Gamification and Games in Learning

To transform a boring lecture into an interactive fun learning environment, learning professionals are increasingly incorporating gamification and games into their learning designs. The more engaged learners are in activities and participating in their learning, the more effectively they will learn. Gamification and games offer a fun way to create that engagement while effectively transferring knowledge/skills/behaviors.

Gamification Versus Games

Learning professionals, especially those who are new, often don’t realize that there is a difference between the terms “gamification” and “games” in the learning world:

  • Gamification is the application of elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, leader boards, rules of play, competition) to a learner’s everyday activities. An example is scoring a coaching role-play and providing a leader board for top scores or giving reward points for the learners who contribute the most during a training program.
  • Creating a game can transfer knowledge/skills/behaviors in a learning environment. An example is a game that simulates a fictitious company to teach basic business accounting to a group of senior leaders or using a game to test learner knowledge versus a paper-based or computer-based test.

The key to good gamification or game design is to ensure that the performance objectives align with the program. Trainers often focus too much on the fun aspect of the gamification or game, with the learning getting lost.

Tips for Incorporating Gamification into Learning

In some ways gamification is easier to design into a program because you are having the learners perform an activity they normally do; you have simply added a “gaming” aspect to it. Keep the following in mind when incorporating gamification into your training design:

Make it fun!

Gamification shouldn’t have dire ramifications but should be something that adds fun to the learning. The gamification should simply add a little excitement and challenge to the learning. When you appropriately incorporate gamification into learning, the learners want to participate rather than dreading taking part.

Clearly communicate goals

Your gamification should focus on what is important to the knowledge/skill/behavior you are developing instead of being simply for participation. The more you can recognize and reward outstanding performance, the better. Learners need to see the reason for gamification, so you should clearly state that link. If you are using gamification to evaluate a behavior or skill, make sure the learner has a clear understanding of what good looks and sounds like before the activity begins.

Focus on learning goals, not rewards

The rewards aren’t the purpose of gamification; the learning is. Focusing too much on the rewards won’t change behavior, but feedback on performance during the activity will. Often the recognition matters more than the actual reward.

Pack in the winners

Without lowering your standards, having several winners is best. Rather than just rewarding the top performance, maybe reward the top 10%.

Tips for Including Games in Your Learning

Games are fun to play and create a sense of competition among participants. However, since learners won’t actually be doing a job activity in the game, it can be tricky to link games to job-related performance objectives. Below are a few tips on including games in your learning activities:

Align with performance objectives

Learners should clearly understand what performance objective(s) the game accomplishes. They need to see a clear link between the game and the learning. Well-designed games often ask learners to do something they have to do routinely in their work.

Make it challenging

One of the advantages of using games in learning is that the learners feel safe. They can try things they have never done before with little to no negative impact. Therefore, make the game challenging. However, don’t make it so challenging that no one can accomplish the objectives.

Let the learners play

The great thing about a well-designed game is that the learners are teaching themselves as they play the game. Get out of their way. If you design a game in which you are doing a great deal of lecturing or guiding, then it’s a poorly designed game.

Make it cool!

While it may seem trivial, the cooler you can make the game look, the better. Learners respond to good aesthetics. If your training program has a certain branding, match the game with that branding. A little investment in the coolness factor can go a long way in making your game successful.


Adding gamification and games to your learning can significantly increase the fun and, more important, the learning. Good gamification is a fun addition to the everyday work of learners. When you incorporate gamification in a way that clearly lets learners know what you are trying to accomplish and there are several winners, it can add to the learning experience. When you incorporate good games into the learning process, the learners clearly understand the objectives of the game and how they relate to the performance objectives of the learning. They feel challenged and in control of their learning. The game should be cool and have a little bit of a “wow” factor. All these things will make your learning have a greater impact and offer the learners a unique way to master the skills/knowledge/behaviors you are trying to develop in them.

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