Making gamification meaningful in learning

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Written by Ana Bedard on 12 November 2014 in Opinion

Learning professionals are integrating game elements into learning solutions to motivate learners to engage in learning, Ana Bedard says

Gamification is such a big phenomenon in today’s business world that this decade has been dubbed “The Decade of Gamification (O’Brien, 2012).”Companies use gamification to promote interaction with and ultimately loyalty to their brand. Learning professionals are integrating game elements into learning solutions to motivate learners to engage in learning.

Sounds simple – incorporate game elements, motivate learners! What are some game elements? Think about your favorite games. They most likely have rules, challenges, and competition. They have leader boards and points. They have awards.

While it is relatively simple to identify these types of game elements, in order to use them correctly a designer must think beyond them and ask what about these elements makes them motivational, and who they are trying to motivate. A designer who does not engage in this level of inquiry risks winding up with awards that no one is vying for or challenges that no one cares about.

Gamification expert Sebastian Deterding argues that a key – and generally undistinguished – element of successful gamification efforts is meaning (2011). What is meaningful depends on the audience. In order to be meaningful, the experience must connect to the goals and passions of both individuals and a meaningful community of interest. People are motivated to seek bragging rights, but only if they care about what they are achieving, and if their peers care about it, too.

As an example, we are finalising two digital learning solutions to accompany our Consultative Skills course. One of the learning solutions is an eLearning course in the form of nine 10-minute learning bursts – this course can be used both to provide training to an individual who is waiting for a scheduled class, and it can also be used for sustainment purposes post learning.

We had a series of discussions about offering awards to participants who pass the eLearning course. A generic award did not seem motivational. “Congratulations! You receive the Gold Cup Award for passing the course!” Who cares? Unwilling to give up the idea of awards, however, we searched for something more meaningful. The question that drove us forward was: “What kind of award or achievement would be meaningful to this audience of salespeople?” This question allowed us to develop an idea for an award that we believe will be motivational to the audience. The highest level of achievement a user can obtain is “Closer,” a designation that any salesperson would love to have in real life. By providing a designation that is meaningful to salespeople as individuals and a community, we have injected the kind of fun and games into our eLearning that will motivate learners to achieve learning accomplishments.

So next time you are injecting points and awards into your learning solution, think about the community of users and ask yourself “What kind of award or achievement would be meaningful to this audience?” It will help you to connect with your users and will bring the kind of fun and play into their experience that they will want to engage in.


Deterding, S. (2011, January 24). Meaningful Play: Getting Gamification Right (Google Tech Talk). Retrieved from

O’Brien, C. (2010, October 24). O’Brien: Get Ready for the Decade of Gamification. San Jose Mercury News. October 24, 2010. Retrieved from


About the author

Ana Bedard is a design consultant at Forum


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