Is Gamification Worth It? How Gamification Affects Learner Outcomes

Written By

J.P. Medved

November 23, 2015

Gamification and games-based learning (GBL) are hot topics among learning and development practitioners. The ability to motivate and engage learners through use of game mechanics, such as points, leaderboards, and awards, seems to have enormous promise for improving the results of training and education. Not only that, but the total market for learning games is now $3.9 billion, and analysts at market research firm Ambient Insight expect that to grow to 8.9 billion by 2017.

At Capterra, our recent LMS research report, based on a survey of LMS users, found that gamification was the fourth-most desired feature by respondents, after live or video conferencing, integrated talent management, and mobile technology. It was more desired as a feature than social learning, one of the other hot topics for 2015. However, in the same survey, gamification was also one of the three relatively recent features that LMS users were most confused about, along with the Experience API (xAPI, formerly Tin Can), compliance, and extended enterprise portals.

I feel that the questions people ask about gamification reflects this uncertainty. They ask, “Is it gamification, or game-based learning? Is it more than just badges and points?” It is also significant, in my opinion, that survey results showed that buyers who are on their second LMS are more likely to use gamification features than those buying their first LMS.

So, given the results of that first study, we, along with our partner TalentLMS, decided to take a closer look into the use of gamification among LMS users. We conducted a second survey of over 400 general LMS users. Of the respondents, 65 percent were LMS admins, and 35 percent were instructional designers. We wanted to know whether they felt gamification was worth it, and this turned out to be a good group to answer that question: 85 percent already used gamification elements in their offerings, and 90 percent actually already used learning games of some kind. Electronic learning games accounted for 63 percent of the games, while 37 percent of the games were analog in nature—they were board games or they used cards, for example.

We have now published the results of this new research as LMS Gamification Research: New Study in Partnership with TalentLMS. This article summarizes the key findings. You should also take the time to read the three related articles published in 2014 in Learning Solutions Magazine; these are listed in the right-hand margin at the end of this article. While this article addresses the learning outcomes of gamification associated with LMSs that have gamification features, the three related articles will give you an insight into both how to use gamification effectively and when to use it.

How did the survey distinguish between games and gamification?

This distinction is not always clear to practitioners. We identified a subtle, but important, difference between gamification and learning games. While gamification applies game-like elements to traditional learning methods, learning games replace those methods with games designed to teach specific information or skills. We wanted to understand both sides of this coin, and how that impacted learning outcomes.

Are learning games effective?

Respondents who said they use learning games reported increased learner satisfaction (85 percent), higher test scores (81 percent), higher course completion rates (81 percent), and increased learner retention of course material (73 percent).

Analog games and digital games, according to respondents, have almost equally positive impact. Off-the-shelf games were as effective as custom-built games. The only downside users of learning games reported was the cost; 38 percent of the respondents said that games increased the price of training. Depending on your objectives, this may be a small price to pay for the improved results. My conclusion overall is that simply purchasing an existing game makes more sense than expending time and energy on designing and building your own.

Is gamification effective?

Gamification features are widely offered and widely used by the respondents to our survey, although they did want more from their LMSs. While 56 percent of gamified LMSs include gamification features in the system, 25 percent only offer such features as optional add-on modules (costing extra) and another 19 percent require integration of a dedicated third-party gamification system. These differences do affect results, as you will see.

Respondents reported that gamification had a massive positive impact on almost every metric. Eighty-four percent said it increased student satisfaction, 83 percent said that learners retained course content better, 80 percent said their course completion rate improved, and 71 percent noted better student scores on tests and assignments.

The only area where respondents were even slightly ambivalent had to do with cost. Forty-two percent said gamification increased the cost of training or education, although another 42 percent said it had no impact either way on costs.

With respect to the impact of the way gamification features are offered, we found that although respondents reported mostly positive learner outcomes across all three delivery methods, one method clearly performed better than the other two. When gamification was part-and-parcel of the LMS, respondents reported higher overall positive impacts on almost every metric, and lower overall cost increases.

Conclusion

Based on the results of our survey, not only is the positive acceptance of gamification and games-based learning (hype, even) justified, the results that LMS users report indicate even greater success than generally reported. While educators and trainers often use gamified elements or learning games, their success and desire for additional gamification functionality shows that further investment in this space will be a defining element of future eLearning tools.

Despite the perceived increase in cost, LMS users have plenty of enthusiasm for gamification features in their software. LMS vendors who can bring down the price (or total cost as experienced by the user) of gamification will win over customers and have a chance to capture many of the 17 percent of LMS users whose LMSs do not yet use gamified learning management systems.

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