Gamification and Mobile Elearning

3rd September 2013

At Marshall ACM we are keen to share our views on current trends and developments in e-learning. In this article we look at gamification in e-learning, what it is, how it relates to mobile learning and how it is changing the way we learn at work.

Technology and gaming go somewhat hand in hand, evolving from the early days of Pong right up to the sophisticated consoles and gaming platforms of today. Why? Everyone loves games to some extent and this is because gaming is addictive.

A quick glance around the train on the way to work will prove that much, as travellers jab frantically at their smartphones. Gamification, when properly applied, is also a great way to learn. It increases knowledge retention and recollection and gives the learner the opportunity to practice skills and so on.

What is gamification?

Gamification is the application of game mechanics into everyday applications and when used in an e-learning environment, increases engagement with training material. According to Raising Engagement in E-learning Through Gamification by Christina Muntean, the BJ Fogg Behaviour Model can be applied to e-learning.

(Above is an example of gamified e-learning from our new diversity app – learners link the protected characteristics with virtual string using the touch screen on their smartphone or tablet.)

This physiological model is based on the idea that: “Three elements must converge at the same moment for a behaviour to occur: Motivation, Ability and Trigger”. When a learner doesn’t interact with an app or e-learning portal, this is because one of these elements is missing. So let’s have a look at how the model can be applied here:

1. Motivation

If a student is asked to complete a task then he must have motivation. Muntean sets out that this is based on emotional responses and opposites, such as pain/pleasure and social acceptance/rejection. Fogg further states that gamification implies a social presence, so learners feel that they are in a social situation which prompts them to compete, or follow social rules such as taking turns.

2. Ability

This potentially affects learner engagement as the learner can’t learn something through a task that he fears he can’t complete. However, if correctly motivated, it’s possible that the learner will be able to find a means to complete a task, thus raising his ability.

3. Trigger

Without a Trigger, the other two elements can’t work, so that means a call to action is needed in order to prompt the learner to take action. Triggers are linked to motivation and can be used also as a reminder to complete a task.

Gamification versus serious games

The coupling of games and learning is nothing new, as any infant school child could tell you if they had the perspective. However, it’s not just in the classroom that games are used to assist learning, but in ‘serious games’ used by industries such as defence, health care, city planning and much more. These tend to be complex games and they are used for training as well as investigative purposes.

Whilst serious games require good graphics, game design and a high level of resources, gamification differs in that it adds certain elements of gaming into ordinary tasks and applications. With gamification in e-learning, this is often a points system (supplying motivation), timing, levelling-up and accuracy, to name a few.

m-learning and gamification

Mobile has exploded in such a way that it has become an integral part of everyday life for many of us. A recent survey by Jumio Inc, Mobile Consumer Habits, found that 72% of us are never more than five feet away from our smartphones, 35% use them in the cinema and 12% use them in the shower!

Whilst the latter isn’t recommended, it does illustrate just how important smartphones have become to society and this can also be applied to learning. People love to play games on mobile and Zynga where you can play games like FarmVille and CityVille – a great example of how the simplest games can be highly addictive and prompt further use.

Add gamification to this and voilà, there you have the perfect mix, a learning environment that is always by the student’s side, just waiting to be picked up whenever they have a moment. And as social media such as Facebook provides updates on friends’ gaming activities, and scores achieved, this prompts others to compete, helping to create the perfect environment for further engagement.

Native apps versus web portals

Traditionally, it’s been impossible to track e-learning apps on mobile, but this is something that is changing thanks to the replacement of SCORM (Sharable Content Object Reference Model) with Tin Can. SCORM is simply a set of technical standards for e-learning software and is the industry standard used to govern Learning Management Systems (LMS) and their interaction with content.

This is set to be replaced with Tin Can, a new standard which allows better integration with mobile and works in hand with legacy SCORM content. Tin Can allows HTML5 and native mobile apps to report to a LMS, making it easier to track m-learning. It also allows for learning to be tracked across multiple devices in any location – ideal for the modern, connected world.

This means that various learning mediums such as video, classroom training and even informal chats can all be interwoven and reported on. Learners can also be given incentives such as unlocking a level, following a video and so on.

It can also provide in-depth analytics, so that companies can track how effective the training is for relevant people and show what impact quizzes on have had, who have been the most effective mentors and so on.

Learning Record Store

The Tin Can API also works alongside a new system for storing learning records known as a Learning Record Store. This can be a standalone tool, or it can be integrated with an existing LMS and Tin Can allows it to store a much larger amount of data than SCORM.

As you can see, everything related to the m-learning platform can be sent to the LRS where it is stored for individual users or a single transcript. This in turn can then be accessed by the LMS and reporting software.


All of this, mobile, e-learning, new standards and gamification, conspires to make for exciting advancements in the world of e-learning, which is already seeing a huge upsurge in use within numerous industries.

According to a 2011 Gartner prediction, more than 70% of global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application by next year.

“Gamification could become as important as Facebook, eBay or Amazon,” said Gartner’s Brian Burke. “During 2012, 20 percent of Global 2000 organizations will deploy a gamified application. IT leaders must start exploring opportunities to use gamification to increase engagement with customers and employees, with the aim of deploying a gamified application next year. Understanding how to apply game mechanics to motivate positive behavioural (sic) change is critical to success.”

Bearing this in mind, companies that offer training in an e-learning environment must now look to both mobile and gamification, if they don’t already, in order to provide cost-effective, career-boosting training to a willing workforce.

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