Gamification in the Realm of Employee Training

Interview training developed with the Thinking Worlds Tool.

Gamification can play a key role in how organizations train employees because it does two key things.

First, Gamification forces designers of instruction within organizations or supporting organizations to think through how to make learning more engaging. It provides a new lens for the creation of all types of instruction, the lens of game-designer. While developing a serious game can be a complex, time consuming and difficult process, adding game elements is less complex, requires less programming and, when done correct, can be just as engaging.

If used properly, thinking like a game-designer will help instructional designers and organizations to think through the design elements included in their e-learning or classroom instruction and provide a more realistic and rich approach to all types of training. The ultimate result of instructional designers thinking like game designers is that the subsequent instruction that is developed will be more engaging and motivating for the learner.

The second key thing gamification does is reduce the barrier of cost. When most people within organizations think of games and simulations they think of high costs and the large time commitment just for people to play the developed game or simulation. Gamification can be done at a reduced cost and within the same relative time frame as the development of traditional instruction. Additionally, it doesn’t need to be focused only on online games or internet based or mobile applications, gamification is really a way of thinking about development of instruction and does not have to equal technology.

So, for example, instead of thinking about creating learning objectives, gamification forces a designer to think about creating a challenge. All good games begin with a challenge; instruction should begin with a challenge and not with objectives. Second, all good games contain interactivity. Most instruction contains bullet lists of items. Gamifcation is about interactivity and not about lists of bulleted items. Third most games are framed around a compelling story. Most training has one or two stories but the training is not focused around one story. Ironically, research indicates that people learn better from stories than they do from bulleted lists but bullets are the preferred weapon of trainers—not stories. Finally, most games provide continual, focused feedback. Gamification elements are continual feedback about progress and advancement. Adding these elements to instruction provides engagement, a context for which the learning takes place and a chance to apply the learning. All of these are elements from games that need to be incorporated into instruction. They are contained in games but don’t have to be limited to games.

An example of Low Tech Gamification

To illustrate my point about not needing technology for a gamification projects, I’ll give an example of a project I worked on this past year. I was brought in to help redevelop a course that was focused on training individuals on how to conduct an internal investigation within the organization. The course was designed in a very traditional fashion. The course started with several course objectives such as “The learner will be able to understand the five steps of conducting an internal investigation.” Then the course provided a list of terminology the would-be investigators had to learn and then it contained a model that needed to be followed and then a simple role-play where a small portion of an investigation was enacted. The problem was that after the individuals left the 2 day class, they still felt uneasy and uncertain as to how to conduct an evaluation. They knew all the pieces but they didn’t know how to apply them all together in one cohesive investigation.

I decided to flip the class. So when the trainees came to the 2 day class, the class opened with the following statement. “An employee at the company has just walked into your office and told you that she suspects her boss is embezzaling money. What is the first thing you do?”There was no objectives, no defining of terms, no model to follow. The learners were thrown into the situation. Then, as they asked questions and moved along within the investigation, the instructor provides both pieces of information related to the case and instructional information. At one point, the instructor produces the “Investigator’s Handbook” and the learners can use the handbook to help them in the case. So, from the time they walk into the classroom until they leave, they are in the role of an investigator. They have to form interview questions, decide who to call as witnesses and ultimately make a judgment call about the alleged embezzlement.

All throughout the two day class they are guided by the instructor. This immerses them in the learning process and at the end of the two days of instruction, they have actually conducted a mock investigation. They know what forms to use, what questions to ask and what procedures to follow. They know because they did it. That is an example of a simulation that doesn’t require high tech programming or development. What it requires is thinking like a game developer. It requires elements of gamification to take typical training delivery and transform it into an engaging experience for the learners.

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Karl Kapp
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