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Gamification Design Techniques to Engage and Energize Your Learners

February 16, 2022 | By Asha Pandey


Gamification Design Techniques to Engage and Energize Your Learners

Merely function-focused, objective-oriented training does not work, especially in hybrid workplaces. Learner-centric gamification is the new alternative. In this article, I share gamification design techniques to engage and energize your learners.

Why Is There a Disconnect Between Learners and the Way Training Courses are Designed?

Traditionally, because of the time and distance gaps between trainers, learners, and content, eLearning has always had an “engagement challenge.” With the broader evolution of hybrid workplaces, those challenges, however, have metastasized. Work from home (WFH) mandates have introduced more “learner disconnect” opportunities, adding to the engagement challenge.

Many eLearning programs are function-focused – they’re designed around a specific set of learning objectives – rather than learner-focused. This narrow focus further precipitates learner disengagement, since it doesn’t provide virtual learners the full scope of learning experiences they crave. The limited-focus approach also falls short on course design, which fails to sufficiently stimulate, challenge, engage, and excite the learner.

How Does Gamification Drive Learner Engagement?

In a hybrid workplace, where there are already plenty of non-work-related distractions in the environment, learners are easily disengaged when presented with run-of-the-mill training courses.

That’s why more L&D professionals are turning to game based and gamified learning to drive engagement. Here’s why:

  • Gamification design is based on a learner-centric course design, which personalizes the content based on learner likes and preferences.
  • Unlike the restrictive functional focus of traditional eLearning content, gaming content is typically tied to specific learning objectives, to which individual learners relate to.
  • By appealing to core learner values, through game based situations, characters, and plots, learners more readily engage with game based learning.
  • Elements of rewards and recognition in a game—badges, points, leaderboards—make learners feel appreciated and challenged.

These characteristics compel virtual learners, even those in a hybrid workplace, to persist with game based learning. This results in a higher engagement quotient for such learning when compared to non-gaming learning content.

How Does a Well-designed Gamification Program Improve Learner Proficiency and Business Performance?

To illustrate the importance of good gamification design, we’ll refer to a contemporary commercial behavioral model (called the Hook Model, developed by entrepreneur, author, and behavioral economist Nir Eyal), which many app developers have adopted. The model helps describe how well-designed gamification programs improve learner engagement, which then translates to higher performing .


Here’s how the 4-phased Hook Model works in relation to gamified learning:

  1. A well-planned gamification design addresses a “trigger,” creating awareness for the learner to embrace the course, training program, or learning module. For example, “The new HR system goes live next month…be prepared to use it effectively!”
  2. It incentivizes the learner into action, which typically encourages them to engage with the course to satisfy the initial trigger. For example, “Have fun mastering new features, and learn how to enter your weekly Time Cards in just 3 minutes!”
  3. Learners are rewarded throughout the “game,” in recognition of their performance. For example, “Publish names of employees who complete all modules, Highest scoring employee etc.”
  4. Continued outreach and communication with the learner keeps them coming back for more, resulting in entrenched learned behavior. For example, “Don’t enter your Time Cards anymore – New features now allow you to scan 7 days of data in 2 minutes!”

In summary, like many gaming apps, communication, motivation, recognition, and compulsion are what hooks learners to embrace gamified learning. As the learner travels through this personal learning path, she/he forms a habit of learning new skills and traits. This engrains learner proficiency on the job and contributes to overall business performance.

What Gamification Design Techniques Can You Adopt to Engage and Energize Your Learners?

  1. Personalization (elements that enable learners to create an identity for themselves within the game).
    • Choice of devices: Ensure learners can choose their devices (laptops, tablets, smartphones – and even desktops!) to consume your gamified content.
    • App based mobile design: With many virtual workers gravitating to learning on-the-go, it’s vital that you deliver your gaming content in an app based format. For this to succeed, the app design must feature lightweight, small footprint delivery, because not every app user might own unlimited, high-bandwidth mobile data plans.
    • Personalized learning paths: Allow learners to craft a path, within the game, that resonates with their learning objectives. This motivates them with greater engagement in the course.
    • Building a narrative: These elements may include aspects such as scenes, backdrops, music, sounds, and a general theme of the game. They help create an ambiance of “actual participation,” engagement, and involvement.
    • Customized avatars: This allows learners to use caricatures (icons and images) to relate to. Playing a game, as an avatar they empathize with, helps learners better immerse themselves in the game.
    • Customized settings: An effective gamification design embraces the belief that learners learn best when they take charge of their settings. Allowing them to customize your gaming content, in terms of the game’s canvas, font colors and pitch size, orientation (portrait or landscape), choice of tones (beeping, ringing) helps make learners feel they’re in “control.”
    • Personalized feedback: Provide customized feedback based on learner behavior through the game. This reinforces the idea that the recommendations are indeed tailored to them, and not something generic.
  1. The storyline (elements that encourages learners to spend time on the learning material).
    • Character paths and storylines (story based learning): Organize your gaming content around storylines. Ensure characters, on which the story is based, can branch through multiple paths to accomplish a goal. These underpin the structure around which story based games revolve. This technique offers a more immersive learning experience.
    • Quests: Quests, in pursuit of specific learning objectives, are a great way to engage and energize learners through creative gamification design. By cascading through the storyline, one milestone at a time, learners are persuaded to build on lessons learned along their learning journey.
    • Scenarios: Multi-scenario based gaming content lets players (learners) explore the lesson through various lenses. Unlike static storylines, which the learner may grow tired of – and disengage after a few iterations, sound gamification design includes the use of scenarios that keep learners guessing – and engaged – from the beginning to the end of each new situation they face. Ideally, a more compelling and gripping form of this strategy may be dynamic scenarios, where each outcome evolves, based on earlier choices.
    • Learning paths: Most learners will likely interact multiple times with the gaming content. Following a static learning path each time is a recipe for disengagement. To energize and engage your learners, create multiple paths that they may choose from, each of which could focus on specific learning objectives and outcomes.
  1. Motivation drivers (elements that show progress, development).
    • Personalized performance indicators: Progress bars, Leaderboards, Points, Scores – these are hallmarks of a good gamification design. Nothing energizes a game based learner more than seeing how well he/she is doing viz. peers and fellow learners. Personalized performance indicators are great tools to motivate individuals to put their best gaming skills to the test, so they may inch higher in standing and earn peer recognition.
    • Designations: Hand out specialist designation indicators, such as Novice, Expert, Guru, and Ninja, to leverage an individual’s thirst for acknowledgement and credit. This will not only help individuals engage but will also spur healthy competition among groups of learners to aspire for higher designations.
  1. Accomplishments (elements that show what learners have achieved).
    • Badges, milestones, virtual collectibles, ranks: These provide learners visual markers along their personalized learning paths. As learners engage with the game, and earn markers for their accomplishments, they can also track those accomplishments against their own, and fellow learner’s, learning goals.
  1. Social Drivers.
    • Forums and discussions: Evidence shows us that learners learn best through peer interaction. As part of your gamification design, consider including discussion boards and moderated forums. These are a great place for learners to engage with fellow learners, share gaming experiences, and provide important learning tips to groups of like-minded members.
    • Shareability: Shared User-Generated Content (UGC) is a great way to create strong Learning and Performance Ecosystems. As learners interact with various aspects of game based learning, encourage them to post and share best practices about the learning objectives and outcomes. This enhances the value of interactions with fellow learners and energizes participants to actively document and discuss shared experiences.
    • Feedback/coaching mechanisms: One effective gamification design principle is to include helpful feedback features. Good feedback doesn’t necessarily mean offering critique. When framed properly, constructive feedback, through every phase of the game, acts as a coaching tool that helps learners improve performance in the next stage. Ideally, gaming feedback must also encourage two-way interactions, where players (learners) may challenge a coach on their assessment/observations.

Parting Thoughts

The hybridization of today’s workforce has caused major challenges for eLearning designers. Traditionally developed training content doesn’t energize and engage learners. To overcome those barriers, L&D teams can focus on leveraging game based learning, with better gamification design techniques. I hope the gamification design techniques discussed in this article will help you achieve those objectives.

Meanwhile, if you have any specific queries, do contact me or leave a comment below.

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Nir Eyal, “The Hook Model: How to Manufacture Desire in 4 Steps,” Nir and Far (blog), 2021, https://www.nirandfar.com/how-to-manufacture-desire/

Asha Pandey
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