Computer games have unbelievable abilities to keep people’s attention. As a planet we spend 3 billion hours a week gaming. People are willing to invest hours of their time trying to beat their own high scores. e-Learning needs to tap into that drive.
Gamification of e-Learning is not just turning e-Learning into one big game. It is applying the successful mechanics and psychology of gaming to improve a learning experience. Using gaming ideas such as of levelling up or hidden extras can pull a learner into a course which leads to greater understanding. As a gamer myself I feel I’m well positioned to discuss which gaming mechanics we should be using to improve our e-Learning. Let’s have a look at some of the best gaming principles that can be applied to e-Learning without hugely increasing development time.
Ease them in gently
Anyone who has played a computer game knows that the first level is always the simplest. The reason this is done is to introduce the game and teach the basic controls. This means the gamers can then go on and play the game.
This principle has to be applied to e-Learning. As courses vary so much, early interactions really need to be well explained, with extra screen tips to ease the learner into the course. Although the challenge or questions must still be relevant to the course the answers should be easy to identify, so the learners can learn what is expected of them.
Increase the difficulty gradually throughout
A game that is too easy becomes monotonous very quickly. A game that is too hard will cause people to quit, usually in a fit of rage. A great game must be at the right level to keep the gamer playing. Games achieve this by increasing the difficulty level gradually so the player doesn’t notice a huge step up.
Once you have introduced the learner to the principles you must quickly move up in difficulty or you will lose their interest. Everyone has seen e-Learning which just includes clicking next, reading a screen and then clicking next again. The simplicity of the task makes you switch off straight away, you need to be mentally stimulated to learn. Where possible, this increase in difficulty should carry on gradually throughout a course. This can be achieved by planning the structure of your course in detail, identifying the hardest principles and saving them for later sections. Building up your content in this way is also a great way of illustrating progress as each section can become a level. This gives learners a sense of accomplishment and personnel growth.
When increasing difficulty levels you must also be carefully to not go too far. You are not going to be able to explain quantum theory after a 3 minute intro.Increases in difficulty must be gradual and within the reach of your audience. Remember, if an e-Learning course is too difficult it can be demoralising and isolate a learner.
Introducing a challenge & reward system
Angry Birds gives you a 1-3 star rating; in Tetris you can see your name climb up the leader board as you improve. In fact every game ever made has a challenge and reward system. This is the main element that makes people want to come back.
Setting challenges encourages learners to think about what they are doing and how they are improving. Not only are these challenges a great way to introduce interactivity, but they also ensure content is being understood.
To incentivise the learner each challenge should have a reward. You can motivate learners through the use of gamification elements, such as badges, scores, leader boards or small breaks in the form of bonus YouTube clips. If a learner doesn’t get a maximum score adding something as simple as an “Almost!” caption with a retry button can entice learners into re-taking challenges. Once you have them challenging themselves to “beat the course” they won’t even realise they are learning.
Games always have a scenario.These are often loose and more often than not include zombies, aliens or Nazi’s; but these scenarios give rhyme and reason to the challenges presented.
Using a scenario in e-Learning can help explain to learners why they are doing the course. If a learner thinks the course is pointless they will put very little effort in. The scenarios should be realistic and walk the learner through how the course content is relevant to them in the real world.
When it boils down to it, games are fun because they are not real. You can accidently run off a roof and fall to your death, and then poof, your back on the roof again with full health. In my opinion the ability to make mistakes is what makes e-Learning such a popular training tool. With e-Learning, there is no shame in getting things wrong or taking a section slowly. This will always be the best aspect of e-Learning which is mirrored in game mechanics, but it is not considered gamification.
However, applying the gamification principles discussed earlier is a natural progression for e-Learning. These principles are a great way to create a compelling, context-driven, self-reinforcing learning experiences. They allow the learners to explore an alternate slice of reality instead of simply reviewing case studies and text books.
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