Authors: Arnaude Lintzer and Irene Beccarini, EMLV Business School, Paris

Gamification, the dynamic engine that has been boosting digital marketing for years, is also making its way into the world of continuing education. But did you know that it could also revolutionize the field of initial training, and more specifically e-learning?

Making online education more attractive: The challenge of engagement

Online education offers unprecedented flexibility and accessibility. Yet it comes with its share of challenges: with isolation, lack of social interaction, absence of immediate feedback from teacher or peers, high levels of self-discipline and motivation, some learners can struggle to stay motivated and manage their time effectively. 

Fortunately, gamification is here to meet these challenges. By integrating game elements and creating more interactive and engaging learning experiences, teachers and instructional engineers can reinvent the e-learning experience and improve it for all learners.

Did you say “Gamification”? 

This still young term first appeared in the Oxford dictionary in 2011, and refers to: “[… ] the incorporation of game-based mechanisms into elements that are not playful in the first place. It’s adding play to a non-game context to solve problems or enhance an internet offering.” Its aim? Incite action, promote behavioral change, and engage over the long term, all through an adapted design and narrative.

Why gamify?

By taking advantage of the natural appeal of games, gamification, when used properly and adapted to the specificities of the project, makes it easier to achieve objectives. 

It has many advantages: 

– increased motivation, thanks to points, badges, rewards and ranking systems,

– better retention of information, promotion of collaboration (with team games or group challenges), 

– personalized learning (with the ability to progress at your own pace, focusing on areas where you need to improve your knowledge or skills) 

– and development of key 21st century skills: critical thinking, problem solving, creativity, digital numeracy and collaboration.

How can gamification be applied to online training? 

As we’ve seen, gamification isn’t simply a matter of adding fun elements to a course. It requires careful thought and planning. This is where gamification design methodologies come in, providing a framework for the effective integration of game elements. Several factors need to be taken into account, such as target audience, engagement levers and appropriate game mechanics. Before exploring these methodologies, it’s essential to understand Bartle’s typology and the levers of engagement in gamification.

Understanding your audience WHY USE IT?

Knowing your audience is crucial to creating relevant and engaging gamified activities. What are your learners looking for? What motivates them? What are their learning preferences? By understanding your audience, you can better understand their expectations and thus create activities that meet their needs and stimulate their engagement. 

A valuable tool for answering these questions is Bartle’s typology, which categorizes players according to their type. To identify a learner’s Bartle type, a specific test* is used. By having an idea of the distribution of gamer types in your class, you can tailor your activities to your audience. 

* The “Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology” is a 30-question online questionnaire that enables individuals to determine their gamer type.

1.         Socializers: motivated by interaction with others, they value community and collaboration, and find satisfaction in interacting with other players, whether working together to achieve a common goal or simply chatting. 

2.         Explorers: motivated by curiosity and a desire to discover the world of gaming. They like to explore game systems and mechanics, and find satisfaction in discovering new areas, new secrets or new ways of doing things. 

3.         Achievers: motivated by the achievement of goals and progress, they are satisfied when they reach concrete objectives, whether through rewards, the accomplishment of difficult tasks or the attainment of high levels of competence.

4.         Killers: motivated by competition and the desire to dominate others, they find satisfaction in direct interaction with other players, often in the form of conflict. 

Individuals are generally not strictly one type of gamer. They may exhibit characteristics of several player types, and these preferences may evolve over time. The exact proportions of each player type vary according to the specific population and context. Some research suggests that there are general trends. In a sample of online gamers, Bartle found that Socials were the most common player type (80%), followed by Explorers, then Achievers, and finally Killers (1%). However, these proportions may not be the same in an e-learning context. For example, in an academic environment, we might expect to find a higher proportion of Achievers, who are motivated by goal attainment and mastery.

The 8 Core Drives according to Yu-Kai Chou

Yu-kai Chou, gamification pioneer and author of “Actionable Gamification”, is the creator of the Octalys framework, which includes the following 8 Core Drives**: 

1.         Epic Meaning: Giving meaning to an action, creating the conviction that the player has been chosen to fulfill a mission.

2.         Achievement/Accomplishment: Validate skills, levels and progress through a system of points, badges or trophies.

3.         Empowerment: Enhance your skills and creativity.

4.         Possession/Ownership: Obtain a new status, a new avatar.

5.         Social Influence: Interacting, wanting to help, learn and work in collaboration or competition with others.

6.         Rarity/Scarcity: Wait for a reward, seize the opportunity when it presents itself.

7.         Unpredictability: Wanting to find out what happens next, not knowing what to expect – in short, suspense…  

8.         Avoidance/Avoidance: Fear of losing out, of stopping before reaching your goal.

The use of these engagement levers is essential to engage your users. The match between the levers used in your course and your users’ expectations must be fine-tuned to design a tailor-made experience. So, before actually creating gamified activities, you need to identify the most relevant motivational levers and compare them with your learners’ expectations. You’ll then generate gamification ideas. 

**Alexandre Duarte and Sébastien Bru define 9 Core Drives: Social Influence, Competence & Mastery, Meaning, Possession, Rarity & Scarcity, Immersion, Creativity & Autonomy, Curiosity & Randomness, Loss Aversion.

Choosing the right game mechanics and techniques

There are many game mechanics and techniques to use in your gamified activities. Here is a non-exhaustive list: 

  • Projects, missions and challenges for Epic Sense.
  • Points, badges, trophies, rankings, levels, progress bar for Achievement and Creativity.
  • Positive feedback and reinforcement, collective or individual encouragement for Empowerment.
  • Levels, statuses and avatars for Acquisition.
  • Setting milestones, bonus points, time management, sponsorship, random rewards for Rarity.
  • Radical learning activities for Unpredictability and Avoidance.
  • Creating and belonging to a team or guild, sharing in forums for Social Influence.

Which mechanics/techniques for which profile?

Determining which technique or game mechanic to use depends essentially on your learning objectives and your understanding of your target audience.

Depending on the predominant profile of your learners, you may want to integrate different game mechanics. 

If your learners are predominantly ‘Social’ types, it might make sense to encourage collaboration and social interaction, through online discussions, teamwork and social networking activities.

If you notice a strong presence of ‘Accomplishers’, consider incorporating progression systems, such as points, badges, levels and rewards. These gamification elements prove highly effective in engaging this type of learner.

For ‘Explorers’, they might be captivated by gamification elements such as optional learning content, puzzles, or open-ended scenarios as part of an online course.

As for ‘Killers’, elements of direct competition, such as leaderboards, head-to-head challenges, might be more appealing.

❗ Note that some game elements, such as leaderboards, badges and trophies, don’t always succeed in capturing your learners’ interest. Instead of relying on preconceived ideas, focus on investigation and observation to pinpoint their true expectations.

It’s up to you! 

With your objectives, audience and game mechanics in mind, you can start designing your gamified activities. Once you’ve designed your activities, test them with a small group of learners to gather feedback. Use this feedback to refine your activities, solve problems, and improve the learning experience. Remember, gamification is a process of iteration and continuous improvement.

Selected bibliography : 

Bartle R., Hearts, Clubs, Diamonds, Spades: Players Who Suit Muds, MUSE Ltd, University of Essex, 1996.

Duarte, Alexandre, Bru, Sébastien, La boîte à outils de la gamification : 67 outils clés en main, Dunod, 2021

Muletier, Clément La gamification : Comment utiliser les mécaniques du jeu pour engager et fidéliser, Eyrolles, 2023 Chou Yu-Kai, Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges, and Leaderboards