Using game mechanics, or rules and methods used by formal games, for learning can increase engagement and training results. Learners are often more motivated by even one or two elements of a game than by traditional learning. Using gamification can be more cost-effective than creating an entire game, while still providing some of the same benefits.

Popular game mechanics include:

  • Trivia
  • Rewards
  • Storytelling
  • Leveling
  • Role-playing
  • Badges
  • Progress bars
  • Leader boards
  • Virtual goods

In order to reap the benefits of gamification, game mechanics can’t be used without purpose, careful design and alignment with goals. Follow these guidelines for successful gamification.

1. Align the use of gamification with business objectives.

Never use gamification just for the sake of using the latest flashy trend. Game mechanics can be very effective, but only if they are clearly aligned to strategic goals. Start by clearly defining your business goals, identifying how training can help meet those goals, and then determining whether – and which – gamification will help meet those goals.

Is the company planning on launching a new product? The sales reps will need training on that product. If similar programs have been delivered unsuccessfully in more traditional ways, training leaders could make a good case for using a game mechanic such as role-playing to train salespeople on the new product.

2. Pick the right content to gamify.

Good topics for gamification include areas in which content is regularly refreshed or updated, such as safety training and product training. It’s also effective in onboarding, because it facilitates collaboration and interaction among new employees, and customer service training, because learners can practice their skills in simulations. In the dynamic environment of financial services, gamification can also provide a necessary engagement boost.

3. Elicit learner emotions.

Human-computer interaction psychology tells us that without eliciting learner emotions, game mechanics will not result in learner engagement. Start by asking, “What do I want my learners to feel?” Then, use mechanics like characters, storytelling and user interfaces to elicit those feelings. Characters who are in the role of a coworker or friend are more impactful than characters who play the role of an expert or guide. These familiar roles are meaningful symbols, since they represent people whom the learners already associate warm feelings, and provide the necessary intrinsic motivation that increases engagement and training success.

4. Provide continuous assessment.

One of the reasons games are engaging is because there are no breaks for formal tests. Rather, assessments are built into the games themselves through points, dashboards, leader boards, points, badges and instant feedback. This continuous assessment keeps learners active in the game and motivates them to continue by showing them their progress. Mechanics like points, badges and leaderboards provide specific goals and encourage competition, while levels provide sub-goals, progressively building self-efficacy throughout the game.

5. Evaluate results, and change course if necessary.

Gamified learning can not only boost learner engagement, but it can also enable better tracking of that engagement. Many game mechanics allow for the tracking of engagement indicators such as completion, time spent on the program, number of actions, rewards given, and “winning” or “losing.” Ensure that all four of Kirkpatrick’s levels of evaluation are included:

  • Level 1, reaction, can be measured using indicators like completion, time spent on the program and number of actions. These measures suggest learners’ reaction, because if they don’t believe the training is relevant or valuable, they are less likely to engage. Post-training feedback questionnaires are also helpful for level 1 evaluation.
  • Level 2, learning, can be measured using indicators like rewards, winning and losing, trivia, leveling and leaderboards. If learners progress through different levels of activities, it’s a good indication that they learned the requisite skills or knowledge needed to do so.
  • Levels 3 and 4, behavior and results, must be measured after the training. Are employees applying what they learned on the job? That behavior change is a good indication that they learned the material. For level 4, it’s important to measure key indicators before and after training. For example, did sales reps increase their sales of a product after receiving gamified product training? If so, assuming other variables have been eliminated, the training was likely a success.

Gamification has been trending for a few years now, but its effectiveness is dependent on how it is used. To ensure success in using game mechanics to drive engagement, align it to business goals, be choosey in which content you gamify, arouse emotions, continually assess and provide feedback, and evaluate results. If those results do not justify the investment in game mechanics, determine why, and change your program as necessary.