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Engage Learners

Gamification is the application of game design mechanics to non-game scenarios. Learn more about game design elements suited for use in LMS platforms.

LMS gamification: A learner motivation strategy

A game is an activity meant to make people take action, stay in shape, and get entertained. There are many types of games. For the purposes of this article, two examples will put this concept clearer from a better perspective.

Military soldiers are encouraged to play chess to educate them on how to strategize their activities. Ancient games such as knuckles kept people active during tough periods such as famines and droughts.

Gamification is defined as the addition of game elements and concepts to non-game-related activities such as learning.

Research has shown that gamifying day-to-day activities has a positive impact on people. Nonetheless, contextual and individual differences exist but the results, in general, are impressive.

Gamification is one of the common LMS (Learning Management System) features.


The techniques used in gamification take advantage of a user’s natural interests for learning, socializing, competition, mastery, status, and achievement. During the early stages of gamification, participants were given rewards to motivate them.

Particularly, these rewards were made visible to other participants to encourage them to compete or better their performance.

LMS Gamification

Gamifying LMS platforms involves the introduction of game design elements. These are designed to engage learners and keep them motivated. These elements are discussed in more detail below.

Elements of Game Design

For centuries, games have been used for three main reasons; to entertain, educate, and engage. Game design elements are the building blocks of gamified applications including LMS platforms. These basic elements include points, leaderboards, badges, certificates, checklists, meaningful stories, graphs, avatars, and teammates.

1. Points

Most gamified applications and games use points as the primary element. These are numbers used as visual identifiers to show a learner’s progress or standing. They are a form of reward for activities conducted in a certain way.

An important aspect of points is to provide feedback. For example, using points, it is possible to measure a learner’s behavior. Points provide immediate and continuous feedback and also serve as a reward.

2. Leaderboards

This is a scoreboard indicating the names of learners and their current scores. It is meant to show using numbers, the ‘leaders’ in a certain course or discipline. Leaderboards help to show who is performing best in a certain discipline or subject.

They are competitive indicators showing the progress of a learner versus that of others. According to Werbach and Hunter, leaderboards have positive and negative potentials. They say that if a learner is a few points to the next level or position, he will be motivated. If he is a few points to the bottom or at the bottom, he will not be as happy.

3. Badges

These are visual elements meant to show the achievement of learners. These have to be earned and collected during the gamification activity. Badges symbolize merit and confirm a learner’s achievements by visually displaying goals and levels of achievement.

Mostly, to earn a badge, one has to achieve a set number of points in a given discipline. Badges serve the purpose of displaying a learner’s status and also serve as goals. Similar to points, badges also provide feedback to the user giving information on performance.

They can influence a user’s behavior. For instance, they can select certain challenges, activities, and routes in order to win those badges. In addition, badges identify a learner as a member of a particular group. It may also exert social pressure on other users, especially, if they are hard to achieve.

4. Certificates

Certificates are documents showing that an individual has successfully completed a certain course and passed all the assessments and tests. In eLearning, some LMS platforms allow learners to display their certificates on their profiles.

5. Checklists

This is a job aid used to minimize failure by filling gaps associated with the limitations of human memory and attention. They aid in maintaining consistency and completeness when performing an activity. A good example of a checklist is a “to-do list.”

In eLearning, checklists are a great way of informing learners what they need to be working on within an LMS.

6. Meaningful Stories

These do not necessarily relate to a learner’s performance. Embedding narrative stories in gamified applications help to visualize activities and characters in a gamified activity. In turn, the learners get more meaning and value beyond just the quest for achievement.

The gamified application’s title can communicate the story. Similarly, complex storylines such as those seen in video games can convey the same story. Narratives don’t just have to be in video games and other engaging games. They can also be applied to non-game situations and real-life scenarios.

If the story is in line with a user’s interests, it can evoke desire. This is applicable, especially in boring contexts. Hence, meaningful stories are a vital part of gamification. They enhance the meaning of real-life activities by adding the narrative concept.

7. Graphs

Graphs are mostly used in strategy-gamified applications. They give information about a learner’s performance at a given time compared to his previous accomplishment. As opposed to leaderboards, graphs do not compare a user’s performance with that of another. Instead, they give an evaluation of a learner’s performance over a given timeframe.

Graphs use a user’s reference standard and not communal or social reference metrics such as those used in leaderboards. They help to improve the performance of a learner over a given timeframe by providing a graphical display.

According to motivation theorists, graphs promote mastery orientation which is, especially, beneficial in learning.

8. Avatars

Avatars are visual representations of the users in a gamified environment. They are more like the images we post on our social network profiles to show our identities. They are chosen and created by the user. They can be real images of the learners, pictograms, or animated 3D representations.

The purpose of avatars is to vividly display the identity of a user. They also set him apart from others and other virtual identities. Avatars also allow learners to create other identities or adopt others. They also allow users to be part of a community.

9. Teammates

Teammates are other users in a gamified environment. They can be real or virtual individuals. Their role is to induce cooperation, conflict, and competition. Particularly, competition is evoked when other teams are introduced in the gamification activity.

Teams are carefully selected groups of learners/users meant to cooperate and work together to achieve a common objective.

Gamification in Corporate Settings

In April 2011, Microsoft released Ribbon Hero 2, an educational game that teaches Microsoft Office using small, interactive, and engaging tasks. There are no long texts or videos. It was added as a feature of Office 2007 and 2010 suites. 

The aim was to train users on how to use these two packages effectively. It was termed one of the most popular projects of the Microsoft Office Labs division. In fact, studies showed massive adoption of the software packages.

SAP has also successfully used gamified applications to educate its employees. Unilever and the US Military have also successfully included gamification in their training.

Essentially, in corporate training, trainers use gamification to increase employee motivation, and keep them engaged. It also helps them apply what they have learned in various trainings to their jobs. In theory, this strategy should improve their performance.

Badgeville, a computer software company conducted a study in 2013 on the effects of gamifying work processes for contemporary workforce employees. The study reported that 78% of employees were motivating themselves with game-based activities. Also, 91% of these workers said that gamified systems improved their work experience. Their awareness was heightened and their engagement and productivity increased. 

Gamification in Education

Gamification in eLearning is a concept where engaging activities and elements are added to a learning management system. Consequently, learning becomes interactive and fun. For instance, leaderboards, points earned by a learner, and badges are added to an LMS to encourage learners to achieve more.

Gamifying in eLearning seeks to solve problems by introducing processes and activities that have game characteristics and elements. Mostly, game design elements are employed. Consequently, there is enhanced user engagement, productivity, learning, and knowledge retention.

When learners view the activities of their peers and how they are performing, they become encouraged to do more. In turn, they become active since they want better numbers and ratings on the leaderboards, badges, and points.

Gamification strategies offer various benefits with related learning outcomes. Indeed, it has been applied in many learning scenarios and the outcomes have been impressive.

The Quest to Learn Center is a public middle and high school located in New York City, in the United States. The New York City Department of Education founded the institution. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the MacArthur Foundation were responsible for funding. Learning in this institution is game-based which makes education for modern children more relevant and engaging.

The Khan Academy is a not-for-profit institution headquartered in California, United States. The school focuses on creating online tools that aid in children’s education. Mostly, the organization uses short videos but gamified applications are also part of the learning tools.

There is growing evidence that gamifying learning is particularly helpful for students with dyslexia. Also, there is a growing interest in the use of gamification in health-related disciplines. Activities such as adventure games and interactive polling can be used to enhance engagement.

Gamification vs Game-Based Learning

It is important to note the difference between gamification and game-based learning. Gamification uses game mechanics and design elements in non-game scenarios. On the other hand, game-based learning incorporates learning into a game. Hence, in the case of the latter, learning takes place through gameplay.

For game-based learning, education takes place at the learning or course level. In contrast, gamification can be applied to a whole LMS with ease, at any level. Gamification in LMS platforms uses the design elements discussed above to achieve its objectives. Different platforms may employ varying elements but leaderboards, points, badges, graphs, and certificates are common in almost all LMS systems.

Benefits of Gamification

Engaging learners is the primary role of gamification. However, there are other benefits associated with this concept.

1. Makes Learning Fun

The common characteristic of gamifying applications is fun. Humans love competition. Also, they learn more about themselves and what they can achieve especially when the learning outcomes are positive.

Self-tests are what have propelled social media. Indeed, topics such as emotional IQ, self-knowledge, and personality are part of social media. These are the elements that are responsible for increased engagement on these platforms.

In the case of gamification, there are metrics comparable to these self-tests that give the learner information about his performance.

2. Fosters Cooperation

Humans feel obligated to groups to which they are members. There is always that desire to ‘do your part’ so that you ‘do not let the whole team down.’ Such an attitude motivates learners to engage with the learning platform in the best and most productive way.

Inclination is another concept used in gamification to enhance cooperation. Most LMS platforms give statistics of the learners. 

Competitive and non-competitive goals can be set. For instance, different groups can compete in a learning activity. Groups can also be tasked to meet a certain target in a non-competitive scenario.

3. Ambition

Rewards are important since they motivate learners. If they are not rewarded, they feel their efforts are wasted. When motivation is low, rewards are intrinsic. For indifferent learners, the desire to learn is evoked if they see other potential benefits. 

Well-designed learning courseware motivates indifferent learners once they are aware of the advantages of taking the course.

4. Competition

Competition is inherent in all of us and it is motivating. Learners can only put so much effort if they are doing it alone. However, if there is a chance to compete and beat other learners, then the desire to achieve more is evident.

5. Status

Low status is quite discouraging. Thus, the focus should be on successes and not failures and the prospect of advancing to other levels. Human beings want to be recognized, therefore, status is important for all of us. 

Status goes hand-in-hand with the competition. It tells us how we are fairing on and ranking compared to others partaking in the same activities as us.


Gamification is the application of game design mechanics and elements to non-game scenarios. Most of the game design elements discussed in this article are suited for use in LMS platforms.

An LMS platform that is gamified makes the whole learning experience fun and worth every penny and effort. This applies both to education and corporate training situations. Learners get engaged, become more motivated, participate more, retain more knowledge, and perform better at the end of the day.

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