“Who are the game mechanics?” I was asked this question during a recent meeting as I described the way gamification can motivate user engagement as part of a modern learning strategy. The fact that someone thought a “game mechanic” was a person (honest mistake) made me start thinking about the evolution of gamification and learning during the past few years as well as my own practical experience with the concept. How far have we come in not just our understanding of gamification but our ability to apply it effectively within the context of workplace learning?



User engagement is at the heart of everything we do at Axonify. When it comes to gamification, we have proven time and time again, across a variety of partners and use cases, that game mechanics can play an integral role in a modern workplace learning strategy. In fact, TrainingIndustry.com just recognized us as one of the top 20 gamification companies!

This month’s curated insights go beyond the basics of gamification and dig into some of the details that can support effective application.

Interview with Karl Kapp on Games, Gamification, and LEARNING! from Will Thalheimer

Every article in this post either references, links to, or was written by Karl Kapp. What can I say? Dude knows his gamification! So let’s start with an interview transcript between Karl Kapp and learning research guru Will Thalheimer. Will is correct when he says his post is a masterclass on the relationship between games and learning.

Karl shares plenty of dos and don’ts regarding effective gamification and digs into everything from game mechanics to serious games. The most valuable part of this article may be Karl and Will’s discussion regarding research. There are plenty of contradictory sentiments out there regarding the effectiveness of games and learning. Karl points out some noteworthy potential limitations in the existing research. Do we need to wait for definitive proof on the validity of a subject before we give it a try? I don’t think so, as long as we take a measured approach. It sounds like Karl agrees when he says, “I don’t let skepticism stop me from doing something. If the research seems to be pointing in a direction but I don’t have all the answers, I’ll still ‘try it out’ to see for myself.” This is great advice for not just gamification but also a myriad of other potential workplace learning strategies.

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All About Gamification: Engage the WORL&D! from Zsolt Olah

I often hear about gamification and serious games in the same conversations, but they are separated quickly (and accurately) as distinct instructional strategies. My friend and peer, Zsolt Olah, presents an interesting take on the range of ways games can be used to engage. He places these concepts on a continuum and challenges L&D pros to start with game thinking in mind rather than a specific solution.

In addition to his systematic framework, Zsolt references a bevy of great resources throughout his post. I particularly enjoy his callout to self-determination theory as well as related psychological principles that dig into the realities and challenges around human motivation. Too often, L&D pros get lost in the mechanics of engagement and fail to comprehend the scientific foundation of the topic. This, along with failure to apply these principles to your target audience, can lead quickly to unsuccessful implementations and a negative stigma around gamification within the organization.

Types of Structural Gamification from Karl Kapp

We turn from simply referencing Karl Kapp to discussing an article from the man himself. Many people assume incorrectly that gamification equals points and badges. However, the topic is much broader than that with game mechanics often classified in two categories: structural and content. While my next curated post is an example of content gamification, Karl digs into structural gamification and provides details on how many commonly-referenced game mechanics, including points and badges, can be used to engage an audience.

Karl cites Axonify as an example of game-based structural gamification. Beyond this reference, this article is a great reminder of how game mechanics can be used in different ways to motivate a user based on his/her unique context. For example, points acquired from successful training activities can be used to populate a leaderboard and drive competition within a team. Points can also be accumulated in a personal “bank” for future use in purchasing tangible rewards. Furthermore, points can indicate a user’s continued progress and knowledge growth. When determining how to use a familiar game mechanic, it’s important for a designer to understand the culture of the workplace and apply it in a flexible way that accounts for individual preferences.

Level 10: Reflecting on My First Gamified Learning Project from JD Dillon

Like I said, that question about “mechanics” got me thinking about my own experience with gamification. When I reflect, I typically blog. I realized my first real gamification project took place about 10 years ago during my time as an L&D Manager at the Walt Disney World Resort. This post from my Just Curious Learning Blog tells the abbreviated story of Kim Possible – World Showcase Adventure.

My first project set the tone for how I would apply gamification during the next 10 years of my career. I think I lucked out by facing such a unique user engagement challenge before gamification became a trending L&D topic. Rather than get lost in the hype, I was able to focus on the unique needs of my audience and leverage the right game mechanics (narrative, character, challenge, etc.) to create an immersive, impactful learning experience. This was validated further when I first attempted to apply gamification right after I left Disney. A new workplace culture and set of engagement challenges forced me to reevaluate the concept after initial failures. I’m sure I’ll tell that story in a future blog post!

Gamification works—when it’s done well. It’s been around long enough within the L&D world and I have leveraged it enough to confirm it works with absolutely certainty. Given our collective experience over the years, we have an opportunity to share our success and challenges so that the larger industry can get past the hype and engage the people we support in meaningful ways. If you’re just getting started or looking to reimagine your gamification strategy, check out our Gamification Workbook for even more tips and practical use cases. 

Share your experience and insights on gamification via comment below. Check back with the Axonify KNOWledge Blog in October for my next curated post. For a behind-the-scenes look into my curation efforts, check out my Flipboard, including my Curious About Gamification Mag, where I post new articles on a variety of workplace learning topics every day.

JD Dillon

Author: JD Dillon

JD Dillon, the principal learning strategist at Axonify, has spent 15 years designing and implementing learning and performance strategies for respected global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. With his practical approach and ability to integrate science, technology, storytelling, and pure common sense, JD delivers modern solutions that enable employees, improve organizational performance, and drive business results. In his current role with Axonify, JD works with an award-winning team to boost employee knowledge and performance for leading organizations through the application of modern learning practices and cutting-edge technology.

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