3 Steps to Increasing Engagement in Your Online Course with Gamification

Heads up! This is a guest post by my friend Joshua Millage, co-founder of LifterLMS. Lifter is a free and open source Wordpress LMS plugin that has several features, including gamification. If you've ever thought about using gamification in your courses, you'll enjoy this post. Take it away, Joshua!


Gamify Your Online Course

Gamification is a buzzword that is becoming more and more common in the online course space, and like all popular ideas there are a lot of misconceptions about how to use gamification to increase engagement in your online course.

In this post we are going to uncover three ways to increase engagement in your online course and use gamification correctly. 

Before we get into how to use gamification correctly, let’s define gamification.

What Is Gamification?

Gamification expert Yu-kai Chou defines gamification as... 

“the craft of deriving all the fun and addicting elements found in games and applying them to real-world or productive activities.” 

For us, gamification means rewarding students for positive actions they take in our course. 

Gamification isn’t a magic pill that you can take to instantly increase engagement. 

In fact, some people think that gamification is a joke, because it’s being used in so many industries and is viewed as a fad. 

However, preliminary research has found that gamification can be used to increased engagement and overall satisfaction in a student's learning journey. 

When gamification is used well the following things can happen: 

  • Gamification can provide instruction to the student by visually depicting what to do next. 
  • Badges and awards create a competitive atmosphere and challenge the student to set goals.
  • Gamification affirms for the student that they did a good job.
  • If your badges are public facing, they can create a sense of community around your online course.

Now let’s dig into the three steps to implement gamification correctly in your online course. 

3 Steps to Using Gamification

In short, the three steps to using gamification well are: 

  1. Map out your learner’s journey
  2. Create badges that signify progress and “ah ha’s” that you want your student to have
  3. Implement in your learning management system. 

Okay, so now that we’ve defined the steps, let's dive into how we can use gamification to increase engagement in our online course. 

Step 1: Map out your learner’s journey

Surprising your students by awarding them badges is annoying and ineffective. 

Gamification works when a student knows you are using it and can see what is required to earn a particular badge. This is why it is imperative to explain to your student the learning journey that they are going to be taking as they progress through your online course. 

This doesn’t have to be complicated. Simply spending 5 minutes in your onboarding sequence or introductory lesson to explain the badges that a student will earn as they progress in your online course is a great way to position gamification in the correct way. 

Step 2: Create badges that signify progress

If you choose to use gamification in your online course, you’ll want to spend some time (and potentially money) creating well designed badges. Ugly, generic badges are prevalent in the online course industry. 

If you award a badge, you’ll want it to mean something and having great design makes the perceived value of the badge go up! 

Team Tree House, an online teaching platform for designs and developers, has incredible badges that are awarded as their students complete various courses and work towards their certificates. 

Here is their badge map for their HTML course:

The badges are beautiful and show the student the progress they need to make to complete the HTML course. 

Step 3: Implement in your learning management system 

Most learning management systems don’t include gamification out of the box. However, there are many plugins you can install to add badges if you are using a WordPress-based LMS. 

If you are teaching with a hosted solution, then you’ll need to find out if that solution has built-in gamification functionality. 

Here is a short video showing how to implement badges in your online course using our WordPress LMS.

If you are looking for a WordPress learning management system that includes gamification out of the box, I highly recommend LifterLMS - it’s also 100% free and open source.

Back to You

Have you ever used (or thought about using) gamification in your online course? What were the results?

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