In the past decade, e-learning has become a permanent fixture of the corporate training environment, and it’s only getting bigger. The global e-learning market is expected to reach $107 billion this year, and the market for learning management systems (LMS) — which represent a large percentage of corporate interests — is well on its way to $8 billion.
E-learning addresses some of the most pressing issues in corporate learning, such as employee skill gaps and the laborious process of onboarding new hires. It’s an efficient, scalable medium for all kinds of training and development programs, but that doesn’t mean it’s guaranteed to work.
Let’s be honest, e-learning can be drudgery. It can be so boring that people fail to take it seriously, and thus fail to learn anything memorable. Your training curriculum should be an important part of each employee’s role. Instead, it gets tossed in with all the other parts of work that don’t interest them, which leads to 70 percent of your employees becoming disengaged at work.
Learning is a Game, and Gaming is Learning
It’s hard for some execs to reconcile the supposed frivolity of games with the serious learning objectives of professional training. But that’s exactly what “gamification” does: it brings game mechanics like points and badges and level progression to a non-game context — in this case, the corporate e-learning context.
A successful gamification strategy isn’t just about making things “gamey” so employees will be tricked into liking their computer-based training; it’s about letting your employees learn by doing.
A widely quoted statement by the Federation of American Scientists (FAS) holds that learners only remember 10 percent of what they read, 20 percent of what they hear, and 50 percent of what they see demonstrated, but 90 percent when they “do the job themselves, even if only as a simulation.”
If you think about it, games and learning aren’t really that different. According to the late psychologist Robert Gagné, humans learn through a hierarchy of increasing complexity, starting with signal learning and maturing into advanced problem-solving. This hierarchy has a strong parallel in the level progression structure of most games. You could make the argument that true learning has not even occurred until it has been tested and performed — similar to the way a game asks the user to learn and then execute, either failing and retrying, or succeeding and advancing.
Games have a number of proven benefits in the corporate e-learning environment (or any learning environment, for that matter):
- Intrinsic motivation: Employees desire to learn because, through the game, they find it personally rewarding, not just externally rewarding. Fifty-four percent of employees say they’re more likely to perform a task if it has game elements.
- Active learning: Employees participate in the learning process and absorb information through practice, rather than passively reading or watching demonstrations.
- Knowledge retention: Games have a measured effect on the brain’s ability to retain information by reinforcing neural circuits in the amygdala.
- Employee collaboration: By awarding badges, points, virtual currency, and posting results on a public leaderboard, you foster healthy competition between employees; they compare results, race to beat the best time, earn the highest score, etc.
How to Gamify Your E-Learning
This year, 40 percent of Global 1000 companies will use gamification to transform business operations — many of them, no doubt, to transform their e-learning programs. If you’re thinking of joining the ranks, make sure your gamification strategy and game format align with the learning objectives that are most important. Here are some steps to follow when you’re setting up the program:
Level 1: Define Your Goals
Decide what learning objectives you need to reinforce with gamification. These will be the areas where it’s most important for employees to be engaged and have memorable learning experiences. In a call center setting, for example, you might focus on making decisions in challenging call scenarios (when talking to a hostile client, trying to determine refund eligibility, etc.)
Level 2: Choose Your Game Elements
Choose a type of game, and game elements, that directly serve your program goals. A great example of this would be the McDonald’s UK Till Training Game, which was developed by Kineo to train employees in 1,300 restaurants on a new till system. The game used lifelike, real-time scenarios combined with a series of challenges (beat the clock, keep the customer satisfaction meter high, complete the order before time runs out) to test learners’ mastery of the new system.
Some of the most common game mechanics used in corporate training include:
- level progression
- rewards/virtual currency
- scenario simulation
Keep in mind that the spirit of the game should match the subject matter being covered. I.e. don’t use a silly, lighthearted game for business-critical information or serious scenario training, such as a disaster preparedness course.
Level 3: Choose Your Technology
In many cases, your technology resources and technology partner will determine which game elements are available, so this step may happen simultaneously with step 2. If you haven’t already committed to a particular vendor, it’s a good idea to make this part of your learning management system comparison. See which vendors offer gamification features or support integration with third-party gamification platforms.
Level 4: Explain the Games to Your Employees
Make sure employees understand the learning objectives and purpose of the games up front. You can do this by formally introducing the gamification program to your teams, and by building some kind of learning objectives checklist into the game itself. Many companies use successive game levels to support each learning module. Be especially careful here: if employees can’t draw a clear connection between the game(s) and practical insights for their job, they may feel patronized, instead of empowered.
Level 5: Analyze and Provide Feedback
Most gamification solutions provide some form of analytics and reporting. You should use these tools to keep tabs on how your learning games are performing, and how your employees are engaging with the games. Are they skipping through modules or spending too little time on them? Are your assessments fair, or are a disproportionate share of users getting low scores? You should also work outside of your LMS and use other business systems to see what impact gamified e-learning has made on business performance, productivity, etc.
Gamification is one of those things that’s hard to pin down. The solutions market is one of the most proliferative and most confusing in all of business IT, and there’s no one methodology for doing it right. In the end, you shouldn’t feel obligated to join the trend just for the sake of joining the trend, but you should feel obligated to rethink your corporate e-learning programs and, if at all possible, make them more engaging.
Written by: Aleksandr Peterson
Aleksandr Peterson is a technology analyst at TechnologyAdvice. He covers marketing automation, CRMs, project management, human resources, and other emerging business technology. Connect with him on LinkedIn.