In the three years leading up to 2015, 25 million people signed up to eLearning courses on sites like Coursera and EdX.
This incredible number demonstrates the interest in online learning experiences. Less impressive, is the number of people who actually finished the courses. Only 4% of students that registered for a course on Coursera actually finished the course.
How can we encourage students to finish their courses?
If only education was more like a video game…
In video games, people have the opposite problem: they can’t stop themselves from playing.
Strategies used to engage people in games are often employed in other areas of life. These strategies are known as gamification. They can be very powerful tools to create more compelling learning experiences.
The goal of gamification
Gamification is a tool to achieve a great user experience.
A user comes to a website or web application to achieve a goal. On eLearning platforms, that goal is to learn. Gamification’s purpose in learning is to help guide your student from their initial interest in learning a skill through to a level of competence.
Your gamification elements need to push the user towards that goal. They should keep the student engaged, not distract them from actually learning. Including game elements that don’t fit with the educational goal won’t help your students learn.
A common problem with gamification is over-complicating the game elements. Keeping the system simple and easy to understand is crucial, particularly when onboarding the student onto the course. Over time the complexity can be increased, which can help keep the student engaged.
In a video game, early levels usually require understanding of only a few basic controls such as your player’s movement. In later levels you may find yourself throwing enemies, driving vehicles or planting explosives: but only after you have mastered the basic controls.
Gamification appropriate for your members
There are many ways to gamify an online experience, but that doesn’t mean you have to implement them all. What will work for you will depend on both your audience and your content.
For example, many courses may motivate their students to complete each lesson using a story. This could work well with a marketing class where the students follow a character from the point of interest in a product to the eventual sale. For some subjects however, this could end up distracting from the educational element; kudos to those able to create a relevant and interesting narrative around the topic of advanced mathematics.
Another common gamification strategy is to lock some content to compel users to earn the right to view it. This will be a strong motivator for students on some platforms. If you are likely to have more advanced learners, however, they might want to access more difficult content straight away. If that content is locked, having to work through introductory lessons to access it is likely to frustrate them.
A great hybrid strategy is one employed by SoloLearn. In SoloLearn’s courses you can take a test on the introductory content without having to view the introductory level lessons. This allows their students to quickly unlock the advanced material.
Rewards, rewards, rewards!
You need to make your student feel good about themselves. This is one of the key components of gamification. When we achieve something, the chemical dopamine is released in our brains, which makes us feel good. When we feel the dopamine kick in, we are motivated to repeat the actions that brought it about before. As a content creator using gamification, you want to trigger that dopamine rush at the right moments to encourage your students to take the correct actions.
So how can we make our students feel good about themselves? Communicate their achievements to them! When they score a high grade on a quiz, let them know how well they did.
In some scenarios, introducing a sense of competition can be an excellent incentive. It can be as simple as letting the user know that their 90% score on the quiz puts them in the top 5% of people who attempted it. A leaderboard may also drive a sense of competition between users, particularly if they are likely to be doing the course with friends.
That social aspect of competition will have benefits beyond gamification. Social shares of test results and progress are also a useful marketing tool for your platform. Be careful not to force this aspect of gamification on people however. It may deter some people from engaging with your platform if they are forced to share an activity they wish to keep private.
The techniques learned from video games can be utilised effectively in online learning. What elements work will vary greatly depending on your content and audience.
Consider gamification as a set of tools that you can utilise to create a great, personalized user experience. Use these tools to keep your students engaged. With improved engagement, you can expect more than 4% of your students to actually complete their learning objectives on your platform.