What is LMS gamification?

LMS gamification is a way of creating interactive elements within your online course to increase engagement and tap into the human innate need for gratification.

Have you ever got your 10th coffee for free, accumulated frequent flyer points, earned daily strikes on Duolingo, or posted your first TikTok? If so, congratulations – you’ve been gamified!

Most products, including many learning apps, are built with a perfect scenario in mind – that people who use the product will become hooked, and go through it from start to finish. But humans are not perfect. We procrastinate, lose focus, and sometimes don’t have a clear goal. When gamification is deployed, you, as a product owner, acknowledge that your learners will have all these normal human traits and emotions, and you’d like to help them overcome these hurdles. One way of doing that is to conjure extrinsic motivation, i.e., the hack that has proved itself multiple times in the gaming industry. Now let’s look at the other side of the coin. We all know that we procrastinate sometimes, but we would work harder and more effectively if there were a clear path and reassurance of a reward at the end of the task. Or we might lack motivation at times, but we could gain passion and drive if we were to receive regular appreciation and acknowledgement for our efforts! 

Yukai Chou, one of the pioneers of gamification, lists down eight core drives:

Some of these are categorised as Black Hat and White Hat techniques. The former appeal to more positive emotions, such as a sense of achievement, being part of the community, and mentorship, and the latter to more negative ones, like scarcity, sunk cost, progress loss, and FOMO.

It would be wrong to label each of them as a good or bad technique. As an owner of your app/LMS, you would know your audience best and should be able to anticipate what techniques will work better.

We are now going to dig deeper and see what the most popular gamification elements in the eLearning industry are:

Top gamification features to include in your LMS

  1. Points – Our brains have a natural desire to see numbers go up. When you open your Instagram or TikTok account, the first thing you see is the number of followers you have and the number of likes you received – this is gamification in action that has worked like a charm for social media.
  2. Badges are one of the most frequently used gamification techniques, and for a reason! They originated in the military when rewards were given for extraordinary achievements and were later adopted by other industries, including eLearning.
  3. Progress bar – seeing clear, measurable progress towards a goal is another human trait. That’s why the path is often broken into badges, milestones, levels, stars, trophies, bosses – anything that would give you a spike of energy and make you feel accomplished.
  4. Badge Cabinet – Devoting time, money, and energy to creating collections is another well-known human behaviour and something we should not miss out when designing our gamification campaign. One big reason your learners would want to engage in the gamification activities is experiencing that sweet moment of returning to their badge cabinet and feeling proud of their achievements. 
  5. A leaderboard is a great tool to evoke another human trait – our love to compete! 
  6. Count Down Timer – Some of us perform better if put under a bit of pressure. Count down timer is an excellent way to simulate a real-life classroom environment and keep your learner focused on a test or assignment.
  7. Ranks / Levels – social proof is another asset we would be ready to spend our time and effort on. Ranks and levels is a White Hat technique that speaks to our desire to bring value to the world and be recognized by our peers.
  8. Random rewards – Who doesn’t believe in beginner’s luck? Maybe only those who design gamification campaigns. Give your learner’s an immediate spike of dopamine by introducing random rewards, for example, a fortune wheel or flashcards and a big prize at the beginning of the game to make sure they want to come back for another award.

Human-centred design is about how you want your users to feel rather than what features you want to use. In the case of gamification, our goal as product owners is to make our learners feel accomplished throughout the whole learning experience.