Gamification is losing favor in the Learning & Development field.
That’s the conclusion of the L&D Global Sentiment Survey 2017, which tracks what’s “hot” in the industry. In 2015, L&D professionals placed gamification fifth among the top 10 trends. The next year, it fell to No. 6. Now it’s down to 10th, firmly in what the report calls the “losers” category.
“Inevitably, the peak of inflated expectations is followed by the trough of disillusionment as people realize that everyone is talking about the technology but nobody is actually doing much with it,” the survey explains. “Games/gamification is currently stuck in this stage.”
Another survey, the Learning Benchmark Report from Towards Maturity, found that use of “serious games and simulations” has dropped by 27%, while use of other tools such as open education resources have gone up.
How did this happen, and what does it mean for business?
Superficial implementation yields misery
The problem is that enterprises are doing it wrong, according to Karl M. Kapp , instructional technology professor at Bloomsburg University and author of several books on gamification.
“A lot of people have just taken points, badges and leaderboards and bolted them onto traditional instruction,” Kapp says. “They’ve given no thought to how the instruction can be intrinsically motivating, how that affects the employee. And no thought about strategy. A lot of that kind of bad implementationhas occurred, and it’s had miserable results.”
Kapp calls this the “structural” approach. “Our overreliance on the superficial element of games has made them less effective,” he says.
Many employees simply don’t care about things like points. Jay Hanlon, vice president of community growth for Stack Overflow, offers “the crazy secret about gamification: In the history of the world, gamification has never gotten a single person [to] do anything they didn’t already basically like to do.”
Superficial game elements can actually be a turnoff to participation, Kapp says.
A handful of very competitive people may participate in learning offerings to collect points, but beyond that, the idea backfires. “Leaderboards work really well for the first 10 people,” he says. “But by the time you get down to the 20th person, they’re demotivated .” Why keep going if you’re not cracking the top 20?
Drop the peer competition
To do gamification right, Kapp says, ditch the idea of pitting your employees against one another. Instead, have them compete against themselves.
The traditional mode of competition among employees is “performance orientation,” leading workers to focus on how well they’re doing relative to each other. But when that’s lifted out of the equation, they instead focus on “mastery orientation” — mastering the skills and information they’re meant to be learning. “It’s a far better gamified learning experience,” Kapp says.
Why would this motivate employees? Because successful gamification is designed to excite and interest participants. It’s created from the ground up to be “intrinsically motivating.”
In that sense, Kapp says, businesses can take a page from some wildly popular video games that people play by themselves.
Successful L&D games include a few crucial features, Kapp says: challenge, feedback, a story, and freedom to fail. These “robust game elements” inspire people to engage, and to keep trying until they do things better.
“Instead of leading with learning objectives, you lead with challenges. Instead of telling people things and just giving them points, you involve them in a story that unfolds related to what they’re doing — or could be doing — on the job,” he says.
And rather than simply scoring them on whether they succeed or fail in a simulation, or get a multiple-choice answer simply right or wrong, use the players’ responses to diagnose where they’re struggling. Provide points based on a player getting things partially right and partially wrong. Then lead the player into a new section of the game that drills down on aspects he or she is unclear on. Over time, the player will see his or her score go up.
When playing to beat their own previous scores and achieve a level of mastery, people are much more willing to fail and keep trying, rather than simply declaring that they lost to an opponent and moving on.
It also helps for the game to include a standard for how high the player is expected to score, Kapp says.
When all the right steps are taken, gamification can offer a big benefit, Kapp says.
Most learning is didactic, with someone telling you what to do but not involving you. “If you do content gamification, you’re challenging the player to think at a higher level. You achieve a higher level of learner engagement.”
Gamification can also be used in team-building exercises. “Hypothesized benefits” include “additional opportunities for productive collaboration,” a research paper from the University of the Sunshine Coastreported.
Kapp says it’s not his “first tool of choice to build collaboration.” He has seen socialization, group recognition, and clearly presented information on how to achieve a joint milestone do more to inspire successful collaboration.
Years ago, Kapp says, there was a good use for the term “gamification.”
“If I said ‘game’ in a corporate environment, it was treated as a four-letter word,” he says. “When “-ification” was added, it became OK to talk about adding game elements to learning.”
But now, the superficial misuse of gaming elements has tainted the term, Kapp says.
Some organizations and vendors “are moving a little bit away from ‘gamification,’” and instead talking about the important elements, he says. “I think eventually the term ‘gamification’ will go away, but the concepts of challenge, freedom to fail and engagement will remain.”