Top 10 Objections to Gamification (and the Best Way to Respond)

User engagement should always be a primary consideration for any L&D strategy. We must provide a clear reason for employees to choose a learning experience over the myriad of other things they could do with their time. First, our experiences must provide clear value to the user. Engagement—and, dare I say, fun—is a very close second. Gamification, despite all of the possible objections, is a great way to set employee learning experiences apart in the endlessly cluttered world of work.

During the past decade, gamification has received its fair share of skepticism regarding its potential to impact employee learning and performance. But, when applied effectively and in combination with other effective learning techniques like microlearning, gamification has the power to significantly improve employee engagement and business outcomes.

Conversations about gamification have evolved during the last two years. The talk is less about gamification as a defining trend and more about how real businesses are using it with great success. We’re starting to see the results of multi-year gamification implementations. Technology is enabling more meaningful, engaging user experiences. Business stakeholders have become more comfortable with the concept, especially now that it no longer seems like just a “trendy” thing to do—prompting organizations like Bloomingdale’s, Walmart, Pep Boys, and many others to leverage it for boosting key business results. Overall, it feels like a great time to dig into gamification as a way to address difficulties with workplace engagement.

Whether you’re just getting starting with the idea of gamification or trying to perfect your strategy, you’re likely to run into some of the same challenges I, as well as many others, have encountered. Here are the 10 most common objections to gamification as well as how to respond, including follow-up questions for discussion.

Objection 1: “I don’t get what gamification is all about.”

Response: Simply stated, gamification is an opportunity to improve employee motivation and engagement at work—two vital considerations for the modern workplace. Advances in technology mean we have the ability to use the same kinds of game mechanics used in the real world (like earning badges for contributing content online or gaining points for taking actions that promote a particular brand) to improve employee learning and working activities.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How are we already using game mechanics with our customers?

Where do you encounter game mechanics in everyday life (e.g., loyalty programs), and how have they motivated people to engage in an activity?

Objection 2: “Games are a waste of productive work time.”

Response: Letting people play games all day would certainly not be a valuable use of work time and, fortunately, that’s not what gamification is all about. Gamification uses familiar methods (such as game play, points, rewards, and leaderboards) to motivate employees to engage in learning that helps them do the things management already wants them to do on the job, such as reach performance goals, complete training activities, or share their knowledge with their peers.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How much time and effort, and how many resources, are we currently wasting trying to get our employees to engage in taking the right actions on the job without any result?

How much value would added engagement provide to our employees, customers, and business? Is this value worth the trade for the small amount of time dedicated to gamification activities?

Objection 3: “Older employees won’t like this.”

Response: While gamification does appeal to “Millennials,” repeated studies have proven that game mechanics are about individual preference, not demographics. Factors like age and gender don’t make a difference when it comes to the potential for gamification impact, which means it’s important to put aside assumptions. For example, while many people may assume males dominate the gaming industry, adult women now make up the largest demographic. An effective gamification strategy is designed to accommodate individual preference and workplace culture, not generalizations.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

On what evidence are we basing our assumptions regarding demographics and employee engagement?

How does the reality of a multigenerational workforce relate to the potential of gamification?

Objection 4: “This won’t work in our culture.”

Response: Every company culture is unique. What works for one organization won’t automatically work for another. The same is true for gamification. Game mechanics have a proven impact in the real world across all demographics and use cases. To be effective in a particular organization, the gamification strategy must take into account the unique elements of the culture and what truly motivates and engages the company’s employees. Take Toyota, for example. The company puts together a huge knowledge-based competition every year for its dealership reps that encourages them to compete on what they know about their products for a chance to win prizes, including a trip to the Super Bowl.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

What unique elements of our culture should we keep in mind when designing programs focused on employee engagement and motivation?

In what ways may our current perceived culture potentially be inhibiting our ability to try new ideas and evolve as an organization?

Objection 5: “We’re giving people points and badges. So what?”

Response: Badges and points aren’t valuable on their own. An effective gamification strategy ties game mechanics, like points and badges, to real-world value (see the article on Pep Boys linked above). This could include a variety of value propositions, such as tangible rewards, certifications, credibility, or even bragging rights in a highly competitive environment.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How are we already using symbolic items, such as certificates and pins, to recognize employee accomplishments?

What types of workplace accomplishments and recognition would employees potentially find worth sharing with their peers and managers?

Objection 6: “I can see how this would work for front-line employees, but this isn’t for professional roles.”

Response: We all learn all the time, regardless of our roles. While the process is consistent, the topics and context in which we learn change based on the nature of our work. Employees in professional roles often have high levels of autonomy, unique knowledge requirements, and considerable time constraints. (Check out these PDF documents—profiles of employees who work in professional roles at MCAP, a call center; TBC, a tire distribution firm; and Ethicon, a division of Johnson & Johnson—to get some additional context on this subject.) For these individuals, engaging and high-value learning experiences are of great importance. Not only does gamification fit in this context, but it can also help address the variety of different motivators needed with such a diverse audience.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

Do we struggle when trying to engage employees in professional roles in continued-learning opportunities?

What are the potential benefits of using similar strategies to develop our employees in front-line and professional roles?

Objection 7: “There’s no proof this will work.”

Response: We’re now starting to see evidence of the impact gamification can have on employee engagement and business results long-term. Ethicon (see above) regularly sees 90 percent voluntary engagement among its medical sales teams within its gamified training platform—and that’s just one example. To achieve early success with gamification, it’s essential to leverage the knowledge and shared experience of gamification thought leaders to create a unique organizational strategy.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How do we typically introduce new, innovative ideas within our organization?

Which audience(s) may be most ready to try out our gamified strategy based on their willingness to accept new ideas and related business objectives?

Objection 8: “We don’t have the time or money to build games.”

Response: Gamification isn’t about building big, complicated games. The power comes from using simple, familiar game mechanics in meaningful ways. This can be accomplished in a variety of ways using right-fit technology. You also don’t have to jump in with every game mechanic available. It’s about finding the right place to start based on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

What tools are we already using that have gamified elements, such as points, leaderboards, characters, or achievements?

Who are the right potential partners to engage to help us better understand how we can apply gamification to our workplace?

Objection 9: “Games have to be integrated with the learning experience to be effective.”

Response: The relationship between a game and a learning activity is based on the organization’s desired outcome. Learning games, such as simulations, can deliver content in a gamified manner. Casual game play can also engage users with or without direct connection to the learning experience. This type of simple game can motivate users while creating an improved readiness state, or “flow,” that better prepares the user to receive training content. Have you ever tried to interrupt someone while they’re playing a game? Then you have experienced the impact of flow.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

On what research are we basing our beliefs regarding the connection between games and learning?

How engaged do we believe our employees are today with the learning activities we provide? How impactful could an increase in this engagement level be for the same activities?

Objection 10: “It’s going to be impossible to keep people interested.”

Response: Gamification is about human behavior, and that’s a very complex topic. Some early studies pointed to a novelty factor with gamification, suggesting that initial bumps in engagement will quickly trail off as the mechanics become less motivational. However, new research—including findings from Karl Kapp working in collaboration with Axonify—has shown that a well-designed gamification strategy that takes this into account can sustain user interest over time. For example, after more than three years, the impact of elements like rewards, achievements, and leaderboards has not noticeably changed for sample users who initially found value in these types of motivators.

Discussion questions to further the conversation:

How have our learning and engagement strategies evolved during the past 10 years to account for changing employee needs and business objectives?

Which subject matter experts and resources should we consult regarding complex workplace issues, such as human motivation and the science of learning?

Responses like those above should help you engage in more meaningful conversations about gamification with your peers and stakeholders. I also suggest sharing third-party content as a discussion follow-up, including research studies and articles from recognized thought leaders, when appropriate.

User engagement should always be a primary consideration for any L&D strategy. We must provide a clear reason for employees to choose a learning experience over the myriad of other things they could do with their time. First, our experiences must provide clear value to the user. Engagement—and, dare I say, fun—is a very close second. Gamification, despite all of the possible objections, is a great way to set employee learning experiences apart in the endlessly cluttered world of work.



The 3 Mistakes Every First-Timer Makes with Gamification Design

I see a lot of confusion about what it means to gamify a learning program. Gamification is NOT about designing a game. Nor is it simply handing out points or badges to your learners. It’s about finding the right motivators for your audience to promote actions that achieve the desired outcomes.

As you start your gamification strategy design, avoid these common mistakes:

Mistake #1 : Failing to identify who the game is for. Why do some people engage in a gamified process, while others disengage in frustration? Why do some game elements appeal to some people, but have no effect on others?

The problem is based in our personal motivation profile, which is core to how we make decisions. The breakdown happens because we have trouble understanding the perspective of those whose profile is significantly different from ours. Dr. Reiss, of The Reiss Profile, identifies this problem as “self-hugging.” He says not only do we believe everyone should be like us, but that they are like us.

In gamification design, it is important to realize that you have different motivations for playing than most of the people you encounter. Don’t assume your players want things your way. Talk with potential players to find out what makes them tick.

Mistake #2 : Attempting to fix a broken product or service with gamification. It’s like the time my youngest son baked a cake for us. The icing looked deliciously creamy and sweet. But with the first bite, we were puzzled, because although the icing tasted as good as it looked, it was apparent something was wrong with the cake. With a second bite, our fear was confirmed, and we said, ‘The icing is great, but what’s wrong with the cake?” My son laughed and confessed he misread the recipe and put in three tablespoons instead of three teaspoons of baking powder, which caused the cake to be flat and bitter.

He was hoping the sweetness of the icing would compensate for the bitterness of the cake. Instead, it left me wondering, “Why would you take the time and energy to put this delicious icing on such a terrible cake?”

The same is true for your gamification design. If done right, it will draw in your users, and they’ll want to see if it tastes as good as it looks. When they find out your customer service department should be called the Customer Torture Department, they will wonder why you bothered gamifying the process. You have to solve the problem of a bad product or service before you can leverage the power of gamification.

Mistake #3 : Believing that PBLs are gamification. When asked about choosing a gamification platform, I advise, “If the salesperson starts by describing how his or her gamification platform provides points, badges, and leaderboards (PBLs), run from the room as fast as you can.” Surprised, people often respond, ‘What do you mean? I thought that is what gamification is!” Of course, they did, because most (but not all) gamification platforms on the market begin and end with oversimplified, non-engaging mechanics.

PBLs are part of gamification, but if all you focus on are those mechanics, then say hello to your colleagues as you join them in the 80 percent of gamification projects that will fail this year.

Leaderboards actually can drive users away if used inappropriately. Imagine that you oversee a help desk, and in an attempt to improve efficiency, you add a leaderboard, award points, and issue cash rewards to employees with the fastest times in resolving Tier 1 issues. Chances are good that you instead will see wait times increase and a spike in employee turnover. Why? Because the help desk employees won’t view your gamification efforts as positive feedback, but rather as management watching over them.

You cannot simply add a cookie-cutter gamification overlay to a system and expect success. Take a closer look.

Designed properly, gamification will provide learners with a sense of accomplishment, skill building, achievement, and purpose. Now it’s your turn.


AUTHOR:  A gamification speaker and designer, Monica Cornetti is rated as a No. 1 Gamification Guru in the World by UK-based Leaderboarded. She is the founder and CEO of the Sententia Gamification Consortium and the author of the book, “Totally Awesome Training Activity Guide: Put Gamification to Work for You.” For more information, visit or

Reprinted from Training magazine

The Gamification of Sales Force Training

One of the struggles many learning and development organizations have is keeping their sales forces up-to-date on new products and new product functionality. However, with the constant addition of new tools and new functionality, continually bombarding a sales force with online or stand-up courses can become burdensome. This was the problem faced by Scott Thomas, director of product enablement for ExactTarget.ExactTarget is a global marketing organization focused on digital marketing tools—email, mobile, social, and web—that was recently purchased by ExactTarget is a leading cloud-marketing platform used by more than 6,000 companies, including Coca-Cola, Gap, and Nike.

For over a decade, ExactTarget has been working to serve and inspire marketers in all industries and all organization sizes by helping them better communicate with their customers. Marketers at their core, ExactTarget has always believed in the power of relevant and targeted marketing communications.


A few years ago, ExactTarget’s Scott Thomas was searching for a new tool for his product-training toolbox to help deliver instruction related to a new product. With a tight launch date for their MobileConnect product, Thomas found an interesting platform that he wanted to explore.

He had played a free game—College Hoops Guru—on the platform and became intrigued by the possibility of using it to help train his sales force on the new MobileConnect product. The platform was a game-based interface called The Knowledge Guru.

Being able to show—rather than just tell—was critical to securing sponsorship of the game. Thomas’s own play of the College Hoops Guru demo game was a pivotal part of his success in convincing stakeholders that the game could have value. He saw how the game worked, and then communicated his experience to stakeholders.

The other key was the game engine’s ability to track what learners were doing and how they were performing. The metrics sold the game.

Gamification Solution

Users log into the game via the internet; the entire solution is hosted in the cloud. When players enter the game for the first time, they get a narrative that explains how the game works. The player must ascend a mountain for each topic. The game consists of three paths up the mountain to deliver a scroll of

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wisdom to the Guru: three paths, a different scroll each time (Figure 1).

The game’s “mountains” are the instructional topics to cover. Each mountain has learning objectives associated with it.

Figure 1: The Knowledge Guru challenges you to bring forth the scrolls of wisdom

Players see their score as they answer each game question; there is also a leaderboard to document their progress (Figure 2). If players answer correctly, their score goes up. If they answer incorrectly, their score goes down. There are consequences, just like in real life.

The Guru game engine used to create and house the MobileConnect Game has a detailed “backend,” allowing specific tracking of designated information. It enables a supervisor, learning professional, or other vested stakeholder to see how players are performing. If needed, the game can offer ad hoc support based on these results.

An administrator can even drill down to see how a specific player is performing and determine what they have accomplished, where they have struggled, and how much time they’ve spent playing in The Knowledge Guru platform.

Figure 2: The game-like interface clearly shows progress toward the final goal

ExactTarget deployed this solution as an optional activity that followed webinars on the product they were rolling out. They put together a marketing campaign that encouraged people to play, awarding prizes to daily high scores and to the overall winner. They also did a feature article on the overall winner, recognized as the MobileConnect Guru.

Business Impact

The immediate benefit of a game over a traditional training tool is its allure. People wanted to play Knowledge Guru; they don’t always want to attend a training session. The result for the business was that, of all the launches done in the two years previous to the MobileConnect launch, the sales team built one of the quickest pipelines for this product.

The gamification approach improved product knowledge and helped the team build the sales pipeline while simultaneously reducing call-response times.

Why it Works

Repetition is the key to success within this platform as well as using the game elements of challenge and story. These are all key game aspects that motivate and instruct the learner. The learner is cast into a role that requires ascending a mountain by overcoming a series of challenges in the form of questions. The process is repeated several times and this repetition is what reinforces the learning that occurs as the learner receives feedback on his or her answer.

The combination of various game elements and the documented business results shows that you can successfully use gamification to motivate and instruct a sales force on new products and features. As Scott Thomas said after the launch of the gamification solution, “I can’t tell you how many people are coming to me wanting another game solution.”

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles highlighting the impact gamification can have on organizations from a learning and development perspective. These case studies were gathered by Karl Kapp as he researched his latest book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Ideas into Practice and the series is designed to illustrate real-world application of gamification and the resulting business impact.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

5 Reasons You Can’t Ignore Gamification

There may just be whispers about it in the workplace now, but if learning leaders haven’t heard much about gamification yet, they will soon. At the annual National Retail Federation conference held in 2012, gamification was touted as the next form of work-based social media where people interact and socialize around a common bond of knowledge, competitive strategy and fun.

CLOs, HR directors, and operations and innovations teams across various industries are integrating gaming into learning and development strategy to drive performance, highlight achievement and boost engagement. But gamification is more than newfangled training. Elements of game play engage employees with new knowledge, encourage competition among peers and bestow public rewards and recognition on those who excel.

It can cover just about any topic, including improving operations, cutting logistics costs and challenging employees to understand how their roles contribute to enterprise success.

In the future, managers will see people playing games at work. After all, Gen Y professionals have been nurtured and brought up on gaming, and Time magazine reported last year that the average gamer is 37 years old.

As boomers reach retirement age, two other generations will make up the majority of the American workforce: Generation X and Generation Y, also known as millennials. It’s important to consider millennials’ role. They have essentially grown up digital, and that has changed how they engage with others in their day-to-day work lives. They come to work expecting the same engagement they find in the digital world.

According to technology research company Gartner, by 2014, 70 percent of global organizations will have at least one gamified application; by 2015, 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify them. Many of the world’s largest brands are deploying gamification, including Coca-Cola, AOL, Nissan, Nike and Viacom, and as more studies become available, the advantages to gaming in the workplace will become widespread.

Learning leaders who have made the jump are motivated by different things. One primary lever promoting gamification is that employee satisfaction, which is closely related to retention, can no longer be achieved through financial compensation alone. Ultimately, the big-stick approach doesn’t always work, and it is not the only method available to motivate and encourage team efforts.

To stay on top of the game, managers must be forward-thinking. The challenge now is in understanding why gamification is so effective and how to introduce it seamlessly into an organization.

What follows are the five reasons why leaders can’t ignore gamification and its potential to empower business.

1. Gamification improves knowledge. Most people start learning to play games at a young age, and the human brain is built for game play. Certain functions in the brain organically work toward logical problem solving. Gaming takes this natural process and makes it fun and rewarding.

Typically, this requires the player to remember information, make judgments and seek certain outcomes. Knowledge retention is a big part of an employee’s daily life, so promoting the most effective types of learning isn’t just important for the employee, it’s essential to an organization’s growth.

Jeanne Meister, author of Corporate Universities, said that interactive learning games can increase long-term retention rates by up to 10 times — a significant statistic when considering knowledge retention (Figure 1).

2. Gamification gives employees the power to actively gauge their performance.
Annual evaluations are a necessary evil, but leaders increasingly find that employees perform better, learn more quickly and correct behaviors when they receive immediate, real-time feedback.

Gaming offers an immediate cause and effect. If an employee chooses the wrong path or makes a wrong move in a game, the individual will be immediately corrected. Similarly, if the individual makes a strategically smart move, he or she will receive immediate positive reinforcement.

Gamification also offers feedback to the employee and helps to accelerate knowledge retention. This offers companies an advantage because it creates a more efficient and engaging way to monitor progress. Instead of learning the hard way and having to wait for insight from their manager or peers, gamification allows employees to receive feedback immediately. It fosters transparency about how performance is measured and where the employee really stands.

Imagine if businesses used gamification to help streamline that type of information so that employees would know exactly how their skills are advancing and potentially which ones have actually grown instead of wondering, “How am really I doing?” “Is my work performance being ranked fairly?” and “How am I supposed to set goals if I have no idea what I am trying to achieve?”

For example, in 2007, IBM created a business process management (BPM) simulation game called Innov8. It was originally designed to help develop college students and young IT professionals, but during the past five years, it has evolved into a program that gives both IT and business players a better understanding of the impact of successful BPM on an entire business ecosystem.

At its core, Innov8 was created to help people work smarter so they can help build a smarter planet. Players quickly see how practical process improvements can help meet profitability, customer satisfaction and environmental goals while addressing real problems municipalities and businesses face.

3. Gamification boosts achievement across the board. Companies spend thousands of dollars annually sending their employees to seminars, conferences and targeted development sessions. There are benefits to being able to display the fruits of learning achievements via certificates displayed on desks, letters behind one’s name and highlights on a LinkedIn page.

People often enjoy competition, and they like to win and receive validation. In the workplace, people are judged on their knowledge, achievements and overall reputation. Allowing employees to become skilled masters in their particular roles and creating a community that openly recognizes their accomplishments will not only facilitate overall workforce development, it will ultimately help an organization reach its business goals.

4. Gamification builds engagement and can promote emotional connections with others. Most people appreciate some sort of social interaction in the workplace. Employees enjoy having lunch partners and playing on kickball teams during company outings, and they may voluntarily spend their off hours at team-building events. People like to feel that they belong and to help others, that they matter and that they are more than a cog in the corporate machine.

In 2011, the winner of the SAP Gamification Cup had the idea of gamifying SAP’s vendor invoice transaction. For each invoice and line item, users and their teams can earn points, raise their status and participate in daily or monthly challenges for their team. The reward at the end of the month is a dollar amount that is donated to charity.

Gabe Zichermann, an author and the founder of the Gamification Summit, stated in 2012 that “Gamification can run a loyalty program that has all the bells and whistles of something like [United’s] MileagePlus, but cheaply. Traditional loyalty programs fail because they don’t typically generate new or additional revenue streams and can cost a company more in the end. What drives loyalty is not giving away free stuff, but status and recognition. People are very into status once they achieve it, and they don’t want to lose it.”

Gaming creates a virtual world where employees can be productive and still have a good time. Incorporating fun into the workplace can be good for business because it fosters productivity, which helps to create a better work environment. Happier employees often generate higher revenue.

5. Gamification emphasizes learning and development. Many companies are embracing gamification as a way to encourage innovation among their employees. At a 2012 Consumerization of IT in the Enterprise conference, Zichermann described the crowd-sourcing game Foldit, developed by the University of Washington.

In 2011, 46,000 people using Foldit worked for just 10 days to determine the structure of a key protein that scientists believe may help cure HIV. Scientists had been working on the problem for 15 years.

An organization may not be trying to cure a deadly disease, but fostering innovation can mean life or death in today’s marketplace. Reinforcing learning and development within a team will not only foster a productive work environment, it helps to create opportunities for career advancement and job security for employees down the road.

However learning leaders spin it, gamification is a fast, effective and fun way to train and motivate employees. Be on the lookout for it — or better yet, be the pioneer who brings the idea to the company.


How do the best get better? Delta Air Lines tackled this challenge with its call center professionals in 2012.
Call center employees handle customer needs, upsell additional Delta products and cross-sell partner promotions. Many of these employees were already leaders in sales metrics, but the airline sought further improvements.

Delta’s training team partnered with e-learning company NogginLabs Inc. to develop a game-based training program that appealed to the call center professionals’ competitive nature, challenged their skills and engaged the audience by delivering learning that didn’t feel like a required course.

“We are continually trying to build more interesting and appealing training for front-line reps,” said Ryan Mizusaki, Delta’s general manager of reservations field support and learning. “Historically, we have embedded games in our learning modules, so with the concept of gamification we thought, how do we change the paradigm and embed learning into a game?”

The solution was Ready, Set, Jet!, a travel game that presents seven cities across six continents. Delta content is paired with cultural content and enmeshed into the game to the point where no Delta branding is noticeable. By decontextualizing Delta content from the employee’s job role, learners can immerse themselves in gameplay.

“The real-world experiences from the game will provide knowledge and skills representatives can use in their interactions with customers each day,” said Allison Ausband, vice president, reservation sales and customer care at Delta. “From knowledge about our products and services, to a better understanding of routes and geography, to improving customer service and selling; this game will undoubtedly improve the reservations experience for our customers. And it also provides employees with some fun and healthy competition.”

As players navigate the globe, they access activities and mini-games that allow them to progress toward milestones and achievements. The objective is to climb to the top of the leaderboard, which encourages competition. Applying metrics within a learning game drives engagement and continual play, and the game’s metrics include money gathered and spent, time and miles traveled, learner’s rank, tasks and games competed, cities visited, and an overall score shown on the global leaderboard.

To further build the gaming community, Ready, Set, Jet! allows several types of interactions between players, which are administered through the players’ company email accounts. They can challenge each other to a mini-game via email, staking money they’ve earned through the game.

Players also can earn souvenirs throughout the game, and have the option to exchange the souvenir for game money or leave it in a city for another player to collect. Within the game, players also can tag their favorite mini-games, adding an element of crowdsourcing similar to that used by many social media platforms.

The game’s architecture allows for a living world that continually changes and evolves, and Delta plans to expand the game with new cities in subsequent development phases.

Reception of the game has been positive. During the initial launch period of Oct. 1-15, more than 1,400 players voluntarily engaged in the game. Since that time, more than 3,300 challenges have been issued and more than 1,000 souvenirs left for fellow players. In the first two months since the initial launch, Delta call center professionals have voluntarily logged more than 16.2 million minutes of game time, the equivalent of more than 30 years.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer

Gamification: Deloitte’s Leadership Learning Motivator

Professional services firm Deloitte LLP needed a way to increase engagement on the Deloitte Leadership Academy, its online learning portal for leaders. The portal, which was launched in 2008 and gives Deloitte leaders access via their laptops, smartphones or tablet computers, was designed to streamline content into 12 areas of study and equip leaders with the competencies needed to be successful in the firm’s global business.

But a year ago the program was falling short of the firm’s desired participation, so some of its learning and digital strategy leaders got together to create a solution.

“We were thinking about how can we increase participation and engagement of this platform?” said James Sanders, product manager for the Deloitte Leadership Academy. “Because training content is not always the first thing a person thinks of when they have some free time.”

The challenge was making the learning experience on the Deloitte Leadership Academy more fun, rewarding and engaging for the user. The answer was gamification.

By maximizing variations of gaming techniques used in other traditional educational settings — such as school, where students are placed into levels, handed grades and given rewards for achievements — Deloitte’s learning leaders could motivate its workforce to increase participation in the online portal.

“People are used to being in a very ‘gamified’ environment when they’re going through an educational process,” Sanders said. “And we thought, ‘How could we replicate this digitally on the Leadership Academy?’ That’s where we started to work with Badgeville.”

Started in 2010, the Badgeville gamification platform aims to use rewards and recognition — badges — to help clients maximize engagement and drive behavior through the Web.

“We define [gamification] as taking things that work inside games and then applying them to things that aren’t games,” said Kris Duggan, CEO of the Menlo Park, Calif.-based firm. “By rewarding people, mostly by the way of purely virtual rewards, you’re able to drive a very high level of engagement that you wouldn’t otherwise see.”

After working with Badgeville on the integration for a few months, Deloitte recently rolled out the completely gamified version of the portal this spring.

“People are already earning badges, [and] people are sharing those badges on LinkedIn and Twitter, which is great because if they’re sharing with their external network then they obviously value them enough to boast about them,” Sanders said.

Users’ ability to share learning achievements through social media is also a major reason why gamification is a successful engagement driver, said Frank Farrall, lead partner of Deloitte Digital in Australia.

Also, Badgeville’s platform includes a leader board, so users can see where they stack up on learning objectives in relation to their peers.

Farrall said it’s not just people’s desire to compete with one another that has made gamifying the platform more engaging; users also have found the learning motivating because they want to try and compete against their own achievements, to “beat their personal best.”

Sanders said it’s too early to collect data showing just how much Badgeville’s usage has increased participation. But there is already empirical evidence showing more engaged behaviors in the portal.

“I don’t think this will increase usage for every single user, but there are a portion of our users that this will really engage — because they’re competitive people, and they’re driven by those types of competitive techniques,” Sanders said.

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

Defending the Term ‘Gamification’ as Used by Learning Professionals

Recently, one of my blog postings Design e-Learning Like a Game Developer: Provide Incentives for Good Work, received a response related to the fact that “gamification” is an easy-way-out; that we need to be careful about extrinsic motivation, that I was not correct in my posting about the use of extrinsic motivation.

I want to respond to the comment.

As a learning and development professional, I have spent years studying how people learn and the best methods of engaging learning from multiple perspectives. I’ve found that game-based thinking and mechanics (also called “gamification”) can provide rich and impactful learning opportunities.

The Elements at Play

Some of the elements of games that can be used for learning are listed below, but the list is by no mean exhaustive (no mention of flow, curve of interest, avatars, cooperative elements, and so forth).

The list does include rewards and achievements because they do help with the entire process. These elements all contribute to an effective game. Take one element alone and it doesn’t make a great game, but combine the elements and you can have a great game. All of these elements need to be examined for their possible application to learning.


Many games are great at integrating a story into game play and research indicates that learners learn facts better when the facts are embedded in a story rather than a bulleted list. Many more learning programs should be story-based rather than bullet point-based.


The progression of learning that occurs over time during the game is similar to the educational technique of “scaffolding,” which builds on the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development introduced by Soviet psychologist and constructivist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s concept is relatively complex, but to simplify it: he was describing how children learned and discovered, something he called the “Zone of Proximal Development.”

Zone of Proximal Development is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers. Game-based designs can bridge that gap in pre-defined increments usually in the form of levels.


Another element that is important to facilitate learning is to provide frequent opportunities for students to respond during a lesson (Stichter et al, 2009). Games do this far more effectively and efficiently than a classroom instructor. Game-based thinking and mechanics provide continuous corrective feedback.

Freedom to fail and the element of chance

In an instructional environment, failure is not a valid option. In games it is encouraged with multiple lives and attempts. Games overcome the “sting of failure” specifically by doing things like giving multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery and through the introduction of chance or randomness (two elements schools and corporations work hard to eliminate).

In fact, a 2008 study by Howard-Jones and Demetriou indicate that gaming uncertainty can transform the emotional experience of learning improving engagement and, more importantly, improving encoding and later recall.

Reward and achievements

Research indicates that in some cases extrinsic rewards actually foster intrinsic motivation. In a 1984 study by Harackiewicz et al., it was found that performance contingent rewards (found in many games) produced greater intrinsic motivation than the same performance objective

and favorable performance feedback without reward.

Additionally, in a 1999 article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, authors Eisenberger, Rhoades, and Cameron report that performance-contingent reward increased students’ subsequent expression of task enjoyment and free time spent performing the task as compared with the receipt of an equivalent performance standard and favorable performance feedback.

They also found that “employees with strong performance-reward expectancies showed an increased perception of self-determination concerning how they carried out their usual job activities. This relationship was found controlling for any effects of pay rate, tenure and performance feedback on perceived autonomy. Reward for high performance appears to strengthen the perception of freedom of action experienced both for college students given novel tasks and employees carrying out their usual job responsibilities.”

They also found that employees who experienced high autonomy, steaming from performance-reward expectancy, reported that they felt more active, enthusiastic and energetic on a typical day at work.

There are even a number of studies supporting the concept that making rewards explicitly dependent on creative performance increases creativity (Eisenberger and Armeli, 1997; Eisenberger, Armeli, and Pertz; 1998).

So, all extrinsic rewards are not bad, and while decades of research are available to indicate that extrinsic reward structures can be flawed, decades of research also exist to indicate that extrinsic reward can lead to intrinsic motivation and creativity and meaningful change. Even Daniel Pink in his TED Talk mentions that rewards work really well when there is a clear set of rules and a simple destination to go to.

The story of the FedEx Days Pink cites as an example of autonomy and “intrinsic motivation” in the video is impressive. Only at the company, the winning individual not only gets to feel good about him or herself, they also received a trophy (he left that part out).

The entire field needs to be examined to determine what elements work in what situations and when to apply extrinsic motivation and when not to apply it. We cannot universally claim extrinsic motivation is always bad no matter what—even Daniel Pink doesn’t make that argument.

But we need to be careful about how far we go. Deciding not to use an extrinsic reward system because in some cases they are detrimental is like deciding not to drive a car because sometimes there are fatal car accidents.

The prudent thing to do is to carefully drive the car, use caution, and obey known traffic laws. In the case of extrinsic motivation, carefully apply the motivational elements when and how the literature shows they have been effective.

Research points to effective use, we learning professionals just need to apply it properly. Just because many people are not using extrinsic rewards properly doesn’t mean they should never be used.

Who is going to educate learning and development professionals about the proper use of extrinsic motivation if not us? Our role, as I see it, is not to shy away from extrinsic motivation or to condemn it. Instead we need to become beacons of light, showing people how to do it properly. If we don’t help people properly apply motivational techniques who is going to do it, not the marketers. Not those who have absconded with the word “gamification.”

Taking back the term gamification

Using the term “gamification” should not mean that we have given up; it should not mean “the easy way out.” It should mean the intelligent application of game-based thinking and mechanics to learning (in this case). When done well, gamification is a method of enhancing relevance, application and engagement.

Learning and development professionals MUST TAKE BACK the word. We must talk about the benefit of context through stories, challenges for learning, feedback loops, curves of interest, scaffolding, and even rewards and achievements. We cannot let the marketers own the term, we cannot allow gamification to mean only rewards and badges or superficial extrinsic tokens. But people aren’t going to know the real meaning of “gamification” if we…you, me, and others…don’t teach how to properly “gamify” content.

Someone will always be standing by to “gamifiy” content. We need to equip learning professionals to ask the right questions, to demand context, story, feedback, challenge, freedom to fail, engagement, and other critical elements of game-based thinking and mechanics that will aid retention and application of learning.

The analogy I give is of Wikipedia. Teachers always tell students not to use Wikipedia, some even ban Wikipedia. However, when asked to write a report, where is the first place kids go for initial information? Wikipedia (banned or not).

Instead of banning or forbidding Wikipedia, we need to teach students when using Wikipedia is appropriate and when it is not appropriate. Educate them on the proper use of Wikipedia. Education is what is needed, not banning, boycotting, or ranting against Wikipedia—not only because the students are going to find and use Wikipedia anyway, but it does have valuable elements and is worthwhile…when used properly.

Gamification is no different. Learning and development professionals can’t stand idly by and let someone else have the term while we relegate ourselves to the small corner of the world known as “serious games.”

Learning and development professionals should own engagement, feedback, and behavior change…it’s what we do. It’s what we’ve done for decades (or should have been doing). We can have far more positive influence taking back the word and using it to mean positive change and positive motivation in the context of learning than we can trying to eliminate it.

Now is the time to define gamification the right way, the way that positively uses elements of games, that positively impact motivation and that positively helps others. If we don’t try, no one will and the cheap and “easy way out” that we fear will be realized.

About the Author:

Karl Kapp, Ed.D., CFPIM, CIRM, is a scholar, consultant, and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. His background teaching e-learning classes, knowledge of adult learning theory, and experience training CEOs and frontline staff provide him with a unique perspective on organizational learning. He is author of Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, which discusses how to use technology tools (games, simulations, mobile devices, and Web 2.0) to transfer learning from experienced, veteran employees to the new generation of employees through the effective use of technology.

Karl is currently working on his fifth book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, in which much of the material for this presentation is discussed in more detail.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

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