Gamification: Make it Actionable!
During the past two years at Kennesaw State University, I had the privilege of leading a team responsible for building digital badge programs using the best practices in gamification and micro-learning. I found two books to be extremely valuable; Minds Online: Teaching Effectively with Technology by Dr. Michelle Miller and Actionable Gamification: Beyond Points, Badges and Leaderboards by Yu-Kai Chou. We learned that actionable gamification is the key to designing digital badge programs that are truly engaging and valued.
What is Gamification?
According to Yu-Kai Chou, gamification “is the craft of deriving fun and engaging elements found typically in games and thoughtfully applying them to real-world or productive activities. This process is what I call ‘human-focused design” in opposition to what we normally find in society as ‘function-focused design.” Human-focused design optimizes for human motivation in a system as opposed to optimizing for pure functional efficiency within the system.
Why is Actionable Gamification Important?
Just as Yu-Kai Chou predicted, we found that simply incorporating game mechanics and game thinking into a digital badge program does not fully engage the learners. It’s not just about the game elements, it’s how points and leaderboards are integrated with practical knowledge backed by research and proven in practice. And yes, we have to make the gamification actionable using human-focused design! Our friend Yu-Kai Chou has identified eight core drivers of actionable gamification.
Epic Meaning and Calling
The best place to start is to design and launch a program where the learner “believes they are doing something greater than themselves and were ‘chosen’ to take that action.” We found that the best way to engage this core driver is to have the company’s most-respected executive kick-off the digital badge program, either in person or via a video—congratulating the learners and delivering an inspiring explanation of the “why” behind the program.
Development and Accomplishment
The next core driver focuses on “our internal drive for making progress, developing skills, achieving mastery, and eventually over-coming challenges.” As Yu-Kai Chou teaches us, receiving “a badge or trophy without a challenge is not meaningful at all.” At Kennesaw State University, we integrate highly-engaging videos with frequent, low-stakes testing to challenge the program participant to learn, remember and apply what they’re learning.
Empowerment of Creativity and Feedback
The empowerment of creativity and feedback core driver “is expressed when users are engaged in a creative process where they repeatedly figure new things out and try different combinations.” Today’s modern learners want to express their creativity, see the results of their creativity and receive feedback. All of the activities in a digital badge program need to be intrinsically engaging and fun.
Ownership and Possession
According to Yu-Kai Chou, learners are “motivated when they feel like they own or control something. When a person feels ownership over something, they innately want to increase and improve what they own.” Think Wikipedia. At KSU, we use the Jubi learning transfer platform for our digital badge programs because the designers at Jubi get it! They provide a seamless integration of actionable gamification tools for learning, doing and inspiring.
Social Influence and Relatedness
Digital badge programs need to incorporate all of the social elements that motivate people including social acceptance, companionship, mentorship—and even competition and envy. During the program design process we need to offer points based on both competition and collaboration. Most of us are inspired, and motivated, when we see friends and colleagues who are accomplishing something extraordinary!
Scarcity and Impatience
And yes, wanting something “simply because it is extremely rare, exclusive or immediately unattainable” is also a core driver. We have found that offering “bonus” levels or quests when the “base” requirements are exceeded is an excellent way to motivate program participants to dive deeper into the learning experience.
Unpredictability and Curiosity
The unpredictability and curiosity core driver is hard to implement but a great motivator because the learner doesn’t know what is going to happen next. As Yu-Kai Chou teaches us; “When something does not fall into your regular pattern recognition cycles, your brain kicks into high gear and pays attention to the unexpected.” Successful book authors and movie directors use this core drive to keep readers and audiences engaged.
Loss and Avoidance
Last, but definitely not least, is the “motivation to avoid something negative from happening.” As digital badge program designers, we found that the best way to get learners re-engaged in the program is to send them a push notification that they are near or at the bottom of the leaderboard. This core driver works every time!
In summary, gamification is a lot more than points, badges and leaderboards! We need to understand and use all eight of the core drivers of teaching and learning. And, even though the book is 499 pages in length, it’s worth your time to read Actionable Gamification by Yu-Kai Chou. He is an expert in human-based design and the “Octalysis” approach to motivation.
About the author
Dan Stotz is Executive Director of Executive Education Programs for the Michael J. Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University.
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