Blog Post

How to Boost Learner Engagement and Strengthen Skill Retention With Gamification

Chi Johnson
April 26, 2023
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Imagine you work for a company called YOUnicorn Tech, which is struggling with customer churn. Renewal specialists noticed a trend when analyzing loss interviews that customers had trouble achieving the outcomes they were sold. Further data analysis revealed that most of those customers used less than half of the product’s default feature set.

While this is a hypothetical scenario, a recent study found that 23% of customers use less than half of a product’s functionality—greatly increasing the likelihood of churn.

YOUnicorn Tech has decided to ramp up their customer education efforts—with a goal of increasing product adoption and reducing churn in this low-adoption customer segment. Your team has come up with a plan to create great learning content with measurable objectives, to be delivered through your LMS. 

But you’re now faced with a critical question: How do you ensure customers will engage with the curriculum and complete it? After all, meeting the business outcomes of product adoption and reducing churn is dependent on learners actually…well…learning.

We’d like to suggest gamification as a potential solution to your—and YOUnicorn Tech’s—problem.

What is gamification?

Before we dig into definitions, it’s important to note that organizational education as an industry is still young. Every new tool, platform, and integration is a shiny new thing that can appear like the silver bullet you’ve been waiting for. It’s an easy fairy tale to believe in because companies promote and describe their tools like potions that will magically help you achieve your goals. None of them will—at least not magically.

The secret potion (or whatever you want to call it) to program success is a comprehensive approach we often refer to as the Intellum Methodology. Within this recipe for success is a key, and often misused, component- gamification.

Gamification is the process of adding game mechanics to non-game contexts to enhance engagement and motivation. 

Think about the Starbucks Rewards program, where you collect Stars to redeem for free drinks and food. But the Stars also expire after a while, meaning you have to keep visiting Starbucks to avoid losing your rewards.

Or airline loyalty programs, where you earn points for every flight—and can increase in status the more you fly. 

These are examples of gamification. And while the power of gamification has been strongly applied to loyalty programs, the application of gamification is rarely seen in our industry.

Why gamification is important for education programs

At the start of every learning initiative, we outline learning objectives. We want to ensure learners learn what they’re supposed to—and retain that knowledge.

But how do you get them to start learning? How do you keep them motivated to complete the course or training? That’s where gamification comes in.

Research shows that gamification can improve user engagement, increase knowledge retention, and boost learner motivation. A study conducted by J.R. Chapman and P.J. Rich found “a large portion (>70%) of participants in an organizational behavior course reported that they found the gamified learning experience more motivating than a traditional course design.”

Another study found that a well-executed gamified strategy increases learner engagement and improves user retention (Sailer et al.). The same study identified “reputation” as the best motivator for self-directed learning. 

You can see this in practice with the language learning app DuoLingo. The app applies gamification to everything it does, congratulating learners for usage streaks and completed lessons—and promoting them to new levels as they advance through content.

How gamification can help education programs achieve goals and improve ROI

If gamification is really such a powerful component of successful education programs, why aren’t more organizations seeing groundbreaking results with their programs once applied?

The answer lies within a couple of hard truths.

Hard truth #1: When it comes to gamification, most companies and organizations fall into one of two practices: They don’t do it at all, or they add simple elements like badges and points. 

Many companies don’t gamify learning experiences at all—perhaps due to a lack of awareness or internal skill sets to implement.

But others fall into a common trap of misapplying game mechanics to learning, randomly assigning points and badges for the completion of learning activities. 

Successful gamification requires more than just surface-level mechanics. It requires a strategic approach that takes the user's motivations into consideration and uses a gamified learning environment to guide them toward mastery. With this approach, businesses can create captivating experiences that challenge users, encourage progress, and reward accomplishments.

Creating an engaging and effective education program can be challenging, so when implementing gamification it’s important to avoid common mistakes that can undermine its effectiveness.

Hard Truth #2: Most platform solutions don’t have robust enough capabilities to incorporate gamification in a strategic way. 

Most learning management platforms serve mainly as delivery mechanisms for learning content and, as a result, lack built-in functionality to support a gamified learning experience. 

While rewards can be used as a way to incentivize learning, not everyone is motivated by rewards—and not every company is in a position to provide material incentives for learning. Gamification goes beyond this type of extrinsic motivation to create a self-motivation that sustains learner engagement long term.

What calls upon intrinsic motivation depends on the learner. Some are motivated by the ability to share their knowledge with others, using discussion boards and other social learning elements. Some are motivated by competition, leveraging leaderboards and challenges. Some want to showcase their subject-matter expertise through badges and certificates. Each of these game elements requires technology to support, facilitate, and track. Without a platform that natively offers gamification, education program administrators may be left to piece together disparate platforms that offer different game elements but that end up creating a disjointed experience for the learner.

Benefits of gamified learning for education professionals

For decision-makers, program owners, instructional designers, and administrators, gamification allows you to create a learning experience that’s not only informative, but also entertaining and rewarding. Building game mechanics into the learning environment strengthens the ability to market academic offerings. When the gamification lives within the learning environment, the education team can focus on the metrics that matter and use that data to inform learner competency and knowledge retention.

Benefits of gamified learning for learners

The benefits of gamification on the learner are plentiful. A seamless integration of game mechanics keeps users in the “flow of learning”, and removes distractions introduced by navigating multiple solutions when completing course content. When learners are able to build their reputation within an educational environment or community within their field of expertise, the value of their achievements is much greater.

Learning is inherently social. Give your learners the opportunity to share their professional education accomplishments with their networks. Profiles with publicly visible credentials and profiles within the learning environment that also track and showcase their abilities and behaviors provide an easy opportunity to help them to identify, connect and learn from others.

Gamification that goes beyond badging

This is the part where we could easily try to sell you something and say that Intellum’s new purpose-built gamification features are the missing piece to your education program success puzzle, but that would only be partially true. Yes, you can drive user engagement through reputation building and healthy peer-to-peer competition, foster self-directed skill building and purposeful content consumption, and simplify your learning management solution with new and improved game mechanics available directly in the Intellum platform at no additional cost.

But the real key to success? Pairing our powerful platform and its robust features with a holistic education strategy

If you want to learn more or demo the Gamification features of the Intellum Platform, contact us.

About the Author

Headshot of Chi Johnson
Chi Johnson
Brand & Communications Manager
Chi has a natural ability to inject charisma into strategy, communication, thought-leadership, and branding. She tackles every facet of her work and personal life with innovation, panache, and relentlessness.