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As admissions marketing continues to become more competitive, colleges and universities are seeking strategies for engaging prospects that go beyond traditional website and social media development. Innovative digital engagement tools have exponentially expanded student recruitment opportunities in only a few years, capturing the interest of prospects and progressing them through the application process via targeted messaging and online communities. One concept gaining traction in marketing circles that promises to become more popular in the context of university admissions is “gamification”, applying the fun and engaging elements of game design to real-world, productive activities.

The major appeal of gaming is that its entire purpose is to create the best possible player experience, keeping people entertained for long periods of time by optimizing feelings, motivations and engagement. The parallels with marketing are immediately apparent, but as opposed to function-focused business processes designed for pure efficiency, gamification connects work with pleasure by focusing foremost on the human’s intrinsic satisfaction. Leveraging game mechanics, dynamics and aesthetics with a comprehensive consideration of user experience and behavioural motivators has delivered significantly improved engagement for many otherwise routine tasks across a range of industries. The theory is that the motivations inspiring game play can drive deeper engagement, improving recruitment, retention, productivity and business performance in the process.

Video gamesSource

What can higher ed learn from video games?

Video games have gone mainstream in recent years, with the ubiquity of mobile technology complementing the social connections, healthy competition, rewards and user engagement inherently sought by gamers. Kids will happily kill the same enemies for hours in a role-playing game because they are rewarded by a sense of pride and accomplishment from advancing levels, however simply attaching points or badges onto your app or website doesn’t necessarily correlate with greater engagement. These can be effective tools in the context of an immersive experience but primarily appeal only to players interested in competition.

Gamification integrates usability and behavioural psychology to appeal to your user’s needs across their entire journey, encouraging collaboration and motivation by closely associating action with results. Gaming breaks down work into small, short-term tasks but links it clearly to big-picture evolution. Imagine rewarding prospects for advancing in the application, enrollment and engagement process by providing intrinsic rewards that amplify inherent emotional benefits. This can come in the form of highly personalized career planning tools that bring their story to life through fun interactive elements.

This generation of prospective students has grown up surrounded by gaming culture and it is no surprise that the more interactive and engaging university websites are more effective in captivating their attentions. Teachers have long used games to stimulate creativity and participation in the classroom but technological advances have vastly expanded this potential. Recognizing changing learning styles and education goals can extend to all aspects of a school’s relationship with students. For example, a scavenger hunt game using a location sensing map activated by mobile devices provides a fun way for new students to orient themselves with the campus. Numerous schools allow students to tour campus through a range of interactive tools but why not add some games, surprises, quizzes and other fun elements into this mix?

Example: Western Michigan University created a fully interactive 3D campus tour using video game technology. It features the university’s mascot, Buster Bronco, driving visitors around in a smart golf cart named Goldie, based on the school colours of brown and gold. There is an automated version for non-gamers and a free exploration mode where players can collect 50 Golden Blocks, which provide additional information about the university. An additional full video game builds upon the 3D campus, with players adopting the role of a freshman to take on tasks related to student life, theoretically increasing their chances of succeeding in real life.

broncolandExample: Ozu University in Turkey created this ambitious Facebook game, “The Game of Your Life”, an award-winning simulation of a potential higher education experience, complete with future status updates and life outcomes.

Playing the recruitment game

Recruitment can be leveraged by rewarding referrals and improving the selection process with gamification. Some companies use crowdsourcing and contests to develop business solutions or identify ideal candidates. Others, like Marriott Hotels, use simulation games to show what it’s really like to manage one of its properties, challenging preconceptions in the process to potentially deepen engagement for lead generation or filter out those who are not truly interested. These same principles could apply to a hotel management training program or countless other similar adaptations. The quality of game development may determine how much participants identify with the complexity and personal characteristics involved with the specified career option.

Achievement systems

In video games, an achievement system is a way to add extra challenges and play time with little expense, presenting goals, instruction, status and affirmation, and group identification. Social media gives similar interactive pleasure, with “likes”, points or badges making status visible to all, providing incentive to achieve. The dopamine release in the reward-centre of the brain (at the root of internet, gambling or cocaine addiction) is the same whether the reward is virtual or real.

Example: The Deloitte Leadership Academy encouraged busy executives to take the available training using the Badgeville platform to embed gamification mechanics such as missions, rewards, rank, and status into the entire website. User retention increased by 46.6% for daily user return and 36.3% for weekly return. Engagement and adoption greatly increased overall.


Extending the gamification concept

Many colleges and universities integrate gamification into diverse aspects of their content strategy and development, often without consciously considering the gaming characteristics. The challenge of optimizing engagement with a target market involves creating compelling environments where users will be happy to spend their time. Learners are increasingly demanding information that is also entertaining, which is a natural fit for online and hybrid courses that differentiate offerings based on innovative applications of technology. Gamification elements should blend fluidly with videos, images and other rich content that serves the purpose of increasing the time spent on your online portals, deepening engagement, and converting prospects to students.

How has your school used gamification for student recruitment?