Gamification and Serious Games Headed to the Mainstream


Gartner Group, which monitors trends across many industries, has labeled gamification as a trend that is sliding into the “trough of disillusionment” within the education industry. Does that mean that it—and its cousin learning games—are dying?

The short answer is no… at least not the good applications of these learning methods.

Instead, it means that we are moving gamification toward mainstream usage and beyond the early adoption stage. It also means that bad uses will become more apparent, as will effective uses. It means that companies who are more conservative—who are the “let’s wait and see how this shakes out” kind of decision-makers—will likely be ready to jump on board soon.

Products that were mediocre and not grounded in good instructional design are going to disappear. However, those with strong underpinnings will remain. Custom initiatives will also get better as people make more thoughtful choices on what type of game or gamification to implement—and when to do it.

Here’s a quick list of things to think about as you consider ways to use games and gamificaition:

  • Use a portal. A portal is a web-based access point that shows leaderboards, achievements, levels, etc. With a portal, you can gamify non-game activities and let people earn points or badges based on what they complete or how they progress.  For example, you could gamify your entire onboarding experience by letting new employees earn points for completing specific activities. Gamifying something like an onboarding program can work if the experience will be of fairly short duration (weeks, not months).  Their weakness can sometimes be that people tire of them quickly if they last for long periods of time. They also run the risk of focusing more on completion than the quality of performance.
  • Create an immersive game or simulation. Immersive games or simulations are terrific for helping people learn and practice new skills while receiving continuous feedback. These games pull people into them and even make them feel real emotions as they play. They also lay a very strong foundation for extensive post-game discussion as people evaluate the experience and share insights. Immersive games are best when they function as part of a learning experience rather than being the learning experience.
  • Produce mini-games focused on reinforcement. Mini-games that require only minutes to play can serve as strong reinforcement tools, helping people to retain what they may have learned as part of a formal training component or helping them to prepare to learn in a more formal way.

Where does Knowledge Guru fit in?

Companies have used Knowledge Guru as a way to prepare people for learning or to reinforce learning. We have some terrific success stories of companies who used Knowledge Guru to help people prepare for launch meetings, as a game activity during a live meeting, and as general training reinforcement. Learners can play it in small increments, so it has the ability to mimic the value of a mini-game while being a more robust experience overall.

Background on Gartner’s hype cycle

Gartner’s hype cycle refers to the cycle that emerging technologies go through on their way to mature usage. There are five stages in the evolution of a technology that makes it to maturity:

  1. Technology Trigger – The new technology or concept comes onto the scene. Early proof of concept stories emerge and the media grabs hold.
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations – Early adopters start sharing success stories.
  3. Trough of Disillusionment – Interest wains if experiments fail. Producers of technology start to shake out with some providers disappearing.
  4. Slope of Enlightenment – More instances of how the technology can benefit the organization start to emerge. Conservative companies initiate pilots and the concept/technology gains broader acceptance.
  5. Plateau of Productivity – The technology finds its place and becomes mainstream. Criteria for viability are clear.

Are you a trainer or eLearning designer who wants to use games to engage your learners? Get Sharon Boller and Dr. Karl Kapp’s learning game design book, Play to Learn.