessing learner motivation allows you to better create material that engages users and makes a real difference once the program is complete.

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How to Growth Hack Your Brain Using Gamification and Neurolearning

When you hear the term “growth hack,” what do you think of? It’s one of those buzzwords that marketing pros throw around, especially when speed and size are of the essence. But more than just a flashy hashtag, #growthhacking has real applications when it comes to helping your learners see the need for more training.

Whether they’re resistant to change or you want better executive buy-in, you can tap into learners’ (and leaders’) brains to help them see the light. By combining what we know about neurolearning and gamification, the brain might become one of the best sources of growth hacking yet.

Creating an Emotional Connection

An emotional connection can definitely engage would-be learners, but neurolearning is about more than making someone laugh or cry. It’s teaching a concept using an emotional thread to unite learner and material. For eLearning and training, creating an emotional connection isn’t just tapping into a learner’s core emotions, but instead utilizing storytelling to highlight the importance of subject matter. Here are some of the ways neurolearning and gamification principles can help increase leader buy-in:

  • Storytelling and Scenarios. If a learner doesn’t really understand the why behind training, he’s less likely to become engaged. Utilizing storytelling and scenarios puts learners in positions where they can see how new information benefits them individually. You are much more committed to making it through every level of Super Mario, because the story of saving the princess and becoming a hero plays into natural human desires that can be achieved through game play.
  • Let’s face it: Money talks. And learners are very emotionally invested in their bank accounts. Compensation makes a difference, so appeal to learners’ connection to their money. By proving that the training could result in lower overhead or increased profits, you light up their brain with reasons why learning makes better sense.
  • Who doesn’t want to come in first place? Neurolearning experts have long deployed the power of competition to get students to try harder, work faster, and complete courses. This is also a highly effective gamification component used to motivate learners to apply what they’ve learned in order to win. Something as simple as a department-wide leaderboard could be enough to make training grow faster.


Leveraging Your Data

What do you know about your learners? By picking up on some of their major pain points to finding out learning gaps, the more contextualized training is, the faster it spreads. But how do you really dial into what learners want and need?

Using big data can be an untapped resource for neurolearning insights. Taking a look at sales reports, for example, can help you identify areas in which your sales team might be struggling so you can address problems head-on. At the same time, big data from learner surveys can help you weed out pain points that turned them off of previous learning initiatives. If modules were too long or not particularly helpful, you can adjust according to that feedback.

Your learners’ brains are chock-full of memories, opinions, thoughts, and emotions, so it can be hard to find brain share for your training. Still, if you know how the brain works and what motivates your learners, you’ll have a better shot to growth hack your training to get more students on board and increase overall buy-in.


When gamification principles are applied correctly and consistently to corporate learning experiences, they can be a highly effective solution to engage, retain and develop employees.