L&D Best Practices

The Modern L&D Toolkit: How Does Gamification Fit In?

Shelley Osborne

Head of L&D at Udemy

December 14, 2018

Gamification has a branding problem. When trying to convince executives to adopt gamification in Learning & Development (L&D), there’s often a misunderstanding on what the concept of gamification means. It’s not actually about games, but instead, it’s about persuasion. Gamification is the use of game mechanics and experience design to engage and motivate people to change behavior or achieve a goal.

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I recently shared how I applied a gamification framework to our onboarding program featuring Augmented Reality (AR) on a Udemy for Business webinar. Watch the webinar here. We got a lot of great questions, so I’ve written this follow-up blog to help respond to the questions I didn’t have time to discuss during the webinar.

First, for context, here are some of the gamification techniques I shared on the webinar.

Gamification Technique 1: Fogg B=Mat Behavior Model

When trying to influence behavior, there are three dimensions to consider: motivation (low or high), ability (task is easy or hard to do) and trigger (inspires action). Ideally, you want to balance high motivation with an easy or medium level task to do, and then build in a trigger like an email reminder to inspire action.

Gamification Technique 2: Octalysis Model of Motivation

Yu-Kai Chou, one of the earliest pioneers of gamification, developed the Octalysis model to divide motivation into 8 core drivers with positive/negative dimensions:

  • Positive: Meaning, Accomplishment, Empowerment

  • Negative: Unpredictability, Scarcity, Avoidance

  • Neutral: Ownership, Social

The most addictive video games and social media sites share a combination of these positive and negative motivation drivers. For example, Facebook provides unpredictability with the randomness of the newsfeed (you never know what you’ll see each day), but also offers empowerment by enabling users to express themselves through posts and enjoy a sense of accomplishment through the number of likes received. Your gamified experience should feature a mix of these core motivators to be effective. Check out Yu-Kai Chou’s course on Udemy to learn more about the Octalysis model of gamification.

Gamification Technique 3: Player Profiles

There are 4 key player profiles in a gamified experience, and it’s essential to design your learning experience to address the needs of these different types of players. Think about a family Monopoly game night during the holidays. Some people just want to enjoy participating in the game, others are in it to win, and some players want to collect all the expensive properties in the same color.

The 4 key players profiles include:

  • Killers: These players are focused on winning. They like peer-to-peer competition and leaderboards.

  • Socialites: Their reason to play the game is to socialize. They’re motivated by newsfeeds, chats, and other opportunities to socialize in a gamified experience.

  • Achievers: They are focused on achieving the goal at hand as quickly and thoroughly as they can.

  • Explorers: These players don’t care about winning. Instead, they are curious and are in it to explore. For example, in a space-themed video game, they might want to check out the different parts of the universe.

When designing our gamified onboarding experience, we layered in all of these concepts into our two pieces of learning content: 1) an on-demand online onboarding course and 2) an Augmented Reality scavenger hunt around our office called “Udemy Go.” To find out how we did this, watch our webinar here.

To dive deeper, here are some answers to the great questions we received during the webinar.

1. How does gamification fit with an agile way of doing things? I find selling gamification hard because of the time it takes to develop.

I think people tend to think gamification has to be a huge strategy, when in fact I think you can use gamification techniques in lighter ways to drive engagement, persuasion or behavior change. It doesn’t have to be overly complex, it just has to have purpose.

2. How can gamification be used for systems training that is totally virtual?

Our on-demand online onboarding course is totally virtual and can be easily accessed via our Udemy for Business mobile app. It’s designed for new hires to start getting up to speed from any location around the world, at home, or during their commute. Throughout the course, we’ve built in the key gamification techniques I highlighted above to motivate new hires to learn. I think it demonstrates how people can approach gamification in these virtual environments.

Persuasive technology is designed to change attitudes or behaviors through persuasion or social influence. Look at social media sites or apps you use in your daily life for inspiration. These kinds of persuasive technologies are an excellent way to think about how others have created software products or virtual experiences that are seemingly not a gamified experience but actually embody the concept. Think of the Facebook example I shared above with the key motivation drivers.

3. Can you share which software you ultimately landed on to create your AR experience? And any pros and cons?

We started with a free technology and are considering going to a paid service with a slightly richer authoring environment. Free is great, but it’s also not necessarily as robust or stable as some of the others out there. I recommend doing your research and testing a few, possibly even running a pilot before a full launch. I would start small and build out more of your experience bit by bit. I think we tried to build out too much too early and should have started a little smaller and scaled up later. Some suggestions for free or low-cost apps to get your feet wet are Metaverse and Zappar.

4. Can you share how many manpower and/or hours and how long it took for your team to create the Udemy Go AR application?

I think Udemy Go probably took close to a month of full-time work to create, but that was spread out over time and only for our first launch. We’ve since iterated and spent a bit more time. Admittedly, as we learn more about the platforms, the team gets faster at building the app and editing and revising.

5. Have you seen game elements like leaderboards cause conflict? If you have many killers/achievers who want to be high on the leaderboard, have they ever ended up creating conflict with socialites?

YES! That’s precisely what happened here at Udemy, and we realized we needed to focus more on our learning objectives—to help people build connections. We de-emphasized the leaderboard and doubled down on the team activities and selfies. This was a major improvement to the experience.

6. Beyond subjective satisfaction, can you talk about efficacy against traditional onboarding?

We definitely have more work to do here, but we’ve been using a few of the deeper layers of self-analysis from learners on how they’re able to apply the content, asking if the content helped them get up to speed at Udemy, etc. We also have some pretty interesting product usage stats that we use as a signal for if we’ve made useful and meaningful content. And lastly, we’re using pre and post mechanisms as a way to see how the current state of onboarding compared to earlier versions.

7. If we always give employees awards and achievements, won’t they expect to receive them for everything they do, and what happens if they don’t? How does this affect their motivation?

Gamification doesn’t always have to be connected to a reward or award. There are multiple layers to human motivation, and even connecting people to a higher social purpose can be a deeply motivating lever to pull.

8. Can you write the names of the books/authors you recommend?

  • Actionable Gamification by Yu Kai Chou

  • Persuasive Technology by B.J. Fogg

  • The Gamification of Learning and Instruction by Karl Kapp

  • Gamify: How Gamification Motivates People to Do Extraordinary Things by Brian Burke

  • Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World by Jane McGonigal

I appreciate all the great questions during the webinar and look forward to seeing you in my next webinar!

Shelley Osborne is Head of L&D at Udemy. She has 14 years of experience in the education sector and corporate learning and development. Previously, Shelley was VP of Learning & Development at Farside HR Solutions, specializing in talent leadership, management training, and soft skills development in the startup space in the San Francisco Bay Area. She has a Master’s degree in Education from the University of Calgary where she specialized in gamification and instructional leadership.
Udemy for Business is a learning platform that helps companies stay competitive in the digital transformation of the workplace by offering fresh, relevant, and personalized on-demand learning content, curated from the Udemy marketplace. Our mission is to help employees do whatever comes next—whether that’s the next project to do, skill to learn, or role to master. We’d love to partner with you on your employee development needs. Get in touch with us at business@udemy.com

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