You are here:

Request a Demo Contact Us

Making Learning Fun

Bob Little 

July 4, 2014

Over the past year or so, gamification has been a term that has readily sprung to the lips of learning and development professionals.

Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems. One of its key aims is to improve user engagement – notably with learning materials – as well as build knowledge and experience. For those engaged in the gamification of learning materials, this process is inextricably linked with making the learning experience “fun.”

According to “A Review of the E-Learning Markets of the UK, EU and China 2014,” published this summer by Learning Light (a research and market analysis firm that helps organizations using e-learning and learning technologies to improve their business performance), the top issue that became “mainstream” within L&D between 2010 and 2014 was gamification.

There’s no novelty in the practice of engendering engagement and enjoyment among learners by turning learning into a game, where the learner competes against herself or others. In the realm of corporate learning, playing board games, undertaking negotiation games, role play exercises, and even outdoor challenges, conducted in the name of team building, have been around for many years.

What is novel is the growing ability of online learning technologies to produce increasingly sophisticated game-, or at least scenario-, based simulations that can be accessed from a variety of mobile devices.

These sorts of activities have a number of well-known advantages. Some of them allow participants to develop knowledge and skills in simulated situations that are potentially dangerous or expensive in real life. The military have been developing and using such materials for many years, as has the oil industry; another example is the use of flight simulators to train airline pilots.

The growing application of technology merely increases the opportunities to include games and challenges in the learning environment. As with virtual collaboration tools, the Web offers live scenarios and simulation, allowing participants to pit their wits and skills against a much wider – potentially worldwide – audience.

Vaughan Waller, senior learning architect at Deloitte Learning Technologies, says that gamification can be used to advantage when you need to change the way employees think. This isn’t learning in the accepted sense. Rather, it relates to changing behaviors in those areas in which thinking the right way is vitally important.

“You wouldn’t use it, for instance, in a simple process learning situation but, if there were dangers to be avoided in making instantaneous but important snap decisions, making learning fun, spontaneous and totally unexpected can make it not feel like learning at all,” he adds. “Any form of professional services is rife with these critical decision points.”

Nick Hindley, associate director, learning and performance improvement, at PPD – a global contract research organization providing drug discovery, development, lifecycle management, and laboratory services – comments: “I use games all the time within training. This isn’t new and is highly effective as learners’ memories of the training can be much stronger if they’re associated with something new and different. Games are used for embedding new behavioral skills, team building and helping people implement new skills.”

Thinking about where gamification can be used to best advantage within corporate L&D, Vaughan says: “Learning in micro-sized chunks can change performance incrementally and this produces better results for all concerned. Particularly in firms’ higher echelons, conventional training courses are simply not an option. Gamification combined with mobile delivery creates learning for those who don’t have time to learn ‘conventionally.'”

Katie Benson, HR business partner at the Royal Bank of Scotland, says: “Designing and delivering developmental solutions to enable our people to better relate to, and understand, the end customer is critical within our organization. Offering a multi-channeled approach to achieve this is key, in order to cater for as many individual learning styles as possible.

“Gamification can be of great value in our ‘customer-based scenario’ learning – challenging participants to really understand commercial issues in a fun way. Also, in an industry of increasing regulation and red tape, gamification can provide a powerful forum for ‘heavy’ learning topics, such as conduct and regulatory risk, to be conveyed in a more engaging way.

“However, it’s important to recognize the fine balance between learning and taking the ‘fun’ too far. While gamification has its part to play in the suite of channels available to bring development activity to life, there’s a risk that it can be used inappropriately. Certain topics require a more ‘traditional’ structure to ensure the tone and message is conveyed correctly.”

Nick Hindley believes that technology-based training may be an appropriate choice when dealing with global groups working and learning remotely but, like Katie, strikes a note of caution about gamification – notably with regard to devoting resources to developing these L&D “games.” He says: “A lot of money will be spent – and probably wasted – buying technology-based ‘gamified’ solutions when games can be designed into all non-IT training methodologies without the need for a programmer.

“Moreover, I don’t see how the method of delivery – in this case technology-enabled gamification – should have any impact on the learning outcomes you wish to achieve. In some cases, gamification may be an appropriate method to achieve the desired learning outcomes but, at present, I can see few real-world examples where this would be the best option.”

Deloitte’s annual report examining trends in technology put to business use – “Tech Trends 2013” – states, “Despite a compelling case for how embedding gaming mechanics in business can benefit corporate goals, the history of effective gamification is just beginning. That’s because it is difficult to entrench gamification firmly within the organization. Effective game principles often rely on deep and accurate understanding of internal organizational workings, as well as the needs of customers externally. It’s ultimately a cultural change.”

While gamification may be a key trend in today’s business world, at present it seems – to borrow Shakespeare’s words – to be a trend more honored in the breach than the observance. In the words of the futurist William Gibson, “the future’s already here… it’s just not evenly distributed.”

What are your experiences with gamification? Share your thoughts below.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. All fields required.

View our Privacy Policy.