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10 Gamification pitfalls to avoid when designing online training

Gamification is one of the most important things that have happened in e-learning for a long time. Games are fun, engaging, and hold the users’ attention for hours. The entertainment component is necessary, as people remember information better by positive association, but it’s not the only thing that matters.

While all of that is true, and many instructional designers employ game mechanics in e-learning design, there are also several pitfalls to be aware of:


  1. Overly complicating things

    If it takes too long to read and understand the rules, people will just give up. There is no need to come up with intricate point systems or complicated leaderboards. Directions have to be simple and straightforward. It needs to be clear for the learner what the reward is and what task needs to be performed.


  2. Playing the competition card too much

    Games are based on competition. However, a great emphasis on ranks and points in e-learning modules may alienate some learners. That hurts the knowledge acquisition process. One way to avoid that is to allow users to choose whether they want to display their results or not.


  3. Unappealing rewards

    Using these will dampen engagement. The “prize” has to be both desirable and worth the effort. The key is to select game mechanics that align with the desired behaviors or learning objectives. Badges that attest to a certain skill level and can be displayed on the learner’s profile are a popular choice.


  4. Making rewards seem more important than results

    Rewards are only supposed to be the means to an end. E-learning badges and points motivate online learners, keep their attention, and fuel their engagement. This is why e-learning designers should start from the objectives and then determine how game mechanics can help achieve them, not the other way around.


  5. Frustrating beginners

    This is a possible consequence of gamifying online learning content. It’s easy to fall into the trap of celebrating the “rockstar performers” while seemingly ignoring novice learners’ attempts. In the design process, it is essential to build tasks and levels into the gamified course designed for all categories of learners.


  6. Using the wrong metrics

    In online games, it’s usually all about the quest and moving on to the next level. Passing means success, regardless of how it happened. When it comes to learning, metrics need to be framed as a journey — not merely “you failed or you won” but “this is where you started from, this is where you got, and this is how far you need to go to reach the next level”.


  7. Overusing rewards

    Instructional designers might feel tempted to throw in too many rewards. The reward structure of any game plays a significant role in its success. If users continuously get points, badges, and rewards with minimal effort, they will stop taking the course seriously. The feeling of achievement requires some effort.


  8. Forgoing the social learning experience

    When designing gamified e-learning, it’s easy to focus on individual objectives and miss out on social interaction and sharing. Instead of driving a solitary experience, designers should build spaces where learners can discuss their progress, exchange ideas about complex situations, and celebrate success together.


  9. Thinking short-term only

    Instant gratification is one of the main reasons why games are so engaging. However, organizational learning aims to change behavior in the long term, so the gamification approach to e-learning should be seen as a project instead of separate stand-alone occurrences for each module.


  10. Needlessly complicating the user experience

    This usually happens when instructional designers focus too much on gamification mechanics. A good user experience is essential for online courses, so easy navigation should have priority over any gamification elements. Engaged and immersed learners don’t fumble with scrolls, buttons, and arrows.


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