Measuring the impact of gamification or game-based learning can seem challenging. How do we know if our learners are more engaged? How do we know if gamification motivated our team to learn more? How do we know if the game-based eLearning we created will affect productivity?
Before we can answer those questions, we need to look back at the alignment of our gamification and game-based learning strategies with our original learning objectives. If we set everything up correctly from the get-go, we should be generating data related to measurable results that we can report on.
As you’re recalling those objectives, consider measuring the impact of gamification and/or game-based learning through the lens of three core premises that drive our blended learning initiatives: transfer of knowledge, acquisition of skill, and change in behavior.
Transferring Knowledge Through Game-Based Learning
We see many examples of game-based learning that serve to promote knowledge transfer in compliance training. For instance, we can set up a fire safety scenario game to help our learners identify and manage hazards and risks in the workplace. Through gameplay, our learners gain knowledge about workplace safety and fire ordinances.
How do we know they’ve learned? The results of these games will contain learner data, including information detailing how many learners succeeded in finding hazards and risks. But the data will also tell us where the weaknesses are in knowledge transfer. Using our fire safety scenario again, perhaps resulting data shows that there are a few volatile risks that were only found by two learners. That data provides key feedback that helps us shape future learning.
Instead of measuring a successful initiative based on how many learners completed compliance training, the results of a game-based learning scenario can provide us with a better idea of the level of knowledge transfer that has taken place for each individual learner.
Acquiring Skill Through Game-Based Learning and Gamification
We can look at the impact of both gamification and game-based learning through the lens of skill acquisition. Skill acquisition games are used extensively in military and aviation training. Success in gameplay here typically translates into mastery of a specific skill or function. For example, air traffic control training may include a scenario-based game where learners are presented with a sector of airspace to handle. As the learner progresses through the game, the airspace may become busier, and the skills needed to manage that space more complicated.
How do we know they’ve learned? Again we have extensive data available to us throughout the game-based learning process. We can see how each learner is progressing through the game (acquiring skills needed at each level), and how their progress compares with other learners’ progress.
On top of this game-based approach, a layer of gamification might be included to promote the acquisition of skill. In the air traffic control game, we can include a badging system for each level of skill involved in the game, and motivate our learners to collect a set number of badges to be promoted or advanced within the learning system.
Within the scope of skill acquisition, both game-based learning results and gamification data can tell us how well our learners are progressing along their learning pathways.
Changing Behavior with Gamification
When we use gamification to modify the behavior of our learners with calls to action, goal setting, leveling up, leaderboards, and the like, we see immediate results. The gamification strategy will automatically generate useful learner data associated with a point or currency system within the learning environment. For example, if you add a leaderboard to motivate learners to contribute to a curated resource repository and comment on what’s been shared, you’ll have immediate data on who was motivated to meet that goal.
What about badging strategies? How do they relate to measuring behavioral change?
According to Judd Antin and Elizabeth Churchill, authors of Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective, goal setting (achieving a badge) is a strong motivator in a learning scenario. Important to note: Badges often embody the social norms of a system by exemplifying the types of activities and interactions that are highly valued, and in so doing provide a kind of social shaping of user activities. Through their instructive function, badges can benefit the system even if users never actually earn the badges. By viewing a list of possible badges, users come to understand individual valued activities and can also gain a Gestalt understanding of the community of users.
Understanding valued activities tied to set learning goals and objectives can help guide your learners as they progress through gamified learning campaigns. Antin and Churchill also point out that badges “mark significant milestones and provide evidence of past successes.”
Those milestones and successes are exactly what we’re looking for when we report learner progress. Not only does this information drive learner motivation, but it also provides us with data we can use to consider the success of our gamified blended learning initiatives.
Aligning with Measurable Objectives
In the end, the only way we can measure success is to start out with measurable objectives. Introducing game-based learning and/or gamification practices without targeting and aligning with learning goals will result in useless data.
And, as you reach back to those objectives and devise a method for reporting success, remember to benchmark where your learners are starting from. There’s a reason why you set measurable goals and objectives and identify key performance indicators. You want to move your learners from HERE to THERE, so remember to benchmark exactly where HERE is so that you’ll have something to compare to when your learners are THERE – immersed and engaged in gameplay.
Antin, Judd, & Churchill, Elizabeth. Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective. Retrieved from http://gamification-research.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/03-Antin-Churchill.pdf