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Beyond Engagement – How To Use Investment to Supercharge Your Gamification Success

Have you ever lost yourself in a book, turning pages until it's way past your bedtime? Have you played a game until your legs fell asleep, and you had to do an awkward waddle to the kitchen for snacks? Have you ever binged a whole TV series and then fell down an internet rabbit hole of fan theories? The reason why you forgot everything around you in these hours is because you were invested.

Getting your learners to invest emotionally is a powerful way to connect with them, particularly when using gamification. Yet, gamification experts speak much more about engagement than investment because engaging your audience is easier than having them invested in a course or subject. Let us show you why more than engagement might be needed to reach your goals and how you can use emotional investment to create exceptional course environments that will immerse learners.

When Engagement Fails

Consider Google's failed attempt to introduce badges – one of the most common gamification features – to their news site. In 2011, Google started assigning around 500 badges to readers based on the amount and topics they read. The badges were supposed to increase engagement, introduce a sense of achievement and a social aspect to reading the news, and were designed to be shared with contacts to discover common interests. People hated it.

Users saw no value in the badges and quickly abandoned the platform. Its failure was primarily due to the lack of meaningful values or incentives. Users simply saw no reason to engage with the badge system. Google dumped its badges after 15 months.

Other engagement initiatives were initially more successful. Remember Pokémon Go? For a while, it seemed like the game would take over the world, with crowds gathering in the strangest places to chase the Pokémon together. Yet, have you seen anyone playing the game in recent years? After the initial hype, it disappeared almost overnight. Pokémon Go got the engagement part right. Still, it failed to build long-term success. Why? Because engagement on its own is not always enough. If you want your students to be fully committed to your course, investment is the key!

What Is the Difference Between Engagement and Investment in Gamification?

It's impossible to speak about gamification for education without stumbling across the term engagement. We've been using it as well. Read our blog posts on increasing employee retention or on the pros and cons of leaderboards, and you will find this little magic word sprinkled throughout the pages.

Engagement in learning refers to the interaction and enjoyment learners experience during a course or task. Engaged learners are more likely to study for longer, make in-app purchases, and recommend the course to their friends. Common strategies to increase engagement are leaderboards, points, badges, or the inclusion of social features.

Investment or immersion, in contrast, goes deeper. Investment in gamification refers to a more profound connection between the learner and the task. The learning environment takes on a deeper meaning for the user. They think about it even when not actively learning and devise strategies to win challenges or complete tasks. Instead of merely consuming content, they are participating.

However, getting people to invest in your content comes with responsibility. Learners expect to get something in return for their investment, such as a sense of achievement, personal growth, or social connections.

Total immersion requires the highest level of attention and is a rare and rather fleeting experience [...], whereas engagement and engrossment are more likely to occur.

So while engagement focuses on immediate interaction and enjoyment, investment or immersion involve a deeper emotional connection and commitment from the learner. Both strategies are helpful and should be used in tandem.

Creating a truly immersive experience for learners and having them emotionally invested is not always practical or useful. Sometimes engaging them in short bursts is enough to ensure success. Conversely, there are situations where engagement isn't enough to hold a learner's attention, such as guiding them through long or difficult material.

How Does Investment in Gamification Work?

Researchers have come up with three immersion and investment features:

  • Lack of awareness of time.
  • Loss of awareness of the real world.
  • Involvement and a sense of being in the task environment.

Investment means drawing players or learners into a virtual world, connecting them to the characters and story, and creating a sense of presence and involvement. If your learners are invested in their course, they are fully committed to it and become active agents in their own learning pathways.

By creating investing learning experiences that allow participants to learn productively, gamified course design can help learners internalise and retain new concepts more effectively. A gamified learning experience that emotionally invests users makes learning more enjoyable, interactive, and motivating, leading to better learning outcomes.

Experts define four different categories for immersion and investment:

  1. Systems investment: learners are deeply connected to the mechanics, challenges, and rules of a gamified learning environment, similar to a state of 'flow.'
  2. Spatial investment: learners feel they are present in a different world.
  3. Empathic/social investment: learners develop an emotional connection to the characters used in the course.
  4. Narrative/sequential investment: learners want to know how the storyline develops and what events unfold; typically, this is related to progression.

Whether students are successfully invested depends on the learning environment. However, it's also connected to the personality of the learner. People prone to fantasising are more likely to be able to immerse themselves.

Investing and immersion can be highly beneficial in learning contexts, particularly if the material is complex or people need more motivation to work through a long course. Nobody wants to attend a compliance workshop or learn about the new accounting software. If dry content is presented in a way that makes people feel invested, it will help people acquire information more sustainably and make them feel more connected to their work and each other.

Six Strategies to Allow Your Learners to Be Invested

Creating a learning environment that emotionally invests your participants takes time, commitment, and a deep understanding of your goals and learners. It can be daunting, but if you keep the following strategies in mind, you are already halfway there.

1. Create Meaningful Progression With Clear Objectives

Allow learners to see tangible growth and progression by, for example, unlocking new content, earning rewards, or creating different levels. Make sure you communicate your objectives and learning outcomes clearly and repeatedly.

2. Build a Compelling Narrative

Develop an immersive storyline or narrative that captivates learners' interest and imagination. Fun characters can make learners feel invested and create an emotional response. Mysteries and unexpected events compel them to keep learning and discovering new content.

3. Ensure Learner Agency

Give learners a sense of control by allowing them to make meaningful choices. For instance, learners could decide which unit they tackle first, whether to access additional content or to which extent they interact with other participants. This also includes customisation options for their avatar or learning pathway.

4. Encourage Social Interaction

Provide opportunities for learners to collaborate or compete. This is done easily by adding leaderboards or displaying status or expertise with earned badges. You can also create more social connections by implementing a messaging system, a forum, or group work. Interaction enhances learner investment as they connect with others, form communities, and showcase their skills.

5. Provide Feedback and Rewards

Celebrate your learners' achievements and reward them with meaningful incentives.

6. Ensure Balancing

Make sure that players feel challenged but not frustrated. A well-balanced learning experience means that participants are immersed without causing them to lose interest due to difficulty or boredom.

Creating an immersive learning experience where your students feel invested is challenging but rewarding. Check out Level Up Quest to see investive learning design in action. Our product allows you to create a truly immersive learning environment that will increase the emotional investment of your participants through exciting storylines, a sophisticated rewards system, and features that give your learners agency.

What Are Some Real-World Scenarios Where Learner's Investment Valuable?

Immersive and investing course design can be applied to a wide variety of learning scenarios, such as:

  • Customer service: An immersive learning environment that uses storylines and avatars can be used to train employees how to handle difficult customers and improve overall communication. It can also help with language training for non-native speakers.
  • Sales and presentation training: When employees are invested, they can practise sales pitches, negotiation techniques, and presentation skills in a more natural way.
  • Technical training: Employees in industries such as IT, engineering, and manufacturing can use immersive and investive learning to practise using complex equipment, troubleshoot issues, and develop a deeper understanding of technical concepts.
  • Workplace safety: Companies can use virtual reality simulations to train employees on safety protocols, hazard identification, and emergency response.
  • Soft skills development: Immersive and investive learning can teach interpersonal skills, such as empathy, active listening, and conflict resolution, by placing learners in realistic scenarios where they must interact with virtual characters.

Immersive and investive learning presents fantastic opportunities to train employees in a way that leaves them with new skills and an increased sense of belonging and motivation.

Frédéric Massart
Level Up Team
24 Aug 2023

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