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Gamification: A Better Way of Reaching Online Learners

Is it possible to make people respect speed limits just for fun?

This was the question posed by Kevin Richardson, winner of Volkswagen’s Fun Theory Award. In Stockholm, the Swedish National Society for Road Safety, together with Volkswagen, made Richardson's idea a reality. They installed a lottery radar speed camera which has two functions:

  • Penalizing drivers who exceed speed limits.
  • Giving a lottery ticket to those who drive below the limits, for a prize consisting of the money raised by the penalties.

Result: More people respected speed limits. By turning the goal of lowering speed levels into a competitive game, people are more inclined to do it - increased responsibility through gaming.

What is Gamification?

The above is a great example of what we now call Gamification, a concept first used in 2002 by Nick Pelling, and which was widely used until 2010. 

But ... How can we define Gamification? It is the use of machines and the feel of a game to inspire positive change in others.

Gamification awakens the same human instincts that drive people to compete in sports and other fun activities. These elements include: desire for competition, recognition, achievement, status and altruism, explains. 

Must read:

Gamification in E-learning

In the field of online education, Gamification is used to promote the commitment of employees and students to the learning process.

Frank Farral, leader partner at Deliotte (company using gamification for training purposes) said: "If you can gamify the process, you are rewarding the behavior and it's like a dopamine release in the brain. Humans like a game."

Extensive studies show that games are very effective in increasing levels of interaction and motivation in learning, which in turn help to shape knowledge and optimize the learning process. In fact, according to these studies, 89% would be more engaged in an e-learning application if it had point-system.

Recommended resources:

Gamification is a source of motivation

A key issue within eLearning (and training in general) is generating enough motivation so that students will want to invest the time and effort required to learn. It is a common misconception that learners just want to spend hours taking a course without a good reason or motivation.

Therefore, we must consider the John Biggs and Cathering Tang's theory (2011), which dictates the following:

  • The learning activities should be meaningful to the student, who wants to succeed in them.
  • Gamification is an excellent motivational tool for participants, as it challenges them to achieve the learning objectives.  Gamification goes beyond physical rewards and promotes a mindset of constant achievement. When the goals of the learners are defined, numerous, and most importantly, measured, the learners will be more motivated to reach them. 
  • Gamification typically makes use of the competition instinct possessed by most people to motivate and encourage positive behaviors (and, as a result, discourage detrimental  ones). 

Must read: Gamification: Instrinsic Motivation for Lasting Engagement

How Can You Gamify Your eLearning Courses?


Follow these principles:



1) Challenges: 

Build a learning experience with decision points based on real situations and choices with an increasing level of difficulty. A great game typically has a compelling story and a journey full of challenges.

Idea: Convert learning objectives into challenges.

2) Hero:

Put your participants in the driver's seat. The player (participant-student) is the protagonist and hero of your story.

3) Points (consequences):

Provide instant feedback, just like the feedback they'd receive within a game. Gamification in eLearning works best when you allow your participants to experience the consequences of their decisions. Let them know their progress. Do they need to work a little harder?

4) Rewards

These include coins, badges, medals, trophies, treasures, etc ...

5) Rules of the game

It’s suggested that you explain the mechanics of the game and detail the means to earn points and rewards. However, you can ignore this principle as is done in the Stanley Parable, where mystery plays an important role.

Example: The Stanley Parable (Davey Wreden, 2011)

What is it? It is a game narrated in the second person which aims to teach deterministic and free will philosophical theories.

How do you play?

The following instructions are given: You will make a choice that does not matter. You will follow a story that has no end. You will play a game you cannot win.

The idea: It's better not to know anything about it before playing. 

Want to know more? Check out the video below:

Want more examples?


Gamification is a trigger tool that can convert extrinsic motivation to intrinsic. You can awaken a passion for learning in the participants themselves, who will feel happy to be part of a learning experience designed for their own welfare.

When is it recommended to use Gamification strategies?

  • When teaching hard, dull or boring content.
  • To raise awareness. 
  • To provide a sure way to evaluate and improve skills and behaviors.
  • To commit to a program of long-term training.

Finally, remember that there is not boring content, there are only boring eLearning courses. 

engaging eLearning courses


Emilia Iñigo

Psicóloga Educativa. Planea, diseña y produce cursos de eLearning. Con talento para la elaboración propuestas didácticas creativas.

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