Current state of Gamification in the LMS Market

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Imagine you are looking at a pinball machine.  It is your favorite machine. You see that Steve has more points than you, but ZZERAF is just slightly below you (and you wonder who is that person?).  You really want that top score, but you just do not have the time to spend or skill to achieve the top score.

But you continue to try.  Then something out of the blue happens.  Your ball gets stuck right next to the 10,000 whammy bumper and you smack the machine.

Uh, oh. TILT.

Where Gamification is right now in the LMS space

Before we dovetail into the state of Gamification, let’s review some data I collected from social media readers, followers, etc. on “Gamification”.  This information was from end of 2014.

  • 98% had heard of gamification
  • 86% wanted badges – within that, nearly 45% wanted a built-in badge library
  • 82% wanted a leaderboard
  • 76% wanted points
  • 72% wanted game templates

On the LMS side, at the end of 2014, 590

  • 40 vendors had at least three gamification features  (8 of them had at least four features)

Standard Gamification Features (The basics in today’s gamification space, even back in 2014)

  • Leaderboard – regardless if it is top 10 or everybody
  • Badges including ability to upload your own badge, because you know everyone has a graphic artist at their firm (albeit, not every system had the upload your own badge thing)
  • Ability to accrue points (i.e. Points)

Several vendors offered the ability for admin (clients) to upload their own badge.   But this was not the usual standard gamification feature.

2015 Gamification Features

From consumer standpoint – buyers that is, buyers

  • They want more than the usual three –  a built-in badge library to start with (at least 25 badges min.)
  • Leaderboard on learner home page
  • Game based courses or actual games for learning – i.e real game templates that are games, not that crummy Pyramid garbage or static gaming – wow, look at that piece of cardboard Mark!

When I say game based courses, I mean the ability to build them via whatever exists in your system.  You do not need a built-in authoring tool to do this.  I mean at the basic level, interactive game templates will work.

  • Ability to assign points while building a course – this is not the same thing as assigning points to an already uploaded course;  clearly the advantage is for those who have a built-in authoring tool or a partnership with an authoring tool vendor in place, but the onus is really on the authoring tool vendors to get their head out of the grass (I know some of you were thinking something else – shame on you) and solve it.
  • Reward store – You have points now what?  Well, consumers are saying a reward store or something to “reward” folks beyond points.  Blue Volt was doing this back in the late 2000’s and still do it – tied to a gift card reward program; other vendors are jumping on as well (with more in 2015, but really really tiny numbers)

To be considered a next gen LMS, you need gamification BUT you need to go beyond the standards, which is where we still are not yet at – at least for the majority of systems in the marketplace.

As of June 2015 – based on higher number of vendors (inc. LMS, LCMS, LP – learning platforms); 650

Today, there are vendors who have at least five or more gamification features.  Toss them in with the “at least” four gamification features, and you are now talking nice increase.  Not yet 45, but considering there were eight who had four plus features a year ago, I’ll take it.


  • 202 vendors have three gamification features – definitely an improvement from 2014

Why the big boost in the three gamification features?

Three Factors

Learning Platforms – there are so many entering the space including gamification it is staggering. 

LMS vendors on warp drive. LMS vendors moving a tad quicker than before to put in gamification.  The industry as a whole is a lemming industry, so gamification is hot, hello – let’s put in the basics.

To give you an idea on the slow movement of the LMS vendors of yesteryear, just look at mobile learning.  In 2011, the number of LMS vendors who supported m-learning beyond smartphones was minimal.  2012, still minimal. 

2013, boost city – with native apps appearing, but not universal.  2014, native apps becoming more into vogue, but still not universal and on/off synch – yowsa, super duper slow.  2015?  Native apps continuing to gain steam, still not universal, on/off synch super slow, but more than 2014.

The point to it all is that the industry usually is really, really slow on adopting to the latest.  With gamification though, it is quite different.

A third factor is consumer knowledge – they ask for gamification, and clearly know what it is – at least in basic form of a leaderboard, badges, points, not necessarily the actual definition of it. 

The next gen level of gamification

If you want to hit that next gen level of gamification, then you not only have to commit to gamification but actually embrace it and this is where, for most vendors, the wheels fall off.  They do just enough to state we have gamification, but they hold back from moving forward.

For those who are either moving forward or want to, here are my next gen gamification features (some of which are already listed above)

  • Leaderboard on learner home page (ideally two components – a) top 10  and b) learner can see where they are ranked in comparison)
  • Built-in badge library (no-brainier)
  • Ability to build your own badges in the system  – not everyone has a graphic artist just sitting around to help, nor do they want stock graphics either
  • Ability to compare one learner versus another learner – in multiple categories no less
  • Social tied to gamification, and please time to move on from Facebook like walls – trust can do it..
  • Reward store tied to a gift card partner or gift partner (there are plenty out there who do a great job and have the track record to back it).  A bonus?  Digital wallet so clients can put the funds in the cloud, prior to gift card giving – ah, the vendor does not give the gift cards away – you as the client, pay for that.
  • Game based components in your mobile app – Fun for the whole family!  Ok, at least for the learner – best of all, you can push this either for smartphones or tablets/phablets or both 

OR you have a separate mobile game based learning app – with the ability to push the results into your LMS – to me that is super cutting edge (especially if it is on/off synch) – Do that, and I will say your name to the universe- okay, on this site.

  • Gamification features within your mobile app – ideally for those who have multiple features for managers, instructors, etc. in their offering;  lots of ways to make this work and be cool at the same time – now, someone needs to do it – and uh, I’m not talking about the ability to go right to your system via a mobile browser; on/off synch has to exist with this
  • Game based authoring tool – One vendor already has it and frankly it is impressive – not only create game based courses, but also add gamification components within (oh, and it has gamification components for the ID folks – i.e. people building the courses).  You don’t need to go that far, but to me, a game based authoring tool OR an authoring tool that allows you to build some form of learning game is fine.

The two most common ones I have seen:  Learning Journeys (which if done right can be fun),  Mountain – i.e. get to the top of the mountain (honestly, I’d rather play push the pencil around a racetrack on paper game – a big hit in secondary school days).  I should note that a vendor who pitches learning games has the mountain one – and yeah, I still hate it.

Is there any vendor who has gone super speed on gamification?

Growth Engineering, my #1 for 2015 LMS.  They are the only vendor I am aware of that has seven gamification features today, but they are a gamification LMS, so it makes perfect sense.

Bottom Line – And how it could be affecting your learners

The biggest concern I have today about gamification is how it is setup by numerous consumers (i.e. admins, i.e. buyers).

The whole premise of e-learning, i.e. WBT (web based training) is the ability to bounce around a course, focus on the areas that you need to learn or acquire more skills/comprehension and thus higher attainment to learn and grow.

What though is happening is that many folks entering the space are following a) linear methods for courses b)requiring them to be completed.

Thus, to attain points, the person has to complete the course or read the entire content or complete the assessment and score ABC.

The person who doesn’t complete the course, gets zip.

Frankly that is just wrong.  E-learning is about comprehension, retention and synthesis – which enables someone to attain new and higher skill sets.  If you go linear fine, but non-linear is better.

Instead of penalizing your learners for not completing a course (if you allow non-linear asynchronous aka self-paced), allow them to accrue points as well.

Offer a scenario based component rather than an assessment.  They complete the scenario – points.  They watch a short video – points. They use their mobile device in some fashion for learning – points (and this can easily be done in corporate BTW).

In other words, you reward all forms of learning, all types of learning and most importantly, learning in general – rather than just completing a course.

Because there is no study out there that says completing a course for gamification increases comprehension, retention and synthesis.  If I told you that if you completed four courses in one week and I will give you 200K, I bet you complete those courses in less than a week.

Now, has your comprehension increased? Your synthesis?  Unlikely.

The whole point to all of this (no pun intended) is to enable learners the same opportunity to those who have been assigned or must complete courses to get points.

And that is something that can stop the TILT on any pinball machine

especially one for learning.

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