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Gamification is the Cherry, not the Cake!

Gamification – in the past we’ve chatted about how it’s a valuable tool for engaging and motivating users of your product. It taps into our love of achievement and a sense of progression.

This is particularly true of eLearning, as gamification mechanics help keep a learner progressing through their training. Although gamification has many benefits, it’s important that we don’t overestimate its impact. It is an amazing tool for you to use, but it shouldn’t replace one key element – quality course content.

Gamification is the cherry – not the cake

Let’s start by asking a question: If you were hiring someone to create eLearning courses for your organization, would you choose a person who’s an expert in the content or an expert in gamification mechanics? Logically, you’d start with the content as the foundation of your learning strategy, right? In other words, your content is your cake and gamification is the cherry on top! 

Game mechanics can add another layer of engagement and achievement. You can award badges for each course that a learner completes. However, just because the course has been gamified doesn’t mean, the learner is getting a better understanding of the material compared to a non-gamified course of the same material. 

Gamification shouldn’t be used to usurp the primary goal – to boost a learner’s understanding of a particular topic. 

The question that I keep coming back to is whether the game mechanics can actually help me as a learner because it helps me to focus the activity – and in turn improve concentration and retention. The reality is, we do not have enough data or research to say for sure.

Experts like Kevin Werbach are right now completing research to see the results of gamification on end user benefits – as opposed to administrator-centric benefits such as uptake and completion.

Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic motivations

Some people perform activities with the goal of completing the activity itself. In this case, the person in question launches and completes a course in order to learn from the content. This is an Intrinsic motivation. Others may complete the exact same activity for very different, more external motivations.

They perhaps want to complete the courses so they can gain recognition within their workplace. This is an Extrinsic motivation. 

Let’s take a look at an example outside of learning:

  • Robson plays squash twice a week. His motivation? – the enjoyment of playing squash. He is intrinsically motivated by the activity of squash.
  • Jerome also plays squash twice a week. Jerome however, is motivated to play squash because it gives him the opportunity to network with business colleagues and build relationships. This is an extrinsic motivation.

Now let’s map this type of behavior to eLearning. Robson completes the assigned courses the way it was designed and for the purpose intended. His focus is on the content. 

Jerome however simply wants to top the leaderboard. Both will hopefully achieve a passing grade. But is Jerome placing greater emphasis on the path to the badge instead of the information he can glean from the content? As the one designing and administering courses, you have to decide if this is a concern for your organization.

Content is king

So, how do the two types of motivations come into play in relation to eLearning? In order for these motivations to work in unison, the quality of both has to be high. Your courses are the primary motivation. The quality of the courses has to be high for you to even have the option of introducing the secondary motivation.

The learner must enjoy a heightened understanding of the topic, an opportunity to ask questions, a means to assess themselves and a way to receive feedback. If the content is poor, the intrinsic motivation is removed – “I can’t learn from this”. 

We can play devil’s advocate here and argue that our fictional squash player Jerome is likely to proceed through a really poorly designed course simply for the recognition of completion rather than the potential knowledge that’s extracted. But that hypothesis forgets about an important factor – Your overall eLearning strategy.

Your strategy is to educate, to train – to create experts. So, you should be dictating that the quality of the content is high. Why? If Jerome does pursue his Machiavellian tactics – he will hopefully be well trained in the process!!


As you can see, you have two parts to consider when creating a gamified eLearning strategy. At LearnUpon, we suggest that your primary goal should be to create great content and then think about how to encourage uptake and completion through game mechanics.

To paraphrase Kevin Costner in a Field of Dreams – if you build it (great course content), they will come!!



  • Terry Aurit

    Excellent article. Thank you!

    1 reply 2017-05-10 16:25:49
    • Eoghan

      Thank you Terry! I'm glad you liked it. If you have any suggestions for future posts let me know, I always want to write content that our readers find useful :)





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