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Unleashing Superheroes – Doing Gamification the Right Way

This week I explore how gamification, a core theme explored in my upcoming book Unleashing Superheroes, can be built into your engagement strategy to delight your learners!

In my 15+ years fighting dull online learning with Growth Engineering, I’ve learned it’s essential to keep things fresh. I’m a firm believer that we have to keep moving forward to survive (my power animal must be a shark – the friendly hammerhead kind only, of course)!

So, I’m all for healthy debate about what works well in L&D and what needs to be reviewed – gamification included!

Driving Debate

Healthy debate is exactly what I got at a recent industry network event I attended. The event was packed full of your typical mini pastry selection, DIY coffee pumps and eager L&D types trying out the usual pick-and-mix of icebreakers. With the ice well and truly broken, we were all chatting away about everything L&D.

I wound up in a debate with a fellow guest (let’s call him…or her… John), about the pros and cons of gamification. It soon became clear, gamification hadn’t worked for John. “It’s a fad”, he said, “it’s just another marketing gimmick. I added some badges and it had no effect whatsoever”. Through his confident, right-about-everything exterior, I could see a deeper sadness. His gamification dream was like a massive sparkly birthday badge smashed into smithereens on the floor. It was time to put those pieces back together again (I’m pretty sure Humpty Dumpty is John’s power animal destiny!).

Plaster, Prom Queen or Just Plain Misunderstood?

Gamification = adding gaming techniques to non-game environments. Sounds simple enough but many people out there, like John, stumble over how to successfully use it. Like anything that was once hyped-up and all the rage, there’s been a bit of a backlash against the concept of gamification. Like a misunderstood prom queen, gamification was never meant to be put on a pedestal as the ultimate fix to all of our L&D problems. You can’t just throw badges at the problem and hope they scare it away – gamification needs to be applied as part of your wider engagement strategy.

When building gamification into your LMS or online training, it needs to be designed with some core elements in mind: Epic meaning, Narrative, Clear Pathways and Collaboration. Remember – successful gamification is all about context!

Here’s me discussing the main difference between gamification and game based learning:

What You Need to Make Gamification Work Wonders

Epic meaning

“What’s it all about?” as Alfie so eloquently pondered back in the 1960s. He wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last to wonder this! You need to answer this important question too (no pressure!).

Epic meaning is all about creating something that matters and has purpose. What is the point of your online learning and why should your learners care? Tie the answers to these questions into your gamification to create meaning. Once people understand the wider importance of their learning journey (e.g. the purpose, goals and mission) you can build game mechanics into this context.


Tell a story! As someone who’s writing a book, I know this is easier said than done. However, building a strong narrative into your online learning is worth it because we all love a good story. That’s what keeps us gripped ten hours into our latest box-set marathon or turning the pages at 3 in the morning. Don’t worry. You don’t need reams of text to hold your learners’ attention. Long before the written word, humans were using storytelling to learn about everything from how to make fire, to the recipe for latest Saber Tooth Samosa. To this day our brains love a good story, whatever form it takes.

However you choose to create your story (using gaming mechanics, graphics or good ol’ fashioned text) make sure it’s meaningful. If your learners are meant to be developing their knowledge about bricklaying, it would seem a little contrived to build their training around a fashion show narrative. Tell a story that has epic meaning your audience.

Clear Pathways

We all love to share a good selfie!

If you were given a map and your fantasy car, but didn’t know where you were going it would be difficult to reach your destination. To get the most from gamification you need to create clear pathways for your learners to follow. Make sure they know which goals they’re aiming for and which rewards they can expect to achieve (badges, certificates or simply being top of the leaderboard will all keep their motivation levels soaring).

Keep it social

Last but not least, be sure to keep learners’ reward receptors firing by making your online learning social and collaborative. Humans are social creatures. We share our plans, our successes, selfies and much more! It’s not much good if your learners are reaching their milestones, winning rewards and gaining certificates if there’s no one to share the good news with. In an isolated world learners soon lose interest if they have no one to spur them on to success.

Create social spaces for learners to communicate with each other about their achievements and challenge each other to head-to-head knowledge battles. Adding healthy competitive elements, such as leaderboards, will motivate learners to keep progressing and give purpose to the points they win.

Using gamification in this way takes it from being a simple add-on and transforms it into a meaningful engagement tool. Make sure all the essential parts are in place to power the Engagement Engine and you’ll be speeding to success in no time!

– Juliette

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