Corporate Learning: Making it work with Gamification
The truth is, learning occurs every day, all the time. The question is whether you are nurturing, encouraging and empowering your organization to learn. If learning is only about the periodic (compulsory) training; or worse, adopting the “sink or swim” tactic disguised as on-the-job training, then you have plenty to think about.
How are your employees acquiring, retaining, applying and transferring knowledge today? How are you tracking their development? Are you invested in their success? The bottom line is, you cannot simply be thinking in terms of KPIs, progress and performance without considering what would support their ability to learn and grow
Pre-Covid corporate training is estimated to be a $370 billion global market, of which corporate e-learning comprises a $17.2 billion in the same period. During Covid, corporate e-learning grew by 12-13% annually. 41.7% of global Fortune 500 companies are using e-learning. 40% of e-learning market growth is expected to be in APAC from 2021 – 2025
Statista Research Department: https://www.statista.com/topics/4281/workplace-learning-and-development/#topicHeader__wrapper
Skill Dynamics: “How Are Top Fortune 500 Companies Using eLearning To Boost Productivity.”
It is about driving a culture of learning. It starts with the top and permeates to everyone contributing to the success of the organization. “Productivity and competitiveness are, by and large, a function of knowledge generation and information processing1… “companies need to invest not just in new machinery to make production more efficient, but in the flow of know-how that will sustain their business. Organizations need to be good at knowledge generation, appropriation and exploitation… (and) failure to attend to the learning of groups and individuals in the organization spells disaster in this context”.2
The statistics are overwhelming, in that we now know the investment in learning pays off… big time – in overall performance, productivity, profitability, recruitment, retention, engagement and let us not forget, it is vital to the well-being of employees. Top performing companies know this well, and have evolved to blend learning into on-site, virtual sessions, as well as e-learning platforms to maximize the effectiveness. With all these said, here comes the “but….”.
Regardless of which statistics you use, e-learning completion rates are still dismal. We haven’t moved the needle much since our previous whitepaper was published in 2015. It could be as low as 5% completion rate to about 40%. Again, it all depends on the duration of the learning program, the impact it has on the employee’s career, the delivery mechanism, whether there is a direct cost to the employee and the program design. It can also be argued that learning in teams yield higher completion rates than when you do it alone. Yes, the social aspect of learning could be one way to up the completion rate. More on that later.
Clearly, employees aren’t engaging enough with existing corporate training systems. If they aren’t learning as much as they could be, they aren’t contributing to their fullest potential. Going digital and going mobile are indeed prerequisites for success in their own right, but that’s not enough. Porting training materials to a new medium might make it more accessible, maybe even save you some time and money. However, if your aim is to get employees critically evaluating the material and actually benefiting the way work is done, you need to leverage what technology can offer beyond just the delivery method. It’s like getting new employees to read the employee handbook – simply offering a pdf-ed version as opposed to a physical book isn’t going to make the task any more enjoyable.
So how do we solve the problem of chronic disengagement? Well, what comes naturally to you when you’re bored? You’ve probably illicitly played at least a couple of rounds of tic-tac-toe while stuck in a boring class at school. Or how about when you’ve been queuing in line for hours with a friend? Bring on the games—I Spy, 20 questions, and the alphabet game. Even responsible fully-grown adults aren’t averse to whipping out their smart-phones or Nintendo Switch on their daily commute. What if you could channel that kind of fun and engagement into corporate training?
Enter gamification, or the integration of game psychology and design into non-game settings.
- 33% of employees prefer to have game-like effects in their training platforms
- 83% of employees who undergo gamified training are more motivated at work
- Knowledge retention increases by 30% if an oral and/or text-based presentation is accompanied by images, infographics, and other types of visuals
- The types of training employees would love to receive gamification are corporate compliance training (30%), products and services training (18%), and skills development training (16%)
- Featuring game elements in corporate learning can boost engagement by 60% and enhance productivity by up to 50%
Covid-19 has turned many corporations to the adoption of e-Learning, and in exploring innovative ideas to engage learners, began seriously considering gamification as a solution. The empirical evidence suggests that gamification positively impacts knowledge retention as well as application. Adult learners greatly benefit from gamified environments. Gamification results in 14% higher scores on skill-based knowledge assessment and 11% higher scores on factual knowledge and can boost knowledge retention by as much as 40%9. AstraZeneca needed to train 500 staff on a new line of medicines; their objectives was to get them excited about this project, introduce elements of team-building and be able to track results. They accomplished this by building a gamified system “Go-to-Jupiter” and introduced pretty basic game mechanics into it. The result was a 95% completion rate and an excited team ready for the product launch.
The problem with gamification is that it’s trendy. When it’s a trend, it becomes overused and abused. We have seen corporations putting in good money to (re)create a popular game without understanding the learning outcomes; and when they don’t see the results, they blame it on gamification. On the other extreme, your effort is nothing more than a series of quizzes disguised as games. Poor use of badges, rewards and leaderboards can also lead to driving people to simply complete the program. Yes, completion rate is one indicator that is readily quantifiable. But it cannot be the only indicator of success in learning.
Learning is about driving a change in behavior. It should be outcome-driven and not results-driven. In short, we must be looking at gamifying the outcomes associated with the training, and not the training itself.
Fundamentally, we want our lives and activities to be meaningful. Learning can be a meaningful endeavor, but poorly designed training systems can be a real obstacle to employees getting any real benefit from it.
In the 2015 whitepaper, we presented 7 ideas on how gamification can benefit corporate learning. In this updated version, we have introduced one more.
1. Gamification ≠ making a game.
Creating a game is definitely not the point of gamification. The key is to use game elements like points, challenges, and levels to pique interest in the learning system. One common mistake of gamification is getting too caught up in the “game” aspect and all the shiny interactive bling that technology can accomplish. We believe that it’s a matter of good design to make sure we utilise technology in ways that are functional over the long term. Instead of wasting effort creating a virtual game-world which ends up distracting from the learning objectives, implementing gamification should be simple and elegant. It really isn’t about the game but how playing games makes you feel. What is it you like about playing a game? The social aspect, competition, progress/accomplishment, fun, etc… Now, adapt that to learning.
Life is the game we play every day. Training is the game you want your employees to enjoy. Make it easy for them to have fun.
2. Give feedback.
Learning without feedback can seem like going on a journey without a map. Without any clues, they don’t really know what they’re looking for or where they’re going. What ends up happening is the learner goes through the process with only one thing in mind: just get this over and done with. There will be no knowledge retention, no learning, and no chance in hell any real-life application will occur.
The truth is that most of the feedback offered in corporate learning isn’t feedback so much as evaluation. Although it may seem like it, the purpose of feedback isn’t to tell employees whether they’re right or wrong. Feedback is a navigational tool that tells us where we are and how we can get to the goal. Games are so outstanding at giving feedback that even when we fail, we still have that unrelenting itch to give it another go. Good feedback is a great motivator because it provides a sense of moving forward, and a sense of mastery.
Putting too much emphasis on evaluating accuracy can make employees anxious about receiving feedback, which can really hinder learning efficiency. Getting things wrong should be an utterly unremarkable part of the journey. Gamified learning systems should offer employees instant feedback on whatever they just did. At the same time, points-based interfaces can be helpful for rewarding employees’ effort as well as performance.
Here’s a golden rule when you designing feedback in your learning program: ask yourself this, “how has my feedback helped the learning outcome?” As long as the learner feels the feedback is helping her get closer to the outcome (and not an obstacle to completion), you’re good. Exercise empathy when designing feedback.
3. Empower your employees.
How do we get employees to be invested in their own development and growth? Maybe we should first stop referring to it as “training”. There’s a “stuffy” and rigid connotation to that term, and also, we’re not training you to fetch or play dead. If we call it learning, then you can learn from anyone, anywhere and in a variety of ways. Find out how they would like to learn the things they are supposed to know.
You must have heard of the term “self-directed” learning. That means learning driven by the learners. However, that does not mean there is no room for structured learning. The key is in driving and focusing on outcomes. It may take some getting used to because you need to relinquish some control and let the employees take charge, within reason.
Gamification affords that flexibility and versatility. First of all, learners learn at their own time and pace. In gamified learning, you could also encourage learners to select modules that are priorities to meet their learning outcomes. Rewarding, even better, according them recognition for chalking up more modules, supporting others in their learning as an advocate, and finally becoming a subject/topic champion allows the learner feel vested in her own learning. With a simple enough and versatile gamification platform, you could even get learners to create content and challenges; suggest follow-up topics or even new skills they’d like to acquire.
4. The WIIFM Rule (What’s in it for me)
According to LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, the top three motivations for employees to learn are connected to careers10. The list is as follows:
- If it helps me stay up to date in my field
- If it is personalized specifically for my interests and career goals
- If it helps me get another job internally, be promoted or get closer to my career goals
In that same report, employees who feel their skills are not put to good use in the company are 10 times more likely to look for a new job. It is back to the whole point of engagement. If they’re not learning the things important to them (their careers), they will not be engaged; and if they’re not engaged, they won’t be motivated to learn. It is a vicious cycle. And we know what happens when employees are disengaged.
It has been argued that gamification is 75% psychology and 25% technology. Hence, it is imperative we understand the psychology behind people’s motivations. Why they do what they do and what’s important to them. It could be for extrinsic rewards or the need for recognition, or to feel connected to others. Getting this part right will allow you to design an experience through gamification, tapping on all the features and technology the platform affords you.
5. Capitalize on social dynamics and advocacy.
Humans are by nature social animals. That has not changed and will likely not change in the foreseeable future. More than having fun, people like to have fun together. The way we socialize may differ, but we still crave interaction. Whether it’s through teamwork or friendly competition, building on social dynamics in the company provides an immediate draw for employees.
Getting recognition from other people reassures us that what we do matters. Using Deloitte’s online Leadership Academy, employees earned badges for each training module they completed. These badges were badges of pride when shared with friends on online social networks, but sharing them on professional networks like LinkedIn turned out to be even more meaningful since these badges were akin to academic credentials. The best way to show employees that training matters to your company is through methods like this that integrate the training system within a wider business culture and aims.
Instead of rewarding your learners to learn, how about rewarding them to share and advocate the learning? This could be a small group of users or “influencers”, but they could create huge impacts in motivating the rest. If we will take a leaf out of the social media playbook, that’s how powerful movements can begin.
6. User experience trumps everything.
User experience or UX, in the case of corporate learning, refers to the experience the user has while interacting with the product and/or information. The technology platform and user interface may have a part to play, but we are not quite concern with that in this section. It is about how the learner feels in the lead up to, during and after that interaction.
If most of your learners – and it has been suggested that up to 65% of learners – are visual learners; if we believe in the 80-20-10 rule in that we retain 80% of what we see, 20% of what we read and 10% of what we hear, then how we present the information needs to reflect that.
How can we tailor training systems to be flexible in dealing with different types of information and learning outcomes? You can’t please everybody with one solution. What can be done is to cater to multiple motivations and give a range of rewards so employees always feel included. After all, training is fundamentally an employee-centric venture, and gamification is intended to increase training’s appeal to them.
For some employees, the value of gamification could be as simple as giving them a clearer picture of their learning progress. Other employees may derive enjoyment from social features that let them discuss their views with their peers and mentors.
Gamification has existed since before we even recognised it for what it was. Gamifying real life may have started as early as 2,500 years ago in the kingdom of Lydia, where games were deployed to distract the people from famine and eventually to decide the fate of the kingdom. Gamification doesn’t have to be digital. Nevertheless, the advent of the digital age has brought us significant advantages.
We can now use technology to automate gamification. For e.g. Gametize offers a self-serve gamification platform that takes care of the technological work of incorporating points, levels, and badges behind-the-scenes. Gametize also supports a diversity of possibilities for actionable technology behind incorporating quizzes, photos, passcodes, and QR codes into your training system, so that you can free up your time and expertise to focus on delivering quality training content.
Separately, technology can give us valuable information on user analytics. It can be tempting to adopt a mindset of “fix one problem, might as well fix ‘em all”. However, as with adopting any other new plan, success should only be gauged against one carefully chosen metric if it is to be of any consequence. The engagement problem is linked to the retention problem, which is in turn linked to the problem of skill transfer. It’s possible for gamification to be applied to each of these problems, but starting small with a clear focus on exactly what you’re trying to improve will go a long way.
Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule posits that it takes 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert at anything. The saying that “practice makes perfect” is a powerful and well-justified theory that applies to many domains. Repetition is often neglected in learning campaigns and initiatives, and yet, it is the singular most important piece of the puzzle.
It is about sustaining that engagement with the learners. It cannot be done with just a one-off program and it most certainly cannot be achieved with a simple assessment. Ask yourself what you can do to refresh your content, how can you make learning a part of what they do and how do you support that learning journey.
- They are 46% more likely to be first to market.
- They experience 37% higher productivity.
- They are 92% more likely to innovate.
Gamification can help motivate a learner to go back to the books with a clear reward and feedback system explaining why he should revisit the topic. A human’s innate need for self-quantification will encourage the learner to measure his proficiency by practicing the same quiz, question, or practical task (such as pitching to his manager). Repeated tasks can be made less mundane through simple creative wordplay, or context change.
Finally, we mustn’t forget how important it is to create a strong support structure for learning. Building on the team’s effort to motivate one another, to peer and collaborative learning, or nurturing some healthy competition to keep the learning momentum going. How great will it be if these can all be accomplished at anytime, anywhere and using a mobile device. Wait, it’s already happening. The question is, are you doing it…
If there is one important takeaway from this paper, it should be that gamification is not about making a game. At its heart, it is a strategy for injecting fun, engagement, and design into activities. We believe that gamification is about making real life fun. It’s not about taking people out of the unpleasant situation and transporting them somewhere else.
Critics may argue that gamification trivializes learning and takes its seriousness away. If so, the next question in line is—what is the value of seriousness? Do we really learn best and perform most optimally under formal situations?
COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption of technology in our every day lives. According to Deloitte, 98% of organizations utilized virtual learning during the pandemic. Like it or not, online learning is here to stay. The technology is already available and many companies have started embracing them, with about 40% of organizations committed to making virtual learning a part of their formal structure.13 It is likely that for most of us we will end up with some hybrid model, with some physical classroom learning modules and adopting the smart use of technology to optimize cost and leverage on new technology to enhance user experience and drive engagement.
Truly engaging employees in corporate learning means giving employees an emotional connection beyond just increasing their utility. This doesn’t mean making employees happy at the expense of their skills, but that companies could do more to make their experience meaningful. Simply by making it less laborious for employees to learn, they can feel smarter, more valuable, and more fulfilled, hence leaving them in a better place to fulfill the real aim of learning—not solely to cross the module completion finishing line, but to be able to use their knowledge to promote business objectives.
1. Castells, M. (2001) ‘Information technology and global capitalism’ in W. Hutton and A. Giddens (eds.) On the Edge. Living with global capitalism, London: Vintage
2. Leadbeater, C, (2000) Living on Thin Air, London: Penguin
3. TeamStage, (2022), “Company Culture Statistics: Leadership and Engagement in 2022”
4. LinkedIn Learning, (2022), “2022 Workplace Learning Report: The Transformation of L&D”
5. Kohll, A, (2019), “Why You Should Cultivate A Learning Culture To Impact Employee Well-Being”, Forbes
6. MarketsandMarkets (2020). Gamification Market by Component (Solution and Services), Deployment (Cloud and On-premises), Organization Size (SMEs and Large Enterprises), Application, End-User (Enterprise-Driven and Consumer-Driven), Vertical, and Region – Global Forecast to 2025
7. Adkins, S. (2019, August 1). The 2019-2024 Global Game-based Learning Market
8. Statistics attributed to:
Apostolopoulos, A. (2019). The 2019 Gamification at Work Survey, TalentLMS
Maske, P. (2019). Benefits Of Gamification in Training, eLearning Learning
9. Boskamp, E., (2022). 25 Gamification Statistics : Facts + Trends You Need to Know, Zippia
10. LinkedIn Learning, (2022), “2022 Workplace Learning Report: The Transformation of L&D”
11. CommLab India, (2022), “Responsive eLearning: How Can it Transform Your Corporate Training”
12. Deloitte, “Leading in Learning: Building Capabilities to Deliver on Your Business Strategy”
13. Deloitte, (2021), “The Future of Learning in the Wake of Covid-19”