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Unlocking gamification

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13th Oct 2014
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As gamification becomes increasingly widespread in learning and development applications, Paul Hilton, Managing Director of Can Studios, considers the future of gamification in corporate training and the key to unlocking its potential.

One of the major challenges of learning and development is ensuring that learners stay engaged and motivated throughout the process. No longer in its infancy, gamification is rapidly growing in popularity as it proves to be a highly effective means of keeping learners on track and fuelling long-term development. Put simply, gamification is the practice of applying gaming concepts to a non-gaming context, such as a work-based training scenario, to engage and motivate the participant.

Using gamification to best effect

Although gamification is now widespread, a recent study by research firm Gartner estimated that “80% of current gamified applications would fail to meet business objectives primarily due to poor design.” It is clear, therefore, that the design and implementation of gamification needs to be carefully considered if an organisation is to harness the benefits.

Whilst simple gaming concepts, such as badges, trophies, points and leader boards, can really motivate learning, they should not be used as a ‘bolt-on’ that merely adds an extra dynamic to the scenario. In fact, gamification should run deeper than this – explicitly tied to the organisation’s objectives and inspired by a firm understanding of what motivates the learners.

As with any learning and development strategy, you should begin by identifying your objectives and how gamification might relate to these goals. If you are looking to increase productivity, raise competency levels across an organisation or foster better teamwork, gamification certainly can help you to achieve this but it is vital to understand how and why if you hope to see the best results.

With these objectives in mind, you should take the time to understand your target audience and how they are motivated. This insight will help you make an informed choice about the gaming mechanisms that are going to drive results.

"The key to achieving success through gamification really is in finding and focusing on the sweet spot where your objectives and the intrinsic motivations of your learners overlap."

For many people, the appeal of games, whether for learning or for fun, is competition. When it comes to learning, however, it’s not quite as simple as that. There are various different levels of competitiveness and if you get it wrong you could disengage participants or provoke undesirable results. Many people, for example, are motivated by what we might think of as the most obvious form of competition; the opportunity to compete against other people and, hopefully, come out on top. In this way, a leader board is likely to keep some participants engaged as they continue to strive for and maintain the top spot. Success, in this respect, will also reinforce the skills or knowledge they are acquiring. But what about those that don’t perform as well as their peers? The process can become frustrating and disappointing which may well undermine learning objectives and even divide a team.

Collaborative game mechanics are often preferable for business training as participants are encouraged to work together to achieve shared goals. For example, we developed an elearning course on Strategic and Tactical Incident Management (STIM) for the Environment Agency that developed collaboration skills. Clearly, it would not have been right to motivate learners in this course using competitive tools like points and leader boards which would pitch them against colleagues with whom they have to work. Instead, learners led a team by making strategic decisions with a gauge indicating the level of respect from the team earned throughout the course, highlighting the gravity of the decisions they made.

In fact, this type of gaming mechanism draws on more than one motivating force. Aside from competition, or as well as for some learners, many people are motivated simply by the desire to master new skills. For these learners, mechanisms such as the STIM sidebar provide instantaneous feedback that aids the learning process. For others, the sidebar works because it provides recognition for even the smallest steps of progress.

The key to achieving success through gamification really is in finding and focusing on the sweet spot where your objectives and the intrinsic motivations of your learners overlap. With this in mind, the gamification of your elearning courses should not be left to a developer working in isolation, whether in-house or outsourced, but should be managed by a team that specialises in learning and development.

At the beginning of 2014, it was predicted that this would be the year when gamification would move out of its infancy and into the mainstream. I think it’s fair to say this has indeed been the case but now, looking forward to 2015, we hope to see gamification being used to better effect. I expect that when this happens, we will see the real potential of gamification.

Paul Hilton is managing director of Can StudiosCan Studios is an award-winning, software development company based in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. Since the business was established in 1997, Can Studios has built an enviable reputation for developing innovative software and content for learning, personal development and human resources requirements for clients that include the United Nations, Sheffield Hallam University, Oxford University Press and the Environment Agency. 

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