7 tips for adding incentives and rewards to your course

7 top tips for adding incentives and rewards to your course!

Rewards are the gift that keeps on giving! Think of the 2p machine at the arcade, we keep on supplying thee machine with more and more and every nudge builds the excitement as the 2p's gather and pile up until eventually a few come crashing into the collection tray and we cheer with gratitude.

Throw in a few oddly placed gimmicks on top of the coins and we feel even more successful when we collect! Why? Because rewards are a recognition of the effort we have put in and humans are intrinsically motivated by rewards - it makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

So how do we know when and how often to offer a reward? Here are 7 rules that I always advise when you're thinking about adding gamification rewards to a course!

1. Don’t over emphasize rewards.
Thinking that people will only participate in your program if the rewards are big and flashy is a fallacy. The best gamification programs are about the competition itself. The problem with big rewards are twofold:

  • It’s difficult to keep funding big rewards over the long-term. It often creates false incentives (people end up cutting corners and doing things you really don’t want them doing, just for the win).

  • People feel ‘let down’ when the reward isn’t big enough and they can feel it’s not worth participating anymore.

2. Create a level playing field
And make sure the rules are out in the open so anyone can take part. 

  • The rules need to be easily accessible, having the rules of the game out in the open helps everyone participate 
  • Share the scoring framework with all users helping everyone understand how the game works 
  • Make the goals and how to succeed clear regardless of who ends up winning. 

3. Don’t just celebrate the top performer
Everyone's a winners! If any of your course participants are fully engaged in your program, going further through your course and consuming the content you took time and effort to write, that's a huge win. 

  • Gamification in business is about the team. Yes, you should reward your very top performer, but make sure you’re rewarding all your participants. If you don’t, you’ll likely see a big drop off in engagement.

4. Come up with creative rewards
There’s a pretty clear difference between those that work vs those that don’t. Prizes and other material rewards that aren’t really connected to your business (for example a gift certificate, an iPod, etc.) really aren’t that effective. 

  • The best gamification rewards are those that are connected with recognition and advancement
  • Note these rewards are also low/no-cost and really connect the gamification back to the business as a whole. If you sell coffee, don't use a sausage roll as an incentive! If you're a yoga teacher, don't offer a HITT workout as a bonus!

5. Track and report
What’s the saying: if it doesn’t get tracked it hasn’t happened! This is true for gamification too. Tracking is important for a number of reasons

  • It helps the participants know where they stand and how to improve
  • It helps the program leader understand if the program is actually driving the business goals you set out to achieve
  • It shows what is working and what isn’t, what areas the participants love and avoid!

6. Pay attention to what your audience wants
It’s important to keep your audience in mind when you think of  the rewards. 

  • What’s going to work for them 
  • What will appeal to them the most?
  • It will not be the same thing for an older audience as for a younger audience.

7. Consider your business goals
What are you hoping to achieve by implementing  your gamification strategy, to succeed you need to

  • be clear about what you want to achieve  
  • make the rewards fit with the goals

So now we've got the general rules out of the way we need to look at where in our course would be best to add the incentives and rewards?

We need to know when and how often to offer a reward. It’s a fine balance between your audience feeling appreciated and like they are making progress, and getting too many rewards to the point that they don’t value them enough to do the task you want them to do. Too few and they lose interest, too many and they take them for granted and they become less valuable. 

 Firstly look at your objectives, what do you want your course students to do more of, what actions are you encouraging them to take to help you with your business objectives or their learning objectives; these are areas that you absolutely MUST give incentives for them to do 'the thing', they are priority numero uno.  

The other places that it can be beneficial to reward is during the onboarding process , mid-course and at the end of your course. Obviously if your course is a mini course you would need to be careful about over giving and the rewards becoming meaningless but for standard length courses it’s easy to target those as places to reward. If you have milestones or specific action points that people reach, they can be great places to reward too.

 During or immediately after the onboarding process for your course is ideal because they feel valued, which in turn helps them commit to their learning. It also starts them on an action-reaction loop, 'If I do more of these things some good stuff is coming my way'!  I would also say that part of your onboarding process should be to show them where some of the rewards are and to introduce what kind of activities they need to complete to get the rewards. Lead the way and show them a clear path to victory so they know what they need to do to achieve.

Of course, you don’t need to tell them what the rewards are necessarily so the pleasure of anticipation is still there and  this also doesn’t stop you from adding in hidden bonuses or some extra surprises along the way which they weren’t expecting.

Do a really good job of showing them around and pointing out the extra's that are in it for them at the onboarding stage, when they feel like they’ve achieved and been rewarded for it, their natural curiosity will spur them on and they'll be keen to see what else might be on offer!


When you join my list you'll receive semi-regular email newsletters. I try to make these weekly but, hey, sometimes entrepreneurial life runs away with me! 😉