In Educational Technology, Learner Engagement

There’s a reason why the most effective strategy for learning is through gameplay. Think of language learning. Duolingo, for instance, is a widely used and lauded app for language learning because it taps into our sense of play. You earn gems for every two lessons completed in a day. You lose “hearts” if you make mistakes, and you gain them back by practicing. You are learning while having fun (what a thought!).

What works is the gamification aspect: it keeps learners motivated. This type of strategy is easily adaptable to employee training, because there are many ways to design a course or guide like a game: including stakes, goals, a little dose of competition, and a lot of chances for knowledge retention through gameplay.

It’s also becoming increasingly popular because businesses are recognizing its value. According to Gartner, 40% of top global organizations are using gamification as a primary tool to engage employees. And in a study conducted by Deloitte, a cool 80% of learners claimed that their learning would be more productive if it were more game-oriented. On the flip side, Gartner reports that a whopping 70% of business transformation efforts fail due to lack of engagement.

It’s time for a change. It’s time to embrace gamification—which is supported by instructional design and education experts like Karl Kapp—as a learning strategy. Here are the two main types, and how they can be tailored to your needs.

Structural Gamification

This approach applies game elements to your content in the form of earning points, advancing in levels, and collecting badges, all of which activates the reward center of the brain. Your content doesn’t change to fit the gamification; it merely exists inside the game structure and your learners earn things for watching or interacting with the content.

We recently built such a course for a client to help their employees stay compliant with company security policies. On its own, the material is rather dry, but necessary in order to safeguard the company and its employees. We helped them build a gamified structure where employees earned points for watching videos, unlocked bonus keys for taking quizzes on the videos, and earned badges as they completed each level. It helped give the employees a sense of achievement and kept them motivated to learn more, no matter how “dry” the content.

Content Gamification

This approach applies game elements and game thinking in a way that alters the content to appear more game-like. For instance, the addition of story elements or beginning a course with a challenge. It doesn’t mean your content is turned into a game, per se; it simply provides context or activities within the game that’s added to the existing content.

For example, one of our clients had a new expense report process they wanted to train their employees to use. They wanted to teach the program quickly and efficiently, so we helped them design a way to gamify the new process. We made it a timed challenge where employees would compete against each other for best time, and gave them access to a leaderboard to see how they fared against each other. By creating clickable prompts and instructional pop-ups to move them through the new expense report process, we succeeded in delivering employees a fast, fun way to learn the program. The challenge encouraged employees to play it multiple times to achieve a better time, and the repetition helped cement the new process in their brains, for when they actually use it later.

Gamification’s secret sauce lies in its ability to set measurable goals and help learners self-direct their own learning, while reinforcing good behavior and giving them a sense of achievement. By tapping into all of these good, motivating feelings through play, your employees are better able to recall rote, mandatory training easier than if they were just reading the material in a document or taking a quiz.

And by turning your next training into a game, you’re guaranteeing better engagement.