Watch out gamification, gameful design is on the rise

With the need for a strategic and design-led approach, gamification didn’t quite take off in popularity as expected. Gameful design, however, is on the rise and can be a valuable part of your learning strategy.

What went wrong for gamification?

Gamification can be implemented as a mere superficial engagement tool thanks to its badges, points and leaderboards being added to content as an afterthought to sugar-coat poor elearning. These superficial tools alone will never engage learners in the way intended, with information retention remaining low. However, gamification can be used successfully if designed with the user experience in mind from the outset, awarding virtual badges and trophies for genuine achievement – not just completion; this relates more to the design aspect than mere gamification.

Gameful design is more about designing a solution from the ground up, meant to delight and excite learners. Designers will capture the enjoyment factor of games and bottle this to motivate learners to take on the challenges and succeed. When learners are self-motivated and genuinely engaged, they are far more likely to retain information; it is therefore a sustainable method of teaching with a long-term view. A University of Colorado research study found that participants in gameful elearning experiences scored 14% higher in skill-based-knowledge assessments, 11% higher in terms of factual-knowledge and showed a 9% increase in retention rates [1].

Top tips for successful gaming

Gameful design can be used to create an interactive and immersive learning environment, make learning fun, increase knowledge retention, explore risks and consequences in a safe environment, and motivate and engage learners to change behaviour.

With 79% of people saying they would be more productive and motivated if their learning environment was more like a game [1], there is everything to play for, so make use of our favourite top tips:

  • Design with the user experience in mind from the outset – be clear on what you’re trying to achieve and how you are going to achieve it.
  • Find the fun and design around it – if we enjoy learning, we learn more.
  • Don’t be scared to change content – sometimes you’ll need to change your approach to make learning fun.
  • Tell a story – strong narrative is the most powerful tool to engage with a learner.
  • Scenarios are your gateway to clever design – they allow learners to make choices and see the consequences of their actions.
  • Focus on awards rather than rewards – use meaningful awards for genuine achievement and when the learner has overcome a challenge.
  • Use gamification mechanics with caution – points, badges and leader boards should only be added to a learning package as a carefully planned option. They are used to support the design, not to be the design.
  • Learners are people – design a learning experience that you would want to complete yourself.
  • Keep it intrinsic – make sure that learners take pleasure in the activity itself and are not merely chasing their next dopamine hit from a random reward.
  • Don’t try to sugar-coat bad elearning – game-mechanics can help you find the sweet spot of learning, but won’t mask bland content.

The Power of Play

Gameful design is a great weapon to make learning fun using powerful, engaging content; it can change behaviours for the long-term success of your learning strategy. The key is to think like a game designer: you want to produce an immersive experience that is truly engaging and effective, rather than relying on the gimmicks that plague the L&D industry’s misunderstanding of gamification.

We predict a greater focus on finding the fun in learning and designing around this concept – adding gamification to existing content merely as a superficial engagement tool is likely to be left behind.


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