Gamification is a problematic concept in eLearning. It means so many different things to so many people. Sure, it’s clear that using game principles and mechanics in learning content and learning management has obvious potential advantages, but what exactly do people mean when they say that something incorporates gamification, and why is gamification so different depending on the context of the gamification?
Let’s start with the basics. Gamification is a generic term to describe the addition of game concepts to a field not traditionally associated with games. There are lots of game-play concepts, and they go way beyond badges and scoreboards. So in general, at a bare minimum, you can expect that badges and scores will be the most fundamental aspect of gamification in eLearning, but that it can certainly extend way beyond that. Gamification can include elaborate point awarding systems, competitive interactions, even in some cases elaborate multiplayer 3D games.
Further complicating the matter is the fact that gamification tactics can be applied both to Learning management systems, and to any of the eLearning content (like course modules, interactive videos etc.) that are generally considered ‘eLearning.’
For the purposes of this article I will focus on gamification in Learning Management. Specifically, I want to explore the notion that gamification can provide the proverbial ‘carrot’ to match the ‘stick’ that most training developers are already actively using to incentivize completion of assigned training.
In case you are unfamiliar, the image of the Carrot and the Stick is an idiom (an illustrative phrase) based on the notion that there are two ways to entice a donkey to move. The first method is using a carrot to entice the animal to move forward, the second option is using a stick to strike the animal on the hindquarters in order to punish it for failure to move forward. The phrase is universally understood as an example of using both reward and punishment to both entice and motivate people to behave as employers / organizations want them to behave.
Traditional learning management systems have used the metaphorical stick, quite effectively for years. In a conventional LMS this takes the form of reminders and escalation. In general the training manager sets a course to remind it’s learners to complete the requirement within a given time frame, and often provides the option to set up multiple reminders. You can generally remind learners early, remind them on the deadline, and remind them after the deadline is missed. You can also often escalate reminders to the managers, and even upper level managers as deadlines are missed in order to ‘punish’ the learner if they continue to ignore the requirement.
Incentives, carrots in the metaphor, should not be overlooked too easily. Most training and development professionals will share horror stories with you of the terrible negativity learners often express toward completion of learning materials. Not everything in a typical learning management system is compliance training (required or regulatory training.) Most organizations offer training designed to help employees improve their skills and knowledge in a variety of areas. For example, I just completed a very good course in EQ (Emotional Quotient) as a component of effective management from Adobe’s training division a couple of weeks ago. Courses like these are not required by my organization, but are provided as a mechanism to help me improve my own performance in my job. Substantial research shows that only through innovation will companies be able to actively compete against the constant waves of disruption in 21st century business, and that only through training will companies be able to foster an environment conducive to innovation. Simply put, if you don’t provide a broad opportunity for people to self-improve, aligned to your corporate goals, you will get ‘out-innovated’ by other companies in your field.
Adding incentives to learn, self-improve and upskill contributes to a culture of learning. Gamification is one great way to provide both a path to identification of which skills align to your business strategy, and to incentivize learning and training.
Most learning management systems today however, don’t provide much opportunity to incentivize learning. There are seldom ways to use carrots to entice learners into actively investing in their own training. This is where gamification has substantial potential to improve the experience of learners, and to enhance the options that training managers have to encourage learning and training among their audiences.
I’ll give some examples of how this can be accomplished with Adobe’s new LMS, Adobe Captivate Prime which does include gamification elements, designed to provide a rich landscape for incentivizing learning.
Adobe Captivate Prime allows you to add gamification to the courses, curriculum and other experiences – like skill achievement in order to add this sort of incentive or ‘Carrot’ to the training. Consider for example that you want to encourage completion of a video course that you think might be particularly viral if only you could get early buy-in within your organization. Using Adobe Captivate Prime, you could simply attach extra points to the course, for example adding 100 gamification points to the first 50 people who complete the course. The learners are automatically sent a message that the course and the bonus points are available – with bonus for the first 50, and suddenly people are rushing the door, instead of waiting to be ‘fashionably late’ to your hot new course.
You can also use the system to incentivize skill alignment. Because you control which skills are assigned to each learner, you can easily create a skill map that aligns both to your trainees, and to your corporate goals. Gamification in Adobe Captivate Prime then allows you to award people gamification points for successful completion of skill levels, and for completing courses and learning programs that align to their assigned skills. You can motivate self-starters, encourage fast learners and even award badges to further encourage friendly competition among teams.
Now another important part of the gamification ‘carrot’ is that it allows you to provide a landscape of awareness for teams of employees. The gamification system in Adobe Captivate Prime includes a Leaderboard that can be customized to align to the specific teams within your organization. This encourages conversation about organizational goals – and how the skills that each team member has been assigned, align to the company’s overall strategic plan. This sort of awareness is much rarer in organizations than you would think. Employees find having this information readily available, and highlighted around their training to be very helpful – it is part of what makes an LMS like Adobe Captivate Prime, user-friendly. It provides a kind of organizational reminder of the priorities.
The leaderboard let’s trainees see how their progress in training compares to their peers. This can provide a forum for conversation about which courses have been the most valuable, and can encourage friendly competition as trainees compete to jockey for the best position on the leaderboard. By facilitating the limitation of the leaderboard to teams, the gamification solution in Adobe Captivate Prime recognizes that you might not want to employ gamification and leaderboards for every team in your organization, and that people prefer to compete with those that are in similar roles and teams.
So perhaps it is time to consider adding carrots to our sticks in learning management. What do you think? As always, I love hearing your thoughts and ideas too.