Training in the 21st Century

Getting to the Heart of Gamified Learning Development

Guest Blogger: Kyle Lagunas, HR Analyst at Software Advice

Employee engagement and participation in learning and development programs has always been a challenge. With the rapid development and deployment of new tools and technology in the workplace, though, there’s more to be learned and mastered than ever. Leaders are now looking for methods to tackle this issue head-on and driving demand for changes in learning management. Enter gamification.

The use of game mechanics in non-game environments to improve user experience and participation is rapidly gaining interest as a solution for improving learning management. We’re told it can fundamentally change an organization’s learning and development processes, but many still aren’t sure how—and have questions around what gamification really is.

The Truth About Gamification

Let me be clear: Gamification is not about turning work into a game, or making work fun. As Andrzej Marczewski of Capgemini explains, employees won’t be sitting at their desks, “with Call of Duty-like games on their screens, shooting at reports and running around 3D spreadsheets.” At its core, gamification is a tool for motivating your people to show up and perform to the best of their ability.

Gamifying a process takes basic elements of gaming (e.g. leveling-up, progress bars) and brings them to a non-game environment (like an elearning module) to enhance user experience and motivate employees to take a more active role in the work. But it takes more than badges to effectively gamify a process.

“Gamification isn’t about turning the office into a circus,” says Molly Kittle, VP of Digital Strategy at Bunchball. “You’re taking things that are fundamental to motivation, which have been proven to work, and applying them in a very non-game way.”

Why Gamification Thrives in Learning Management

Training, in many organizations, can be dry. Though application of gamification is still in its infancy, there is undoubtedly an opportunity for this strategy to make a stagnant learning management program more dynamic  and effective. And, as Kittle points out, “Leaders are intrigued by gamification because it allows you to tie learning to things that aren’t stale,” like business objectives and performance goals.

Newsflash: The workforce is getting younger and more demanding. Employees have come to expect a deeper level of interaction in the workplace. It’s important to understand what gets your employees going, and that’s the greatest benefit gamification offers for improving learning management.

Motivators innate to gaming—leveling up, achievements, and real-time feedback–all act to consistently reinforce a clear path forward. In learning management, gamifying provides indicators of mastery and connects mastery with application, which makes learning a more interactive and dynamic experience.

However, I can’t emphasize enough that simply throwing a badge onto an employee’s profile after they complete a course isn’t gamification. That badge has to have value, and that value has to be innate in your learning and development. For example: If you’re assigning points and badges for successful completion of training, feature star performers on a leaderboard, and reward them with recognition.

Studies Show Wider Adoption in Days

Until recently, we’ve lacked good examples of game mechanics being used in the workplace to encourage employee motivation, completion, adoption. But according to a Gartner study conducted last spring, “more than 50 percent of organizations that manage innovation processes will gamify those processes” by 2015.

Games are nothing new. I’d guess that anyone who attended elementary school in the last 50 years has experienced gamified learning. Games have successfully encouraged knowledge retention and application for years, but is that value limited to young minds? I’d argue not.  What do you think?

Kyle Lagunas is the HR Analyst at Software Advicean online resource for talent and learning management software selection. He’s written numerous software buyers guides, and reports on trends and best practices in HR technology on his blog.


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  1. CipryenJune 15, 2012 at 12:15 am

    See, that’s what I *dislike* about Twitter. I don’t think you can condense a discussion like that to 140 characters without losing a ton of the content. But I’m also not someone who writes short , so hey.I think I get what you’re saying about rhetoric as a parallel to gamification that the skill of rhetoric, separate from maybe the content of the argument, forces you to focus on the wrong thing. If I’m understanding that correctly, then yeah, that seems like a reasonable parallel. It also seems like a reasonable parallel because in many ways the things that can potentially result from the system (rhetoric or gamification) can be good, but it relies on a complete understanding of the subject. The rhetors have to understand the content of the thing they’re arguing, then they apply the mechanics of rhetoric to drive the point home. Same thing here. In the hands of a skilled practitioner, I’m sure gamification can be used to enhance a point. To clear the activation energy required to learn something new, for instance because a lot of learning *does* require some grind, and if that helps get through the grind, great.On the other hand, in the hands of evil, or thoughtless people, it’s a tool that can go horrendously wrong. Look at politics these days and I’m not even saying which side you have to look at. It’s all rhetoric, and no content. I’d argue that people are so engaged in the rhetoric that they don’t even *care* about content anymore, except for a very, very small percentage of people who are actually engaged. To me, that’s like the downside of gamification everyone’s cranking away on things, but no one knows anything, because they’re not engaged with the content, they’re engaged with the mechanics.In the end, honestly, I can definitely see arguments from both sides. I love achievements. I love racking up points. Clearly. We make games that are chock full of all manner of gamification, and I think that we try to use it in the service of good you are rewarded, for instance, for cooperating in Fleck, instead of antagonizing other players. We try to use the mechanics to drive positive behavior, and I think that in the right hands, in the right conditions, it can be a powerful tool. But there are huge numbers of people advocating for incredibly widespread gamification of everything, and the problem, again, is that it’s not just that in some cases it doesn’t work it’s not that it’s a neutral effect at worst. It’s that by focusing on extrinsic rewards, you can actually make performance *worse*. And worse still, it’s subtle. You aren’t likely to know it’s happening but because you’re focused on the reward, you literally can’t see the odd solutions as fast as you would otherwise. I’d actually argue with grades & scores & the current reward structure, education *already* shows this is what’s happening.I went through high school with a higher-than 4.0 average. What did I learn from that? I learned that if you take the right classes, you can get good grades. If you play it safe, you can get unreasonably high scores. Then in college, that got *smashed to pieces* and my GPA, at least for the first year or two, was terrible, because I hadn’t *learned* I’d learned to manipulate the system. It wasn’t long after that that I learned *how to learn* often from trying something new, failing at it, then changing things until I was doing the best I could.I don’t have a good way to wrap this up, really. The point isn’t so much all gamification is bad. It’s that it has some unobvious dramatically negative effects. And before everyone jumps on the GAMIFY EVERYTHING! bandwagon, I hope they’ll take a moment to understand why it’s potentially much less effective and *damaging* than it seems.

  2. Kyle LagunasAugust 6, 2012 at 9:43 am

    Thanks for chiming in, Cipryen. I agree that the “Let’s gamify everything!” mindset is counter-productive. GOOD gamification requires a strategic approach, where goals are identified and a plan outlining the step-by-step to attain those goals. A lot of people miss that, and just jump in. While some flounder before finding a way to make some lasting impact, others just sink to the bottom.

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