Published by JP Medved, November 11 2015
Gamification and games-based learning (GBL) are hot topics in the eLearning and training industries. The ability to motivate and engage learners through the use of game mechanics like points, leaderboards, and awards shows enormous promise for improving educational results.
In fact, the total market for learning games is already $3.9 billion, and is expected to grow to $8.9 billion by 2017, according to a research report by Ambient Insight.
But is all this hype and spending justified?
Gamification is still a relatively new concept in the pedagogical scheme of things. How can it possibly be as effective as this kind of investment would indicate?
Building off previous TalentLMS research, this joint report sought to answer the questions everyone in the eLearning, training, and learning management space has about gamification.
Here's what we found.
Read on for (a lot) more great insights from our full LMS gamification study, below.
Everyone, apparently. From learning games to built-in LMS features, we found the vast majority of respondents use some form of gamification.
Gamification has a surprisingly large adoption rate among our survey respondents, 65% of whom identified themselves as LMS administrators and 35% as instructional designers.
Not surprisingly the largest number of respondents work in the education industry (26%) but other well-represented industries included manufacturing at 10%, healthcare/medical at 9%, and technology companies at 8%. These results track closely with our previous findings of general LMS users, and seem to imply if you're in an industry with a lot of regulation, or that requires intensive training, you're more likely to use an LMS and thus also use learning games or gamified learning elements.
With outliers removed, the average number of learners for our respondents was 782. Again this is consistent with previous research and indicates users of gamification are broadly representative of LMS users as a whole.
Organizations that use LMS gamification are split pretty evenly in size, with 52% making under $10 million in revenue. However, proportionally LMS gamification users skew larger than users of other types of software. Given that LMSs can be seen as big-ticket purchases, it makes sense that users would be on the larger size.
There is a subtle, but important, difference between gamification and learning games. While gamification applies game-like elements to traditional learning methods, learning games replace those methods with games designed to teach specific information. We wanted to understand both sides of this coin, and see whether one or the other was used more, and how that impacted learning objectives.
Fully 90% of LMS users have also employed some form of learning games in their courses. This is a staggeringly large number, but may not be totally surprising given the widespread availability of different learning games, templates, and instructions for building your own. 90% of LMS users have also employed some form of learning games.Tweet This
This breakdown was more interesting, especially since all the respondents to our survey were also LMS users. Here we found that while the majority (63%) used some form of electronic game (either one specifically built for the course or a more generic one), the remainder, more than one third (37%), used analog games like board or card games to assist in learning objectives. The relative ease of designing one of these, vs. having to learn a software tool to create an electronic game, may partially account for this, while the fact that analog learning games have existed for much longer than electronic ones may also explain their continued strong showing.
According to respondents learning games are incredibly effective. Not only did the vast majority say they increase student satisfaction (85%), scores (81%), and course completion rates (81%) Learning games increase scores, student satisfaction, and course completion rates.Tweet This, they also overwhelmingly said learning games improved the retention students had of course material (73%).
In fact, the only downside users of learning games noted was their impact on cost, where a hefty 38% said they increased the price of training. Depending on your objectives, however, this may be a small price to pay for implementing such an effective learning method.
Interestingly, there was virtually no difference in the effectiveness of digital vs. analog games. Respondents reported almost identical positive outcomes (and concurrent increase in training costs) between video/computer games and board/card games.
This relationship also held whether the learning games were general ones purchased “off-the-shelf,” or custom-built ones tailored to a specific course, student body, or learning objective. This may mean that the extra time and energy you put into designing customized learning games for your own organization may be better spent by simply purchasing a learning game that already exists.
Gamification features are both widely offered, and widely used, though respondents did want more from their LMSs.
While 90% of respondents have used learning games, slightly fewer (83%) have access to gamification functionality built into their LMS.
Most gamified LMSs (56%) offer gamification features directly as a part of the system. However, a not-insignificant portion (25%) instead opt to offer such features as an optional add-on module (likely costing extra) or by integrating with a dedicated 3rd-part gamification system (19%). We'll look into how these different gamification delivery methods impact results, below.
Gamification features, if offered, had a very high adoption rate. Respondents used gamification features at an average of 70%. The most used features were points (85%), progress bars (78%), and levels (76%). Most used gamification features are points, progress bars, and levels.Tweet This
The least used features included activity feeds (30% had but did not use this feature), badges, leaderboards, and real-time performance feedback (22% had all these features but did not use them).
The features least offered by LMS vendors included avatars (17% of respondents did not have this feature), real-time performance feedback (16% did not offer this feature), and activity feeds (16% as well).
Of the 17% of respondents above who answered that their LMS did not offer gamification, fully 87% wished it did 87% wish their LMS offered #gamification features.Tweet This. This indicates a sizable opportunity for LMS vendors to attract new customers by offering such functionality and likely also shows some level of dissatisfaction by a good chunk of LMS users with their current software.
Of those whose LMS did not offer gamification features, the ones they most wanted included progress bars (50%), rewards (49%), and points (43%). This matches fairly closely with the usage numbers of respondents who actually have these features in their LMS. Least desired #LMS #gamification features are activity feeds, avatars, leaderboards.Tweet This
The gamification features least desired by people whose LMS did not offer any were activity feeds (16%), avatars (24%), and leaderboards (26%).
The ultimate question: Is gamification actually worth it?
Does it improve learner outcomes or is it all just smoke and mirrors? The survey results below speak for themselves.
Respondents found gamification had a massive positive impact on just about every metric of learner success. 84% claimed increased student satisfaction, 83% reported their students retained course content better, 80% said their course completion rate improved, and 71% noted better student scores on tests and assignments.71% say #gamification increases student scores.Tweet This
In fact, the only area where users were even slightly ambivalent was in the area of cost (as with learning games, above), with 42% saying gamification increased the costs of training and educating, with another 42% claiming it had no impact (either positive or negative) on such costs.
Taken as a whole these numbers paint an impressive picture of the effect, and opportunity, of gamification on the learning process. It seems that when it comes right down to it, gamification actually has the kind of results that the hype around it suggests. These findings also correspond well with previous research, including a University of Colorado study that found students who took a gamified course scored 14% higher than those taking a traditional course.
To further examine these numbers, we've broken out reported impacts by the method of gamification delivery (part of the LMS, third party integration, or optional add-on module). We wanted to see if this changed how effective this functionality was on improving student outcomes.
We found that while respondents reported mostly positive student outcomes across all delivery methods, one method clearly performed better than the other two. With gamification provided as part-and-parcel of the LMS, users reported higher overall positive impacts on almost every metric, and lower overall cost increases.
Not only is all the hype surrounding gamification and games-based learning justified, the results reported by LMS users indicate even greater gamification success than has yet been reported. While educators and trainers use gamified elements or learning games at very high rates, their success, and desire for additional gamification functionality, shows that further investment in this space will be a defining element of future eLearning tools.
Despite the perceived increase in cost, there seems to be no lack of enthusiasm from LMS users for gamfication features in their software. This points to a future where LMS vendors who can bring down the price (or perceived price) of gamification will win over customers and educators and have a chance to capture much of the 17% of LMS users who do not yet use gamified learning management systems.
This 13-question survey received 400 qualified responses over a period of 16 days.
J.P. currently works as Content Director at Capterra, a privately held technology and online media company focused on bringing together buyers and sellers of business software. He is a graduate of Georgetown University and digs eLearning and training technology. Follow him on Twitter at @rizzleJPizzle.