2014 Reflections on Gamification for Learning

The year 2014 was a fantastic year for gamification with lots of companies engaging in gamified solutions, more and more people understanding what gamification is all about and several well known technology companies taking the plunge into gamification. As well as some interesting vendor offerings in the field.

The interest in gamification for learning is larger than it’s ever been and continues to grow (but not as fast as some predicted…more about that later).


This year I found myself traveling to Mexico to help with gamification projects, visiting California to conduct several gamification workshops for technology and biotech companies, writing an academic book chapter on gamification, creating a Lynda.com course on gamification and speaking about the topic with many people at conferences and within their own organizations.

Here are some thoughts and reflections based on those experiences:

Gamification Means Different Things to Different People

While the basic definition of gamification is simple and has widespread agreement: “adding game elements to non-game situations or to learning situations” the agreement stops right there. What are “game elements” or are they actually “game mechanics” or should it be called “game-thinking”? How many game elements do you add to non-game content before the content flips and instantly becomes “a game” and is no longer considered “gamification.”

Also people confuse games with gamification. For example, I was asked this year about creating a gamified approach to diversity training and the client really did not want gamification but, instead, wanted a full fledged 3D video game.

And to add to this mayhem, this year Gartner added the concept of “digitally designed” to it’s definition of gamification creating a firestorm among gamification pundits proclaiming gamification can be done without the need for computers. Here is the link to the definition, read the comments to see the firestorm. I tend to fall into the camp where gamification is a design affordance and not a technologically driven event (Here are some of my thoughts.)

So with all the hype around gamification and its definition, the approach I take when I talk with someone about gamification is to ask them “What is your definition of gamification? Because there are several definitions and I want to make sure we are on the same page.”

I then work with whatever definition they need. Certainly I explain the common definition but I don’t think the exact definition is as important as the willingness to create engagement with learners. I say that “Gamification” is the cover to add the interactivity, engagement and immersion that leads to good learning.

Gamification will continue to have a nebulous definition, use that to your advantage.

Gamification is not Growing as Fast as Predicted

Back in 2012, in an article titled “Gartner Reveals Top Predictions for IT Organizations and Users for 2013 and Beyond,” the Gartner Group made the following prediction about gamification:

“By 2015, 40 percent of Global 1000 organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations.”

This prediction did not come true as a June 2014 article revealed some light on the actual penetration of gamification into the corporate arena. The article cited the Gartner Group again, only this time the numbers are not as startling,” stating “The market research firm Gartner estimates market penetration of gamification technology, exemplified by enterprise developers such as Badgeville and Bunchball, at just 5% to 10%. (see article here.)

While gamification is gaining more widespread popularity, it is by no means a common, everyday business practice and it has not penetrated 40% of Global 1000 organizations as the primary mechanism to transform business operations and I don’t think it will gain another 30% in 2015 to match the prediction.

Gamification will still continue to grow but, at this point, there is still lots more talk about gamification than actual corporate adoption. So take it slow and don’t feel like you are left behind. But do plan on some gamification in your future.

Not Everyone Gets Gamification, that’s OK

This statement could take many directions. For example, my post Six Ways Innovation is Stifled in the Learning Field was a direct rebuttal to some people not getting gamification.

But the concept is also obvious from several posts around the web talking about how learning should not be “fun” and it should be serious and authentic. Yes, it should be authentic but life is filled with enough non-fun…so why can’t learning be a little fun!

Sitting in a hospital watching someone die of cancer is not fun, hearing news of a loss of a loved one is not fun. Does learning about a corporate policy need to be life and death serious?

The critics argue that there is no research that “fun” leads to an increase in learning. Well guess what, there is no research that “boring” leads to an increase in learning either. So given a choice with two equally non-compelling bodies of research, I pick fun!

Now I don’t think we should have fun for the sake of fun and let’s not think of fun as “hurrah, I’m so happy, I am giggling and laughing” instead let’s think of fun as engagement, immersion and emotional effort…all things that can be authentic to the task at hand. Sometimes the emotional effort might be negative…frustration or anger at not solving a problem…but the important thing is that emotion comes to play. Why does learning have to be completely devoid of emotion or humanity? Why does it have to be just a list of one bullet point after another? Why does it have to be filled with predictable multiple choice question? It does not.

So gamification is not about “fun” it’s about engagement. But if “fun” sneaks in, all the better. And fun can lead to increased motivation to take a course or engage in an online activity.

Engagement, emotion and interactivity as opposed to reading text on a screen or sitting still in a lecture is more “fun” than non-engagement and, in fact, research does show that the more engaged a learner is with the subject, the more they learn.

We don’t have to have fun, we need engagement but a well crafted and designed learning program incorporates both. So, it’s ok if someone doesn’t seem to get it. Position gamification as a method of engagement, not as a way to have “fun.”

Real Advances in Learning Design Will Come From Researching Individual Game Elements

When any new idea or technology comes forward, the first wave of research is comparative research. The new “thing” (in this case Gamification) is compared to the old standard (in this case classroom lectures). Alternatively, different studies find one method more effective than the other and then the research eventually concludes that the design of the instruction regardless of the delivery is what is really important. Good design works in any medium and with any learning. This is most certainly the case in the research comparing game-based learning to instructor-led learning. For over 40 years research has been conducted on game-based learning vs. classroom instruction and the results are overwhelmingly inconclusive. (Among other works see Games in Learning, Design and Motivation)

One of the things gamification is doing in the learning arena is forcing us to ask the question, “When learning occurs within a game (and it can), what elements of the game and in what situation does that learning occur?” The research is now turning toward the parts of games like storytelling, characters, challenge, immediate feedback, points, and achievements and trying to identify the elements that encourage learning. This is important.

If research can identify what elements of games make them effective from a learning perspective, we can add those elements to instruction. So a really valuable outcome of this trend called “gamification” is the identification of elements of games that lead to learning.

We don’t need to craft full games to enhance learning, we only need to incorporate certain game elements to increase learning. And we are even starting to know what those elements are.

Final Thoughts

Gamification is an emerging field with lots of layers and elements and lots of opportunities. Gamification will remain a strong force in 2015 and will continue to move forward in leaps and bounds.


If you’d like to learn more about gamification in 2015 here are some resources you may find helpful.


First here is a link to a video I did as part of a course on Gamification for Lynda.com

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    Articles of Interest:

10 Best Practices for Implementing Gamification

Games, Gamification, and the Quest for Learner Engagement.

Gamification Myths Debunked: How To Sidestep Failure And Boost Employee Learning

8 Gamification of Learning Mistakes You Need to Avoid


Visit www.karlkapp.com for more information on gamification and learning.

Posted in: Gamification

Leave a Comment (2) ↓


  1. Alan Montague,CPLP January 5, 2015

    Hi Karl.
    Fascinating thoughts.
    In my newsletter (http://improvingorganizations.com/Newsletters.html) I also highlighted gamification as a trend I was looking forward to seeing more of in 2015. However, as stated in the ATD State of the Industry report, one of the biggest barriers for organizations is not being able to interface with their existing LMSs. We have been waiting for several years now for the LMS companies to create easy ways to add game mechanics and processes to their systems and I have to wonder how much longer we will have to wait.

    • Karl Kapp January 13, 2015


      Good question. LMSs are starting to develop gamification capabilities (mostly points, badges and leaderboard features) but interfacing with data from a game or a full fledged simulation is a bit tougher to find. Experience API is to allow that to happen but not all the channels from the games to the LMS have been developed.

      Thanks for the comment and I enjoyed the newsletter.

Karl Kapp
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