InsightsTools & Tips

Using Gamification in Learning

By February 19, 2020March 3rd, 2020No Comments

Guest authored by Jeff Campbell, Founder and CEO of Motrain

A few years back, I found myself getting very tired of nagging my students to be more active participants in their learning. After working so hard to create great learning opportunities in our LMS, I was dismayed at the lack of interest my students demonstrated and I wondered what else I could do to improve their motivation and engagement.

Engaging a Disengaged Workforce

The reality is there are many reasons why a learner may not engage with our courses and be unmotivated to finish them, but there are some strategies that can help nudge learners in the right direction. One popular concept for this kind of nudge is gamification.

Two-thirds of all employees are disengaged at work. Roughly the same percentage of all adults play video games. There is an opportunity to help address disengagement with gamification, which introduces game-like mechanics into a typical non-game context, like adding points, badges, and leaderboards to learning.

There are purists who think learning and games should not be combined, but there is overwhelming evidence that most of us like games and virtually all of us participate in game-like mechanics found in frequent flyer programs and loyalty rewards that are designed to shape behavior.

(Full disclosure: I’ve never liked the term ‘gamification’ in learning and much prefer this strategy referred to as ‘motivational design’, but I’ll let that sit for the time being).

When I looked at stats on disengagement and the potential benefit of using gamification to shape learning behaviors, I started using gamification add-ons to my courses in hopes of improving student engagement. It didn’t have the effect I was looking for – but I could see the potential.

Make it Meaningful

In a traditional gamification approach, the learner earns points or badges and passes levels in a predictable and systematic way. The problem with this approach tends to be reward fatigue and indifference. Learners get tired of earning the same reward/badge or simply don’t care enough about the rewards to have any meaningful impact on their learning behaviors.

The long-heralded use of motivational badges is of little to no value among adult learners – after all, what do you do with them and who do you show them to? Are learners collecting their badges in a digital portfolio for future reference, are they sharing them on social media, are they being displayed in the office? Just like your childhood trophies, medallions, and stickers, these badges are often tossed into the ‘I’m not sure what to do with this’ box and stuffed in the closet, and lost in your next move.

A more engaging gamification system adds elements of uncertainty, gives choice to the learner, and provides personalized and relevant rewards.

Enhance the Learning Experience

It is crucial to understand who your learners are and to tailor the gamification approach to suit their existing interests and motivations. To make the gamification experience in learning even better, rewards should include mechanisms for enhancing learning even further, offering opportunities for real items that can advance the learning or development of the recipient.

When done correctly, a much larger purpose and importance behind the motivational design is added, strengthening the emotional connection the learner has with the organization.

Another reason to consider adding gamification to your learning program is the same reason that ‘microlearning’ has become such a buzzword: learners struggle with completing long training modules and fare much better when breaking training into bite-sized bits.

People struggle sticking with long-term goals (look no further than the dismal state of retirement planning) since short-term needs and wants are shouting so much louder. Gamification helps nurture our need for timely feedback and helps celebrate small successes over a longer training program.


Combined with effective instructional design strategies, introducing gamification into your learning programs can be a powerful way to improve learner motivation and engagement, and enhance the personal connection learners make with your organization.

Our Motrain platform is available for Moodle and Totara™ Learn (it’s an approved Totara™ extension). We are thrilled to offer a novel approach to motivational design.