Should you add gamification to your course?

I’m sure you’ve heard about gamification in courses. And possibly how great gamification is for improving engagement and course completion. But not many course creators actually implement gamification in their courses.

Why is that?

I think the main reason is that people don’t really understand what gamification is. They think it means making your course into a game. Or that if you add points and badges, you’ve successfully gamified your course. Or that because your course deals with serious material, gamification won’t work. These are all common misconceptions and apply more to another term “Game-based learning”.

Gamification is not a game

If it’s not a game then what is gamification? The Wikipedia definition states that gamification is

the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.

So, the addition of elements that add interactivity, engagement and immersion to your course. Elements that make the learning experience both more enjoyable and more effective.

The brain science bit

Let’s consider the game Candy Crush Saga, a simple yet highly addictive game. It starts out easy, which gives you a strong sense of achievement (too late – you’re hooked!). In your brain, this sense of achievement results in the release of the neurochemical dopamine. It also taps into the same neuro-circuitry involved in addiction. Now, most people know of dopamine as a pleasure chemical, but it also plays a vital role in learning and reinforcing our behaviours (or getting us addicted to Candy Crush).

Now back to your course. What is the main aim of most online courses? Learning new skills and changing behaviours, right. Both are enhanced with the addition of dopamine.

This is why gamification in courses is so powerful. Those dopamine hits lead to a boost in motivation and makes the experience more powerful and memorable.

So, how can you gamify your course?

Think about how your learners can get dopamine hits from your course. Here are a couple of elements you could add to your course:

  • Human interaction – Any human contact triggers dopamine production. How can you add human contact to your online course?
  • Sunshine – Get people outdoors. If you’re exposed to sunlight, it both increases your number of dopamine receptors and gives you vitamin D, which in turn helps release dopamine.
  • Meditation – Whether it’s meditation, prayer or simple self-reflection, all these activities are linked to increased dopamine levels. Can you introduce journaling tasks or written assignments to your course?
  • Music – Studies have shown that when listening to music, the brain releases dopamine as a response. Is there a way for you to add music to your course?
  • Creative tasks – When you’re deep in a creative task, you enter a state of hyper-focus called flow and it’s something that dopamine helps you achieve. How can you introduce creative tasks or activities into your course? Mind maps, vision boards, creative writing assignments?
  • Checklists – Dopamine is released after you finish a task, irrespective of whether it’s a big or a small task. So you can give your learners more dopamine hits by creating smaller more achievable tasks. Create checklists for people to check off as they complete tasks.
  • Exercise – Get people moving and for a double hit of dopamine, make it a fun creative activity.
  • Progress tracking – Having a visual reminder of the modules and tasks they’ve completed increases satisfaction and feelings of accomplishment.
  • Badges and rewards – Rewarding actions will help cement the feeling of accomplishment providing that dopamine hit.
  • Social sharing – If achieving something gives us a dopamine hit is then sharing your success with others is even more powerful. Add a social sharing element to your online courses for learners to share their successes with their friends.
  • Unlock content based on action – Gamification gives your learners the ability to move through a course at their own pace. They can unlock content as they check off the progress items as and when they’re ready.
  • Quizzes – With gamified quizzes, you can see how learners are coping with the course content. The idea is to motivate them by showing them how much they’ve already learned and you can combine your quizzes with social sharing or unlocking content.
  • Tell a story – Who doesn’t love a good story? Get creative in designing your course, create a narrative for them to follow as they unlock course modules, complete challenges or quizzes, and share achievements on social media. Another option is to design your online course to have a “choose your own adventure” feel where the modules aren’t sequential but based on the individual’s needs.

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