2016 Reflections on Games and Gamification for Learning

In my work with games and gamification I have the opportunity to travel around the globe talking to folks who are working on various aspects of games and gamification from vendors to practitioners to consultants. During this year, I’ve seen a number of universal trends that are worth noting.

If you want a quick video version. You can check out my keynote interview with Elliot Masie where we discussed the state of gamification in 2016. You can also check out some great curated resources for the conference here.

The State of Gamification- Karl Kapp at Learning 2016 from MASIE Learning Talks on Vimeo.

Continued Strong Interest in Gamification and Game-based Learning
Once again this year, I’ve seen increased interest in gamification and games for learning and I am not alone. According to MarketsandMarkets the compound annual growth rate of the global gamification market is 46.3% growing to $11.10 billion USD from a mere $1.65 billion in 2015. In my own personal observations, I’ve seen an increase in consulting activity, more request for my gamification workshop (out to the West Coast numerous times for corporate workshops) and an increase in interest at conferences. At the Masie 2016 conference my sessions on “game design” and “thinking like a game designer” were two of the top 10 most well attended sessions and my book bundle (my two gamification books and an ATD games and gamification report) was in the top 5 of books sold. (Check out the wonderfully curated content from the event here.)

The interest and attention on gamification does not seem to be waning. This could be, in part, to the large interest in games in general. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 63% of all US households are home to at least one person who plays video games regularly (3 hours or more per week).

Additionally, interest is not confined to the United States. This year, I’ve traveled to both Belgium and Switzerland to talk about games and gamification for learning. At both venues, there was a great deal of interest–not so much in what it was but how to implement gamification. I am definitely seeing a shift from the question “What is gamification?” to “How can I implement gamification effectively?”

Here are some pictures from my workshop in Brussels.

Hard at work creating a paper prototype.

Hard at work creating a paper prototype.

Gathering around the table to observe the game play at workshop in Brussels.

Gathering around the table to observe the game play at workshop in Brussels.

Additionally, I have found gamification to be of interest in a variety of settings. For example, I spoke with a reporter from the Wall Street Journal in 2016 about the increased interest in using gamification for helping to select job candidates. In the article, Play This Game and Win a Job! the entire concept is discussed and several example software solutions are provided. However, be warned there is not a lot of science behind these games indicating how effective they are at recruiting or assessing the ability of candidates.

Stratification of Vendor Gamification Offerings
In 2016, I’ve started to see a clear and obvious stratification of gamification vendors. Different vendors are approaching gamification with dramatically different approaches. This year, I’ve identified several types of what I call “Structural Gamification” which is leveraging game elements to propel learners through content without altering the content itself. You can learn more these classification in the article Types of Structural Gamification but here is the list and more seem to be emerging all the time.

  • Game-based
  • Competition-based
  • Progression-based
  • Badge-based

I think another is social-based where social capital and recognition are used to drive engagement and behavioral-based where the gamification is tied to a behavior rather than a gain of knowledge. Several vendors have gamified applications that react to behaviors exhibited in the use of software rather than measuring learning gains which I think is a future direction of gamification platforms.

The push toward defining types of gamification employed by vendors to drive learning and, eventually behavior, will help CLOs and decision makers to choose the right gamification for their organization. The advancement of this type of classification will be a major driving force behind gamification in 2017.

It’s About Questions

If you examine every major learning and development gamification application, one thing becomes clear. It’s the use of questions. Some are multiple choice, some are true and false, some are matching or even drag and drop. However, in the end the gamification platforms are all about questions. If your organization does not write good questions or does not have a readily available question bank, implementing an off-the-shelf structural gamification platform is a time intense process because you need to have dozens and dozens of questions to have an experience last over any significant amount of time. I have found the need for workshops and instructions on question writing to be necessary for many structural gamification implementations.

Increased Research Activity Around Gamification
It seems that more and more scholars are exploring gamification from a scientific, systematic approach. One particularly interesting piece of work was conducted in June of this year. The literature review is titled A systematic review of gamification in education: Towards a more structured use of game mechanics and was a master’s thesis that looked at the various impact of game mechanics and number of game mechanics added to an educational intervention. So they looked at studies with just one game mechanic and then studies with 2-3 and then studies with 4. It seemed that studies with 4 mechanics yielded the best results. Of course more study is needed in this area but an interesting finding.

I’ve done some research and submitted to a peer-reviewed journal, it was accepted but with some revisions so the article will be out in 2017 but I did publish preliminary findings in a CLO magazine article titled Playing Games Leads to Better Learning.

Interest in Combining Games and Virtual Reality

The “next big thing” in terms of gamification is going to be it’s convergence with Virtual Reality (VR). A number of large and various serious companies have approached me discussing how VR can fit with game-based learning and gamification. I am working on developing several approaches to using VR to encourage and enhance learning in several instances. The learning “archetypes” as I call them for VR include (see Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration):

  • Avatar Persona
  • Role Play
  • Scavenger Hunt
  • Guided Tour
  • Operational Application
  • Conceptual Orienteering
  • Critical Incident
  • Co-Creation
  • Small Group Work
  • Group Forums
  • Social Networking

These are the learning strategies that need to be used to launch VR successfully within an organization. Too often I see VR projects rushed into because of the technology. As with any new approach to instruction the design must lead the way and must be tied to a business need, otherwise we just have ineffective but cool technology. These archetypes are one way to intelligently consider a design for VR.

Games, gamification and the need for engaging instruction are picking up momentum in 2017 and have had a large impact on the learning and development industry in 2016. Look for an increased and growing interest in good question writing, gamification applied intelligently and the smart integration of VR and game-based learning.

Learn More
If you’d like to learn more about creating game-based learning or the strategic application of gamification, see these resources in 2017. To be released in march look for a book I have co-authored with Sharon Boller titled “Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games” which is being published by ATD. The book provides a step-by-step process for creating a learning game from scratch. We start with idea generation and paper prototyping and work our way up to deployment of the game. It will be a helpful resource for those who want to create a digital, card or board game for learning. (Also, don’t tell anyone but look for another Lynda.com course from me that can help as well.) If you haven’t seen the first Lynda.com course on gamification check out and my other course of Lynda.com.

The Gamification of Learning

How to Increase Learner Engagement

Also, check out my books on gamification, great reading to start the new year. For the gamification books, if you want to know the theory and underlying value of games and gamification for learning, choose the one with the white cover. If you want to know how to do it, choose the gamification book with the black cover. If you want to know about learning designs for VR, choose the Learning in 3D book.

Also, if you want a personal touch on learning about games and gamification, contact me for consulting or workshop needs. I run a couple of different workshops and have consulted with organizations around the world on the convergence of learning, technology games and gamification (although, I have to admit that 2017 is almost full already).

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