Gamification: Putting Play into Learning & Development

Just about every adult has a memory of childhood competition. From the playground to the sports field to the arcade, we enjoyed besting our friends or boasting about our accomplishments.

Now as adults, we are faced with the challenges of our careers, trying to keep pace with an ever changing informational world and completing required training to meet those challenges. We attend seminars, watch webinars, sit in classes, or use online learning portals to take courses. But who says this has to be boring? Why not make the learning process fun?

Introducing gamification to the corporate learning process… just what our inner child needs.

For the uninitiated, gamification is the application of game-design elements to non-game contexts. You’ve probably already seen this all around you. After all, gamification elements work their way into our lives every day, ranging from achieving new levels on your Fitbit to earning Starbucks Stars for free drinks. The goal is to add elements of fun and reward by recognizing achievements and driving engagement and participation.

And that’s where gamification has the potential to make a significant impact on online training – because if we make it fun and offer elements that make learning more interesting, we encourage learners to be more engaged with the course content. And more importantly, the outcome that we can achieve is to meet our organizations’ strategic goals of having a well-trained workforce that meets our compliance requirements.

So, what are some ways that gamification can support your goals? Let’s take a look at a few learning and developing goals and some examples to demonstrate how we can apply gamification elements to them to improve learner engagement:

Goal: Motivate learners to be engaged and complete a curriculum
Gamification Opportunity: Provide rewards, badges or other incentives for completing the curriculum within a specific timeframe.

Goal: Measuring a learner’s understanding of a specific procedure
Gamification Opportunity: Create a mapping activity around the procedure and award points towards completing correctly in a certain timeframe.

Goal: Make content more engaging
Gamification Opportunity: Create gaming elements such as levels or challenges to encourage learners to move through the content to completion.

Goal: Encourage certification and skill qualification
Gamification Opportunity: Tie certifications to rewards, post individual and group results, make the process competitive with leaderboards and visible comparisons.

Goal: Encourage timely course completion
Gamification Opportunity: Award points for completing the course within certain timeline and points for correctly answering timed questions inside the course.

The key is to rethink both the structure and content of your learning and build these elements into your online learning and training programs. Gamification does not have to mean a full overhaul of a course, rather adding gaming elements to existing content to achieve higher levels of engagement. As these examples demonstrate, it can be as simple as adding a time element to a quiz or knowledge check!

And while we may no longer be running around our childhood playgrounds, we will be creating a fun environment that engages learners and helps them achieve their goals.

For more about Gamification and its potential for learning and development, download our white paper “Gamification – Does it have a place in your L&D Content Development.”

Analytics — The First Pass

Vendor AnalyticsLast year a group of executives at one of our big company clients decided to take a hard look at efficiency and outcome issues around learning.

Having to deal with a variety of use cases, end-user groups and training providers, not to mention the complications of operating in more than 50 countries and 18 languages, the executives saw their immediate task as getting on top of the data.

To this end, they put the following into effect:

  1. All courses, seminars and training events now end with a mandatory, standardized evaluation comprised of five questions, the first being the by-now-classic Net Promoter Score (“NPS” or the number of raving fans minus the number of complainers divided by the total number of responses multiplied by 100, this process yielding a number somewhere between minus and plus 100 – big positive numbers are good). The NPS question is followed by simple, sensible questions on each training program’s relevance by job role and topic, quality and effect.
  2. Individual employee progress is now measured the same way and on the same scale for all training.
  3. Costs are standardized on a per-employee basis and resolved to a base currency.

Are books for learning?

BooksNot an entirely silly rhetorical question — in our work world of endless data aggregation and analysis, the reading of books remains a curiously solitary and hard-to-track enterprise.

It’s easy enough to hand someone a book. It’s easy enough to require a signature acknowledging receipt and even demand answers to a compliance question or two to check headline-level comprehension.

But it’s hard to do anything with a book approaching a deep and actionable, let alone shared understanding of the content without classes and clubs — meaning that costly in-person conversations in and around the act of reading are still what makes reading, at least the extended kind, real and useful.

But for the corporate world, the idea of reading as a purely personal pursuit may be changing. Three developments — e-book readers, the advent of technology-mediated social reading and the X API (nee Tin Can) — together make books cost-efficient, communal and reportable in new ways.

e-book readers are now ubiquitous and cheap. Even general-purpose iOS and Android tablets support the e-pub standard. New services like Zola make reading a compelling group exercise (it’s very cool). Established services like Lulu let any company build its own libraries for private, on-demand distribution. The X API means that the reading of a book can be recorded by chapter and task in any competency framework a company may need.

Books Redux.

Home schooling, home college, company college

Peabody Institute Chair Hollis Robbins at Johns Hopkins University just wrote a provocative piece in The Chronicle Of Higher Education on an idea so simple and so intuitively right that it feels like it should already be in wide use. Dr. Robbins looks at the broad skill sets of multi-discipline PhDs and asks why one or some of them banded together couldn’t offer the equivalent of at least the first year of a liberal arts university education on a home schooling basis — and do so with better outcomes (and at lower cost) than the students would likely get at a good private liberal arts college or university; the idea being for the students to earn home college credits and transfer in to “formal” programs after they’ve done the first year or two with the private providers.

As you would expect from a humanities professor, the piece is balanced, subtle and eminently reasonable.

You can read the article here.

It got me thinking. The home college idea begs the question — Why couldn’t companies do the same thing? What a perk it would be for employees to be able to get, on a part-time basis, a top-flight liberal arts education through work. For companies of a certain size, hiring three or four full-time PhDs is a small cost. The professors might easily handle up to 100 company students a year. Smaller companies could band together to share costs.

Though such a program could easily be run by a corporate university, this idea is nothing like traditional corporate universities, which are generally driven by line-of-business needs and are vocational in purpose rather than about explicitly building employees’ personal capabilities.

It’s a radical and I think powerful idea. It’s kind of an anti-MOOC (though there’s nothing stopping any such program from incorporating MOOCs into the curriculum). It could also turn out to be cheaper (and a lot better) than sending an equivalent number of staff to community college.

The benefits to the business of setting up a company college might include:

  • An increase in employee engagement (and thus higher employee retention rates)
  • A reputation boost for the company in its industry and communities
  • A smarter workforce (hat tip to IBM) — let’s be honest, though humanities training does not easily translate into job-specific skill-set libraries, the general truth is clear — over the long run, better people means better business

On that last point, one of the downsides of doing what everybody else is doing is that there’s no strategic competitive advantage to be had in the process: your best outcome is to not fall behind your peers. The upside of doing something different, something like Dr. Robbins’ suggests for example, is that, if it works, you’re in blue water.

Too social?

The main part of the mechanismBrandon Hall Group Analyst David Wentworth just posted an interesting piece on the growing problems with enterprise social network initiatives.

You can read what David is thinking here.

We have always believed in social learning rather than in the idea that HR or learning and development departments would end up “owning” enterprise social networks.

To that end we make a point of including core talent-related social affordances in our out-of-the-box offerings (learning and performance interest groups, forums, news, email, chat, file sharing, etc.) and supplying robust API libraries, including widgets, Google gadgets, macros and plugins for working nicely with clients’ enterprise social network choices, whatever they turn out to be.

We think of it as the good neighbor policy.