Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and gamification hit the corporate training world at roughly the same time. MOOCs started to make their way into the mainstream in 2012, and while the idea of gamification has been around for more than a century, and the value of games in learning has been recognized for several decades, it is only recent advances in technology that have made both MOOCs and gamification viable training options.

Gamification has been a growing trend in organizations over the past few years. Starting mainly as a way to motivate sales teams through competition, the idea of using game mechanics has moved into many areas of the business environment, including training. Big-named companies, such as Deloitte and IBM have successfully implemented gamification in their L&D programs, and more organizations will be giving it a try over the next few years. According to this elearning infographic:

  • By 2015, half of organizations’ innovation processes will use gamification for some aspects.
  • Also by 2015, gamification will be the primary method by which 40% of Global 1000 organizations seek to transform their business operations.

Gamification has many benefits for training, but the most fundamental one is this: Gamification makes training more effective by making it more interesting. We can talk about how games increase learner motivation and reduce the dropout rate, how they increase learning retention, and how they can be used to recognize training efforts and facilitate knowledge sharing. But ultimately, what it all comes down to is that gamification works by making training fun.

This concept of fun is an important one to keep in mind, because it draws attention to the fact that gamification needs to be done carefully. Implementing gamification poorly can lead to training becoming decidedly un-fun, which can have a demotivating effect on learners.

Below are four strategies for effectively implementing gamification in your training MOOC.

Identify the business goals you want to achieve.

Gamification is a powerful way to influence specific behaviors, so before you start adding points, badges, and leaderboards to a MOOC, first decide what behaviors you want to influence. A great example of this strategy comes from Salesforce, which implemented a gamification initiative specifically to improve security-related behaviors. According to Salesforce chief trust officer Patrick Heim, after 18 months, “participants in our program were 50% less likely to click on a phishing link and 82% more likely to report a phishing email.”

Having clear objectives is a key factor in MOOC success, and those objectives can also be instrumental in determining where and how to introduce game elements into your course.

Focus on positive rewards.

In real games, you can gain or lose points, and there are usually winners and losers. In a gamified MOOC, all reinforcements should be positive. One of the most effective ways to use gamification in learning is to instill a sense of achievement, and this can only be accomplished by rewarding positive behaviors. When considering what game elements to implement, steer clear of anything that even suggests negativity or punishment.

Use gamification to enhance collaboration, communication, and knowledge-sharing.

MOOCs are different from all other forms of training in that they can enable social interaction and peer learning across entire organizations, even if those organizations have employees located around the globe. Gamifying the social aspects of a MOOC is a great way to encourage these activities.

In a post entitled “MOOCs – Gamification – Mash-Up? YES!” Docebo COO Josh Squires writes: “Including a discussion forum within your MOOC is a great way to facilitate rich and engaging thought and collaboration; however, sometimes it needs an extra push. That extra push can be achieved by adding a gamification element such as a competition about having the ‘Most Helpful’ discussion post, or a recognition badge with points for creating a new discussion topic within the existing forum. Even training users on how to meaningfully interact with course materials can be a gamified element within the platform. Having learners get used to receiving system rewards for rating other learners is a fantastic first step to building the necessary community of practice required for 21st century corporations.”

Think small.

This strategy may sound counterintuitive, especially when we’re talking about MOOCs, but gamification can actually be used to add a more personalized element to a large course.

One of the most basic gamification tools is the leaderboard, which shows players how they rank compared to others. Leaderboards are very popular as they are simple to implement and understand, but they are also risky. Imagine you were playing a game and were excited to achieve 100 points, only to check the leaderboard and see that the people at the top had 10,000 points. You might feel a bit deflated, and your motivation to keep playing would likely plummet.

How can you avoid this situation? One recommendation is to use smaller leaderboards. In Business Gamification for Dummies, Kris Duggan and Kate Shoup recommend “slicing” leaderboards so that players’ ranks are determined based on a subset of other players, rather than the group as a whole. They identify four ways leaderboards can be sliced:

  • Locally (shows leaders based on geographical location, such as office location or even department)
  • Socially (shows leaders among employees who have been at the company or taking the course for a similar amount of time)
  • Contextually (shows leaders in various categories, such as “Most videos watched” or “Most discussion participation”)
  • By time (shows leaders on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis)

The future of gamification in training

Both MOOCs and gamification are still relatively new contenders in the training arena, but their influence is growing steadily, both as individual concepts and together. Earlier this year, training expert Karl Kapp identified five major trends in the gamification of corporate learning. Here are his trends (in bold), complemented by a few ideas about how they relate to MOOCs.

  1. Gamification is becoming integrated into the larger learning strategy. Both gamification and MOOCs have enhanced the training toolkits available to companies. Today, L&D departments can choose among a variety of options to make sure they are using the right tool for every job.
  2. Integration of gamification into more delivery methods. Gamification is already being used in both face-to-face and digital learning environments. In future, both games and MOOCs will support the continuing trend toward mobile learning.
  3. Gamification is gaining more traction internationally. In 2013, the global training market was nearly $307 billion. Over the next several years, more of the world’s training budgets will be spent on MOOC and gamification initiatives.
  4. Gamification to expand to other application areas within the corporation. With MOOCs, learning is becoming integrated into employees’ regular workdays. This will facilitate the movement of gamified learning into many areas of a company.
  5. The rise of simple, short gaming with learning embedded. A key impact of MOOCs has been to replace hour-long seminars and day-long workshops with bite-sized learning modules. In future, we will see more gamification embedded directly into these short learning activities.

Both MOOCs and gamification have emerged as dominant forces in training. Read more about how to gamify your MOOC.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.

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