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How to Use Gamification for Your Online Course Platform Using LearnDash

If you have an online course, gamification can help you keep your students engaged and in a state of effortless attention. In this post, we'll introduce you to the benefits of gamification for online courses, a concept called flow, and how you can set up key gamification tactics with the LearnDash plugin.

If you’re using WordPress as an online course platform, you’re probably always on the lookout for ways to keep your learners engaged.

There are a lot of tactics that you can use, but one that you might have overlooked is gamification.

Gamification is exactly what it sounds like – it’s applying the typical elements of game playing (points scoring, competition, and so on) to another activity; online courses in this case.

In this post, you’re going to learn how you can use gamification to improve your online course platform with tactics such as achievement points, badges, leaderboards, and more. More specifically, we’ll show you how to set up these strategies using the popular LearnDash plugin.

To tie with this concept of gamification, we’re also going to talk about “flow” – why flow is something to aim for and how gamification principles can support the concept of flow.

Gamification for online courses

Why Use Gamification for Your Online Course?

At a high level, gamification helps you make your courses more engaging. If students find your courses more engaging, they’ll spend more time learning and interacting with your courses, which is exactly what you want.

If your goal is to make money from your courses, gamification also has a positive effect on your bottom line. Engaged students are more likely to maintain their subscriptions, purchase new courses, recommend your courses to their friends, and so on.

Now, you might be wondering how gamification actually works to make your courses more engaging.

Well, there are a lot of principles at work here, but the one that we’re focused on is “flow”, a term coined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and discussed in depth in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

What Is Flow and How Does It Apply to Online Courses?

Flow is that state where you get totally immersed in what you’re doing. It’s “effortless attention”, the type where you’re so engaged in a task that you look up at the clock and wonder how two hours went past.

We can pretty much guarantee that you’ve experienced the flow state at some point in your life, even if you didn’t know it by that name. 

You can see the natural appeal of flow and how helping your learners achieve it can make them more engaged. If your course platform encourages learners to enter the flow state, they’ll be more likely to…

  • Spend more time on your course platform.
  • Learn your course material more deeply.
  • Explore more areas of your course platform.
  • …and so on.

What Are the Elements of Flow?

If you want to support the flow state, you need to focus on incorporating the following details in your courses:

  • Clear goals and clear paths to achieve those goals – learners should know exactly what they need to achieve and how they can get there. If they’re confused about what to do next, they won’t achieve flow.
  • Immediate feedback – you want to provide feedback to learners as quickly as possible so that they know how they’re doing and that they’re on the right track.
  • A healthy level of challenge – you want your courses to be challenging enough to keep learners interested, but not so difficult that they lose confidence and get discouraged.
  • No distractions – distractions interrupt flow, so you’ll want to avoid them as much as possible.

How Gamification Can Help Your Students Achieve Flow

While gamification can’t help you with every single element of flow, it can be a very useful tactic to provide…

  • Guidance to your learners about what they should do. For example, you can use achievement points and badges to encourage learners to follow the optimal path and achieve their goals.
  • Immediate feedback on how people are doing. For example, you can use short, frequent quizzes to provide immediate feedback.
  • A healthy amount of challenge. For example, you can display a leaderboard to let learners compete against each other for the high score.

Why Is LearnDash Good for Gamification?

Using LearnDash for gamification

If you’re not familiar with LearnDash, it’s one of the most popular WordPress LMS plugins, which stands for learning management system.

Essentially, it lets you use WordPress to create your own self-hosted online course platform. Whether you’re a creator marketing courses to your fans or an academic institution delivering courses or business certifications to students, LearnDash has all the features that you need to be successful.

It also includes features to add the types of gamification strategies we discussed above, including the following:

  • Achievement points
  • Badges
  • Unlimited quizzes
  • Leaderboards

Below, we’ll show you how you can use LearnDash to set up some of these strategies.

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How to Gamify Your Online Course With LearnDash

Now that you know the “whats” and the “whys”, let’s get into the “how” and we’ll show you how you can set up some useful gamification tactics using LearnDash.

For this tutorial, we’ll assume that you’ve already set up your course(s) with LearnDash and you’re now looking to add gamification to your existing platform. 

If you don’t have your course platform yet, no worries! Just head over to our LearnDash tutorial to learn how to set everything up. Once you’ve done that, come back here and dig into the gamification features.

Create Badges to Help Users Navigate Your Courses

If you want to engage your students, the last thing you want is for them to be unsure of how to navigate your course platform. If they’re confused about what to do and where to go, they’re going to be more focused on that than engaging with your courses.

One way to orient your users and otherwise encourage them to explore and engage is to reward them with badges when they use certain functions, complete certain courses, and so on.

By encouraging them to go hunting for badges, you can get them to explore your platform and otherwise engage with your content. You also provide immediate feedback, which lets them know that they’re on the right track.

To easily set up badges for your course platform, you can use the LearnDash Achievements add-on.

Once you activate the add-on, head to LearnDash LMS → Achievements → Add New Achievement to add your first badge.

First, give it a name, upload an image, and enter the message to display to learners. Then, you can choose the trigger for that badge, along with how many points to award and how often people can earn that badge.

Adding achievement badges in LearnDash

Once you publish your first badge, you can repeat the process to add more badges.

MQFA: Make Quizzes Fun Again

Quizzes are another great way to gamify your courses. Unlike the boring quizzes you might’ve had to take in primary school, gamified quizzes can test a learner’s understanding while still being fun and engaging.

You can also use quizzes to provide immediate feedback to learners, which is another key element of achieving the flow state. 

Instead of having one long quiz at the end of a module, consider more frequent, but shorter, quizzes that immediately test a learner’s understanding of the lesson that they just completed. 

To create a quiz in LearnDash, you can either directly add it in the course builder or you can go to LearnDash LMS → Quizzes → Add New.

Creating a quiz

You can also reward badges and points for completing quizzes using the LearnDash Achievements add-on that we detailed above.

Add Competition With a Leaderboard

Another way to make your quizzes engaging and challenging is to create a public leaderboard of learners’ results. That way, learners can compete against each other to achieve the highest score, which adds some challenge to your course platform. As we discussed earlier, having a level of challenge is good for engagement and helping learners achieve flow.

You can also create leaderboards for the achievement points that learners gain when collecting badges, which achieves the same effect, just in a different way.

To create a leaderboard for quizzes, you’ll first need to enable this feature. Open the settings area for the quiz to which you want to add a leaderboard. Then, go to the Settings tab for that quiz.

Scroll down to the Administrative and Data Handling Settings area of that quiz’s settings and enable the leaderboard. Then, you’ll see some additional settings to control how your leaderboard functions, such as how many entries to display and whether users can rank multiple times:

Enabling leaderboards for quizzes

To make your leaderboard public, one option is to enable the setting to display the leaderboard on the quiz results page. Or, you can display the quiz leaderboard anywhere on your site using its shortcode – e.g. [LDAdvQuiz_toplist 27]. You can get the shortcode from the main Quizzes dashboard:

The shortcode for a quiz's leaderboard

To create a leaderboard for badges and achievement points, you can use the LearnDash Achievements Leaderboard block or the [ld_achievements_leaderboard number="20"] shortcode. For the shortcode, you can adjust the number to choose how many users to include in the leaderboard.

Create Branching Scenarios to Add a Challenge

If you want to keep your learners in a state of flow, you need to make your courses difficult enough to be a challenge, but not so difficult that people feel discouraged. Basically, if a course is too easy or too hard, you’re missing out on the optimal engagement. Instead, you need to find the right “Goldilocks” level of difficulty for each student.

One way to achieve this is to offer branching scenarios that adjust the course to the learner’s abilities by offering different quizzes and assignments.

If a student is struggling, you can make things easier to avoid discouraging them. But if they’re breezing through the course, you can make things harder to provide a challenge.

This topic is a little more advanced. To learn more about it, check out LearnDash’s guides to using branching scenarios.

Start Using Gamification In Your Courses Today

Gamifying your online course platform is a great way to create a more engaging experience for students and help them achieve the “flow” state of effortless attention.

By gamifying your courses with these principles, you should expect to see more engaged students who complete more lessons and quizzes, explore your course platform more thoroughly, and just generally spend more time interacting with what you have to offer.

Set up these gamification principles on your LearnDash course today and see how they help.

For some other ways to improve your online courses, check out our tactics to increase course signups and our tips for choosing an online course theme.

Do you still have any questions about using gamification for your online course or setting up gamification in LearnDash? Let us know in the comments!

Colin Newcomer
Colin Newcomer
Colin Newcomer has been using WordPress for over a decade and is on a quest to test all 58,075 plugins at WordPress.org.

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