Gamification: Over-Hyped and Over-Used

“Gamification” is one of the hottest jargon terms in corporate e-learning.  But do the benefits live up to all the hype? And does gamification even match with our basic understanding of how adults learn?

Gamification has its drawbacks

In theory, learning by playing games seems like a great idea.  When you think about the games you played as a child, it seems as though the basic concepts align with the requirements for effective training.  In general, games have objectives and rules.  As you play the game, you must solve problems and take practical actions.  When you make the right moves and push yourself to win, you enjoy some sort of positive re-enforcement.

So why not gamify every training experience? The simple answer is that gamification is not always purposeful.  In fact, it can be costly, time-consuming, and counter-productive, especially when you are trying to teach adult participants.

Adult learners may not need to be entertained

Adults approach learning differently than younger people.  Their desire to be entertained is commonly lower than their desire to get from A-Z as efficiently as possible.  Here are a few things we know about adult learners and online training:

  • Adult learners like self-directed, self-paced learning experiences.
  • They want to receive information in the quickest, easiest way possible.
  • They may be taking their training on a computer, tablet, or cell phone

Gamification should never be used if it is going to make the training process longer or more complicated, or if the quality of the gaming experience cannot be guaranteed on tablets and cell phones.

Every course element must serve a purpose

Gamification should only be used when it serves a clear learning objective that cannot be met through simpler means. Click to tweet

The purpose of workplace training is to help employees gain knowledge, master skills, and adopt behaviors that will improve job performance, maintain health and safety, and support a positive, productive workplace culture.  When it comes to online training, the focus should be on developing clear learning objectives, content that conveys information in practical terms, and mandatory testing to confirm knowledge transfer.

If adding a game supports learning outcomes and enhances content (without driving development costs through the roof) then it may be worth doing.  But you should avoid adding games to the learning experience just for the sake of doing it.

Despite all the criticism I am dishing out in this article, I actually believe that gamification can be useful.  In fact, I have added games to many online courses, but only when they served a genuine learning purpose.  It takes a lot of thought to construct a game that improves the learning experience.  From a technical standpoint, you need to make sure that it works equally well on phones, tablets and computers.  And from an instructional perspective, the game must enhance, rather than distract from, the greater learning experience.

Done properly, the learner should be largely unaware that they are playing a game.  Instead, they should be considering the content and the context in a meaningful way that deepens their learning experience.


Think of an online training course as a suit or dress.  Based on this analogy, games would take on the role of expensive accessories. Sometimes, the right accessory, added to an already attractive ensemble, can take the whole thing to a higher level.  But more often, heaping a bunch of over-priced bangles onto an otherwise drab outfit improves nothing.  In fact, in such a situation, it is best to pull off the bangles and focus on improving the clothes themselves.

Article written by Kim Scaravelli, CEO, Trust Communications Inc.  


We are Instructional Design and Digital Content Specialists. We have developed 200+ customized online and blended learning programs for companies and non-profit organizations across Canada.  Yes… some have games.  Some do not.   If you would like to talk about your training needs,  email us.


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