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Gamification Elements That Rocket Boost Learner Engagement

• 8 min read

Encourage competition while providing tangible incentives to drive performance.

For years, we’ve heard about applying gamification elements within the e-learning industry. Learning and development professionals are constantly looking for the best ways to increase employee engagement in learning initiatives and activities. There are plenty of tactics in the L&D toolbelt, but it’s difficult to find one that speaks to people on an incentive-based level the way that gamification does.

The desire to win is a part of the human condition, occasionally even referred to as “last place aversion”. Given the chance to see how we rank against each other, most people will take it as an opportunity to increase performance to achieve a higher position. When considering an implementation strategy however, it is important to be very conscious that gamification fosters interactivity and fun, not added stress. Gamification elements should be used to foster enjoyment and excitement. Taking a close look at your employees and what makes them tick can better inform L&D professionals on what exactly would entail a “fun” learning experience.

Beyond winning, we all love to be rewarded for our work and recognized for the effort we put in. With gamification elements, we can implement incentives that encourage competition, while also providing tangible awards for performance, resulting in increased learner engagement and fun.

What is Gamification

Gamification is the process of adding motivational elements within a learning framework or system to increase user engagement based upon sound game theory and game mechanics. In slightly simpler terms, gamifying the learning experience could include leaderboards, badges, high scores, and competitions with announcements of winners.

At its core, gamification has four key elements:

  • A challenge or a goal that establishes what a person needs to accomplish to win
  • Obstacles or impediments which need to be overcome to achieve the goal
  • Incentives or rewards that users receive as they overcome obstacles and objectives
  • Game rules that define users’ interaction with the game

The implementation of gamification elements can include the use of badges and points that are then used to provide the “rules” that dictate where a learner will fall on the leaderboard and how they can increase their position.

Gamification Elements

The list of elements that can gamify your learning experience is extensive. Some of the gamification techniques such as leaderboards, points and badges, and rewards can entice and engage your learners, but it’s important to know that there’s plenty of elements available for consideration.

Gamified UK has a great periodic table of gamification elements that provides a deeper look at the wide array of varying elements that can gamify a learning experience.

Badges and Points

There have been some recent doubts cast on the effectiveness of gamification elements, particularly the use of digital badges as rewards for learners. The theory was tested and published in an early 2018 study, “To Game or Not to Gamify” by Elias Kyewski and Nicole C. Krämer in Computers and Education. Their research indicated that badges alone were not a sufficient motivator to drive measurable change in performance. However, the research focused exclusively on “badges” as a motivation tool and did not examine a more robust suite of gamification elements that can be used to create multiple points of encouragement to foster engagement.

In a study by Karl Erenli , the Austrian researcher contended, “Gamification is proven to have an enormous impact on today’s learners.” He added that one specific benefit of gamification is the extension of learner engagement and the longevity of their productivity: “A student who is interested in the lesson or course taught will be a more productive learner. Games can be a great tool to help students stay engaged.”

There are different elements available to ensure the success of a gamification strategy. These elements can include leaderboards, a chance to receive points or rewards, and the opportunity to be recognized for committing the time and effort. According to Professor B.J. Fogg, an experimental psychologist at Stanford University, there are three elements that must converge in order for a change in behavior to occur: motivation, ability, and trigger. Gamification elements change the behaviour that instigates a neglect of learning opportunities and improves the engagement of learners and increases their excitement to engage with the content.

Successful gamification elements work because they specifically address those three key elements:

  • They give users the motivation to do something (the chance to win, receive rewards or gain recognition)
  • They give users the ability to carry out a task – by facilitating it, or breaking each task into bite-size chunks, increasing the perceived capability of the user
  • They give the user a trigger or cue to complete the action

These three key elements can help to provide a gamification strategy that works in the long term and helps to achieve a company’s learning objectives.


Leaderboards are a great place to start when considering how to implement gamification elements into your learning strategy. While they can’t exist without the points system, having a leaderboard presents a public place for recognition and helps you to consider how you want your points/badges system to work.

Simply “introducing” the leaderboard isn’t enough. There are steps you need to take to ensure that your learners understand the purpose of the leaderboard and how to climb it. Below are a few steps you can take to ensure a smooth implementation of your leaderboard.

  1. Provide clear instructions on how to rank-up
  2. Give newcomers a fair chance: try creating a different leaderboard for each group of learners or training courses
  3. Make it a social experience: employees are more likely to engage if they know who they’re competing against and can share their success more widely
  4. Include an opt-out for employees who don’t want to participate: leaderboards can be stressful at times so it is always best to make them voluntary

The importance and visibility of a leaderboard needs to be established within an organization and with the utilizing teams for it to make an impact. That means when launched, admins need to find a way to communicate that the leaderboard exists. A periodic email that highlights who is leading and finding a way to celebrate the leaders can help to increase excitement and engagement. Leaderboards are fantastic, but providing a tangible reason for people who want to be the top makes a substantial difference.

Collecting Badges and Points

The earlier research discussed indicated that badge-type elements alone have been studied and shown not to be enough to encourage a learner. These gamification elements are necessary however for determining what exactly elevates learners to the top of the leaderboards. The Docebo platform allows for the issuing of badges and points for the completion of certain tasks. Learning admins can assign a value to points based on task completion within the learning platform which can then be the system used to set the scale behind the leaderboard.

Scoring systems are a great way to ignite learner engagement and excitement. The Docebo gamification app makes it easy to create badges for the programs within your learning ecosystem. A badge is like a medal your users will gain every time they complete a particular action in the platform. Badges usually have points that are given to the user along with the badge, and points can be turned into coins that learners use in the Rewards Marketplace.

The collection of badges and points can also be amplified by adopting elements found in modern online gaming communities. Increasingly, video game developers are setting weekly online challenges for their users to encourage them to come back and play regularly. Epic Games’ Fortnite, one of the hottest video games currently on the market, employs a weekly challenge strategy that offers their users the opportunity to gain extra experience points to level up their in-game characters or unlock special items. The challenges encourage users to return regularly to play the game or miss out on rewards that other players will be earning. A similar element-based approach can be used in a learning gamification strategy by offering special one-week-only badges, a “double your points earned week,” or a special “earn 5000 points this week to get a free day off.”

For challenge-based elements to be useful in a gamification strategy you need to make sure that the rewards for completing the challenge are tailor-made to address the desires of your target audience. Research from Stephanie Hermann of Reutlingen University indicated that challenges within gamified applications cannot be generalized and need to be diversified on a regular basis to ensure they remain exciting for your user. According to Hermann, “one must consider the context of the underlying application and the user’s state within the player life cycle to sustain user engagement.”

Providing varying challenges, and most importantly differing rewards for completing those challenges, will keep learners engaged longer.

Rewarding User Behaviour

A rewards system within your gamification tool helps to elevate the bragging rights from reigning supreme on a leaderboard into real-world items.

Gamification can be used to make learning really pay off, and not just in terms of career progression and growth. People are often more willing to participate and compete if there are great rewards to be won. The Docebo Gamification App features the Rewards Marketplace, allowing organizations to reward users while providing an increased incentive to come back regularly.

The Docebo Rewards Shop allows users to spend the points they’ve earned through completing their learning objectives to unlock gift cards, cash, goodies or even extra vacation days. Superadmins are in charge of distributing the rewards and are notified and prompted to approve, reject or message the learner requesting the reward. That gives learning administrators the control over their rewards system they need while also providing the opportunity to really track and engage in a positive way with learners utilizing the platform.

Map Competencies With Badges

One element that is important to consider when establishing your gamification strategy is mapping points and badges to specifically applicable competencies. Your gamification strategy is going to increase the engagement of your learners by tapping into their desires to win and providing the ability to turn their learning into immediate real-world rewards, but L&D admins still have the job of mapping those skills learned into visible and usable workplace skills and competencies.

For example, if you have a senior position that requires strong interpersonal communication skills and an in-depth knowledge of a particular product feature, you could assign a badge to each of the courses that correspond with those skills. Once a learner completes the courses associated with those competencies they will be awarded the badge and their profile will reflect their new abilities and employers will have an easier ability to see that their learners have the knowledge necessary to take on new responsibilities and career advancements. If your learners know that the public display of their badges can act as a signal for career progression they will be more inclined to take the initiative to work through new courses.

The motivation for professional development is apparent in report after report. According to Robert Half, 21% of survey respondents indicated that they are looking for organizations who value them as a resource and invest in their career progression. When trying to fill vacant positions most companies look “inside”. Having competencies mapped out will motivate employees and provide an easier time to hiring managers when looking to see who has the skills they’re looking for within the organization.

Gamification for the Win

As a strategy, gamification elements within your learning platform experience will encourage your learners to invest their time in the opportunities available to them. By tapping into people’s desires to be at the top, and be recognized for their achievements you can increase the engagement in your learning programs. With the Docebo learning management system (LMS), you’ll be able to utilize the right gamification elements to encourage the engagement of your learners.

Most importantly, L&D professionals want to be able to see if their learning strategies are actually making a difference increasing the competencies within their organization. Through an efficient mapping strategy, learners’ increased engagement can be translated into time saved and promotions to more senior job opportunities. Gamify your learning strategy today with Docebo!