Humans learn by sensing, thinking, and doing. These three stages are reflected in the building blocks of the brain: sensory neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons. Integrating elements of games with educational stimuli fits with the sensing-thinking-doing functionality of the nervous system and the natural needs of the brain, which are:
- To survive
- To feel good
- To play
- To be rewarded
- To save energy
Using gamification tactics in learning meets these needs by making the brain feel in control, stimulated by fun and rewards, and addressing the need to save energy by having a congruent story. But a common misconception is that successful gamification requires actually creating a game—which doesn’t work in many business contexts. We’re going to take a look at why gamification works and how it can be applied to authentic, simulated learning environments.
Which is better for business: gamification or game-based learning?
A quick clarification on gamification vs game-based learning (GBL)
Gamification is the integration of game elements (such as point systems, leaderboards, badges, or other elements related to games) into non-game activities to increase engagement and motivation.
Another definition (from Wikipedia):
“Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, and learning.”
The most important word in that paragraph is engagement. Because in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. So if you want to drive results, drive engagement, and if you want to engage: gamify your learning.
Game-based learning involves designing learning activities that include game characteristics and game principles within the learning activities themselves.
As you can see from these two definitions, there’s a lot of crossover between gamification and game-based learning. Gamification allows learning designers to take advantage of the benefits of game elements without the need to turn the learning itself into a game.
In the business environment, we’ve found that games are especially good for team building and in many eLearning contexts, but they fall short when building skills. Although game-based learning can be great fun, tying the game back to the business requires an extra step and is not always immediately obvious to participants. At Blueline, we don’t use games to teach (i.e. game-based learning). We use the engaging characteristics of games to help motivate and engage our learners through realistic simulations of real-world work environments (i.e. gamification).
When it comes to work-relevant learning, gamification provides the same incredible benefits while immersing learners in real-world dilemmas. Where appropriate, gamification can be used in learning experiences to bring the dynamics of engagement, competition, and fun to learning—while presenting challenges in real-world contexts and enabling learners to acquire and practice new skills as they would on the job. Gamified learning can be serious and business-appropriate because it doesn’t require the artificial constructs (e.g. a fictional world and characters, made-up storylines, etc.) needed to create a true game.
How does gamification enhance learning objectives?
Although it is becoming increasingly sophisticated and digitalized, gamification in the realm of corporate L&D is nothing new. And for good reason. Not only do game elements meet the brain’s inherent needs, but they also increase cognitive activity by firing up different areas of the brain:
- The visual brain: evidence supports the attentional benefits resulting from the use of gamification tactics
- The motivated brain: winning and receiving positive feedback stimulates the reward center of the brain
- The creative brain: creativity is stimulated by simulations, symbolic thinking, visualization, mentalizing, and curiosity
- The social brain: cooperation and competition evoke different reactions in the brain
- The emotional brain: games are emotionally engaging and help us remember events better
- The cognitive brain: gamification helps with the application of knowledge, and there’s also a positive relationship between adrenaline and memory
From a neuroscientific perspective, the benefits of gamification depend on the design of the learning experience and the individual’s unique neural responses to educational stimuli. According to Jan L. Plass, Paulette Goddard Chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences and Professor at New York University: “Good games aim for the ‘sweet spot’, where players can succeed but only with some struggle.”
The combination of success with a side of struggle is an inherently engaging experience. And in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. If you want to drive results, you need to focus on learner engagement. Gamifying learning is a surefire way to engage learners.
Here’s how gamification brings extraordinary levels of engagement to learning
Research shows that play is a potent force in learning contexts in all spheres of life. The freedom to experiment and the joy of experience are not merely techniques to enhance the learning process—they are the learning process.
Another element of gamification comes in the form of collaborative competition, which harnesses natural group competitiveness. When it comes to immersive learning experiences, working with a team and competing against other teams takes engagement and commitment to a whole new level. It isn’t about being cutthroat, but about furthering learners’ investment in the overall outcome.
Common to most gamification techniques is the ability to access immediate and constant assessment of where one stands in the learning process. Gamification offers a number of ways this can be accomplished, such as badges, leaderboards, and other point-based mechanisms. When feedback comes from a publicly visible leaderboard, it is both engaging and motivating to the learners. As an analogy, consider your level of effort working out at home in front of a video, and then going to a class at the gym and doing the same workout with a group of people. Being in an environment with other people naturally raises the stakes, even when they’re all equal participants in a shared activity. Now turn it into a competition—say you could see who is pedaling fastest out of a group of people in a spin class. Wouldn’t you push yourself even harder to beat the other people in the room? That’s the power of a live leaderboard, and it translates extremely well from athletics to many other activities.
These elements can all be included in a complex simulation that still maintains verisimilitude with the work environment. While game-based learning is a form of escapism that takes learners out of the workplace, gamified simulations keep learners immersed in their very real daily challenges while still providing an engaging and fail-safe environment for practicing new skills.
Blueline is no stranger to the learning game
We have been perfecting the use of gamification techniques to increase learner engagement for the past two decades. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDER™ digital design platform synthesizes the most powerful of these gamification elements in one tool. The synchronous, customized simulations designed and delivered through ExperienceBUILDER incorporate teamwork, live leaderboards, peer challenges, real-world application, and feedback mechanisms to leverage the benefits of gamification; the most important of which are learner engagement, knowledge retention, and concept application.
At Blueline Simulations, we combine the elements of play, competition, and feedback to enrich our designs and support learners in achieving better outcomes—but no one is playing around here. We have perfected the use of immersion techniques like simulation, gamification, and storytelling to design synchronous, team-driven discovery learning that drives business transformation. We are also breaking new ground with hybrid learning designs that are just as effective as live classroom experiences. Get in touch with the Blueline Simulations team if your organization is ready for this next chapter.