What is gamification?

The Oxford dictionary gamification definition describes gamification as “the application of game-like mechanics and elements such as point-scoring, awards, and competition into non-game environments.” In 2014, Gartner set out to redefine the definition of gamification. Their definition summarizes gamification as “the use of game mechanics and experience design to digitally engage and motivate people to achieve their goals.” Although similar in their definitions, the use of the words ‘digitally’ and ‘goals’ in Gartner’s definition, and the relative freshness of the term (first introduced in 2002) has created confusion. 

Gamification isn’t strictly digital. Common gamification examples include the loyalty punch cards used by coffee shops and cafes to reward frequent visits. These are managed offline and involve game elements to provide incentives that increase customer loyalty. Gamification doesn’t need to include a goal, it can be used purely as a method of engagement and motivation. For example, the points cards offered by shops and supermarkets. These cards are used to collect points for repeat purchases and accumulate over time. There isn’t a specific goal or 'high score' that shoppers are aiming towards, instead they gain vouchers or discounts once certain milestones are met.

Examples of gamification

The term may be relatively new but the use of gamified elements pre-dates the internet itself:  

  • 1896 - S&H Green Stamps introduced the earliest shopping loyalty programs using collectable stamp rewards.
  • 1908 - The Boy Scouts of America introduced their badging system, awarding a badge for Scouts that demonstrated mastery of certain skills. 
  • 1964 - Disney’s Mary Poppins sings about finding the element of fun in typically boring household tasks. 
  • 1973 - Charles Coonradt writes a book ‘The Game of Work’ focusing on the benefits of using elements of gamification from sports in the workplace to promote employee engagement.  

This history shows that gamification can be as simple as introducing fun into boring tasks or as complex as using game design mechanics to benefit the real-world working environment. Loyalty point systems and rewards for effort are the most common applications of gamification. These are used in education, shopping, customer service, fitness, and corporate training, to name a few examples.

How does gamification increase learner motivation?

Learners that have a greater motivation to learn and increased engagement with their materials do better in their results. A ScienceDirect study from 2020 revealed two key statistics to support this: 

  • Challenge-based gamification led to a 34.75% increase in student performance.
  • Students that received challenge-based gamification raised their performance by 89.45% compared to students that only received lectures.

Additionally, a study by Intuition in 2019 reported 67% of students stated gamified learning increased user engagement and motivation compared to traditional learning materials. 

Gamification helps to increase learner motivation by offering incremental awards throughout the learning process. This is helpful when learning a challenging subject, learning over a long period of time, or in an elearning environment. Learners don’t have to wait months or years for their ‘dopamine boost’, they get regular opportunities to celebrate gaining and mastering new knowledge and skills. For professionals, gamification of learning introduces real-time feedback that encourages individuals to seek opportunities to reskill or upskill.

What is gamification for professional certification?

Gamification in professional development is growing in popularity. Gamification elements increase engagement, support social connections, and motivates professionals to take an active role in their training. Engagement in training is often the biggest challenge faced by professionals but it isn’t the only issue. Previous studies have revealed an estimated $13.5 million is lost each year for every 1000 employers that receive ineffective training. 

In a world of employment that is currently facing a growing skills shortage, tackling the impact of ineffective training is a necessity. By utilizing gamification strategy into a training environment, both intrinsic motivation (internal rewards) and extrinsic motivation (external rewards) are introduced. Learners are driven by the positive feelings gained through acquiring incremental rewards for new knowledge and skills. They are also influenced by the outcome at the end of their training - the improvement of their employment and promotion prospects. Gamification supports learners to achieve sustained engagement and gain a deeper level of satisfaction.

What are digital badges?

Digital badges are career-advancing rewards issued to candidates that meet given criteria. Digital badges are designed to be secure, portable, and shareable awards that include detailed contextual information about the value of the award and how the badge was earned. Recipients upload their digital badges online to their social media profiles, embed the verifiable image in email signatures, and add to digital wallet cards on mobile devices for use on-the-go. Digital badges issued through Accredible are OpenBadge compliant and include metadata encoded into the badge image. Digital badges are easy for third-parties to verify and can be added to the recipient’s preferred badge backpack.

Digital badge metadata


How are digital badges used?

Digital badges are versatile in their application and organizations issue digital badges for a variety of purposes. Examples of how digital badges are used include: 

  • Represent attendance of an event or tradeshow
  • Reward completion of an academic or training exam
  • Recognize membership of an organization or association
  • Illustrate skill accumulation as stackable digital badges
  • Incentivize course completion by awarding module completion

What is gamification using digital badges?

Digital badges are used as a method of gamifying training courses through incremental awards. Training courses are typically split into individual modules that increase in complexity. These modules are sections of a program or course that may also be a part of a greater certification. 

For example, an SEO certification may be made up of individual courses that explore Content Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and Technical SEO. Each of the individual courses are then broken up into modules, for example Content Marketing may include Building Personas, Building a Strategy, and Optimizing Content. As the learner completes a module, they are issued a stackable digital badge that details what the module included, evidence of demonstrable skills, and if the badge belongs to a course or certification. 

Issuing digital badges for module completion is different to the simple pictorial badge awards that are commonly seen in apps and learning management platforms - although both introduce gamification techniques.

Audible Badges
Example of badges from Audible

The pictorial badges are added to the user profile but aren’t shareable, don’t include contextual information or evidence of demonstrable skills, and exist as a source of fun motivation to learners. Digital badges provide increased value to the user experience as they are shareable and verifiable. Recipients use them in interviews or employee reviews to show effort towards a certification or as a personal portfolio of knowledge and skill. Learners are encouraged to earn all module badges leading to the course badge. This motivates continuance towards earning the greater certification, often represented using a digital certificate

Digital credentials provide greater flexibility in how courses and certifications are delivered by training providers and organizations offering professional certification. Learners can choose the learning journey that best suits their needs. For example, refresh knowledge in individual modules to earn a module badge, complete courses for a course overview badge, or apply for the full certification to work towards a comprehensive digital certificate. 

Using Accredible’s digital credentialing solution, issuers can track the progress of learners through modules. Issuers see where learner numbers are falling between courses and make efforts to identify the cause and rectify the issue. This could be the creation of an intermediate course that makes the progression less complex, or simplifying the course material that causes the highest dropout rate.

What are the challenges of gamification using digital badges?

Gamification works but isn’t without challenges. Every learner has different needs and training providers need to identify the best approach. Leaderboards work for a class or group but won’t be as effective with independent learners or professionals seeking to refresh their knowledge. It’s important that gamification is aligned to the learning objective. Adding a mini-game without relevance simply becomes a distraction and wastes the time of learners. Before implementing gamification to programs, research the target audience to identify what appeals to them and ensure that the experience helps, rather than hinders, the end goal. 

Digital badges used to support gamification should include metadata and details of the knowledge or skill gained. This prevents the digital badge becoming a simple pictorial award, and encourages recipients to share their new award with peers, friends, and family. Digital badges should be issued wherever value is gained towards career, personal, or professional development. If digital badges are issued for simple tasks, this can diminish the value of the future digital badges. For example, issue a digital badge for completing a module, course, or certification but avoid issuing a digital badge for signing up for the program, opening an email, or completing a digital profile. 

To ensure learners get the most out of their digital badges, provide documentation or a webpage that explains the value of their badge and how to use their new award. The ‘help page’ should include:

  • What the digital badge is and how it benefits the learner
  • How and where to share the digital badge
  • How to upload digital badges to digital wallet cards
  • How to add or embed digital badges to webpages, email signatures, and LinkedIn profiles

To support marketing strategies and encourage engagement, issuers should add a clear call to action button into credential delivery emails. This can be as simple as ‘open credential’ or direct recipients to share their digital badge to a target social media platform.

In Summary

Gamification for professional certification engages learners, motivates course completion, and helps effective training. Gamification design should be planned from the beginning when building a professional certification and must align to the learning objective. If game elements are added as an afterthought or hold little relevance to the material, it detracts from the experience and impacts retention and engagement. 

Professional certification providers can gamify the learning experience using digital badges while supporting marketing efforts with easy shareability. Recipients share their digital badges to social media platforms, upload to smartphone digital wallet cards, and embed on webpages or in email signatures to promote their knowledge, skills, and abilities. Shared digital badges provide additional visibility for professional certification programs and the opportunities available. Detailed contextual information and evidence helps to convey the value of the digital badge, encouraging individuals to pursue badges relevant to their professional development needs. 

Using Accredible, issuers can track the learner progress through modules and courses to identify and solve issues that lead to learners dropping out. Analytics provide insight into how often digital badges are engaged with and shared to social platforms, and who the leading recipients are for level of engagement. Optional branding and white-label packages enable issuers to own the full credential experience including vanity URL, credential page design, and customization of delivery emails. 

Start rewarding learners today with verifiable, portable, and shareable digital badges and digital certificates. Reach out to the team for more information about digital credentials or try the Accredible solution free for up to 20 unique recipients.