Posted by Caveo Learning ● August 20, 2015

Understanding How to Use Gamification in Training

gamificationOne of the hottest buzzwords in learning and development is gamification. Depending on your organization's culture, you may be feeling pressure to work gamification into your learning solutions, or perhaps the opposite is true—stakeholders see gamification as unserious and inappropriate for a business environment.

Gamification is certainly not for all organizations or learning scenarios. However, it does hold the potential to be a valuable component in the L&D toolbox, provided learning leaders deploy it in the right context.

First off, what is gamification? At its most simplistic, gamification is the use of game design elements in non-game contexts. It's an increasingly common approach in many social and learning environments, and we see elements of it in LinkedIn, Facebook, and even health-support formats like Fitbit or Weight Watchers online. Folks are using gamification to tap into that same engagement seen in online gaming that keeps people coming back and being involved.

What gamification is not is the ultimate solution to any social, learning, or performance need. It is a tool to support the solution, but should definitely not be your end goal.

Like with any learning trend (e.g., micro-learning, nano-coaching, mobile learning, podcasts, etc.) the vehicle of delivery should never be more important than making an effective solution, focused on the real goal: learning a job skill or overcoming barriers to performance.

Gamification Can Be a Bridge to Engagement

So why use gamification in training? Because most effective learning solutions need to engage the learners and help them self-motivate to learn now and keep learning. That aspect of engagement is the major selling point for gamification in training.

Engaged employees are productive employees. Survey research by Gallup has concluded that employee engagement is strongly correlated with an organization's overall success, including  performance metrics like productivity, profitability, and customer satisfaction. Engaged employees are also more likely to drive innovation, growth, and revenue for their companies, according to Gallup. However, Gallup also finds that only about 30% of employees are engaged at work

Gamification is a tool to build the kind of engagement that comes from gameplay into non-game contexts, like work or learning. 

Monica Cornetti of Sententia identifies five more reasons to add gamification to a learning project:

  • Fun! (games and game elements can be fun)
  • Crossing generations (games can appeal to all five generations in the workplace, and this builds cross-generational teamwork and communication)
  • Changes behaviors (especially focused on positive reinforcement/motivation)
  • Lowers barriers to entry (games typically are built with fairly easy start with quick successes and then builds challenging levels the more people participate)
  • Developing skills (interactive scenarios, learn-by-doing, dynamic feedback, and efforts such as “beat the clock” for urgency-based tasks are great tools to develop and reinforce skills)

To enliven a workshop on the typically dry topic of HR legal issues, Cornetti added a story we are all familiar with—Snow White and Seven Dwarfs. In this case, the group explored the seven characters that provided a type for each issue and worked to avoid ever eating the poison apple (a metaphor for being sued or fined). Similarly, gamification guru Karl Kapp added storytelling, visual imagery, team association, polling, and dynamic feedback to his presentation on the Case of the Disengaged Learner.

Add game qualities to a series of learning events or curriculum, including progress tracking, social interaction, story or theme, and levels or achievements. Or, help motivate a boring task or chore—Zombies Run is a smartphone app that engages runners and adds challenging progression. As you run in real world, you interact with instructions from the apocalyptic zombie world, where you strive to gather supplies, rescue survivors, and avoid getting eaten.

Of course, not all learning or performance changes would be suited to gamification as part of the solution. It's not recommended if a learning initiative already contains plenty of intrinsic motivation; adding extrinsic motivators to something intrinsically motivating can actually diminish performance. Likewise, you would never want to use gamification to help curb an addictive behavior, like a gambling addiction; using a technique that aims at same or similar pleasure centers defeats the purpose.

How to Incorporate Gamification in Training

When considering how to incorporate gamification in training programs, turn to the trusty ADDIE Model for guidance.

Analyze your audence and consider the types of players and learners who will be engaging with the deliverable. Define the learning objectives that are aligned to the associated business objectives, and outline exactly how gamification will help achieve those goals.

Design a story or theme for the learning event. Craft a plot, characters, conflict, challenges, and resolution for your gamified story. Most importantly, determine how that story will be used to reinforce learning.

Develop the game by mapping its sequence of events, especially the interactive learning events. Plan debriefs on each activity, as reflection helps reinforce learning.

Implement the gamified learning by deploying game elements and mechanics that motivate your players, and select a deployment method and technical support platform.

Evaluate the deliverable's effectiveness. Build cohesiveness between the gamification and the broader initiative. Confirm that it is appealing to positive emotions and multiple senses. And prototype, test, and iterate like you would with any training deliverable.

Four Types of Game Players

Each audience member has his or her own diverse needs, preferences, motives, and experiences that they bring to their learning opportunities. It's not surprising, therefore, that folks involved in online games also have different needs and preferences motivating their engagement. Most fit into four main player types, as outlined by Amy Jo Kim and Richard Bartles' Taxonomy of Players. Below is a composite of the two models:
  • types_of_gamers-1

    Achievers, who focus on expressing actions (build, design, create, customize). The achiever’s drive is mastery and skill building. They usually glom onto game elements like points, badges, levels, and rewards.
  • Competitors (also known as Killers) focus on competing actions (win, challenge, show off). The competitor’s drive is to be top dog. They like leaderboards and ranking elements.
  • Socializers focus on collaborating actions (comment, like, share, help). Socializers want to interact with others, including via comments or dialogue.
  • Explorers focus is on exploring actions (view, collect, rate). Explorers want to find boundaries, test them, and discover the world. They enjoy the story and game environment.

Where players align depends on their focus based on two continuums: world vs. other players, and acting (self-action) vs. interacting (with others).

We can also see some rarer player types: Players, Disrupters, Improvers, and Non-Players.

  • Players are extrinsically motivated by reward, so they may seem like achievers.
  • Disrupters want to game the system and even to break it.
  • Improvers look for problems to help repair them.
  • Non-players may be de-motivated by game elements. They are probably the first to say, “I have important things to be doing and this is just silly,” or “This is a waste of time.”

Game Elements Used in Gamification

As in building a learning solution, your game elements must also bring a variety of approaches (game elements) to appeal to the largest audience. Many of the common game elements were mentioned for the four player types.

  • Achievements, such as points, badges, recognitions, or levels/challenges
  • Competition, such as leaderboards and team competitions
  • Social, such as chat, collaboration, or sharing (may include altruism of gifting and charity)
  • Immersive World, such as story, goal, or purpose, and visual and auditory stimuli

Game elements often tap our inner motivations, such as fun or mastery. Human motivators is a big part of what creates the engagement. The RAMP model provides a good capture of human motivators:

  • Relatedness, a need for social status, connections, and belonging
  • Autonomy, a need for creativity, choice, freedom, and responsibility
  • Mastery, a need for learning, personal development, and sense of improvement
  • Purpose, a need for a reason or meaning, to feel one serves a purpose greater than self

Human motivators are also a key part of driving the best productivity of workers. Daniel Pink, the author of Drive, provides a helpful TED Talk on motivation, emphasizing our need for Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose.

Consider the tool of gamification for building engagement into non-game environments, like work or learning as part of your overall effective learning or performance solutions.

Gamification isn't always a good fit for a given organization or business objective, but its value as a learning tool is becoming more and more obvious. Serious businesses are serious about engagement, games, and gamification.

Topics: Learning Trends, eLearning