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The attractiveness of e-learning is unmistakable and may become the only way education is consumed in the future. Effectiveness is multiplied when a well-designed layer of gamification is applied.

Solutions built using gamification methodology use intrinsic motivation to inspire participants to action. E-learning solutions teach concepts and processes through intrinsic cues. Even though the intrinsic cues are common, e-learning and gamification are not to be thought of as the same thing.

Very often, gamification is confused by some as being a form of e-learning. This is not true. Gamification must always be considered as a layer on any system driven by the performance of its participants. E-learning systems are designed to facilitate lesson completion through methods that involve constant feedback, personalisation and content simplification. All of these methods connect well into a layer of gamification, but this is not always the best approach.

For truly effective gamification mechanics to be applied, the desired goal of the underlying system must be clearly mapped out. This is true of any gamified system and is no less important for e-learning.

For many people e-learning has been unsuccessful due to poor engagement of learners. For consumer based e-learning, it has been reported that as few as 13% of learners complete courses. Starting a course is easy and as e-learning has increased in popularity, the barriers (mostly in the form of prices) have lowered and thereby increased sign-up rates.

For most e-learning systems the primary driver is to achieve sign-up. Once achieved, there is no real desire to push learners much further than being on-boarded into a course. In fact, in many cases the slowing of learner engagement triggers the marketing of another course.

Even though many of these e-learning sites are gamified, the mechanics have no real effect because they have not been keyed to real behaviour change that leads to course completion. What behaviour is required in order to successfully complete a course? Completing subject matter quizzes, interacting with fellow learners and social sharing are just a few behaviours that if completed successfully, can increase the odds of course completion.

Within workplace e-learning systems, participants very often have not opted into an e-learning system and completion may be a prerequisite to an enhanced career path or simply a route to better productivity. This represents an even bigger reason to motivate learners towards successful completion.

In order to do this, the design of gamification must be geared so that positive behaviours are encouraged. If points are to be awarded, then they should be awarded for interacting with other learners, for example. If there is a leader board, then it should be for learners who most often assist other learners.

Using this type of design principle, a carefully crafted layer of gamification may produce the correct outcome from an e-learning system by modifying specific behaviour of involved participants.

The behaviour of participants is changed so that it positively affects the achievement of business goals. This is the intelligent approach to appropriate gamification.