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Engage Learners

Gamification means adding elements like leaderboards, checklists, levels, and rewards via a point-based system to teach, motivate, engage and train.

Gamification definition: What is it and why you need it in eLearning

Remember way back when we were all playing the Oregon Trail?  

The pixelated, no-win game that eeked out sounds from someplace deep inside a computer was designed to educate children about the realities of pioneer life. 

It worked. Sort of. 

Today it’s a pop culture reference that evokes plenty of nostalgia but not much else. 



It was early gamification. Gamification is the incorporation of game mechanics into non-gaming contexts. 

Still, it was born from this question: How can we make education more efficient and enjoyable? 

The problem? 

It lacked gamification features. It was boring and poorly designed. There were no levels, no way to save progress, no achievements, and therefore, no incentive to learn anything from the game. 

And as a result, it didn’t help anyone retain much information except that no matter how they played the game, dying of some disease was inevitable. 

Yikes on missing the mark for learning. 

While the popularity of e-learning and games has skyrocketed, no one wants learning turned into a game to end up with the reputation of The Oregon Trail. 

Lucky for us, technology has improved and so has our understanding of using psychology in game design for training. Today, gamification can increase productivity and engagement by up to 60%

So, what is gamification and why do you need it in e-learning, exactly? 

Let’s find out (sans the random broken wagon wheel).

Intro to Gamification

gamification in e learning


The gamification definition can be summed up as the incorporation of gaming techniques in non-gaming contexts. 

But what does that mean exactly? 

It means adding elements like leaderboards, checklists, levels, and rewards via a point based system to teach, motivate, engage and train all at the same time. 

These elements can be applied to any learning objective by adding mechanics and design through a learning management system (LMS). 

LMS platforms are used to host, assess, plan, and implement learning objectives, through the internet. They are customizable with learning objectives and learner outcome goals using course authoring tools. 

This is different from game-based learning and game design. Game-based learning applies elements of education to a game. And game design is just that—design.



Game-Based Learning

Game Design

What it is 

  • Adding gaming techniques to non-gaming contexts
  • Education embedded into a game 
  • Act of creating an actual game 

Ideal For

  • Educational ContentTraining PurposesGame-based apps
  • Early educational content
  • Game-based apps
  • Programmers
  • Software development
  • Computer Science engineering


  • Corporate training
  • E-learning
  • Recertification of skills
  • Board Games
  • Vocabulary Games
  • Recreational video games
  • Game-based apps

How Does Gamification Work?

It’s easy to think of gaming like this, with the internet trope of living in Mom's basement. 



But it’s not like that, we promise.

Yes, gamification utilizes some of the same features as traditional video games, but it’s far more than this (and it’s a good thing...more on that below).

To understand gamification, it’s important to start with the 7 different learning styles.

  1. Visual
  2. Auditory
  3. Tactile (learning by doing)
  4. Verbal
  5. Logical
  6. Group learning
  7. Solitary or self-paced 

Everyone learns best through one or a combination of these 7 modalities. 

Gamification works by combining all of these styles together to create content that educates in some way. It uses psychological elements that provide a reward as reinforcement by assigning real benefits to the objective through intrinsic motivation. 

The features of gamifying content capitalize on all of this through learning that can be catered to the desired outcome by tapping into the brain's reward system. 

Behavior = reward = increased likelihood this behavior will increase/continue (i.e. it facilitates the release of dopamine and we all need more of that these days, huh?).

In training-type settings, this means that employees (or customers) receive rewards for completing levels in the game with the objectives being specified for onboarding, for example. This can also mean applying interactive features to things like video presentations. 

Gamification features can be incorporated through elements like:

  • Avatars
  • Simulations
  • Storyline 

This keeps learners engaged and helps them retain the information.

We made the basement video game joke, but it really is a good thing that gaming is so popular. 

Here’s why.

Around 2.6 billion people already play video games. his number is only going to get higher.

active video gamers


Meaning that when gamification features are implemented for learning objectives in e-learning for any purpose, it’s already familiar. This is important to mention considering that the elements of gaming can improve attention span, memory, problem-solving skills, and visuospatial skills. 

What Are the Benefits of Gamification in e-Learning? 

Right, so what can you gain and how? 

  • Better learning experience & environment
  • Immediate feedback
  • Real-world application
  • Increased engagement 
  • Makes learning fun 

Better learning experience & environment

better learning experience

Think about it.  

Sitting through a long, boring presentation from a professor or trainer versus participating in a game with clear rewards and benefits of personal gain.

That’s a no-brainer, huh? 

Gamification features create an informal learning environment. The informal environment makes learners more relaxed than they might be when sitting through a presentation, for example. 

Think content streaming, but for a learning type of environment. 

This creates a safe space that is engaging using real-world applicable concepts, ultimately meaning learners will be more relaxed but able to retain more information, too. In addition, the informal environment gamification creates opportunities for team building and morale-boosting by removing the pressure that can come from traditional methods of training.

Immediate feedback

What if you only serviced your vehicle once a year? Sure, that can sort of work, but it doesn’t help you identify if/when your vehicle needs repair.

The same can be applied to e-learning through gamification when it comes to employees or students. 

Gamification features provide regular checkpoints that offer immediate feedback for learners and administrators alike.  This ensures top-down communication and thorough training. 

A good example of this could be a quiz. Passing or failing the quiz provides immediate feedback about what the learner has successfully grasped and what they haven’t. 

Immediate feedback is beneficial for the corporation that is administering the content, too, because it can provide a blueprint of what is working and what isn’t. 

Real-world application

real world application

A condensed gamification definition is a real-world application. This is a game-changing (pun intended) benefit since learners can retain 90% more when they do something themselves in a simulation.

To do this, e-learning courses may rely on virtual reality (VR) or augmented reality (AR) simulators. 

In a business setting, it allows new employees to test out what they’ve learned in real time in a situation that doesn’t compromise safety or risk the reputation of the business. Think of first responder training or the ability of a new sales rep to experience a simulated sales call. 

Increased engagement 

Increased engagement comes from reinforcement built into features like progress bars or levels. This is where the psychological concepts of intrinsic motivation come into play. 

Providing goals like this keeps learners more engaged than they might be in traditional courses that only include the material via lecture videos. 

Plus, a lot of people are wired for competition, even at lower levels. Even if they aren’t, gamification taps into the naturally occurring desire to connect with others in a given community. 

Makes learning fun

Learners just want to have fun, or whatever Cyndi said. 

make learning fun


Ok, you caught us. We cheated with the lyrics there, but still, it’s neuroscience. 

When learning is fun, dopamine, serotonin, and feel-good endorphin levels increase, creating a positive association in the brain from the learning experience.

Gamification makes learning fun and learning that is fun is learning that is retained. If that doesn’t convince you, 88% of employees said gamification at work makes them happier. 

Common Challenges of Gamification in eLearning 

Now that you’re convinced you need gamification, let’s go over some common challenges. 

  1. Cost
  2. Lack of technical knowledge
  3. Distractions
  4. Poor design 
  5. Poor content


gamification cost

The cost association here can be in the time investment. Developing a game can be a lengthy process that includes brainstorming, storyboarding, developing, and testing.

It can take a while to incorporate the learning objectives with effective gamification features to produce the desired outcome. 

Of course, there are monetary costs too, especially for long-term implementation that will require maintenance over time. The material will need to be updated and so will the incentives.

Lack of Technological Knowledge

Gamification of e-learning can sound intimidating on the surface. Being worried about not having the knowledge or the tools can hold a team back from leveling up. 

The solution is to be picky. 

The right LMS will provide the tools to design effective features for learning and includes a support team, too. 

Keep reading for our top picks for LMSs with gamification features. 


What if a learner becomes too engrossed in the competition of the game? What if the game is a bad recreation of that old cell phone snake game? 

When a game isn’t educational in this context, it’s purely recreational and a recreational game will create a distraction rather than the desired outcome. In the end, it’ll waste your time and your learners’ time. 

There are two solutions here:

  1. Tie the game to a learning objective, always 
  2. Plan the learning course out well

Formulate a plan by identifying the core learning objectives. Then incorporate those in with gamification features. This is where things like immediate feedback from the previous section come into play. 

Poor Design

Developmental tools for gamifying eLearning are everywhere. It may be easy to hop online and design a gamified course, but the popularity of gamification software creates a gap for poor design. 

As in the example of The Oregon Trail, poor design isn’t what anyone wants. It can lead to pixelated screens, software crashes, and rudimentary pieces of the game that distract learners from retaining the information. 

A poor design increases the risk of losing learners’ attention and rendering a course unhelpful. Choosing an LMS that includes a team of experts with customizable options and a well-thought-out strategy is key. 

Poor Content 

One of the biggest benefits is that these features make learning fun. But that is unlikely to happen if they are used over poor content. 

Simply put, incorporating gamification elements won’t cover up poor content. 

Adult learners aren’t often faced with simple quizzes or multiple-choice-type assessments in real life. Applying elements like this to otherwise boring, poorly thought-out content isn’t going to help them learn or retain the information. 

Common Gamification Features for eLearning

gamification features

Let’s do a short recap of what we already know; gamification is the process of applying game mechanics to non-gaming contexts. It works by attaching intrinsic motivation concepts to modify behavior outcomes. 

Here’s how this looks in application.

  1. Leaderboards
  2. Progress Bar
  3. Point System
  4. Achievements 
  5. Quizzes and assessments 


Leaderboards can increase engagement and build community among coworkers and students alike. They act as a visual representation of where a learner is in comparison to their peers. 

They provide a clear-cut goal and create friendly competition. Leaderboards also provide quick, at a glance feedback for administrators too.  

Progress bar

No one stays engaged and active without knowing why, what, when, and how. 

Progress bars keep learners engaged throughout the whole course and may be one of the most common features of gamification. They provide real-time, immediate feedback with a clearly defined end goal. 

Point systems 

Points attached to work provide a learner with a goal to work toward. 

This taps into the psychology of the brain's reward system, too. It’s a common feature for attaching intrinsic motivation to learning.  

Some gamification point systems give learners the ability to trade points for in-app currency or even real-world rewards like travel benefits via free hotel stay, for example. 


Think of badges, certificates, levels, or avatar upgrades. 

This works by allowing a learner to earn something through a specified objective like completing a course. Often incorporated through other features listed here, like point systems, leaderboards, and checklists. 

Quizzes and assessments 

Fun tests sound oxymoronic, but with the right implementation, they are a great addition to any training course. 

On the business end, they can provide data to address gaps in training material and gauge where an employee (or learner) is in terms of grasping concepts. 

On the fun side, they can provide real-time feedback and incorporate it into point systems, leaderboards, or achievements. 



What does Gamification mean?

The gamification definition is the concept of applying game-based mechanics to non-gaming contexts. 

This is applicable for e-learning courses and employee training, certification, or recertification to keep learners engaged, active, and attentive. 

What e-Learning tools does Gamification provide?

In general, gamification provides course creation abilities of LMSs, offers features like lessons, course tracking, quizzes, assessments, challenges, levels, and interactive videos.

Of course, this is dependent on the type of LMS. 

What is an example of Gamification?

Gamification can be applied to any concept. It’s not only great for e-learning applications like Duolingo offers but for marketing purposes too. 

Some other examples of gamification in the real-world include:

  • FitBit
  • Nike+ Run Club
  • Starbucks reward program app 
  • McDonald’s Monopoly 


e learning summary

You made it! We’ll keep it short here. 

Gamification is the combination of video game psychology and learning. It can be an easy way to level up any content or training material. 

It works by rewarding learners with achievements, levels, etc to increase information retention and reinforce desired behaviors. 

Why do you need it? 

  • Better learning experience & environment
  • Immediate feedback
  • Real-world application
  • Increased engagement 

Short, like we promised. 

Technology and games have come a long way since blazing the pixelated Oregon Trail. Don’t get left behind or leave a reputation of this dinosaur game. 

Discover why Tovuti is the best LMS software


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