Gamification in e-Learning

Gamification is increasingly being used in e-Learning to make the learning more fun and engaging and according to this article Why Adopt Gamification for Corporate Training – 8 Questions Answered is “poised to impact corporate training significantly”.

It’s hard to ignore the current interest in applying gamification to online learning, so I’m working on a demo to experiment with and showcase what can be done using Articulate Storyline 2 rapid authoring software in this regard.

The Concept

I started by reading this article on the e-Learning Heroes site on Gamification Techniques: How to Apply Them to E-Learning.

In any effective learning experience, the goal is to inspire and prompt positive behavioural change.  Through the application of game elements and gaming techniques to online learning content, learners are placed in simulated real-life situations where circumstantial decision-making, exploration and a more effective learning experience enhance knowledge retention.

Providing a context for the learning is super important when you are designing gamification for online learning. It’s not enough to just rely on the entertainment factor – embedding facts in the context of the story and relating the story to the context of the desired outcome is essential.

The Design

A compelling story and a journey full of challenges guide the learner through a simulated real-life situation. The design is a type of “quest”, with a fixed goal to achieve and is made up of a series of challenges aimed at multiplying the feeling of achievement once the goal is reached.

The demo begins with a plane trip – which ends up being a plane crash. There’s a hint of the unknown and anticipation before the learner is presented with the first challenge in the demo.

Of course, taking action and interacting with any online game is part of the experience – so in order for the learner to relate to the urgency of the situation and survive the plane crash, I set up a drag-and-drop simulation where they needed to act quickly to reach the nearby island. Rather than incorporating a timer, I chose to simulate the plane sinking into the ocean – with appropriately detailed instructions so they knew exactly what was happening and what they needed to do.

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As this all happens pretty quickly, I set up a “try again” layer if the learner does not act quickly enough or take any action at all – otherwise the game would end here!

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Once the learner has successfully reached the island, the scoring aspect of the demo begins. Clear “How to Play” instructions are an important part of this design and ensure the learner is fully aware of what’s happening and what they need to do. To make sure the learner feels comfortable and engaged with the gamification experience, I designed these instructions as a manadatory screen before access to the first challenge is unlocked, but also thought it was important to have these instructions accessible at any point during the demo.

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Elements of gamification that I’ve incorporated include challenges that require observation and action, with rewards points based on achievement, and scoring used as feedback mechanics and to unlock subsequent levels of challenge.

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I included a screen in the demo that indicated if the learner had not scored enough points, with the option to try again.  I also needed to incorporate this screen in case no action at all was taken by the learner during the challenge and the end of the timeline was reached.

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Once the learner had scored enough points, they are congratulated and the next challenge level is unlocked.

As the learner collects points, they also collect “supplies” relevant to the survival items they identified and selected throughout the challenge. In subsequent challenges the learner will face situations where having supplies to draw on will help them in their challenge. If they choose to use the supplies at the right time they will be rewarded with bonus points, or alternatively if they do not choose to use the supplies wisely, they will lose points.

The Process

The process behind developing a demo that successfully incorporates elements of gamification can be quite involved. Not only are the visual elements important to engage the learner, but the mechanics behind how all of the scoring and rewards works requires an analytical mind and once I started working through this, I was actually surprised at how much more logical this was than I had anticipated.

The logic that makes all of the gamification elements work throughout this demo was created by combining states, triggers, variables and conditions. Triggers add interactivity to any course developed in Articulate Storyline 2. Nothing will happen without a trigger. Triggers help you set up an action based on the question “what do you want to do and when do you want to do it”.

So, for example, the plane sinking drag-and-drop slide was set up as follows:

  • a motion path was added to the plane to make the plane appear to sink
  • a trigger changed a “plane” True/False variable from False to True if the life jacket was dragged and dropped on the island (in this case a “hotspot”) before the plane sank (or reached a Cue point on the timeline)
  • a trigger changed the state of the life jacket to Hidden when the life jacket was dragged and dropped on the island
  • a trigger jumped to the next slide when the life jacket was dragged and dropped onto the island based on the “plane” variable being True
  • a trigger showed the “sunk” layer if the “plane” variable was not True before the timeline for the base layer of the slide reached a designated Cue point

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The Challenges slide was a little more complicated, with more layers, motion paths, triggers – and pretty much more of everything, including variables which work to add up the points and give the learner their supplies as rewards.

Showing progress through the demo challenges and making sure the learner understood their progress was something I was conscious of.  I incorporated score points badges (with accompanying audio) and added visual reward elements to the “My Supplies” area as each survival item or opportunity was identified. Additionally, once the first challenge had been successfully completed and the learner moves on to the next challenge, visual validation of this was a design choice based on what I believe is an important element of learner engagement and motivation to continue the learning experience. The score displays prominently and continues to compound as each challenge is undertaken and items and opportunities are identified and selected by the learner.

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The Result

This project was as much a learning experience for me as it was one that has produced a final demo – at this stage! The more I read about gamification and the more I return to this production file, the more I want to include in it!

As the demo is still a work in progress – sorry, but this overview is all I can share with you!

I hope this inspires you to have a go at incorporating gamification into you e-Learning projects.

How could this demo be improved?

There are different spectrums of gamification, ranging from the basics of points scoring and levels to a much more immersive experience, for example where the learning is designed around a gaming theme, with learners assuming a character role to represent them throughout the learning module, or alternatively utilising a character to convey instructions and feedback. Research indicates that learners are influenced by characters (or anthropomorphic agents) even when their functionality and adaptability are limited. Whilst not strictly used in a gamification context, here are some examples that illustrate how effective using characters or avatars can be in online learning.

Including random rewards – what is better than a surprise reward when you least expect it.

Badges could be used as a form of feedback or measure of progress and could add to the intrinsic motivation that you want learners to experience.

Curiosity is a strong force in any learning – tapping into a learner’s curiosity by incorporating unexplained elements that add mystery and encourage exploration could take this design to another level.

Timers that invoke a sense of urgency or competition are popular in gamification and could easily be incorporated into a demo like this one.

But what is effective application of gamification in eLearning?

Love Anna Sabramowicz – and found this short video of tips about e-Learning games and what you need to consider when incorporating them in your online training really quite informative.

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