Augmenting eLearning Using Game Mechanics
The basic ideas of eLearning began to set in on the scene in the late eighties, long before the word ‘eLearning’ was coined. The word, as we know it today, emerged for the first time in October 1999 during a CBT Systems seminar in Los Angeles. Today hundreds of courses are available on eLearning platforms from the world’s best universities, colleges and institutes. But of all the sign-ups done by professionals for a variety of courses, only a few end up reaching the finishing point as majority of the online courses bore people and drive them away. It leads to high attrition rate in online courses.
To address this problem, eLearning platforms can bring into play some gaming techniques to make their courses appear game-like and adventurous. Also referred to as ‘gamification’ it is best described by Badgeville.com as “the concept of applying game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals”.
Gamification is an effective strategy for CIOs to teach employees processes and procedures, improve productivity and to indirectly pump up sales. Many large companies such as Xerox, Allstate and Hyatt Hotels have used gamification. Besides, CIOs and CTOs of institutions and online course providers can also use it to build entertaining eLearning products to attract and retain more learners which will translate into growth of their organization and better customer satisfaction.
According to Ambient research, the worldwide market for self-paced eLearning reached $46.9 billion in 2015 and is expected to grow further. If these eLearning stats are any indication, the future of eLearning is set for exponential growth which can be fast-tracked if eLearning is gamified.
And here are some easy pointers to cracking gamification for your eLearning portal:
Games are structured in multi-layered format—with goals laid at every step for players. There are three types of goals in every game: the short-term goal which is to complete the missions in each level, the medium-term goal which is to complete every level in the game and the long-term goal which is to complete the game. Besides these, there are other features like extra points, pop-ups, additional tutorials, and level-ups etc. which are added to make games engaging and enjoyable.
Likewise, when designing the eLearning application, course designers can break up the objectives of a course into short-term, medium-term, and long-term goals. Let learners complete several milestones consisting of topics/modules before they complete a course. This kind of course structure will allow learners to grab skills incrementally, then practice them and finally demonstrate mastery over them. As a result, this increases the likelihood of learners being in a persistent flow and gives them a sense of accomplishment throughout the duration of the course.
In many games, links to basic information for smooth action are often provided at each level. Similarly in any eLearning product, easy getaway to the basic information, tips, cheat sheets which guides learners during the course should be provided to help them progress further. Assistance in any form helps maintain consistency and makes learners stay focused on the objectives as well as goals.
Another critical aspect in designing an eLearning software is to constantly communicate to the learners about how much progress they have made in their course. Instead of percentages or fractions, designers are advised to use progress bars. Leader boards are another competition inducing technique which make learners competitive and aggressive in their approach. Most games keep players engrossed showing these progress bars, leader boards as learners feel that they are not stuck on one topic and are in fact making progress. Visually appealing animated progress bars are definitely an add-on.
Another critical aspect of game mechanics is character upgrades – a feature which can augment eLearning and transform the whole experience. Character upgrade helps gamers unlock additional power and go a little rapid. “This character upgrade scenario sets up the basis for a system where users are given virtual goods and characters that they want, and they get to change them in the way they like,” writes eLearn Magazine in one of their posts. Though it is not easy to add character upgrades to any course, designers can instead introduce virtual coaches which are similar to character upgrades. Virtual coaches can assist learners at various levels and modules with extra examples, supplementary material and additional tools.
As mentioned above, the primary motive behind highlighting progress bars or introducing character upgrades is to acknowledge the efforts which learners have already made to complete a topic, a module or a level. It does not necessarily mean completion of the course. Such a success is the ultimate goal which would be eventually achieved if users manifest consistent engagement and energy to complete modules and levels. In short effort counts and should be rewarded with pop-ups, extra points and complementary information. As a consequence, learners will stay engaged and motivated through the course.
Timeframe is an important aspect but a challenge in the online course. Use of traditional techniques such as videos, lectures, course material, etc. disengage learners forcing them to abandon courses midway. An interesting way to address this challenge is to reward learners for meeting deadlines and keeping their progress time-bound. Course designers can use a ‘reward schedule’ timeframe and delivery mechanism using which rewards (pop-ups, points, prizes, level-ups, etc.) are given. Reward schedule framework consists mainly of three components: Prerequisite (what needs to be done to receive the reward), Response (the presentation of the reward) and Reinforcer (the appropriate reward for the prerequisite). This will reduce the time taken to complete a course and increase the likelihood of keeping learners hooked till the end of the course.
Appreciation from people whom we respect and know does wonders and is perhaps the most effective motivator in life. In the online space the best way to get appreciation from peers is through social media. Hence course architects can be made to focus on social media integration of the courses – a technique which gaming companies have exploited to the hilt. Popular examples are Candy Crush and Farmville. Similarly course integration with Facebook, Yammer and LinkedIn, etc. is a good way for learners to earn appreciation from their peers.
The impact of gamification on us can be compared to what sports does for athletes. It instigates a desire for competition, appreciation, accomplishment and status. Hence Game mechanics when incorporated into eLearning can significantly enhance the experience of learners. It rids learners from reading boring assignments, watching lengthy lecture videos, solving quizzes and completing homework. Instead, smart use and amalgamation of game mechanics into any online course can make it an enriching and interactive experience and set it apart from the rest.
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