Word Cloud "Gamification"Last year, gamification was a crazy buzzword indicating a trend that many predicted would be either the savior or the destroyer of education and training. (Playing games at work? But work isn’t supposed to be fun!) Now, it seems like we hear less about gamification just in general, but that isn’t because the idea of using game elements in non-game situations has gone away. On the contrary, gamification has made it into so many aspects of our daily lives that we hardly notice it anymore—if you’ve saved on groceries using a store loyalty card, booked a hotel online, or worn a Fitbit, you’ve been gamified.

Gamification is also working its way into more and more training and development departments. I’m not just talking about small companies here: Nike, Microsoft, SAP, Samsung, Deloitte—these are just some of the organizations that have introduced game elements into their training programs. The result? Well, it turns out if your training is motivating and engaging enough, it can be (almost) as addictive as Candy Crush. As Andrew Hughes wrote on the Designing Digitally blog, “If you haven’t heard of gamification in corporate training yet, you soon will.”

Benefits of gamification for organizations

Gamification works because it taps into some vital aspects of our human psychology: we like to compete, we like to win, and we are highly motivated by the feedback and recognition that good gamification provides. As Frank Farrall of Deloitte Digital said: “If you can gamify the process, you are rewarding the behavior and it’s like a dopamine release in the brain.”

In addition to enhancing learner engagement by making learning fun, which is true in any educational, gamification has other potential benefits for businesses. In an article for CIO Magazine last year, staff writer Lauren Brousell described three ways companies are capitalizing on gamification:

  • Keeping people coming back to the learning portal. Let’s be honest here, when’s the last time your employees voluntarily attended training, either in person or online? It’s often hard enough to get them to attend mandatory training sessions, much less show up when they don’t have to. But gamification can potentially change that. In 2012, in hopes of providing a better training option to its 200,000 employees, Deloitte put its course catalog online in a gamified system. Nine months after the launch, the company reported a 47 percent increase in the number of employees who logged on to the course portal every single day.
  • Recognizing training efforts. Gamification provides an effective way, other than financial bonuses, for businesses to recognize employees’ training efforts. For example, digital badges, which can be publicly displayed, designate knowledge and skills that learners have achieved.
  • Identifying experts and facilitating knowledge sharing. In your company, when you have a job position open up, how do you identify who you should ask to apply? Gamification allows companies to recognize who has been working on achieving expert status in different fields, by keeping track of points and badges and seeing who tops the leaderboards. Gamification expert Michael Hugos calls this creating “local gurus.” Having this information publicly available can also facilitate knowledge sharing within firms, as employees who need help can easily identify who in an organization might be able to provide assistance.

Game-based learning, like simulations, also has an advantage over traditional training models because they reflect how skills are actually developed and give employees the opportunity to practice in virtual situations.As WorkSmart Education President David Maddocks told Financial Post, “The basic structure of video games—having to master one level before moving to another, repeating an action numerous times, and receiving feedback in the form of results about what works and what doesn’t—mirrors how skills are developed in real life. The added benefit for the workplace of using games is that employees practice in a safe situation and not on live customers.”

Gamification and MOOCs

As digital learning environments, MOOCs are ideal for incorporating game elements. In fact, many MOOCs already have some kind of gamification, such as digital badges, which are becoming preferred alternative credentials in both the education and training spheres.

Gamification in MOOCs can take a variety of forms, from merely introducing a progress bar into courses (these now come standard in many learning management systems) to full-scale gamified training programs, with competitions, levels, content unlocking, rewards, and more. It’s difficult to estimate exactly how many corporate training programs and MOOCs have been gamified and to what extent, but I’m willing to bet that a good number of them have at least a few game elements already built in.

Challenges for gamifying MOOCs

The biggest challenge in gamifying a MOOC, or any system for that matter, is doing it well. While games are engaging and motivating partly because we love to win, we also hate to lose. Using game elements poorly and focusing too much on winning and losing can result in demotivation, the opposite of the desired effect.

The Elearning Industry blog offers four strategies for effectively gamifying corporate training:

  1. Define your “monetization” strategy. Clearly state your ROI goals and how success will be measured for your training program.
  2. Focus on content mastery and job performance, not game play. You want your training to be addictive, but the goal really is to improve job performance, so this should be your central consideration.
  3. Make sure learning game reward systems translate to the real world. Game elements and game mechanics should be meaningful. For example, if the goal is to increase sales, design the game so that learners have to “sell” a certain number of products before they can level up.
  4. Think outside the game “box.” Again, the goal of training is to provide knowledge and skills that translate to real work. Think about ways to relate what happens in the game to what happens in real life.

MOOCs and gamification both represent growing trends in workforce education and corporate training, and their individual impacts will only be enhanced by putting them together.

Copyright 2014 Bryant Nielson. All Rights Reserved.

Bryant Nielson – Managing Director of CapitalWave Inc.– offers 25+ years of training and talent management helping executives, business owners, and top performing sales executives in taking the leap from the ordinary to extraordinary. Being a big believer in Technology Enabled Learning, Bryant seeks to create awareness, motivate adoption and engage organizations and people in the changing business of education. Bryant is a entrepreneur, trainer, and strategic training adviser for many organizations. Bryant’s business career has been based on his results-oriented style of empowering the individual.

Learn more about Bryant at LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/bryantnielson

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Bryant Nielson is heavily involved in the Corporate Training and Leadership and Talent space. He currently is the Managing Director for CapitalWave Inc and the training division, Financial Training Solutions. He brings a diverse corporate experience of organizational development, learning and talent development, and corporate training, that also includes personal coaching of top sales individuals and companies of all sizes. For the prior 4 years, Bryant was the Managing Director and Leadership and Talent Manager for Lengthen Your Stride! LLC. In this position, Nielson was the developer of all of the courses for MortgageMae University (MMU), the Realtor Development Center (RDC), and of Lengthen Your Stride! (LYS). In that position, he developed material, refined over many years of use and active training, and condensed the coursework and training to be high impact, natural learning, and comprehensive. Bryant has over 27 years of Senior Management experience encompasses running his own Training and mortgage firm, in New York City. He strongly believes that the corporate training is not to be static but should 'engage and inspire' students to greater productivity and performance.