Gamification is no longer just a buzzword in the e-learning arena. The use of game thinking and gaming tools in non-game contexts of learning has proved its usability countless times, by improving the attitude towards learning, increasing learner engagement and motivation and boosting productivity.

When done right, gamification can have great results in terms of revenue growth. However, things are not always as easy as pie when it comes to designing and managing a learning strategy using gamification. Here are a few gamification mistakes that are more common than most e-learning professionals would want to admit. Take note and try to avoid them the next time you set to design gamified learning courses.

Not setting reasonable outcomes

What do you want to achieve with including a game (or more) in your training strategy? Is it higher engagement levels? To change user behaviors? To stimulate creativity? To grow your revenue? How will you do that?

It’s easy to get carried away by points and avatars and leaderboards, and create gamified courses just because they’re fun. In order to answer these questions, you first need to set up one or more SMART objectives; you know, specific, measurable, achievable, results-focused, and time-bound objectives. If you don’t have much experience with gamification in learning, you should focus on just one question and one objective and take baby steps towards reaching it. It’s always better to plan for a 10% increase in a year’s time than a 50% increase in half that time.

Making assumptions about your learners

Take as much time as you need to get to really know your target audience. What is their professional background and how much do they already know about the subject you’ll cover in your courses? How comfortable are they with technology and how do they use it at the workplace?

It’s easy to assume that younger workers are tech-savvy and just because of that they will engage with any game you create, but the truth is not all millennials enjoy games, the same as not all boomers dislike them. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking all adult learners are the same.

Only by studying the demographics of the people participating in your course will you be able to create the best gamified courses for them. There’s no use in gamifying the whole training if the learners are not really drawn to gaming — and this happens more often than not. Therefore, you should provide the learning materials in more than one form and include games just where they will definitely benefit the entire learning experience.

Overusing rewards

Rewards are useful only if they mean something in real life. If gaining points is connected with real performance and growth, or badges translate in a mastery of content and applying the new knowledge in real business settings, then it’s totally fine and actually recommended to include these rewards in your gaming strategy. But if you go over the top and reward every action at every level of the game, getting rewards will turn from a nice motivator into a productivity killer.

Moreover, if a leaderboard is placed in the center of users’ dashboards, it will increase competition between learners is such a way, that they will play the games more than the necessary number of times just to secure their top places. This will only prove to be counter-productive in time and will affect the overall results of the gamification strategy in a negative way.

Overlooking the design

Good design is the cornerstone for a great user experience. Sometimes the smallest thing, like the color of a game item or a shadow of a button, can make or brake the entire game. Try to keep things as simple as possible. If the design doesn’t make the game work smoothly, learners can get confused about what their next step should be. Or, they can get frustrated if they know their way around the learning content, but have trouble with actually getting to the next level.

A poorly designed user experience will turn away learners from playing the games and ultimately lose interest in the entire learning process.

Not overlapping company objectives with learners’ objectives

You need to step into your trainees’ shoes and answer their WIIFM — What’s in it for me? You won’t be able to keep them motivated and make them go through the entire course if you don’t know what drives them. The company’s objectives can only be reached if employees are stimulated and inspired to play the game, learn and perform better. Aligning company’s gamification objectives with employees’ learning objectives is the recipe for success:

“The best gamification occurs when players achieve a company’s goals by pursuing their own.”

— Brian Burke, Gartner Institute

This list of gamification mistakes is surely a short one. From your experience, what other pitfalls do you think could be added to it? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Author: Livia M

Livia is one of the online voices of MATRIX by CYPHER LEARNING. She writes about workplace learning and L&D strategies for businesses, as well as other training and e-learning related subjects.