Using Gamification To Transform Your Learners from Angry Birds into Learning Ninjas

Written by Jeanette — Posted in Articulate Storyline, E-Learning Industry

This blog post is by Articulate Community Manager Jeanette Brooks and is one of several stops on the Gamification blog book tour.

Have you been hearing the word “gamification” at conferences and webinars lately? Me too! And the people saying it aren’t just the ones sitting around playing Doodlejump or Words With Friends.

I often talk with course developers in the e-learning community who are asking important questions about gamification, like: Do learners really benefit from games? Can games improve my learners’ skills or recall? Or is gamification just another fad that costs money and time but doesn’t impact a course’s learning outcomes?

Karl Kapp’s new book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, unpacks those questions. He gave us a sneak-peek at the book just before it was released last month, and it’s definitely a worthy read if you’re involved in designing or building e-learning courses.

As I was noodling over the concepts Karl shares, three big things stood out to me like an Angry Bird playing Minecraft on the Wii Fit Island:

It’s not just about points, levels, and leaderboards

Most people think of games as trivial activities involving stuff like Mario badges or pesky Farmville requests. If that’s the case for you, Karl’s book will give you some great new ideas for how to effectively incorporate gaming principles into your courses.

He explains that gamification involves crafting an experience where a player engages in a challenge and uses interactivity and dynamic feedback to make decisions and work toward a specific outcome.

Sounds like a great model for interactive courseware! It’s a lot like the 3C concept we use to teach interactive e-learning—where you present a challenge, the learner makes choices, and the choices produce consequences.

Gamification is a natural progression in the evolution of learning

If you think about the evolution of learning, it makes perfect sense that gamification is the new big thing.

I’m sure some of you (I’m not naming names) were around back in the day when almost all formal learning was delivered in a classroom, lecture-style. The learning was pretty passive, right? Then things shifted: training started moving away from the “sage on a stage” model, toward more interactive, engaging classroom activities—not just because they were fun, but because they made learning stick.

When e-learning came on the scene, it evolved in kind of the same way. For most course authors, the initial goal was just to digitize a whole bunch of content and get it online. So at first, most courses were very static (and yes, boring) click-and-read type experiences. Then software like Articulate Studio started putting easier and richer authoring tools in designers’ hands, and we saw things turn more explorable and learner-driven. Tom Kuhlmann calls this progression “the Rapid E-Learning Story.”

And now we’re seeing an even deeper dive into engagement: gamified courses which allow learners to practice and problem-solve as they strive toward goals and achieve rewards based on how they perform.

Click to explore the infographic (yep, it works on an iPad too)

Gamifying your content doesn’t mean you have to become a programmer or blow your budget

If you’re anything like me, one of your eyebrows just went up a little bit and you’re probably thinking,”Pfft! Sure, gamification sounds like a nice idea, but I have no programming skills and almost nothing left in my pint-sized budget.”

I’m right there with you! But hold on—being a non-programmer and having a small budget doesn’t disqualify you from leveraging gamification in your courses.

Granted, if you’re shooting for the e-learning equivalent of Halo or World Of Warcraft, you might need a crew of experts and a fair bit of money. In fact, Karl’s book talks of how some companies hire a small army—instructional designers, artists, programmers, animators, sound technicians, and so on—to produce gamified content. But a team like that comes with a price tag that’s pretty unrealistic for most of the learning professionals I know (many of whom have to jump through hoops just to get approval to buy 20 bucks’ worth of stock clip art).

So here’s the good news: It is within your reach to create gamified content that builds curiosity and engagement among your learners, and you don’t need a trainload of money or a multi-month production schedule to do it. All you need are the right tools and the support of a creative, imaginative community where you can learn and share ideas.

Case in point: We’re currently wrapping up beta testing of our new authoring tool, Articulate Storyline. With the help of an amazing team of beta testers from all over the world, many of whom work solo or in small-to-medium-sized learning departments, we kicked the tires on new and intuitive interactivity features, like triggers, variables, drag-and-drop interactions, slide layers, object states, simulations, hotspots, click-and-reveal effects, and more. These simple but powerful tools, created specifically for non-programmers like me, make it easier than ever for anyone to build rich, engaging interactions.

A few examples of what’s possible

Here are three examples of what I mean (all of these are viewable on an iPad, by the way).

This little Hangman game was one of the very first Storyline beta projects that I built soon after we began testing the product internally. It’s a simple interaction that responds to the learner based on their letter choices, and provides feedback and visual progress indicators along the way. I know, I know, games like Hangman aren’t necessarily the right fit for every e-learning course! I get that. The point is, this project was a fun and simple way to experience the power and ease of tools like variables, object states, and slide layers—and the exact same logic and tools can be used in the same way to build more complex and context-relevant games. The amazing this is, I know as much about programming as my cat knows about nuclear physics, but I was able to sit down and produce this fun little game from scratch in less than an hour. Picking the font and the artwork took longer than actually building the interaction.

Here’s another fun example, and although it’s a step up from Hangman in terms of interactivity, it was just as easy to build. And it includes similar gamified concepts: it presents learners with a challenge or task, provides feedback to guide their choices, and ultimately rewards them for completing the task or achieving the goal. My kids helped me build this one, and it made me think how powerful it would be if educators incorporated game-building as part of the learning process with their students. Trust me, my kids would never have gotten this fired up over a healthy green drink containing spinach, if I had just asked them to read some stuff or watch a video about it!

One more example for you. The Broken Co-Worker is one of my favorites from among the projects that our Storyline beta users created. You might’ve seen it recently when Tom featured it on the Rapid E-Learning Blog. What a great example of an immersive, gamified scenario! Ryan Martin and Anna Sabramowicz put a humorous twist on a serious subject, where learners are required to navigate through a series of challenging sexual-harassment situations. The result is a totally engaging, effective learning experience. It sure beats a typical information-based course where learners just read or listen to a bunch of guidelines or anti-harassment policies, don’t you think?

When Storyline launches, we’ll be showcasing even more great examples. We’re really excited about how this new tool puts gamification within easy reach of any e-learning developer. It opens up all sorts of new ways to give your learners problem-solving challenges, customized feedback based on intelligent variables, and multiple learning paths as they strive toward a goal—and these are the kinds of things that can quickly and easily take your course’s engagement level up a notch (or ten).

Ready to get your game on?

Gamification is around to stay, and it opens up powerful new opportunities to reach your learners. It’s still a new concept for most course designers, and there’s a lot to think about when you’re considering how best to apply gaming principles to a particular course. It’ll be fun to see where gamification takes the learning industry next!

Karl’s book is a great place to get acquainted with the essentials, and you can also check out what your virtual colleagues are saying about the book by checking out the other stops on his blog book tour.

When you’re ready to think about how to gamify your own courses, or if you just want to talk more about what gamification could look like in e-learning, jump into the community forums to learn and share with other e-learning designers. It’s an easy (and free) way to get friendly, constructive, meaningful feedback and inspiration.

Thanks Karl, for including us on the blog book tour—and also for raising an important topic that’ll help all of us rethink the way we engage our learners.

Game on, course developers!

10 responses to “Using Gamification To Transform Your Learners from Angry Birds into Learning Ninjas”



Thanks so much for being a stop on the book tour for “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction.” You did a fantastic job of capturing the ideas of using elements like story, challenge, interactivity and feedback as elements to enhance elearning. Games aren’t fun because they have points, they are fun because they challenge the player and provide them constant feedback about their performance all the while engaging them in a story…even a simple story like…rescue the eggs from the pigs as is the Angry Bird scenario.

The examples you provide are great and really nail gamification concepts. Interactivity, aesthetics and engaging storylines are what makes learning effective.

I think gamification is a natural progress. We need to mover from the broadcast mentality where we just send out information and hope people get it to a mentality of engaging the learner.

Engagement, through gamification is an excellent way to provide opportunities for cognitive processing, to show consequences and to provide the context for the learning.

Really looking forward to the release of Articulate Storyline, the example of the Broken Co-Worker is an excellent way of adding story, challenge and interaction to elearning.

Thanks again for being a stop on the tour and looking forward to Storyline, in the meantime, I urge every instructional designer to play some Games! And then, develop some games or, at least, instruction with game-elements.

Karl Kapp // Posted at 11:00 am on May 1st, 2012

Your examples are excellent and I especially admire the Broken Co-Worker module. It is clear and easy and the feedback was clear and effective, and most importantly it engaged me and focused my attention.

By the way, when is Storyline going to be released so that we all can produce similarly excellent work?

Michael Hernandez // Posted at 12:15 pm on May 1st, 2012

Hey Michael, thanks for asking, and as it turns out, Storyline just became available today! Check out this page and feel free to download the free trial so you can give it a go:

jeanette // Posted at 12:57 pm on May 2nd, 2012

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[…] the tour stopped by the Word of Mouth Blog, sponsored by Articulate. The tour stop was titled Using Gamification To Transform Your Learners from Angry Birds into Learning Ninjas. The post had to be moved from its originally scheduled date because of the long awaited release of […]


[…] Using Gamification To Transform Your Learners from Angry Birds into Learning Ninjas […]


[…]  So does it work?  Dion Hinchcliffe put out a post recently titled: Enterprise gamification: Will it drive better business performance? quoting a Wall Street Journal article that “recently explored how a call center was able to reduce wait times up to 15% and increase sales by up to 12% using gamification.”  Operations may be drooling but it is HR and Learning who should betaking the lead.  Gamificiation sites have increased levels of interaction and by maximizing the use of social tools you can build in personalized encouragement and support – you can engage the mind and heart.  Every action taken in the “game” can be a link to training, procedural, and corporate content objects.  But it is “not just about points, levels, and leaderboards… gamification involves crafting an experience wher…” […]


[…] the tour stopped by the Word of Mouth Blog, sponsored by Articulate. The tour stop was titled Using Gamification To Transform Your Learners from Angry Birds into Learning Ninjas. The post had to be moved from its originally scheduled date because of the long awaited release of […]



I think what you shared in this blog entry is really great.

Is it possible to get some actual bits of both the Green Monster and the Broken Co-Worker so I can pull it apart and see how the triggering and layering was done in Storyline? I have been working with the tool for a couple of months now and haven’t tried anything so involved, but would like to learn. Tom (Rapid E-Learner Blog) often has projects we can download and unpack to learn how the courseware was built. I don’t need the whole thing, just a few slides that have the trigger animations and decision tree pieces.

Thanks so much for taking the time to read my response.


Allison Black

Allison Black // Posted at 10:58 am on January 2nd, 2013

Hi there Allison, and many thanks for the kind words! Here’s what I’d recommend: if you could post in the Storyline forum and describe the interaction or slide you’re interested in learning how to build, we can definitely provide you with an example file & tips for rebuilding it. Although we’re not at liberty to share the actual source files for all of the Storyline showcase demos (since many of them were built by folks in the community), we can give you guidance on how to create the same or similar effects.

Jeanette // Posted at 12:25 pm on January 2nd, 2013

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