Learning and Development: Three Myths of Gamification

By Emerson Consultant, Brian D’Angelo on November 07

Gamification Illustration

Gamification is all the rage these days. But underneath the hype, there are many misconceptions - about what gamification is and isn’t, and how best to use it in learning.

Here are some top gamification myths, debunked.

Myth: Anytime you add a game to a learning experience, you have “gamified” it.

Truth: Gamification occurs only when learning happens in a non-game context, such as classroom-based or eLearning course, and when a series of game elements is arranged into a system, or “game layer,” that operates in concert with the rest of the course.

In the instructional design world, gamification is also called “Serious Games,” where a narrative takes the student on a journey to achieve the intended learning outcomes. “Game-Based Learning,” on the other hand, is where students design and create their own games, or play commercially produced games, within a training program to explore concepts they are learning.

Think of the difference this way: gamification is “baked in” and game-based learning is “dropped in.”

Adding games to learning doesn’t gamify it. To truly gamify learning, think process. Gamification turns the entire program or course into a game. The learning design uses game mechanics to elicit and reinforce new behaviors. It’s a subtle but important distinction.

“To me, gamification is finding the way to incent the behaviors that you want your team to have.” Dave McDermott, Director of Sales Enablement at Kelly Services

Myth: There’s only one way to gamify a learning experience.

Truth: There are two types of gamification, Structural Gamification and Content Gamification. When you gamify the structure, you apply game mechanics to the overall design of the course, but not the content itself. Points, levels, badges, leaderboards, and other achievements are great examples of structural gamification. Content Gamification, on the other hand, uses game elements, game mechanics, and game thinking. For example, the central narrative might use game thinking elements like Influence, Choice, Risk, Chance, and Immediate Feedback.

Some of the best examples of gamification in learning employ both structural and content gamification. In my next blog post, I’ll cover some frameworks that include both structural and content gamification strategies.

Myth: Gamification works only on millennials.

Truth: Research shows recognizing excellence is one of the top motivations for most people, not just millennials. Game elements that give feedback on achievements - such as points, rewards, and leaderboards - boost engagement for all types of learners.

Everyone loves to play. Play provides a safe and fun way to risk and fail, and develops confidence to try new things. That’s not a millennial thing; it’s a human thing.

What matters more is HOW you gamify your learning: the type of game mechanics and elements used. The quality of the gamified learning program matters, too. The story, character development, game strategy, rules of play, graphic outputs, and how you position and communicate the program – those make the difference between low and high engagement.

“It’s play that makes people unafraid to fail and confident to try new things. It’s play that helps us do serious things better because we enjoy them and feel a sense of joy in our achievements.” Jake Ortiz, Head of the Wikipedia Library Wikimedia Foundation

Gamification is one of many effective learning strategies. But it is just one strategy. It has its best-use-case scenarios, and there’s good and bad gamification, but it’s not a miracle fix. Don’t buy into the hype. It can be an excellent tool, but only if you use it strategically and thoughtfully.

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