If there’s one single topic I get asked most about gamifying e-learning is this one: the timer.
The story usually goes like this:
Based on an extensive “5 things you can do to engage learners” Google research, leadership decides that from now on, every e-learning course must be gamified, as your smile sheet results are low (although, you know there’s no correlation between the Level 1 smile sheet results and course effectiveness). Your task is to make the e-learning course more engaging.
Three things naturally pop in your head: points, leaderboard and timer. Points are good, because you can incentives actions, not just choosing the correct answer but opening a PDF, watching a video clip, etc. Leaderboard brings competitiveness… To make it more exciting (“as seen on TV”), you also add time restriction. Everyone loves competition, right? Let’s say, you throw in some quiz questions. Each question has a digital timer, counting down. The max score is 60 points but with every second you lose one. After a minute, you’re out. You snooze, you lose.
You have your prototype to playtest (because you know that quick, early and frequent prototyping is crucial). And that’s when you get completely confused. Some of the playtesters think this is the most fun since sliced bread was invented, others turn red in frustration. What happened?
It’s not just you. The following study shows an example, where participants were taking a quiz (including points, timer and leaderboard). Later, they were asked what they liked and did not like about the experience.
The worst parts of the activity were generally about the time pressure and the questions.
Time, has captured the imagination of many artists and scientists. There is an objective side of it: the actual time passed. But think about the one minute you have to wait for a green light in traffic when you’re late from a meeting. Or the 5 minute wait on hold, listening to lively music, while you’re ready to unleash your angry at customer service. It seems eternity. How about a time pressure on coming up with a creative solution? It hurts…
When you apply time restrictions in learning, you’re creating a cognitive pressure on the learner. And it’s not just about the amount of time they need to complete a task within, it’s the sheer fact that they are timed. Some love it! Competitiveness is exciting for them. On the other hand, some people completely shut down under time pressure, even if they know the answer. So, the question is should you or should not use timer in an e-learning course?
The answer is simple: it depends. Here are 5 suggestions to think about when implementing a timer in the course:
If this method creates a too complex scoring mechanism, separate the bonus from the point system. You may “pass” a question by selecting the correct answer, but you can get an additional bonus: one star, two stars or three stars for each, based on timing. Competitive players would want to get three stars, others may not care about the stars as much, and they wouldn’t feel like they are penalized by removing points.
AND NOW, YOUR TIME IS UP