Can Gamification Foster Learning in the Workplace?

As part of my learning experience in my Games and Learning graduate course at CU Denver I will critique several pieces of literature tied to the theme of game-based learning. These critiques will summarize various features such as research design, learning theory, methods, findings, and implications for the study and application of games and learning. Below is my first critique of the semester:


The authors of Psychological Perspectives on Motivation through Gamification investigated how and why certain elements of games address motivational mechanisms. The authors explored gamification and it’s potential to foster motivation while increasing the effectiveness of design within gamification environments.

Based on little research around the motivational pull of gamification, Sailer, Hense, Mandl, and Klevers aimed to adopt a differentiated view of gamification through the analysis of specific game elements coupled with motivation mechanisms.

The authors identified four components of gamification: game, element, design, and application (non-game-context) and compared them with the six principal perspectives of motivation: trait, behaviorist learning, cognitive, self-determination, interest, and emotion.

Sailer et al suggested a complex matrix consisting of the game elements (rows) and motivation mechanisms (columns) could help in successful gamification design. However, the authors did not demonstrate nor did they test how the matrix would work. It exceeded scope of their article.

A few thoughts…

I chose this article because gamification is something that has started to come up more frequently. We use gamification activities to motivate employees to be more active on social media and foster employee advocacy as a whole. I’m always curious on the effectiveness and what really motivates people to participate. After learning about the principal perspectives of motivation, I can see that motivation really varies.

Learning by way of gamification seems complex. The authors define the concept of gamification as “the use of game design elements in non-game context” however, they provided little evidence that gamification contributes to learning specifically. I suppose (in the context of my work) a motivated player might be more likely to click on an article and read it thus, deepening their understanding on, lets say, one of our products or solutions. But, there are also those who may click through the motions just to “win.”

Additionally, there are social dimensions of motivation to consider when designing a gamification environment. In my corporate instance, things like company moral, environment, and manager or peer-peer support may effect game play and learning through gamification. Yes, motivation is key but I think it’s equally important to consider the positive and negative effect of the social context.

Because this article is all theoretical, I’m curious to see what the matrix would look like and how a designer would know (and collect) motivation data for participating employees. It seems like it is actually really difficult to to design a gamification activity using the matrix. There seems to be so many other factors. For instance, I work with hundreds of people and spread all over the world. How is it possible to design an effective gamification experience that motivates and meet everyone’s individual learning needs?

In closing:

If gamification has the potential to foster motivation, how can it aid in learning? How would all this look from a scientific and data perspective? Motivation can’t be limited to six perspectives, can it?. Could things like fear or pressure contribute? Furthermore, if research topics are geared towards gamification and learning outcomes, the framework outlined by Sailer et al could be a good a starting point for evaluating participatory factors and effective design strategies.

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