BLOG / Gamification Learning Theory: What is it & How Can You Use It?

Gamification Learning Theory: What is it & How Can You Use It?

November 18, 2022

gamification learning theory

It can be tough to keep your employees engaged. If you’re struggling with morale issues or turnover at your business, you’re certainly not alone: roughly two-thirds of employers have disengaged employees on the job, according to Gallup. So how do you improve employee performance if you can’t even get them engaged in their current work? 

It’s a good question: Improving ourselves and helping others do the same is a worthwhile goal. This is as true in the workplace as it is in our personal lives. Attempting to get employees invested in the company and their personal development can seem almost impossible, particularly in learning contexts. The question for leaders is simple: how do you drive these professional improvements amongst your team or company?

The gamification learning theory provides an answer to both of those questions. Gamification has been around for quite some time as a theory or approach. Despite a strong track record in professional studies, it has only recently been applied to learning and professional environments. In the years since, gamification has assisted countless teams in building productivity, reaching new and loftier sales targets, and improving learning and technology adoption amongst employees.

Once a business has platforms and programs that support gamification, results can easily be quantified and are easier to review. It also makes employees’ lives easier and assists in their professional development. Such improvements are just one of the many reasons that business leaders are starting to apply gamification theory in their companies. Educational research has recently begun to focus on these fields as well.

Understanding how gamification works as a learning theory can help individuals, managers, and business owners thrive. We’ll look at how educational games can be applied in nearly any professional environment and how it assists businesses in obtaining a leading edge over their peers and competitors regarding employee quality and performance.

Gamification Learning Theory: The Data & How it Works

It’s not exactly a secret that gaming is popular. Whether that be traditional “arcade” style gaming or something more akin to the multi-billion dollar video game industry is up to the individual. Put simply, people like games. While that information has obvious implications for the entertainment and media fields, it has broader impacts than many think.

The video game market is particularly relevant for today’s leaders. Why? It has shown that games of all kinds – serious games, thought-provoking games, or even just basic puzzles with some game elements – all have a tremendous audience and potential. From a human needs and development perspective, the impact of this demand is enormous.

The gamification theory is one such impact. In its most simplistic form, gamification theory states that individuals are more apt to enjoy (and retain) learning when game-like elements are present. This has been demonstrated successfully in numerous fields and has even evolved to be the go-to structure for many businesses, such as those that sell language learning programs or services. Spinify also offers our own guide on gamification here.

Gamification elements like point values, scores for different lessons or materials, and other awards all apply value to individual courses. Educational research has shown that those who associate a tangible value to what they’re learning will retain the information more successfully and perform better long term. This is why instructors often search for ways to attach added value to their course materials and increase student motivation. Game rewards create this value for the users and motivate learners to continue with the chosen course.

Naturally, formal educational learning isn’t the only environment that benefits from these systems. Similar positive results were obtained when gaming elements were added to workplace competitions, sales targets, or performance objectives. While the underlying concept is simple – people do better, in general, when they’re enjoying themselves – the implementation and methodology can be a little more complex. Gamified learning works on several levels to ensure users get the most out of the experience.

These two objectives – work performance and learning – are often intertwined, making gamification theory particularly relevant. By making the learning process more entertaining and rewarding, employees can develop professionally and increase output while enjoying themselves. Naturally, their employers can also reap the rewards.

Gamification Learning Theory - Data

Gamification Learning Theory in Practice

Employees who have been in their roles for a longer period of time tend to disengage, albeit gradually, from their work. They may be skeptical of educational technology or new systems. Routine tasks are also likely to suffer when motivation and morale decline, while employees’ openness to new standards will also decline. Gamified learning suggests that a new approach to these formally stale topics will boost employee engagement at work.

Gamification features, such as a series of reward mechanisms for accomplished tasks or progress, lead to the same reaction in the brain no matter the environment – a release of dopamine that makes us feel good and enjoy what we’re doing. Applied in a professional environment as class activities or as part of an online learning course, these can be powerful self-motivators or tools utilized to lead a team. It can also provide the type of intrinsic motivation that leaders struggle to inspire in their employees. Gamification techniques that also play off of humans’ natural competitive spirit tend to amplify these results.

Put more succinctly: gamification makes the routine aspects of employees’ professional lives more fun. The more employees enjoy themselves at work, the better their engagement and morale. As any manager knows, employees with higher morale and those who are more plugged into their work tend to produce at a significantly higher level than they would otherwise. It’s no wonder many companies – such as Marriott, Nike, and others – have adopted gamification elements into their workplace.

Studies have quantified gamification’s growing role in the world economy. Empirical evidence from others shows a marked improvement in students’ learning ability – and their interest in the material – when gamification is involved. Those same studies found that students’ level of engagement with the learning material was nearly as high as it was with actual gaming! As with anything, the individual’s personal characteristics will also impact the results, but the evidence supporting gamification is clear.

Gamification in the Learning Process

So how do you use gamification to boost productivity? The systems you use and the way you implement them will have a significant impact on your success. Choosing the right applications, methods, and strategies for your individual or business needs is important. 

However, some core elements will be the same regardless of your industry, and those are the same rewarding and engaging mechanisms that make games successful in the first place. Personal challenges, team-oriented goals and competitions, rewards, and recognition. By incorporating these game elements into the workforce, employers can motivate their employees to grow by providing a more enjoyable learning environment.

Say, as an example, that an employer needs to revamp a sales team. Performance is lagging, and the employer decides to adopt an entirely new software system to monitor performance and assist their sales leaders with their jobs. Under a typical structure, employers would provide modules, in-person lectures, and other classic instructional activities to get employees up-to-speed on the new system.

Using a gamified learning system, the employer would motivate students by incorporating game elements into the instructional process. Leaderboards, challenges, competitions based on learning objectives, and rewards for those who adopt specific systems or lessons the quickest would be implemented. Point values for certain lessons or questions combined with game elements like a “high-score board” or other traditional leaderboards are also common. All such elements promote engagement with the new software while simultaneously providing fun learning experiences.

Gamification in education is also beneficial for employees, not just employers. Several educational institutions’ empirical studies have shown positive results when game-based learning is compared to a more traditional format. A gamified learning environment should provide intrinsic motivation to those taking the course, effectively allowing students to self-motivate and want to learn the material rather than be forced to.

These results have been consistent in both educational environments through academic performance and in professional ones by meeting employer standards. Game elements also tend to provide immediate feedback, which allows employees to track their progress quickly and identify gaps in their learning process without waiting for end-of-course quizzes or tests. This ultimately results in a more comprehensive (and enjoyable!) learning experience.

How Will Gamified Learning Help My Business?

While using gamification features in educational contexts and teaching may seem common sense, many will wonder how those features assist a business. The answer is more simple than one may think.

Managers and business leaders often assume the role of teachers. Whether it be mentoring new salespeople to help them grow, developing new processes at the office, or instructing others on new policies or procedures, leaders in the corporate climate often find themselves in an impromptu educational role. As a result, the learning processes in place at a company can be just as important as they are in any other educational environment.

Onboarding and training are often hefty expenses for business owners and managers, and for a good reason. Without proper training and education, employees will simply be unable to perform their job as successfully as management desires. Further, later-career employees may find learning new systems tiresome or unnecessary after many decades in their chosen field or role.

Much as a teacher must find ways to motivate students, a good manager must do the same for their employees. The manager, though, must cater to different age groups, career levels, and educational attainment simultaneously. Understandably, student motivation becomes exponentially more difficult when each student is at a completely different stage.

Learning at Work

Game elements incorporated into corporate learning objectives tend to work on many levels. In addition to the intrinsic motivation discussed earlier, they also allow for a certain level of autonomy that caters to more senior or skilled employees. Empirical studies have shown that those who are in control of their own learning (versus a traditional, being talked-to system) perform better and stick with their progress for longer, ultimately resulting in better user engagement and results.

For employees on the opposite end of the spectrum – newer, less experienced, or less formal education, gamified learning provides other forms of encouragement. While seasoned employees prefer autonomy and control, newer employees will benefit from the immediate feedback and overall learning environment. Gamified learning works on two levels – re-engaging older employees or getting them interested in new material while simultaneously keeping the high user engagement that newer employees bring.

Game dynamics can also improve the overall office morale outside of the learning material itself. Employees may compare scores, discuss the material, or talk about individual game elements amongst each other, subconsciously reinforcing the course material. Gamified learning can also set the tone for the office among new employees: Companies that stand out as “different” or “more fun” than previous employers are more likely to retain their talent in the long run.

Many employees who become more involved in the continuing education portion of their careers will also carry that interest outside of the office/workplace. According to the self-determination theory, humans have psychological needs for autonomy and competence. By providing both, educational games encourage better habits and further education both on and off the clock.

Gamified learning benefits employees personally and professionally while helping managers and business owners use learning activities to drive success in key metrics. Unlike many decisions leaders face, the gamification of learning offers only improvements, no drawbacks.

Take Your Business to the Next Level

If you’re looking to drive employee morale and engagement, gamified learning is essential for the modern business landscape. As future research continues to display the tremendous advantages of using game elements in the workplace, those who fail to adapt will be left behind.

The software a business chooses is critical. While many newer forms of educational technology incorporate gamification elements right into the software, the same is not true for much of the tired business software floating around. Luckily, Spinify has specialized experience in gamification software for sales teams. Managers can rest easy knowing that they’ll have the necessary software to pursue their vision for the future of their team or company.

Spinify’s software combines all the elements discussed here and more. Whether your business is looking to merely improve the learning environment at the office, or even if you need to totally revamp the structure of your teams, Spinify has you covered. Using a unique combination of game elements, game-based learning, and education technology, Spinfy’s software ensures you capture all the benefits of gamification that the workforce stands to receive while providing the best learning experience possible for your employees.Incorporating game mechanics into your workplace may turn out to be just the added push your workers need to bring their work to the next level. No sense waiting – get started today! Take a look at how Spinify’s software works, then book a demo and start watching your team grow!

Put those insights into practice.

Set your team up for success by improving their performance through gamification.


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