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Jun 2015

What's killing your gamification and how to heal it

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Shaping the future of learning

"Slap a leaderboard on it. That'll turn our learning assessment into a game!" If you've had that thought, you need to stop; you could hurt someone with a loaded statement like that. 

Often organisations are looking for ways to make their training more engaging; to motivate desired behaviour changes through 'rewards' like badges, leaderboards and all manner of points. But what about when these game elements make learners roll their eyes or motivate the entirely wrong behaviours? When it comes to gaming mechanics, could we be asking better questions about what they can do for our learning? 

Let's take a look at some of the key ways good gaming elements can go wrong:

You get a badge, and you get a badge, and you get a badge - EVERYBODY GETS A BADGE! 

Everyone loves to get a prize, right? Sure. But only if that prize is tied into the learner's intrinsic motivations, and a meaningful system behind those prizes. Here are some of the mistakes some badging systems make: 

  • Giving learners badges for just showing up 
  • Not linking badges with real-world skills or behaviours
  • Rewarding volume over quality
  • No end-game use for the badges. After they've earned them, they just...sit there. Forever

Making learner progress through a course is important, and it's tempting to use badges to track it. And why not? You want to encourage learners to complete portions of a course, right? The challenges are in providing enough badges to represent a full diversity of skills, while only using badges that reward positive behaviours and show relative achievement amongst peers. These are not the droids badges you're looking for.

Test grades are like a game-score, right? 

Sure. It's a number, just like in a game. But that's pretty much where the parallels end. There is sometimes a temptation to use test scores on a leaderboard without really understanding the behaviour that's being rewarded, and how people will respond to that. 

For example, could you imagine being #439 on a leaderboard of 1000 people? Fired up? Want to take a multiple choice test to improve that? Still fired up? Strangely, some people are. At best they'll get better at taking a test. At worst, they'll get better at cheating at a test. 

You might notice that many games with leaderboards track scores on simple, repeatable tasks. Are you trying to train a simple, repeatable task? Or are you trying to change complex behaviours? If it's not an applied skill where learners (players) can practice, learn, apply over and over, then maybe it's not the best place for a leaderboard?

Here's a fantastic experiment. How long does it take you to tire of this game? I mean, it DOES keep score after all....

Then check out the ASADA case study, on a wicked project our team put together. It's an excellent example of how appealing to the nature of the learners can make badges and leadboards just work.

You mean games as in Angry Birds?

I get it. There's a perspective problem with games and learning. Many people are familiar with small, addictive mobile games and want to bring that king of 'addiction' to their training. But that isn't all games can do. Games are a structured kind of play, which is largely related to learning in general (do a Google search or two to find out more). Specifically, games are systems, and allowing learners to interact with a system allows them to see the consequences of those interactions, and draw conclusions. 

This is a powerful tool, giving learners choices and allowing them freedom to explore and play in a system. It's very motivating to see, for instance, how a city you built stacks up against other Players'. Give it a try yourself with ElectroCity from Genesis energy, and see if you learn something along the way. 

So if you want best practice before you implement that next leaderboard, or if you want to have a response at that dinner party when someone claims a multiple choice trivia game is 'good application of gamification,' think about what games can really bring to your learning. 



Shaping the future of learning

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