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Applying Gamification to Training

Gamification means integrating game elements in a non-gaming setting in order to increase user engagement with a product or service.

For a fun example of gamification in marketing watch this video:

The definition we use here is this: "Gamification means integrating game-thinking and motivational psychology in a non-game context—in our case, a training course."

Gamification in learning means:

  • Introducing fun into the things students must do (e.g., attend a class, participate, or create extraordinary slides)―not to distract from the seriousness of learning, but as a key to unlock students’ desire to learn

  • Emphasizing the human element in learning, rather than just the usual functional side that so many courses (and people) get caught up in

  • Using “game mechanics” (e.g., competition, risk vs. reward, chance, leveling up, etc.) in a course to engage students’ “core drives” (such as accomplishment, meaning, scarcity, and unpredictability) and motivate them to carry forward the behaviors reinforced in class

Adapting the words of Yu Kai Chou, Gamification and Behavioral Design Expert, we can say that:

"Most . . . [courses] are “function-focused” designed to get the job done quickly. This is like a factory that assumes that the workers within will do their jobs. However, Human-Focused Design remembers that . . . [students] have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or do not want to do things, and therefore optimizes for their feelings, motivations, and engagement.”

The skillful use of gamification techniques in classes has many benefits.

Benefits of Training Gamification

These are some ways gamification enhances training results:

  1. Gamified courses are enjoyable and exciting!

Even when students can logically grasp the professional benefits of attending a course that’s not gamified, they are not robots—they can feel the difference between an environment that’s dull and one that sparks their excitement and curiosity.

Our gamified courses seek to invoke emotions: accomplishment, self-expression, competitiveness, and yes, even some frustration when a student doesn’t win and is challenged to try again.

Emotions tend to be neglected by traditional training, and this is a big mistake. Emotions are what drives intrinsic (long lasting) motivation: learning activities that are intrinsically rewarding (students do them for their own sake) produce enduring engagement.[1]

2. Gamification increases performance.

According to an independent survey of over 500 workers (ranging from entry-level employees to C‑level executives) conducted by BadgeVille:[2]

  • 91% said gamified systems improve their work experience by increasing productivity

  • 72% of employees surveyed said gamified solutions inspired them to work harder

3. Gamified courses facilitate change.

The gamification aspect of our courses helps “comfort” students by wrapping them in a colorful and bright “security blanket” as they move from what’s known into areas unknown. Comfort makes change less scary and more feasible.

Gamification in Action

At Pathways, we use two frameworks to gamify our courses:

  • UPenn Professor Kevin Werbach’s 6D

  • Yu Kai Chou’s Octalysis

We start by defining our client’s business objectives (why are students taking this class and how will it impact their organization?). Then, we delineate our students’ target behaviors (what will they be expected to do at work after attending this course?). With a solid understanding of the behaviors we seek to motivate, the human/organizational landscape, and the cultural context we’ll operate in, we profile our “players,” devise activity loops, integrate fun, and deploy the appropriate tools.

Three examples of how our Leading Engaging Virtual Meetings and Presentations (VM&P) Courses engage students’ core drives follow.

Gamification in Learning Example #1

Game element: Narrative of an epic journey

Core drives targeted: Meaning and Relatedness


A good, gamified course has a sound epic narrative that addresses students’ human need to be part of something bigger than themselves.

Students can be intergalactic or time travelers, pirates, superheroes, explorers, or warriors with a mission to make the world a better place.

When a course starts with an engaging narrative, rather than with a dull, dry, boring introduction, icebreaker, and logistics, students’ attention and curiosity are engaged from the onset. “This will be fun!”

Introducing a story gives learners context for a higher meaning in terms of interacting with the instructor, the course, and their peers. A good narrative also allows students to form a cohesive and proud group based on having common goals, common enemies (the villains), and shared weapons. This makes learners feel like they are part of a larger cause.

Pathways’ VM&P Course is based on the fantastic epic narrative and journey from “Same Ol’ Town” to “Virtual World.” During this journey, students must learn about and defeat the villains of virtual meetings and presentations.

Gamification in Learning Example #2

Game element: Rewards for desired behaviors

Core drives targeted: Accomplishment and growth. Empowerment of creativity


As the course progresses, students go through different stages. After discovery (they learn why their mission matters and they create their player identity), onboarding begins (students learn the rules of the game, the options, and the win-states), and then the actual journey (students work on activities individually or within teams, applying the rules and options to achieve win-states).

A series of wins progressively gives students a sense of accomplishment and growth. In our Virtual M&Ps courses, for instance, students earn points and badges by demonstrating they can give their audiences CPR: Competency, Preparedness, and Rapport.

For their final showdown students in our VM&P courses deliver a 10-minute presentation to their peers and are graded based on how effectively they used the superpowers (skills) they developed and the weapons (best practices) they acquired throughout the journey (course) to defeat the Villains of Virtual Meetings and Presentations. Upon emerging victorious, they reflect on how they were transformed by the adventure.

Gamification in Learning Example #3

Game element: Randomness and chance

Core drive targeted: Unpredictability and curiosity


When students know at all times what’s coming next in a class, and when the instructor uses only a limited set of teaching techniques (lecture, question, chat answers, lecture, question, chat answers), their brains disengage.

According to Economics Nobel Prize winner and psychologist Daniel Kahneman, our intellectual consciousness is inherently lazy, and when a task does not demand immediate attention, the neocortex delegates the mental legwork to our subconscious mind.

An example of how we implement uncertainty in our courses is by randomly awarding rewards. When students know they only have a chance to earn a reward, their brains fire up every time with the thrill of whether they will get that reward or not.


This book is FREE for L&D Directors/Managers/Coordinators. Contact us to request your copy.


[1] Bustard, D. W. et al (2011). GEL: A generic tool for game-enhanced learning. University of Ulster, Coleraine, United Kingdom. [2] “Survey: Gamification Improves Work Experience for 91% of Employees,” Engagement Strategies Media,

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