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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

Gamifcation done wrong: we don't need no stinkin' (meaningless) badges!


Gamifcation done wrong: we don't need no stinkin' (meaningless) badges!

Jim Drummond

Recently I had the pleasure of watching a moving documentary called Code Girl, which follows the stories of several applicants in the 2014 Technovation challenge. This contest welcomes young women from across the globe to create teams and develop apps that address problems in their communities. These girls overcome all sorts of barriers (language, gender, location, technological) to develop and pitch their apps. Watching their stories, I couldn’t help feeling inspired and maybe just a little bit ashamed.

Despite facing none of the barriers they did, I’ve never bothered to really learn how to code. At best, I can make some simple xml edits. And I have countless tools at my disposal to help me learn how to do so much more! While I never plan to be capable enough to teach myself Apple’s new Swift programming language in less than a month (as one of the girl’s in the film did), I do imagine that learning at least a few tips and tricks could come in useful one day when I have that game-changing app idea that’s going to make me ridiculously rich.

So I signed up for an intro to JavaScript course online that teaches users the basics of drawing and animation. In one afternoon I learned how to code simple shapes like rectangles and ellipses, as well as how to assign their location on the screen and fill them with different colors. I also collected an abundance of rewards, including energy points, badges, avatars, and different colored backgrounds for my avatars. A couple of the avatars actually have different growth stages for me to unlock.


I found all of these rewards to be more overwhelming than the actual course content, and I have no idea what I did to earn most of them. Now in my case, I’m intrinsically motivated to keep going and the lessons I’ve taken so far have been very well paced and planned out to help me maintain my intrinsic motivation. Which is good, because I can’t say that any of the extrinsic motivators I mentioned have had much of an impact. Some people may see all these collection sets that they have an opportunity to complete and be motivated by that mission. Instilling this need to complete can certainly be an effective technique. But if I don’t even know how I’m earning most of these rewards, I’m not likely to assign much meaning to them.

I do remember how I earned one of the avatars. He was given to me after I paused for half a second when typing in the code for a rectangle. The avatar appeared to let me know I needed to complete the function. He then was added to my library. I was just trying to decide how wide I wanted to make my rectangle. This is a misstep many designers make when trying to integrate gamification elements like points, leaderboards, and badges into their training courses. They include too many of these rewards and make them way too easy to earn.

Take the incomplete function avatar as an example. Instead of awarding him to me when I take a moment to consider how wide I want my rectangle, award him to me when I type out the function without any pauses (and maybe increase the time threshold from half a second to two or three seconds). There’s more of a sense of achievement doing it this way. I can code a rectangle without having to think about it and the course is rewarding me for this accomplishment. The avatar suddenly has more meaning.

If I’m taking this course with friends or coworkers, and can see that they’ve earned the avatar while I haven’t, and we’re at the exact same point in the training, this would definitely do more to motivate me. I’d care more about earning this avatar, because if Janet in accounting can win it, I sure as heck should be able to figure out how to add the character to my library too!


If I’m taking the course on my own, maybe the different lessons have avatars associated with them. If I reach the end of the lesson and haven’t earned the avatar, I’m motivated to go back and find out why. Maybe I’m one of those people obsessed with completing a collection set and end up practicing the code much more than I would have otherwise. Maybe I actually memorize it as a result of all this practice (and in doing so, earn the reward). If I’m not obsessed, I just move on. Not earning the reward isn’t stopping me from moving forward with the training. If it did, what was meant to be a motivating tool could lead to frustration and burn out. 

Now, to be fair, I may still find that the rewards become harder to achieve as I continue with this coding course. The designers might just be giving me a few easy wins early on and eventually make them more difficult to obtain. However, they’ve given me A LOT of easy rewards so far. If nothing changes, pretty soon I’m going to completely lose track and lose interest in these badges and avatars.

I’m still going to learn how to code that money-making app though.