Learning through Gamification

On first glance ‘gamification’ has all the hallmarks of an L&D buzzword, destined to burn bright but inevitably fizzle out. But the reality is that gamification is all around us and appears to be here to stay. And it’s not just about playing Candy Crush during the morning commute. Your shopping trip is ‘gamified’ as you clock up loyalty points, while fitness apps track your progress, allowing you to beat your own high score. It’s not surprising, then, that gamification is also influencing the L&D profession. In this article David Bowman explores what gamification is, and how it connects to social learning.Social Media (1)

Bowman begins by sharing an example of a collaborative business strategy game devised by an L&D team to help build business awareness. He explains that such games can have a powerful effect by offering instant feedback and a sense of accomplishment, along with associated rewards. Games which are connected to a social experience with an element of competition may even help enhance talent retention by offering engaging experiences to fast-track experiential learning.

Bowman explains social learning theory, premised on three principles: we learn from the behaviours of those around us; behaviour is driven by personal and environmental factors; and these factors can also interact and be influenced by our behaviour.

Bowman argues that the two most important personal factors are:

  1. Self-efficacy: Our belief that we can succeed; and
  2. Self-regulation: Our ability to control our response to a given situation.

So our state of mind and our external environment can influence our ability to learn. In this context, games which encourage both cognitive and social engagement could arguably enhance learning.

But to enable this we need to know how gamification can be applied in practice. Bowman shares the following key characteristics of gamified learning. Common attributes include levels, badges, points, progress bars, leader boards and virtual goods. These motivate users through recognition, regular achievement, status and instant feedback. And gamification can involve social competition or self-competition.

Bowman discusses the question of impact in more depth. He explores the literature on gamification and argues that it can positively influence four key areas:

  1. Attention: Participating in friendly social competition can increase engagement with the learning content.
  2. Retention: Rewarding people can influence retention levels, and can be achieved through simple techniques such as awarding badges or points.
  3. Reproduction: Learners are more likely to apply the knowledge they’ve learnt if they have access to regular gamified content.
  4. Motivation: Gamification can help encourage self-reflection and goal setting through creating an environment which enables the individual to fully engage in the learning experience.

Bowman concludes by highlighting the importance of first considering organisational aims when exploring gamification. If it’s introduced in isolation or without due care it may be confusing or counterproductive. In any learning intervention context is king – and knowing what you’re trying to achieve is essential, no matter which method is employed.


Stuart, R. (2015) Gamification: Success through Social Learning. Available from World Wide Web: http://www.cipd.co.uk/hr-resources/nutshell/41/gamification.aspx. [Accessed: 04 February, 2015].

Bowman, D. (2014 It’s All in the Game, Training Journal. November 2014, pp.31-34.


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