Stopping Boring Content with This List of Gamification Elements??? Try Again…..

Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

gamificationI came across this article today. It claims to know the 8 steps needed to “Stop Boring Content”.

I disagree.

They say:

1. Win Scenario – This is one of the most important ways to create a basic Gamified course. By defining the win scenario you define all of the course objectives in a clear way. How do you “beat” this unit? How do I “win” this course? This is a great learning method that allows you to convert the boring instructional design competency mapping to a fun “save the princess” game. Every fun game has objectives to it; beat this boss, collect these 5 artifacts. Do the same with your course, and tell your learners about it.

I say: This one I agree with, mostly. Depending on your audience, if you decide to inject some sort of game scenario like “save the princess” or what-have-you, and you don’t do it in a way that works for ALL your learners, you will disengage some of them. Remember, NOT everyone likes Mario (or whatever game you have decided is going to be your model).

You DO need to define the win scenario, but be very careful about how you skin it.

They say:

2. Story Line – This technique is another one of the most important steps to make your learning material Gamified. This should define the overall concept behind the course or training.  Typically this step should define an overarching story or consistent theme to situate the content in an interesting context or scenario for the learner. I love using case-based learning or problem-based learning models when defining a storyline.  Both of these are perfect to get your learner curious about the materials you are working with. The key element for your story line should be using actual elements within the job experience that your learners will face to define the story.  Situate it in on the job reality and you will gain engagement points from your learners.

I say: A story-line only works in SOME situations. Be VERY careful how you use this. For many people, a properly implemented gamified course will be hard enough for them to get their heads around. If you add a story-line on top of that you could easily push them over the edge. Also, if you aren’t as good a writer as you think you are and your story-line isn’t engaging for everyone in the class, then all you’ve done is switch one group of disengaged learners for a different one.

They Say:

3. Quests – These are your different units that tie into the overall storyline of the game. They are fantastic as they allow your learners to concentrate on specific tasks prior to relating back to the overall Storyline.  Try to avoid cheesy concepts and try to make them situated to the actual work environment while making them based on real things that the learner will need to know. These smaller chunks help to break up the tedium that sometimes occurs with some engaging challenges.

I say: I use quests in my courses and I DON’T use any story-line, so no, the quests aren’t units that tie into your story-line. Quests are the activities you ask your learners to complete. While I don’t use a narrative, I have taken quest types from a variety of games (mostly MMOs) and re-purposed them to fit the classroom context.Turns out, many of these have actually helped me to create and group activities in a way that is more coherent than what I had before. For example, it is common in seminar type courses to require students to write reflections and to comment on the reflections written by their class-mates. In MMOs, a “persuasion quest” is one where you convince an NPC of a certain position, using dialog.  In my class, I use this quest as my reflection quest. When another classmate responds to a post, that is a ‘talk-to’ quest, and when the original poster responds to that, it is a ‘defend quest’.

They Say:

4. Course Avatars – While going through the learning experience it’s helpful to have an avatar system that actually reflects the learners’ accomplishments.  Allowing your learner to design their own avatar allows your learners to create a more personal bond with the course.  After the design, however, the learner should see their leveling and badges reflected within their avatar icon. It may be surprising how important this can be to some learners.

I say: If you want, but the caution here is the same as it was for number 2. If you do this wrong, all you will end up doing is switching one set of disengaged learners for another.

They Say:

5. Points system – The point system should be used as a positive reinforcement model for moving the user through the course. If a learning objective is accomplished, award points should be granted. Also don’t be afraid to take away points (as long as they can be earned back) as this can also be a motivator.

I say: Yes, but this one is actually far more important than this. If all you are doing is translating your old-style marking guide onto a point system, then it is merely window dressing. It doesn’t matter how many points you decide to use. If the old version of your course had 6 assignments worth 5% each and your “new” version has 6 quests worth 1,000 XP each, and if the maximum XP in your course is now 20,000 XP, then ALL you’ve done is create more math for your students.

What you need to do is change how points are mapped onto final grades. For example:
A perfect score in my course is 1,000 XP (it keeps the math simple), BUT if the players did everything they *could* do for points, and if they got full points for everything, they’d end up with 1,500 XP. That means, they have choices. THIS is KEY to a gamified course design.

You’d be surprised how many students keep submitting quests even AFTER they have a “perfect score”. THAT’s the power of gamification done right.

They Say:

6. Leveling – Leveling is a great way to provide your learners with a method of keeping track of how they are doing within a course or learning environment. It lets your users know how they are doing within the learning environment. More importantly if you are working with a great budget and can use a sophisticated development platform (Unity comes to mind) combined with TinCan (xAPI) you can use leveling to give your learner cooler abilities or unlock new learning adventures (not to mention the awesome analytics you can get on the back end).

I say: I like levels, but don’t get carried away making them too complex unless you have an automated way to keep track of things.

They Say:

7. Badging – Signifies a visual reward for accomplishment.  This could be based upon leveling/points or used as a rewards system.  Badging for its own sake should be avoided other than to get the student used to the concept. Badging could be used to keep motivation within the course. After completing a quest a badge could be awarded. Badges should be displayed somehow within the course avatar and should be used in conjunction with leveling.

I love to give my learners something that they can use those hard earned learning levels towards. At the end of the day most learners should be intrinsically motivated however, winning a free vacation for the most points collected or the highest level attained is a great extrinsic reward that may motivate me just a little more.

I say: I have not used badges. My students have never said they miss them. Badges can be great, but here too – it needs to be authentic. I went to a conference some years ago that had gamified their conference registration / scheduling system. I got badges for the lamest things – like registering. EVERYONE who registered (which was, everyone going to the conference) “won” this badge, so it was meaningless. I felt no sense of accomplishment for most of the badges I had “earned”. Eventually, I ended up avoiding doing things because I didn’t want to get another one of those dumb badges.

They Say:

8. Learner Urgency- The game needs to develop some sort of buy-in mechanism that acts as a motivating element as well as creating a sense of urgency to complete tasks.  We don’t want the learners to be too stressed, however, we do want to make something that motivates them to finish the tasks at hand. Leaderboard updates, time limits on tasks, or my favorite method; Give rewards for levels or points accomplishments (these work).

I say: Let’s turn this around to be Instructor Urgency. Fast turn-around of marking / assessment is essential if a gamified course design is to be successful. In a regular semester course I mark at least twice a week, and preferably before each class. Fast feedback encourages students to complete tasks. Be very careful with leaderboards. This sort of competition can seriously backfire, AND in many cases, it will be against school policies to let students know each others’ marks. There are ways to do this, but just because YOU find competition motivating and like to see your name at the top of a leaderboard, doesn’t mean that everyone else does. Think about the people at the bottom of the board. How do you suppose they feel?

On the other hand, offering rewards or bonuses for things is usually effective. You’d be surprised at the difference in attitude when you offer a point bonus for getting something in on time versus a penalty for handing it in late. Mathematically, it’s exactly the same thing. The first one feels better, and is FAR more motivating.


In my next post, I’ll give you my list.


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Stopping Boring Content with This List of Gamification Elements??? Try Again….. — 3 Comments

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