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Is Gamification Worth My Training Dollars?

Games and Gamification: Hype or Help?


It’s ice cream time! But there is only one flavor on the menu — Chocolate. Do you still want some?

Most of our eLearning is like chocolate ice cream. It’s uncomplicated, acceptable to most people, and some people love it, so we call it a success. But when you only serve up one flavor, people are much less likely to come back for more. 

Adding games to your curriculum gives you the power to add choices and variety to the learning experience. And when learners can control and interact with content in different ways, it has a big impact on motivation, attention, and retention.

Games are also fun. But ironically, therein lies the challenge. How can you convince stakeholders that games and gamification are effective learning strategies—not just triple-scoop ice cream sundaes? 

When it comes to learning design, the “fun” element is key, because it drives motivation and engagement. Mentally engaged learners give information the attention it needs to move from short-term to long-term memory. Emotionally engaged learners are more likely to connect to, absorb, and remember what they have learned. The element of fun encourages learners to repeat the game to improve their score, and the more they practice the more they remember. 

Are games and gamification the same thing?

Games and gamification are two sides of the same coin, but they are not the same thing. Games are experience-driven learning events. Gamification is applying game-like strategies to motivate learners and improve the overall learning experience. As defined by Karl M. Kapp (2012), gamification uses “game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”

How do games impact learning design?

The power of games and gamification really lies in how they drive designers to adopt a “game thinking” mindset. So instead of thinking about how to convert a 100-slide PowerPoint into a 60-minute eLearning course, you think about “what the learner needs to do,” “what they are motivated to learn,” and “what stories and challenges are relevant to them.” Then, you provide the right level of experiences and content to help them develop and practice the necessary skills. This is a win-win for learners (who feel the content is relevant and helpful) and for stakeholders (who can see improved performance).

Do games measurably improve learning?

Studies have shown that game-based learning can improve knowledge retention. For example, Chow, Woodford & Maess (2011) compared two introductory statistics classes. They found that retention increased from 59% to 95% when one of those classes played a relevant learning game.

Well-designed games don’t only improve retention—they also make it easier for learners to find that information later. We don’t store memories in neat little file folders in our brain; they intertwine and overlap over time. As Benedict Carey (2014) explains, we embed our memories in “networks of perceptions, facts and thoughts, slightly different variations of which bubble up each time.” When you challenge learners to use information in new and different ways, you help them build different types of memories and emotional connections to the content so they can retrieve it more easily on the job, when they need it.  

Is gamified learning appropriate in the corporate world?

Yes! Games are not just a teenage pastime, they are the evolution of entertainment. In 2020, The NPD Group reported that the U.S. video game industry earned more revenue than movie and music combined. Top corporations like Siemens, Barclaycard, Allergan, Ancestry, Bayer, CVS Health, Salesforce, and Kellogg’s use games to improve engagement and learning. 

Remember, there are many different kinds of games. Consider the aesthetics and gameplay in addition to the objectives you want to achieve. For example, JEOPARDY!® and Match games can address the same learning objectives but appeal to different audiences. With so many options, you can find a game that is a great fit for your team. 

Is it difficult to add a game-based training strategy to my curriculum or LMS?

It’s easier than you think, but consider starting small. Rather than converting all of your content into a game, add a gamified scenario or quiz to one module. You can package that game as a SCORM file – making it easy to integrate into your LMS. As you become more adept at designing and building effective games, you can expand your vision and design to apply game thinking at the curriculum level.

Is competition good for learning?

It’s not about competition being good or bad. It’s about ensuring you have the right level of competition at the right time and designing the content well. You should also reward effort and improvement, but still provide a safe space for people to fail. When you frame competition in a positive way, it can also help to reduce feelings of isolation, encourage team-building, and improve retention, which is especially important for a remote workforce. Krause and Williams (2015) found that students who engaged in social game elements (such as head-to-head challenges) showed an “increase of 50% in retention period and 40% higher average test scores.”

Competition might be the right fit for most of your team, or it may engage only some of your employees. But adding some competitive elements can reach learners who are less likely to engage in traditional training and motivate them to achieve at a higher level. 

Don’t training games cost a lot of money to build?


As with any instructional strategy, cost varies based on depth. A fully immersive, branching, multiplayer game experience is much more expensive to design and build than a short, templatized conversation scenario. Game templates make it easier and more cost-effective to add a variety of games—from Wheel of Fortune®  to Scenarios—to your curriculum, without any coding skills. 

Game templates can be a quick way to build or repackage the content you’re already building, too. Think: Instead of developing a multiple choice quiz, how about putting that same content into a Trivia game? Players can compete individually for the best score, or play together in a live/virtual classroom as an icebreaker or group activity.

How do I get started?


You don’t need to dive right in on a fully immersive gamified experience. Instead, consider testing the waters. For example, imagine that you want your team to review a 5-page PDF before they attend a training event. How many people will actually read that document? What if you also sent a link to a 3-minute game – would more people engage with the content that way? Games provide rich analytics that reveal if, when, and how long people engage with these experiences; and if playing games improves their accuracy over time. So you can clearly define trends and preferences, evolve your approach based on lessons learned, and build more game-based learning that works.


Carey, Benedict. (2014). How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why it Happens. Random House.

Chow, Alan & Woodford, Kelly & Maes, Jeanne. (2011). Deal or No Deal: using games to improve student learning, retention and decision-making. International Journal of Mathematical Education in Science and Technology. 42. 259-264. 10.1080/0020739X.2010.519796

Kapp, Karl M. (2012). The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Training and Education (1st. ed.). Pfeiffer & Company.

Krause, Markus & Williams, Joseph. (2015). A Playful Game Changer: Fostering Student Retention in Online Education with Social Gamification. 10.1145/2724660.2724665

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