Impactful & Meaningful Learning: Learner Centered Gamification – III

Gamification is a concept that most people can get behind as it’s utility is as apparent as Candy Crush is addictive. It has developed as a novel approach to implementing a reward and feedback system in learning. It is being utilized in a number of domains: healthcare, military and commerce. It’s popularity has created a shortcut method to gamifying content – a haphazard injection of points, leadership boards, awards and badges.  This has lent to a paradigm shift into application of meaningful gamification.

How does one go about implementing gamification in a meaningful and effective way?

According to Nicholson (2012), simplistic application of gamification will be a meaningless insertion of points and external rewards. This creates a cognitive dilemma for users who are being incentivized by a gaming system that targets external rewards to attract users. This will eventually create a scenario where these rewards become uninteresting and lose the power to incite intrinsic motivation necessary for learning. Zichermann (2011) added, such application will ultimately lead to a reward system that is an endless loop. Thus, it’s integral that gamification is customized and tailor-made to suit the user. The user must be able to gauge his control over the experience, leading to a sense of achievement and completion. This ensures the reward remains motivating  and doesn’t become an expected part of the simulation.

It’s important to remember when incorporating game elements into non-game contexts, that it’s the reconstruction of the instructional design into game play that’s fun, not the insertion of points itself. The points signal important information that needs to be learned has been transferred. However, meaningful gamification will only succeed if it puts the needs of the users before the organization. The training industry is reluctant to do so but when users are prioritized and given control they will have a more positive experience, resulting in a systematic change in motivation: with deeper engagement with their peers, non-game tasks and the organization itself.

Glover (2013) was one of the first proponents for an application of gamification that prioritizes the user, not the organization. He correctly pointed out that learning is an active process and requires personal motivation to both began and continue that process. The applicability of gamification to education arises due to a shared focus on achieving specific goals. Ames (1992) demonstrates how prioritizing the user is more beneficial, as goals dedicated to mastery of a topic or skill, rather than reaching performance targets have been shown to increase amount of time spent on the task, especially when the difficulty is high, leading to more engagement and motivation. Conversely, Meece et al. (2006) shows performance related tasks benefit from public recognition of achievement through leaderboards and rankings. This goes to show that gamification must be carefully considered for each task, what needs to be accomplished and how to best motivate the trainees themselves, to do just that.

Any content can be gamified, from traditional course content to electronic media. However, to encourage meaningful learning, it is critical to consider whether the goals and objective of the learning is appropriate to the learner themselves.  Gamification should be applied simultaneously as the learning activity is being developed. Since gamification emerged through computer and gaming media, there is a large potential for application in virtual learning environments; there is also some scope to implement gamification in traditional classroom environments through mini-games, and rankings. Game elements that are to be utilized to gamify learning must be identified and filtered for the appropriate target group and type of activity.  Avoid incorporating points and rewards superficially, instead meaningful ratings and feedback for learners to use amongst themselves may be more beneficial. It’s important to support quantifiable elements like points with qualifiable elements that actually give the user insight into their own work. For instance, a trainee that has achieved over 10,000 points in the last 2 days might become bored of upcoming tasks (which reward with.. you guessed it.. more points!) however, including feedback and ratings will keep the trainee attached to the tasks ahead.

Although organizations seek out gamification to engage their trainees, they do not make their learning the priority in simulation design. They prioritize their own content and protocol that needs to be transferred. Research shows that actually considering the trainees personal growth & learning will serve you better in creating long-lasting, effective engagement and motivation between organization and employee.



  • S. Nicholson, “A User-Centered Theoretical Framework for Meaningful Gamification”, In Games+ Learning+ Society , 2012, pp. 17.
  • G. Zichermann and C. Cunningham, Gamification by Design: Implementing Game Mechanics in Web and Mobile Apps. Sebastopol,CA: O’Reilly Media, 2011.
  • I. Glover, “Play As You Learn : Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners. Ed Media 2013, 2013,pp. 19992008