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I just returned from the 2015 Training Magazine conference, where the theme for this year is “training matters.”  I attended some diverse breakout sessions, on everything from emerging technologies to positive psychology, and how we as learning professionals can leverage these technologies and concepts in our work.

Over the next few blog posts, I’ll share my conference notes with you. (I didn’t do much editing to these, so please forgive any typos or rambling sentences! :))

I presented a session on Creative eLearning Strategies that Get Results, and I’ll be sharing those slides and content with you in a future post.


This first post is from a session on Game-Based Learning vs. Gamification, from a session with Andrew Hughes from Designing Digitally (@DDINC), a company that specializes in serious games. Some excellent differentiation between the two, they are often confused.

What is the difference between gamification and game-based learning?

Gamification: the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context, to engage learners and solve problems. Used in applications and processes to improve user engagement. It’s incentive; it’s taking mundane or mandatory stuff and adding game mechanics. For example: game mechanics in compliance training

Game-based learning: competitive exercises, students/learners playing against one another, or getting them to challenge themselves. Motivation, learn while doing, playing against one another within a game.

Games and gamification feed into neurological responses, instant gratification and feedback; when it comes to games, it’s the theme that gets them there, the mechanics are to keep them there.

One of the most important takeaways: It’s the learning first.  The game theme and the mechanics support the learning.  Game mechanics and theme are not connected. We often think of them as connected, but they live independently of one another.

Example from Dominos: Pizza Heroes – Marketing and training coming together to create game based app to build your own pizza. Then they recruited the top 5,000 scorers to work at Dominos. Lowers turnover rate and training costs. Onboarding costs are lowered.

Gamification involves 4 key criteria: mechanics, measurement, reward, behavior

  • Mechanics: Points, levels, progress bars, leader boards, badges.
  • Measurement: player reputation, performance, completion time, time invested; free tool – Modzilla: open badges
  • Behavior: game loyalty, mastery, user engagement.
  • Rewards: recognition, status, access, virtual goods, virtual currency. Virtual currency is money in, but not money out. Frequent flier miles are the original virtual currency

When it comes to rewards, there isn’t much incentive to attract overachievers. They’ll take training no matter what; it’s the middle of the road you want to improve. Leader boards are somewhat false – rather than posting the top ten performers, customize to post the 5 ahead and 5 behind the individual, to generate more meaningful competition. It’s the idea of incremental improvement vs. leap-frogging to the top.  There isn’t much incentive to try and go after the very highest achiever if they’re too far away on the leader board.

Video is the core form of entertainment for 18-20 year-olds, our future workforce. This isn’t going to change, this is the present and future. As training professionals we have to work with the situation and not against it.

And a few best practices:

  • Play games in many genres, even if you aren’t a game player!  This will help you to understand game mechanics, theme, and what motivates someone to continue playing.
  • Make sure it’s the learning first, then the game
  • Make sure there is behavior change in the equation – a purpose for going the game or gamification path
  • Fun as a metric? Yes! Definitely.
  • Design and develop in sprints (think Agile)
  • Testing is your friend – with games and gamification, build in significantly more testing time than you would with other modalities

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