Bringing Gamification to Your e-Learning Content: Handy Tips

Gamification is definitely a rising star in the e-Learning galaxy. Once instructional designers and teachers realized games could do more, and be not so much a major distraction but also a motivating learning experience, they started looking for the right implementation techniques. Let’s see what we can do to begin using gamification in courses.

For optimal results, it’s an absolute must that you revisit your current e-Learning strategy. Ask fellow course authors or select students for help if you’re worried you might have a limited perspective on this. Before investing time and effort into gamification, consider if you’ll be able to integrate it seamlessly and harmoniously into your training ecosystem. Always keep in mind that your gamified course should meet the following definitions:

  • Learner-centric. Gamification is only another means to help learners achieve their aims. Games for the sake of games make no sense in e-Learning. The content should capture the player’s attention, entertain and teach at the same time.
  • Highly applicable. The content must be pertinent and bridge emulated scenarios with real-life applications.
  • Content-driven, not technology-driven. Don’t get carried away with the wealth of tools and capabilities authoring software offers in terms of gamification. It’s the design and material that really matter, not the bells and whistles.
  • Enriching. No one should ever attempt to take the fun out of the game, but it’s even more important to reach an increase in knowledge retention. Gamification is always a nice roadmap in your quest for a better learning environment.

What are the key elements of any game, sophisticated or not?


As a course author, you are well aware of the learning objectives and the key takeaways for your audience. The rule of thumb is to transform these goals into challenges. Create a learning world based on real-life scenarios, choices and dilemmas. A captivating story with increasing levels of difficulty – as in any computer game – would be the right gamification framework to build on. Since stories always feature protagonists, make your learners, or players, the heroes of this gamified novel and let them make their own decisions.


Gamification is all about seeing the outcomes of your actions. At the end of the day, that’s how you learn something! Come up with instant feedback throughout the game, let the players know their options, mistakes and achievements. Do they need to go the extra mile? Are they heading in the right direction? Keep your finger on the pulse.


If you find it boring to complete one task and then switch to another upon completion of the previous, try rewarding your students for taking each step or several steps. I know some people think games in e-Learning have a lot to do with badges. Catering to stereotypes, let’s speak about the reward system.

Apparently, rewards are a great tool to bolster self-esteem, promote confidence and motivate learners. Besides, there is always the curiosity factor: what am I gonna get next? As for the details, pick whatever items fit your learners’ aesthetic tastes and sense of humor. Medals, gold coins, trophies – the list goes on…

In fact, contrary to common opinion, gamification goes way beyond rankings, scoreboards and badges. A well-weighed gamified course always focuses on intrinsic rather than external motivators, and uses reward as a boost, not the ultimate goal. Aside from superficial ‘remuneration’, gamification is meant to drive behavioral change. This approach may benefit from a type of ‘ludomania’ and engage students into a learning behavior that helps unleash their potential.


Although there are gaming scenarios that adopt intentional chaos and the no-rules approach to boost participants’ creativity, this is hardly a soft option for instructional designers who are trying to take their learners through specific activities to specific conclusions.

In our field, it’s better to provide ample information about the game and its rules to avoid misconceptions and glitches, so the learner won’t have to start from square one. A to-the-point description outlining prerequisites and desired results will do a lot of good! This way you get to manage your expectations and clarify your students’ tasks. Explain the game mechanics in full detail and enable easy scoring (if present) and advancement towards the goal.


To make sure your learners comply with stipulated recall and retention criteria, embed assessment modules into your gamified course. However ecstatic their experience within a game level, it’s time to pass a test. One of the e-Learning fundamentals, that’s the way instructional designers get the big picture of interim and after-course student performance so they can take appropriate actions.

Plus, in a typical arcade game you’ll be given several ‘lives’ to complete a level. This principle may be a good fit for e-Learning content. Allow your learners second chances where appropriate, and explain why their previous choices were suboptimal.

Also, never forget to ask for feedback on your gamification practices – run a brief survey at the end of the course and see what you can do better.

If we are talking specific gamification concepts, I like a system of qualities or skills required to reach a specified reward category. This is a great scenario for complex branched courses. In this case, the game will guide players through a number of activities that gradually unlock the necessary skills on the way to a reward (degree, course completion certificate – whatever form of appreciation you deem relevant). This game approach may use leaderboards, yet still focus on an individual improvement plan rather than competition.

In conclusion

Properly used, gamification inspires positive feedback, engagement, and a feeling of teamwork. Whether the course is designed for business or educational purposes, games will help spruce up seemingly tedious content, raise awareness, encourage proliferation of social links to your content, improve commitment for long-term training, and just make it fun for all stakeholders. Start with the basic steps, evaluate the learners’ responses, and make necessary changes along the way. In one phrase, play it right and reap the benefits!


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Scott Winstead

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