Gamification in elearning

Why use gamification in e-learning?

Gamification is the use of gaming concepts to drive engagement in non-gaming activities. Expanding that a little – computer game developers have spent decades looking at the psychology of how to draw players back again and again, how to keep them interested, and how to keep them engaged. The concepts behind this and the lessons learned about human behavior (behavioral analysis) are useful tools which can be applied to learning too.

The question I wish to address here is “Why should you use gamification techniques in eLearning?”

The simplest answer would be “Because it works!” but that would make for short reading so let me go a little deeper…

First, let us look at the issues we might have in our learning content, and then we can see if there is a solution in gamification methods for them.

Motivation: how can we keep the learner motivated to learn?

Continuity: how do we get learners to come back and finish their learning?

Engagement: How do we really engage our learners with our content?

Community: How can we stop the online learner feeling alone on their learning journey?


Learning is brilliant, we know that – you probably wouldn’t be reading this site if you didn’t believe that too. However, it can be boring, tiring and repetitive. One of our tasks is to keep our learners motivated. In a classroom, this may be by having a group chat, quizzes, prizes for best answers and so on. When you move online you have to work harder because it is easier for users to lose motivation – it is not a classroom where they will be marked absent, it is the internet where they can disappear from your site/content forever!



Courses tend to be broken into different sections, and a learners courses themselves are separate items that all too often come from different authors or even organizations. This brings a problem for continuity, but if we use scores that are accumalated across a series of lessons it creates a continuity flow through the courseware, and through different courses if the same scheme is run on a system.


Have you noticed how when you go to a shop or cafe and the staff engages in conversation with you that you are more likely to return? Well, the exact same is true of learning and learning platforms. If you create a dialogue with your learners they will come back. This dialogue is, at its most basic, clear feedback and instruction. Making this personal and relevant to the user is where you can make your learning stand out. We generally know a lot about our user – either through the details stored in the LMS or through their study to date.

Here is an example. Scenario: I am on the second assessment in a course and am being presented with an introductory message. My name (Paul) and Country (Spain) is stored in this SCORM LMS as is my score of 84% in the first assessment.

Standard message: Answer these questions to assess your knowledge of this subject. You must score 80% to pass.

Personal message: You’ve put in great work getting this far, now let’s check your knowledge to ensure you have taken it all in. If you score less than 80% we suggest you go back and review the content.

Gamified message: Great work so far Paul. You’ve finished your second module and it is time to see if you can improve on your last score of 84% in module one. 68% of learners in Spain get a better score in module two, you can too!


it is far better for the content to make it personal using the data we have available. Giving a comparison based goal will encourage the learner to try to score higher – and to do so they will need to study more, which achieves the key goal here: get the student studying and learning more.


Humans are social creatures, we do not like to be alone. This has always been a challenge for online education and self-study. You are there alone in a room, or even if others are in the room and studying the same learning content it is still just you. Alone.

You can solve this by creating a community – this may be a chat-room or forum, which you can gamify by adding points for the number of posts, the frequency of visiting or the length of posts written.

But why stop there – that is dealing with getting your learners talking but why not move it up a notch and have a scoring dashboard for these points? How about doing the same for learners scores and progress? It can be a great incentive if each student could see they are in the top scores in their virtual classroom. If you can configure your LMS to do so another option would be a progress related message to learners, something along the lines of – “You are 70% through your course. The class average is 78%, you can get there!”. The aim is to get learners to feel a connection with the learning, an inclusivity that will drive them to learn more and to interact with other learners and/or the learning system. Remember though – you are trying to help them learn, not create an addiction!


Gamification is a big buzzword these days, and the over gamification used in social media sites and solutions is creating a backlash against the concept. However, we are talking about the positive effects whereby gamification can be used to encourage self-improvement through learning. Just as we would use a television/video in the classroom, using points-based incentives or the other solutions described in this article is just making use of the tools available to facilitate enhanced learning. Go on – give it a go in your e-learning modules. Let us know how you get on, what works for you, and what doesn’t, in the comments section below.


Elearning with AICC

AICC cross domain tracking


The AICC standard was a breakthrough in online learning. With the AICC standard the communication between items of learning content and systems that managed that learning (Learning Management Systems – LMSs) was standardized. This came from the need in the airline industry for a method of allowing different airlines to use common standards for online learning, and hence the name AICC – Aviation Industry CBT Committee. To explain that a little further – CBT stands for Computer Based Training. Way before there was online training there was Computer Based Training too – usually distributed on floppy disks, or later on CD-ROM.

Nowadays it is rare enough to hear about AICC as the SCORM standard really took off with version 1.2 and since 2015 the AICC group ceased to exist. Yet even with the rise of SCORM and the end of the AICC as an active body, there is one part of the AICC standard which is still extremely useful to online learning – its ability to deal with the cross domain problem that has plagued LMS developers and e-learning managers for decades.


The LMS cross domain issue comes about when you have more than one system in place and you want them to talk to each other. That is a relatively easy thing to do on the network level – it is the whole basis of how the internet works: one server talks to another, passing the information you need to you, pulling and pushing information to facilitate interactions.

The problem comes when you have a JavaScript based protocol for e-learning such as SCORM 1.2. Internet browsers are built with the privacy and security of the person using them in mind, and to help achieve this they allow information to be passed by JavaScript between pages on one website (domain) but do not allow this information to be passed between different domains. At a very simple level, a lot of eLearning works by having a frameset of pages – that is, a number of different pages in one –  where one frame holds the learning content and another holds the functionality that communicates with the Learning Management System (LMS) to store tracking, scores, etc.

A lot of eLearning structures work by having a frameset of pages – that is, basically, a number of different pages in one –  where one frame holds the learning content and another holds the functionality that communicates with the Learning Management System (LMS) to store tracking, scores, etc. This works well in most cases because those frames can ‘speak’ to each other, but when the different frames (pages) are on different domains the browser will (correctly) prevent them passing information between the two domains.

Side note: Why do browsers stop cross domain scripting? They do so to prevent a website you visit being able to carry out actions on your behalf on other websites you visit (like say transferring out of your online bank account) and they prevent websites being able to read your data related to different websites (think saved passwords, cookie data, etc.).


In 1998 the AICC standard added a web interface called HACP (HTTP-based AICC/CMI Protocol). AICC’s HACP can work across different domains because it uses HTTP requests rather than JavaScript/ECMAScript requests as SCORM does. That is simplifying the solution, as many AICC instances actually overcome it with signed Java Applets too, but in essence, they don’t need to.

With AICC you have two call types: getParam and putParam. They are used similarly to SCORM calls getValue and setValue, one for getting a value and one for setting a value. The difference between the two standards is in where and how they call. SCORM is reliant on finding the LMS API relative to itself in JavaScript, and so is unable to get or set values if the target is on a different domain. AICC HACP, however, is able to make the call to a totally different location altogether – it does not even need to be visible in the browser stack.

I have made a lot of different cross domain scripting solutions to cross domain communication using AICC, AICC and SCORM hybrids, and even ones to bypass the limitations of SCORM 1.2 (although to do so you break the ‘self-contained’ idea of SCORM because you do need server side scripting). If you would be interested in seeing an article outlining how any of those can be achieved let us know in the comments and we will try to provide an article that solves your problem.

Reporting from an LMS

What Reporting do you need in a Learning Management System (LMS)?


When organisations decide to go the LMS route in providing learning for their teams the core focus is so often on types of learning, standards supported, mobile capabilities and how learners can be organised. It is often an afterthought to consider reporting. This approach is utterly incorrect. If you think about the core aim of an LMS it becomes clear that an LMS is a solution to managing assignment and tracking of learning for a group of learners. That means that once yo have the basic of being able to assign your learning to learners out of the way (if an LMS can’t do that, well – it isn’t an LMS!), then it is all about how useful the reporting is.

I have been on both sides of the LMS sales process and have seen how often fancy looking reports are shown and genuinely impress the potential buyer. I have sadly also seen the long term results of a hasty purchase without analysis against real use cases for your business needs. As a first step to finding the exact reporting capabilities you need in your LMS you really need to find out what information you will want, and the format you will want it in.

To help you towards this decision I have listed to some of the different types of reporting that I feel you should be looking for in a potential LMS. If you have others you think should be included please let me know if the comments.

Detailed Reporting with Filters

This is essential in an LMS – without the ability to see trends in your learner’s behavior it is impossible to know how effective your training programs are. The level of reporting capability varies hugely across different Learning Management Systems, and you really need to dig deep to see how good each one is. Before you have a demo of an LMS from a salesperson you should create a set of scenarios that you want to have demonstrated – to help you get started here are some key reporting requirements that came up in our research –

Report on learner engagement

This functionality is where you can see how many users started each course, and of those what % completed it, as well as the rates for passing and failing, number of exam attempts and study duration averages. A best of breed LMS will allow you to see this across all courses as well as a subset of courses. For example, if you have 10 IT related courses you should be able to report on those and identify if a higher percentage of students drop out of one course – suggesting it is failing for some reason. Perhaps it is too difficult, or poorly presented, or simply is not suitable for your learners (maybe it covers a technology framework that differs to the one you use in your IT department). These insights are vital to your learning officer(s) in managing your library of learning and ensuring it has maximum impact on the skills of your staff.

Report on groups of individuals

If you have 100 staff you probably don’t just want to see what every person has done all in one report, instead you would like to select the members of a particular team, or who fulfill a distinct job role. Your LMS should allow you to select specific users and generate a custom report on them.

Report on Specific Courses

A common complaint I have heard is that when you run a report on courses you only have two options – one course in lots of detail or all courses in limited detail. A few LMSs out there have something in between where you can pick a couple of courses and compare them. This seems like an insignificant ask, but think it through – supposing you have licensed two courses from different providers covering Project Management. The licenses are coming up for renewal and you want to see the full stats for both, ideally in a rich visual way to clearly see the impact each has. If you can only report separately you have to do all the work yourself to map one against the other. Isn’t that what you are paying a small fortune for your LMS to do for you?

Time based custom reporting

This is an absolute must have for any LMS reporting capability. You need to be able to run every single report over custom time frames. You need to see how an individual studied over a study break, how a course was studied over a quarter, how a team studied over a year. Do not purchase an LMS that will not give you this level of customization as you will really regret it!


elearning interested learner

How do you make content engaging?

Over two decades of creating, viewing, reviewing and learning from various types of online learning I am amazed to still find so much dead content. By dead content I mean content that just doesn’t have any energy, any life. That content which excites you when you hear the title and subject, but as you delve into it you find your interest waning. Suddenly you’re staring into space or shooting onto facebook to see what kitten videos people are posting.

To me it seems crazy that anyone is still producing content that kills the learning experience. Back in the 1990s there might have been an excuse – technology wasn’t what it is and the tools just weren’t there to build all the interactions and perhaps enough research hadn’t been shared around on how to engage learners in your writing style and course structure. But we are well into the 21st century so there are no excuses other than ignorance or laziness – in fact we can really just say laziness as there is so much information available to perspective instructional designers that ignorance can only exist as a result of laziness.

But hey – who isn’t lazy from time to time? For that reason I am going to present a few basic ideas on how you can make your content engaging. Here goes…

Make your Content Visually exciting

Look at the medium you are delivering via – the web. So, you are not writing a book, so why would you only focus on the text? I see so much content that is well written but the authors have ignored design. They may have images in the course but they are instantly recognisable generic stock art. Please people – stop it with the stock art, stop it with the pointless motivational pictures that can accompany any piece of text. Just stop it! The graphics in a course are as important as the text. They are a means to convey the concept in a different way to appeal to learners who may have difficulty understanding the text, and to enforce the concept for those that do. A consistent flow of images through a course helps engage the student, telling a parallel visual story to the narrative in writing. Don’t think of e-learning content as purely writing – get a good designer (ideally a good illustration background) and perform storyboards along with the instructional designer/content writer. Show the text of the course to the designer and let them suggest fonts, colours and where to use bold for more visual appeal. This can change the whole presentation of a course and have a huge impact on making it more engaging.

Use Relevant Stories and Scenarios in your Content

To keep the student engaged you want to get their emotions evolved. Think back to a book that really excited you. That’s what I mean – a good story draws you in, your emotions get involved, you are excited. What is going to happen next? How will the main character fare in the end? That’s it – you’re hooked!

You need to have stories and scenarios that your audience can relate to. That last point is vital –  “that your audience can relate to”. In most cases you will have a general idea of the learners who will study a course, and your job is to map the scenarios to ones they may have experienced, make the characters in your story be characters your learners will know. Use the story to show the real life benefits of the lesson. Don’t force a lesson into a story that doesn’t fit it either. I have seen the same story reused across lots of different content where it didn’t work. I’ve no idea why this same scenario was reused so much, but assume it was in some well read book on learning ideas or perhaps part of a university course on e-learning. Come up with your own ideas, and nurture them until they are as engaging as a crime novel.

Provide Good feedback

Your task is to teach, not to judge. When you ask questions in online learning content the aim is to get the learner to learn. So why is it that in course after course I review that I am presented with “That is incorrect”? You do need to tell me the answer is incorrect but that is the bare minimum. The next step is to tell me what the right answer is. What you really need to do is go the whole way and meet the learner with not just the right answer, but a full and thorough explanation not only of why the correct answer is correct, but also why the incorrect answer is incorrect.

This seems like such a simple delivery, yet very few e-learning content producers actually do it. It is engaging the learner, not abandoning m when they have stumbled. Ensure that when you build your content you provide useful feedback to both correct and incorrect learner submissions that are evaluated.

Be interactive

Remember you are making e-learning, not writing a book. You have a wide variety of tools to add interactivity. Use them, and use a variety of them. It is easy to fall into the trap of using the same interactions again and again, just because you either have a good template or you know how to write it. Remember – you only have to build it once and it can be studied a thousand times. Don’t be lazy – be original. Keep the user clicking and thinking as well as reading. This is the key differentiation between book learning and online learning – interaction. It helps the user feel engaged if they play a part in the flow of the lesson. Keep that in mind as you work through your next course.

These are four ways to make your content engaging for the learner, but these are just the tip of the iceberg in e-learning strategy for engagement. I will write more on this topic in future posts. In the meantime please leave a comment about what you consider the best method of engaging learners.

E-Learning with SCORM 1.2

What is SCORM 1.2?


SCORM (Shareable Content Object Reference Model) is a specification of the Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) Initiative from the Office of the United States Secretary of Defense. The purpose of SCORM is to provide a set of rules and guidelines to produce training content and deliver online learning using learning management systems consistently across both public and private sectors.

SCORM 1.2 is the second revision of the SCORM standard after 1.0 and 1.1, and the first version of SCORM to be widely adopted by industry.

The evolution of E-Learning

E-Learning has been evolving for roughly 20 years, almost as long as the World Wide Web! One of the big problems that faced e-learning pioneers came about because one set of companies were developing the Learning Management Systems (software than delivered learning content and tracked learners progress and scores) and another set of companies were developing the actual content. The problem that arose was how to get the content and the LMSs to be able to talk to each other. What was needed was a common way of communicating – an e-learning standard.

The History of E-Learning STANDARDS

The first widely accepted standard was AICC which was used way before e-learning was a thing – back in the days of Computer Based Training in the 1980s. AICC stands for the Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee, and this committee developed a standard referred to as AICC, whose full name is AICC HACP. The HACP part stands for HTTP-based AICC/CMI Protocol. Yes, these folks were very fond of acronyms! The AICC HACP protocol was released formally in 1998 and is still used and supported by many LMSs and E-Learning authoring tools.

SCORM came into being in the year 2000 when Advanced Distributed Learning (ADL) created a reference model for e-learning, the Sharable Content Object Reference Model, or SCORM as it is more widely known. The actual task was kicked off when the American Department of Defense (DoD) was instructed by Executive Order to develop common e-learning standards for both the private and federal sectors.

Version 1.0 and 1.1 of SCORM were incomplete and even ADL no longer provides references and resources for them on their website. It was only with further development, research and industry innovation that we came to version 1.2 of SCORM – which is currently the most widely used e-learning standard in the world.

SCORM 1.2 – Why did it work?

The simplest answer is because people used it. Which leads to the question – why was it so widely adopted?

SCORM 1.2 was the first standard that provided a logical and well structured solution with both a “Content Aggregation Model” (how the learning should be packaged) and “Run-Time Environment” (how the learning should be run).

It introduced the concept of packages of content, and the use of metadata to describe the structure of the package in a way that could be interpreted by a Learning Management System in order to deliver the content to learners and track their progress.

SCORM 1.2 also had one distinction that is very important when a standard is aiming to be adopted across industry: it is simple. Content is organised into Shareable Content Objects or SCOs as they are generally referred to in the industry. Each SCO has a set of XML and XSD files containing metadata that tells the LMS how it is structured. The most important of these is the XML file, imsmaifest.xml, which you can think of as the ID for the SCO. I will cover the imsmanifest in another post, as it is a world unto itself.

The business benefit of adopting SCORM for content developers was that it meant that one item of learning could be distributed (or sold, or licensed) to a large number of different organisations using different LMSs, as long as the LMS supported SCORM 1.2 standard.

For LMS developers the business benefit was that they could develop their Learning Management System to support all SCORM calls and values, and be sure that they would (generally) be able to support content from any provider who built SCORM 1.2 SCOs.

By separating the actual content pages from the LMS to content communication, SCORM 1.2 is able to support any type of content from the most simple one page of text, right up to complex multi part content with exams and other interactivity.