Gamification is about motivating people to DO things. Motivation generally comes in two flavors: extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is about providing some incentives for you to things otherwise you’re not inclined to do. So, in theory, if you raffle out a Mercedes between people who completed a course, you’ll see an uptake in completion. It’s just a little expensive to do with every course. It also creates a vacuum when you remove that extrinsic motivator.
Intrinsic movation is something you really want to achieve, an inner driver to achieve mastery in a skill, for example. It doesn’t need an external carrot hanging in front.
In real life, there’s a gray area between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. An extrinsic motivation (doing something for a prize, for example) may result in intrinsic motivation after because you learn something about yourself. However, often extrinsic motivation kills intrinsic motivation. If someone gives blood for altruistic reason to help out others, their motivation would decline when they’re offered some money for the same deed.
So, does gamification really motivate people to take courses? It may or may not. The bigger problem is that you’re using gamification to motivate people do DO THE WRONG THING. Engagement (which is the first step in motivation) does not start with adding game elements to a course that people don’t want. Fix or ditch your course first!
“…The authors conclude that the starting point in gamifying online education should be learners’ needs, motivations and goals, rather than a platform-centric approach that strives to use technical features to hit some pre-defined performance metrics.”
Hansch, A., Newman, C., & Schildhauer, T. (2015). Fostering Engagement with Gamification: Review of Current Practices on Online Learning Platforms. (November 23, 2015). HIIG Discussion Paper Series No. 2015–04. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2694736.