Gamification and E-learning: A match made in heaven?

 These days, gaming isn’t just the domain of the young. Thanks to social media, mobile and faster internet connections, a wide range of people play games, from toddlers right through to retirees. This is a great opportunity for game development companies of course, but did you also know that it’s also a great way of learning?

Gaming is addictive even in its most simple form, you only have to look at the success of Bejewelled Blitz and Farm Town to realise that. Social media has helped to make this simple form of gaming a success across the world, as has mobile, and this is because everyone loves it.

From a learning perspective, gaming helps to keep the brain agile, increases knowledge retention, engagement and recollection and gives the student an opportunity to practice key skills.

What is gamification?

Gamification describes the practice of coupling everyday applications with game mechanics. It can be based on behaviour models such as the B J Fogg model, which is based on the idea that in order for certain behaviours to happen, three main elements must converge at the same moment. Many modern LMSs may very well already incorporate gamification, even if it’s not immediately obvious.

The three elements are:

  1. Motivation
  2. Ability
  3. Trigger

E-learning platforms that don’t include all of these elements are likely to suffer in the shape of a lack of engagement or interaction. Bearing this in mind, let’s have a look at how these elements work when it comes to online/portal learning.

Before we do this though, a quick overview of what the B J Fogg model actually is. B J Fogg was developed by a man of the same name who founded the Persuasive Technology Lab at the renowned Stanford University. Dr Fogg’s work looks at ways in which technology can be used in order to change behaviour in a positive manner.

The Fogg Behavior Model is just one part of a larger system that aims to help people design for behaviour change. As you can imagine, it’s a useful model for a variety of individuals and organisations and can be used in web design, marketing and more.

For more detailed information on behavioural models, visit the Behaviour Wizard or visit the lab at Stanford.


 In order for someone to complete a task, it’s necessary for them to have the motivation to do so. This motivation should be based on emotional responses and opposites, such as pain/pleasure, social acceptance/rejection and so on. As gamification implies a social presence, learners feel like they are in a social situation, even if this isn’t necessarily the case. This prompts them to compete with others and/or follow social rules, such as taking turns.


If a learner feels that something is beyond their ability, he will fail to engage properly with the learning material as he fears he will fail. However, if the student is sufficiently motivated, then he’s more likely to find the means to complete the task, which in turn raises his ability.


The trigger is the key to success, as without it, the other two elements can’t work. A trigger is basically a call-to-action that prompts the learner into doing something. Triggers are linked to motivation and can be used as reminders to complete tasks, for example.

What’s the difference between gamification and serious games?

Serious games are used in industries such as health care, defence and much more, generally at large organisation level. These are usually complex games which can be used for a variety of reasons, including training and investigation. Serious games tend to use a lot of resources and good design and graphics.

Gamification, in contrast, tends to add simple elements of gaming into ordinary tasks and this can manifest itself in numerous ways such as:

  • Points system
  • Levelling-up
  • Accuracy scores
  • Leader boards

A 2011 Gartner study forecast that by 2014, around 70% of organisations around the world will have a minimum of one gamified app.

“Gamification could become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon,” said Gartner’s Brian Burke. “During 2012, 20 percent of Global 2000 organizations will deploy a gamified application.

A more recent piece by Forbes takes this further and asserts that gamification is something which could dramatically change the workplace. According to Adam Penenberg, a journalism professor at New York University and the interview subject of the Forbes article: “there is a real possibility that companies will look at so-called gamification as a kind of soma for workers. Redesign jobs and mundane tasks so that they are more gamelike, and squeeze ever more productivity out of employees.”

However, he does bemoan the fact that these are likely to use the “least interesting” aspects of gaming such as those listed above. Whatever the case, there’s no doubt that gamification can increase the success of your e-learning initiative. When coupled with mobile, success is even more likely, as people will then have a learning platform by their side at all times.

It shouldn’t be too long then until our commutes into work in the mornings are likely to feature more and more people jabbing at their smartphones, as they take the spare time to complete another level on their learning platform, rather than playing Bejewelled Blitz.

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