Explore the advantages and disadvantages of implementing gamification in your workplace learning.
Gamification is top of mind for many instructional designers lately, as this practice has become commonplace in many organizations. Even industry experts such as the Association for Talent Development cite how gamification is a proven effective educational strategy. In additional praise of gamification, the US News & World Report cites Andrea Eberly, an instructional designer at the New England College of Business, who claims, “Gamification allows students to become more active learners by inserting themselves into different scenarios, rather than passively listening to lectures and reading course material on their own.” It’s clear the advantages of this practice are numerous; gamification offers learners exciting and enriching learning environments, and allows designers’ creativity to flourish. However, despite the many advantages, gamification may also pose some risks and challenges. Here are a few factors to consider:
Games appeal to our basic instinct to play. Games can transform dull content into engaging and interesting experiences, can encourage friendly competition among colleagues, and can lead learners to feel pride in completing a course after a series of gamified challenges and tasks. Learners who are cognitively active, are enjoying the learning process, and who feel genuine emotions in response to the outcome of an educational game will enjoy higher retention of the content. Physical and mental activity make for more meaningful experiences than passively scrolling, clicking next, and listening to long lectures, and this activity correlates to more engagement and higher productivity on the job. Gamification is one way to lead learners to want to achieve the learning objectives of a course.
One necessary feature of games is the delivery of feedback, whether positive or negative. Educational games allow learners to progress, not by chance, but by having the right knowledge or correct response to a question or scenario. Similarly, the lack of knowledge or an incorrect response does not allow learners to move forward. By incorporating instant feedback into gameplay and even tying this feedback to the game’s outcome, learners can monitor their progress throughout the game and may even feel intrinsically motivated to complete the game successfully. Leaderboards and scoreboards offer an additional feedback mechanism, allowing learners to see how their results compare to their peers.
Badges in gamified learning content can be as simple as virtual ribbons, stickers, or prizes that learners earn for the completion of modules or tasks within the game. These badges can be displayed in several places, from inside the game, on the company’s intranet, or even externally in places such as LinkedIn. According to Medium, badges are crucial “because they make the user feel important and skilled.” Badges give learners a sense of completion as well as a sense of authority, as they are a tangible symbol of the learner’s accomplishments.
Creativity may not be the only limit instructional designers face when creating gamified learning. Game development tends to lead to longer development time than traditional instructional design, as each phase of the design process (everything from explaining the concept to project stakeholders, to storyboarding, to designing, developing, and testing the course) has additional demands when gamified. In the business world, time is money, and the extra investment of time alone can drive a project over-budget. Additional resources such as music and sound effects, stock content such as photos and videos, and even custom animations and graphics that enrich the game all come at an additional cost of time, money, or both.
Games can be costly to develop, and costly to maintain. Games that looked sophisticated when they launched may look dated even a few short years later, and in the workplace, this may give employees the impression that the content is similarly out of date even if it isn’t. A second disadvantage also related to the game’s value over time is that learners who wish to review portions of the content may not wish to repeat the entire game, when they have already exerted time and effort completing it once. They may prefer having content available outside of the game for quicker reference. Even the most captivating of games may not have a high replay value.
Games are meant to be fun, and it’s safe to say most people don’t enjoy tests and quizzes. In the workplace, employees seldom encounter traditional assessments such as multiple-choice quizzes outside of mandatory training, so it can take effort and creativity to create games that are educational, truly enjoyable, and don’t feel like quizzes masquerading as “games.” Furthermore, from an instructional design standpoint, the assessment mechanism of the game should ideally connect to the learning objectives, just as it would in any other course. Any tokens, badges, or in-game prizes should ideally hold meaning for the learner. The concept of completing a game by simply collecting five stars or one million points may not be enough to motivate adult learners in the workplace, but successfully navigating a series of workplace challenges presented in an eLearning course could be. Games that present learners with real-life scenarios, situations, and challenges offer interesting gameplay, and may be much more effective and motivating than traditional quizzes and tests.
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