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Top 5 Ways to Use Gamification in E-Learning Immediately!

Hello everyone, I hope you had a great week. I’ve been super busy which is why I haven’t been able to put in the time I’d like to writing a meaningful post. I’ve now had a free evening that has given me some much-needed time to sit and scribe so thanks for sticking with me.

I don’t usually like to do themed ‘Top 5’ lists because as you know if you’ve read any of my posts I like to go into detail on a particular topic – which having finished this post and re-reading I seem to have done for this as well! For me it offers the most benefit to the readers and allows me to cover quite intricate topics in the detail they often require.

Maybe it was something I ate, but this week I decided I’d hop onto the list train and enjoy the ride. I’m going to focus on Top 5 ways to start using gamification in E-Learning, some topic huh?

My focus is always giving you information that you can go and immediately use somewhere and the same is true for this post. I’d like to show you 5 quick and easy methods for jumping on board with gamification even if you’ve never tried to implement anything before. I obviously cannot guarantee results by just reading this post however I can give you a flavour of the world to wet your appetite.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are several things I’ve had to leave out of this post (however much it pains me) as Top 10 lists are in my honest opinion a little heavy if it’s meaningful advice rather than ‘Top 10 ways to make your gerbil stronger’ (I’ve actually seen this post).

1. Scenarios



My love. Scenarios are your gateway into gamification, giving the learner a meaningful decision to make whilst introducing the general principles of the theory.

My favourite thing about scenarios is creating the illusion of choice and effect. When you make a decision in a scenario the learner will be under the impression this may drastically alter the course but in truth you may be navigating to the same slide on 2 or 3 of the responses they could give. Games do this all the time, if you look at a game like Mass Effect you’ll see that the responses you can give in conversation don’t actually deviate you too far away from that central path of the game. Even if you do go off the track you’ll be pulled right back in line at some point because the game needs to function in a semi-linear fashion, games are the masters of illusion.

Make sure you read my in depth look into The Walking Dead Video Game for some really helpful tips in crafting meaningful scenarios.


2. Don’t use badges


WHAT!? You read it correctly, please do not look at using badges if you are just starting out in gamification. As I referred to in my previous post (Dispelling the Dopamine Myth) badges can be effective in shaping the gamified environment for the learner but they also create some nasty habits. One of these habits tends to be relying on the badges to do the job we, as instructional designers and E-Learning developers should be doing. Badges represent rewards in learning, something which most people consider a key part of the dopamine cycle – but it isn’t. A key aspect of that cycle is achievement and not reward; focus on giving your learner an experience that they feel genuinely pleased about completing. It could be because it was a particularly challenging course or you put in a timed assessment at the end that caused the user to feel pressured. I always remember the logic of ‘Why do gamers choose to play a game on the hardest difficulty setting’ when I sit down to design with companies. The reason is the achievement from completing such a challenging experience trumps everything else, if the reward was the driving motivator those players would be playing the easiest difficulty setting just to get through the game.


3. Think about the Dopamine Cycle

gamification-of-user-engagement-process-5-638 (1) 

When you want to dive into gamification be sure to familiarize yourself with the dopamine cycle.

Essentially this diagram could be your best friend, focus on how all of these other points work together to achieve the aims of the dopamine cycle.

I covered this plenty in my last post Dispelling the dopamine myth and power up your E-Learning! So I won’t go into massive detail in this.

4. Pacing


Game designers use a curve chart to map out the player experience throughout a game, this process is also known as pacing and is equally prevalent in film. Generally this graph rises and falls in small peaks until the final moments of the game where the user is propelled towards their goal in an often-hectic finale. When we talk about ‘falls’ in this way we are usually referring to a time that a player will have to explore the environment to find information or travel to an area to complete a mission. The rises are the periods of action, so finding something whilst exploring or the moment the mission starts when you arrive at your destination. Remember though not all of them have to be brilliantly engaging, rest and falls are needed just as much. Game developers know the value of this as otherwise you create unrealistic expectations for the user, if a game starts at 100mph and doesn’t maintain the pace you initially set (which is impossible) people will get bored.

This model also works in a learning environment; take the user on different experiences resulting in the rise and fall seen in the graph. The ‘falls’ are generally covered during periods of heavier information display (the times we can’t get around it). We can give the user multiple interactions that cause the rise we see here to help trigger the dopamine cycle but also adopt theories of motivational learning. Think about the entire journey (which ties in to all of these points) to decide where your rises and falls should be and how you want those to look.

5. Mystery and Exploration


Allow the user to explore the environment or at least open their access to information – there is no reason to restrict the flow of the content, unless you’re following a process that needs to be conducted in a certain way. A lot of Instructional Designers I know tend to just put their content in a linear fashion, which is fine, but we need to change that when looking at gamifying content. Mystery and uncovering mystery also leads to a sense of achievement, further stimulating the dopamine cycle. I have forever used what I call ‘The Magic Box’ in my courses and it’s just a box that I put in a random location. You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I hear people say ‘Ooooo’ whenever they see there’s a box that they don’t know what’s inside. Usually it’s just a bunch of documents for them to enjoy, but it fits the purpose. Think about small ways of presenting information differently.


There is value in all of these points individually but the true power comes from combining them for a more engaging learner experience. I’ve made this list so that the points can all be used together in an effective sense. Here’s a quick overview of how you can use this information.

Don’t use badges – So let’s focus on the user experience through this course using the other points.

Mystery – Ok so we have our course content, think about splitting it into sections and allowing the user to explore the environment for clues. You click on various places/documents/staff as examples of simple exploration. You can also factor in unexpected encounters or someone questioning what you’re doing to throw a metaphorical spanner in the works.

Scenarios – When we do run into an unexpected encounter we have a decision to make with how we want to proceed. Using scenarios in any setting requires some careful tailoring and thought when thinking about responses (be sure to check out my Walking Dead post here). Depending on the responses the learner gives you can alter the events that unfold – you do not even have to truly do this. With clever branching and good narrative you can give the illusion that an event has altered the path you were on.

Dopamine Cycle – Study the dopamine cycle and look how your content looks to address the various points. Remember that this should happen in small bitesize pieces, when chunking up your content keep Angry Birds in mind. Small, snappy, meaningful sections that release dopamine to keep the cycle in movement.

Pacing – Look at your content as a whole and when you start splitting it up think about how you can make each of those interactions exciting but also where you’re going to have those rest points.


This is a very quick example of how I might go about trying to implement these factors into a brief course design let’s use the example of risk.

You are investigating an incident in a large company that happened due to the risk assessment process not being followed. You have the option to explore the environment and speak to various members of staff. Whilst you are exploring you notice several suspicious document changes on the date that the incident occurred.

When examining one of the documents you are interrupted by a staff member who is acting shifty, you have the ability to question him but if you pressure him too much he will turn and walk away.

As the story unfolds and you explore further you will realise that the ‘shifty’ staff member was actually just a witness to the events and knows who didn’t follow the process and says they could have intentionally changed the risk assessment document. He was too nervous to tell someone and didn’t realise it would cause an issue.

Through weaving a narrative through this story it’s possible to make a really engaging gamified approach through just using the points I’ve discussed. No points, no badges just small rise and fall implemented well with a sense of achievement and satisfaction when you reach the end.

Thanks for reading this top 5 list, you should be able to take this advice and change the way you’re thinking about your courses. Any questions, as always, just leave a comment below or shout me on Twitter!



  1. Pingback: What We Can Learn From Games – Easter Eggs! | GAMING IN TRAINING

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