Last week I presented at the iDesignX conference in Sydney. It was  great day and it was wonderful to connect with so many other eLearning practitioners and meet the Articulate legends a.k.a Tom Kuhlmann and David Anderson.  My presentation was called Personalising Learning through Conditional Interactivity.

I examined how we could use gamification techniques to make our online courses more meaningful and ultimately a more personalised, learning experience. I like to say things in threes, so I’ve summarised my presentation into three main parts:

1. Are we putting our learners at risk?

Are you putting your learners at risk every time they do an eLearning course? I did examine the area of actual electric shocks being delivered via the mouse when the user makes the wrong choice but I don’t think that would go down that well with health and safety! Jokes aside, what I was really referring to was the concept of challenging our learners…..are we  challenging them enough? Do they have anything to lose when they do a course or can they just do the quiz unlimited times until they pass and are marked competent on the LMS. …no risk involved! Putting your learners at risk can be a great way to motivate.

2. Gamification can add a level of risk/challenge to your content.

I am a big fan of the work of Karl Kapp and his book Gamification of learning and Instruction. This book gave me a great insight into gamification and education. Basically gamification should have the following elements:

It should be:

  • Game based
  • Mechanics
  • Aesthetics
  • Game Thinking
  • Motivation
  • Promote Learning
  • Solve Problems

One thing I learned from Karl Kapp is that not all gamification elements need to be present. However, the elements that you do include must be done well e.g. don’t just include points for the sake of it. They must have meaning or be in some way motivating to your learner. In my presentation I said that gamification is not a new concept. As a former schoolteacher I used it almost every day. However in eLearning we must re-imagine the learning experience. Gamification techniques are not new but when they are done well they can help create a meaningful learning experience.

3.  Where do I start?

I often get asked this question. People will say…”yeah gamification is good and well, but I don’t have any time for those high level techniques. My boss wants that course by next week”. I understand these constraints but remember gamification is nothing new. My advice is to start with the story. Story is one of the most powerful elements of gamification (game thinking) and is something that we use in our training and teaching on a regular basis.

The Hero’s Journey is one of my favourite storytelling techniques and it’s used by a lot of game designers. It’s basically like the story of The Hobbit….normal guy/gal is needed to save the world….they meet a mentor….. they are not really sure they want to help…then something happens and they go from the known world into the unknown world. …….there they face lots of challenges and gain new skills…then they face their biggest challenge and we think they might die in an epic battle but they win and are on their way home and we think everything is okay but they face one more epic battle where the villain comes back……they win this battle and then they return to the known and life returns to normal. So could we use something like this in our Induction programs or compliance training? A new employee goes from the known to the unknown. They face lots of new challenges and skills. They get help from a mentor and the story unfolds. For me it’s about re-imagining the learning experience……no rings or wizards necessary!

Final Thoughts

When applying gamification it can be worthwhile if your learner takes on a role or maybe chooses an avatar. The avatar must be realistic to their context. Throughout the course, they have to make choices and there will be consequences (electric shocks are optional). This is where you can build in the mechanics e.g. badges, points or levels.  Aesthetics is crucial so it’s important to have a strong design concept at the start. I showed a sample (image above) that I had put together in Articulate Storyline. The content was aimed at sales assistants in a pharmacy. I created a talking avatar and inserted that as a video into Storyline. I used the power of conditions and variables to apply some gamification techniques e.g. choose a character, achieve points etc.

I’ve learned that you don’t just apply gamification for the sake of it. During the definition stage of your project you should decide if the course will be gamified.  Ask yourself:

  • Why am I gamifiying this content?
  • What purpose will it serve?
  • Will it help me meet the learning objectives?

Finally have some fun with it. Chances are if you have fun building it, then your learners will have fun doing it.

Speaking of fun, I’d  better get back to teaching the Master eLearning Course… where did I put that electric cattle prod?

Ruth McElhone About Ruth McElhone
Ruth is the Learning Director, B Online Learning. She holds a MEd. and is an Articulate Certified Trainer. Ruth has a passion for new technologies, social collaboration strategies and the impact they have on learning. Her extensive role at B Online Learning includes managing and facilitating the Master eLearning Course. This course instructs learning professionals how to design, develop and deliver eLearning courses effectively and efficiently in the workplace, whilst engaging them in a social community of eLearning best practice. She manages the Certified Articulate training programs in the Asia-Pacific region and was recently awarded BEST ONLINE FACILITATOR at the LearnX 2013.