Thursday, March 23, 2023

Designing Competitions for Gamification

In learning, gamification is competition integrated into a learning system. The competition could be to gain leaderboard points, to gain a position in a team, to receive a badge of recognition or a social validation such as a ‘like’ or other expressions of praise from the learners community. The system can also extend to giving away monetary rewards such as redeemable points or coupons. The underlying idea is why not make learning fun and exciting with an associated reward system. This post covers some very important pointers that you must be aware of when designing a competition for gamification in a learning system.

Components of a gamification competition

We have all been part of a competition at some point in our lives. Gamification has the same set of components as in real-world competitions. While these components (listed below) are very obvious, you’ll need to pay special attention to these when designing competitions for learning.

  • Cohorts: Competition must be set for a defined group of people. You could base this upon their skill levels, hierarchical level in the organization, users in a geographical region, etc. For example, workers in a factory may participate in a learning competition for courses on tools and machinery. Of course, you could still have competitions that are open to all learners in the community!
  • Timeline: Competitions must be for a set period. Even if a competition has only a single task, it is best to have a timeline. Having a timeline also makes it easy to track the data and analyze them.
  • Goal / Objective: Players (learners belonging to a cohort) of a competition must have a goal to achieve in the given timeline. This could be as simple as 'Maximize Learning Points' where learners just need to complete more courses to gain more points. It could also be a well defined objective such as 'Complete all assessments on Health and Safety with a high score' where learners will be assessed on both percentage completion of assessments in the topic and the score.
  • Rewards: A competition must have a reward system that motivates a learner to come back and play. Rewards can be points, badges, gaming ranks, fictional currency, money or any other form of benefit or recognition. By analyzing the data over time, you will be able to gauge the types of rewards that motivate different kinds of learners.
Illustrated example of a cohort

Designing a competition for gamification

A well designed competition will see higher participation and positive feedback from participants. Below are some points that you must keep in mind when designing a gamification competition.

  • Level playing ground (cohort selection): A good competition design ensures that no individual or group has an advantage over the rest before the competition starts. For example, if you allow learners from both the leadership team and machine operators to participate in a competition on leadership skills, you already know who will win. The failure to ensure a level playing ground could turn out expensive. Learners who are not being able to win due to a bias will be demotivated. They will lose faith in the effectiveness of the system. Similarly, no one must be awarded special points because of their position or nature of job and all points earned previously must be reset before the competition starts.
  • Reasonable and fair timeline: The timeline set to complete a task must be fair. A competition must be fun, and not another compliance thing with a pressure to finish. If your employees can spend only 4 hours a week for a learning competition, you must take that into account when setting an objective. Again, do not mix cohorts of people who are extremely busy with those who are not. For example, the accounts team may be insanely busy in the last month of the financial year for the year-end closure. You don’t want to include them along with the production team (who may not be busy) during that time for a competition.
  • Nature of goal / objective: Come up with a creative goal / objective for the competition. Maybe come up with 3 or 4 sub-objectives for a single competition. Move away from the over-simplified goal of "whoever completes maximum modules/courses wins". Reward learners for doing other activities that your learning platform can track, such as social interactions, posting content, making presentations, playing games, taking quizzes, etc.
  • Team-based vs Individual: If your platform allows it, run competitions between teams as opposed to individual learners. Individual learners who are not self-motivated to learn may find inspiration from their team to participate. A team-based group project can be evaluated for participation of team members.
  • Reward / Awards: In the end, the fight is for a reward or an award. It is not enough to just gain points. There must be something on record to say - I won!. This could be a monetary reward, a badge, a position within the gamification, etc. The following two aspects are important when speaking of rewards or awards:
    • Sharing (with community): Everyone loves to share their awards and rewards with the community. So, make sure you find a way that learners can do this at the end of the competition. Learners gain confidence by sharing their achievements with the community and so they are more likely to be motivated to come back to win greater challenges. Sharing of awards will also inspire other learners to get involved more in the competitions.
    • Appreciation / praise: It is not enough if the awards / rewards are published in the community. Learners must be able to receive appreciation and praise from the community, irrespective of whether they win or lose. Feedback from the community becomes a motivating factor.

Advantages of Gamification competitions

  • Motivation

    Gamification motivates learners by encouraging them to participate in learning and win, thereby achieving the core learning objectives of the organization.
  • Collaboration

    Gamification improves collaboration and engagement in learners. Individual learners interact with each other during competitions. Team-based competitions foster both inter-group and intra-group interactions.
  • Completion

    For organizations to succeed, employees must complete learning in a given time frame. Since gamification competitions are time-bound, learners are more likely to complete their learnings within the time-frame of the competition.
  • Data Analysis

    Gamification programs generate significant amounts of data that are specific to the participating cohorts. This helps an organization understand its learners better. The L&D team can analyze the data and publish tailored content to learners which will improve their work performance.

Final words...

While there are debates about what truly motivates learners and whether gamification is really necessary, it really boils down to how well the competitions in gamification are designed. Gamification can never be achieved from an eternally running leaderboard from the beginning of time. Competitions must be time-bound and repeated so as to give learners a second chance to win. If Learning is compared to Sports, Gamification on a Learning system would be Olympics. There are several events and you’re good at some!

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Designing Competitions for Gamification

In learning, gamification is competition integrated into a learning system. The competition could be to gain leaderboard points, to ga...

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