Gamification – a useful learning tool or an entertaining distraction?

Let’s take a look at why you might include gamification in your learning toolkit.

Gamification has become a common topic within eLearning circles and is pushed by some as the answer to making online learning more engaging and interactive. However, you need to consider whether the gamification content you develop contributes to enhanced learning or whether it is a distraction, offering little in the way of learning with a low return on investment.

So let’s start by understanding what we mean by gamification.  Gamification refers to the use of game style activities within online courses to enhance your eLearning content. Wikipedia defines gamification as “the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts”.

Gamification is more than just playing games (in fact, sometimes it does not involve playing games at all). It is more about applying game-design thinking to non game activities. This approach is usually applied to encourage engagement and help motivate learners so they take a more active role in their learning?

Gamification can be delivered in many ways and at different levels and can be as simple as providing badges, medals, points or certificates, all the way through to scenario based gamification where the learner is actively involved within “stories”, answering questions, solving puzzles and addressing various challenges.

Examples of types of Gamification:

  • Collecting points and badges
  • Internal Competition – leaderboards
  • Drag and drop items to check understanding
  • Progressing to different levels
  • Completing simulated processes that offer rewards for successful activities
  • Matching pairs by flipping hidden content to aid retention
  • Assembling puzzles in order to re-enforce knowledge take up
  • Timed activities to challenge learenrs

These can be delivered as simple stand alone content pieces or can be woven into more elaborate “story” pieces with learner quests that involve finding objects and answering questions and dealing with challenges along the way

Ensure you understand why you are introducing gamification.

The gamification content you develop should have a purpose

  • To engage and provide interaction
  • To make the learning more fun
  • To challenge
  • To help capture (and retain) attention
  • To teach (often without the participant know they are learning)

Some key areas to keep in mind:

  • It is critical that you don’t lose sight of your learning objectives. Set these in advance and ensure you deliver against these.
  • Ensure there is an appropriate purpose and goal for your learner within the game. It shouldn’t just be a random game thrown into the content mix.
  • Use the game to enhance the learners understanding of the subject matter – obvious I know, but often overlooked in the excitement of developing a “game”.
  • Ensure the type of gamification you incorporate is appropriate to the subject matter.


What are the benefits of including gamification within your eLearning? 

  • Make it fun and the level of engagement will be higher. A good gamification strategy with high levels of engagement will lead to an increase in recall and retention. Using rewards based upon successful completion of activities incentivises learners to complete entire modules and so improve completion rates.
  • Gamification in eLearning can help learners practice real life situations and challenges in a safe environment. This leads to a more engaged learning experience that facilitates better knowledge retention.
  • Gamification helps break up lessons within a course, adding variety which again helps with course completion and knowledge take up.
  • If done well, learners do not even know they are increasing their understanding of the subject matter.
  • An improved learning experience will enable higher recall and retention, offering performance gains for organisations and a positive Impact on the bottom line.

Application areas that could benefit by using gamification:

  1. Professional skills enhancement.
  2. Process and simulations.
  3. Soft skills enhancement.
  4. Induction and onboarding.
  5. Product sales.
  6. Customer support.


Does gamification really help learners take up and retain knowledge?

If done well then the answer is yes.

“Deloitte Leadership Academy, an executive training program, increased by 46.6% the number of users that returned daily to their platform by embedding gamification mechanics into it”


The impact of simulations and games in adult learners, participants in gamified eLearning experiences scored

14% higher in skill-based-knowledge assessments,

11% higher in terms of factual-knowledge

9% increase in retention rate.

Study – University of Colorado


Final thoughts.

Take a considered approach when introducing gamification.

  1. Set your learning objectives.
  2. Choose an appropriate style and approach for the “game”.
  3. Decide if it needs to be responsive for mobile delivery or developed for delivery via laptop/desktop.
  4. Choose appropriate tools for developing the activity or speak with your content development partner to see how they will approach the development.
  5. Test the course to see if it is both engaging AND delivers learning benefit.
  6. Review the effectiveness of your gamification approach and be prepared to amend/update.
  7. If successful, consider developing further gamification activities.


One of the key qualms about introducing gamification in the workplace is the fear of delivering something that is seen as a gimmick rather than truly engaging them.  However, gamification can be a powerful tool to help engage and motivate your learners.  Done well it will help increase knowledge acquisition and retention and offers welcome “breakouts” for your learners as part of their course progression.  Key to effective gamification is ensuring that you set learning objectives and deliver gamification that supports and fits with the rest of your course content.

If you would like to chat about introducing gamification into your learning programmes, then please get in touch.

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About the Author

Terry Simmons

Terry Simmons

Terry Simmons is the founder of eLearning Plus, an organisation dedicated to helping organisations engage with their learners for a Smarter Business. eLearning Plus works across the UK and Internationally to help organisations with bespoke and generic course development. eLearning Plus also designs tools and training materials that support learning as well providing technology solutions to manage learners and course delivery. Terry's LinkedIn Profile