Gamification is the process of applying gaming designs and concepts to learning or training scenarios in order to make them more engaging and entertaining for the learner.”

What does this definition mean, and how can you leverage gamification in your overall strategy to improve user engagement? The biggest impact of applying gaming elements is in the PBLs, or the points, badges and leaderboards. These elements create a way to create, manage and measure healthy competition within your training enterprise to identify who scores the highest, who participates the most and who earns the highest badge of honor. Many organizations have improved user engagement and encouraged learners to come back for repeat visits through PBLs. The bottom line is that people are competitive, and they like to win.

According to Kevin Werbach, who teaches gamification at Wharton Business School, “companies like Nike, Microsoft, American Express, SAP, Major League Baseball, Kaiser Permanente and are all leveraging gamification to add these elements into their strategy to get users to stay engaged and come back for more on a regular basis.” Why gaming? Simply put, the “habit forming” trends of gamers who are online and engaged with a software program for upward of 40 hours per week has people scrambling to figure out the secret sauce for building a following with such high engagement metrics. Xbox data show over 150 billion minutes per month for its users, and the number increases every month.

Gamification is about taking experiences and making them better. Experiences become much more rewarding when there are tangible rewards involved. Have you ever gained points for staying at a hotel and built them up to earn free hotel nights? This reward program builds loyalty and gives you benefits for staying engaged with the hotel. The more you stay, the more you earn. It seems simple; give away “free stuff,” and people will come back to try to win it. They’ll work to achieve the goal of being a platinum member so they receive the perks associated with that level of customer loyalty. In training, give out badges, vacation days, hats, umbrellas and gift cards for completion status, and people will work much harder for those tangible rewards.


Think of gamification as an amplification tool. It helps to amplify participation with the use of rewards in exchange for loyalty as a customer or learner. Remember that when you engage learners, you want to make them smarter. Every element should have a learning purpose if the strategy is about employee development. One example is trivia games that use facts about the company and its products. Employees can post on a message board to help others and elevate their level for the input they provide. This process doesn’t cost anything but gives contributors bragging rights.

When building your gamification strategy, ask yourself four questions:

  1. Motivation: How do you encourage learning behavior to be “habit forming”?
  2. Meaningful choices: Are the target activities interesting, and do they provide rewards?
  3. Structure: Can desired behaviors be measured with your PBLs?
  4. Potential conflicts: Does the game create tension with other motivators?

There are many ways to add these gaming elements without spending a fortune and hiring a development firm to build the next Star Craft. Keep it simple and move in small steps with a point system to create some healthy competition for baseline rewards. As you develop simple assessments that can mirror trivia games and associate participation with rewards, you are on your way to gamifying your training strategy.