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Do L&D Professionals “Get” Gamification in Corporate Training?

May 7, 2017 • gal

gamification in corporate training

Last month we had a webinar with Dr. Will Thalheimer. We were discussing the use of eLearning Gamification to drive micro-learning and spaced repetitions, as well as subscription learning (link on, Will mentioned that “Gamification is NOT a THING” meaning that gamification is not just one game element that can be turned on and off. Indeed, gamification in corporate training can be any of tens of game mechanics, game design elements and digital motivation techniques.

All of these can be used on their own or in a combination with any of the other elements, leading to a multitude of options and resulting gamification flavors, as they are experienced by the player/user. It is true that gamification isn’t “competition” or “points & badges” but much more than that. It is about using several game elements in concert to achieve a business result. The MDA (mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics) framework in gamification explains this – how the combination of “things” and their application leads to different interpreted narratives Yet Will was right – people tend to fixate on one thing when thinking about gamification, as if it were a “thing”.

During the webinar we polled webinar participants about what they think works and doesn’t work in gamification for learning. We wanted to know what learning and development professionals know and don’t know about game elements and their potential impact.

We asked: what are the MOST POTENT game elements? And then we asked what are the LEAST POTENT game elements?

Here are what webinar participants thought were the LEAST POTENT gamification elements for eLearning (answers are based on 90 respondents):

Learning professionals here expressed distrust of badges, points and “dashboards” (I’ll take that to mean leaderboards, although this can also mean personalized performance dashboard).

And here is what respondents thought were the MOST POTENT game elements:

Interestingly, competition came in first – reflecting the conventional view of gamification (which equated gamification with competition) – as well as feedback, stories, retrieval practice and scenarios.

The responses drove one important insight on my side: learning developers are thinking about gamification, and they’re *mostly* getting it right.

Here are some additional thoughts about the results:

Points Badges and Leaderboards don’t really work

Respondents were spot on with indicating that points, badges and leaderboards don’t work alone.

And indeed, we know that although many LMSs contain “gamification” (i.e. points, badges and leaderboards), it isn’t applied correctly and isn’t impactful. Why? Because PBLs are meaningless on their own – people don’t collect points and badges like automatons. Think about foursquare – at some point the game elements in the system became meaningless. Additionally, we know intrinsic motivation works better, and collecting points badges and leaderboards just doesn’t cut it.

Does Competition equal Gamification?

This is a tough one, and one where I’m at odds with the respondents of the poll.

Many “game player types” aren’t competitive. When you ask them to compete they may disengage and the problem may get exacerbated for medium performers; also, sometimes competition isn’t naturally applicable to learning, which is a personal journey.

At Gameffective we do believe in competition, but only as a form of competing against your target- like a fitness tracker for work.  Our philosophy is that motivating middle performers is key to success (they are the ones whose learning/performance change will be most impactful), but competition may be disconcerting for them.


Although we don’t agree with number 1 on “most potent” (competition), “feedback” is right on. Fitness trackers succeed because they give us immediate feedback on what we do. Immediate feedback on learning and performance is very impactful – and can give a sense of progression (as well as the freedom to fail) to learners. (clil link to a story about feedback, we have several posts about this)


Narratives and a sense of a learning journey are powerful motivators, and they drive the aesthetics and pace of a game.

Retrieval practice

This is where the future of eLearning gamification lies – since it takes learning and transforms it from a one-time event to a recurring form of continuous learning that can realistically change performance for the better.  We’re glad it’s number 4 on the list.


What do you believe are the least potent and most potent gamification elements?

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