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Taking gamification in training to the next level

Not two years ago, on a warm summer night I happened to be the beneficiary of free and reliable babysitting – the grandparents had come over to spend quality time with the baby. There was a foreign film festival in town and my husband cannot be caught dead watching something like that so I called my best friend – a very serious country manager in a big multinational company.

She rejected my call and I got three very bewildering texts: “bus” “can’t phone” “chasing pkm”.

Later she called me from across town and explained that even though there had been several individuals in pursuit, she had managed to get the egg and now all she had to do was to take some thousand steps over a limited period of time in order for it to become the actual Pokemon.

Since she had to go to work and mainly stay by her laptop, my baby got some extra outside time as I ended up walking a phone in order for an imaginary small monster to hatch.

That is my personal example of how engaging games can be and how they work even for those one might not expect. Online games no longer target only a small segment of the young population but have managed to move across various demographics.

Gamification – an effective panacea

Gamification as a concept has been around since 2002 when Nick Pelling coined the term but has become increasingly popular in the last decade. In a nutshell, gamification refers to the use of game elements in a non-gaming context to drive user engagement, loyalty or motivate the desired action.

Businesses have started loving gamification as much as players use games. As there is a growing retention and engagement crisis generated by the different expectation of the younger demographic, gamification often acts as a remedy. It’s also of great help in deploying procedures or information as the average attention span is also dwindling. Basically, whether the organization needs to make the brand better know (or liked), motivate employees, boost sales, drive a certain type of behavior, collect important data or solve a business crisis, gamification acts like a magic tonic or cure.

It’s almost as an enchanted panacea and even though to some it may look as if it were overused, gamification has not yet reached its true potential in modern society. One of the leading experts in gamification, Gabe Zichermann declared for Forbes that "Gamification in 2019 is making its way into areas that have been somewhat hesitant to embrace it. These include politics and civic institutions. This coincides with the beginning of the 2020 US political campaigns."

The technology needs constant upgrades

For corporate learning, the rise of gamification means that L&D professionals need to step up their game. Education as a field has always been closely connected to behavioral psychology and the latter has long been postulating that games have a tremendously positive impact on learning.

It’s true that a lot of the content and structure of e-learning already functions like an online game. But for the most part it’s rather a simple, obsolete and not very engaging one. So far, instructional designers have mainly limited themselves to using either collaboration or competition and systems of points or rewards as part of the gamification strategy. The most ambitious ones set out to scaffold learning with increasing challenges.

Regardless of how well the units were designed and how relevant the content may be, constant upgrade is imperative. Leaderboards and badges have some charm but with the development of the new technologies all learning needs to tap into the potential of virtual and augmented reality. Keeping everything in 2D with maybe some animation and a little video content is like asking today’s gamers to play Pac-man instead of the modern, state of the art games.

Learning has to be engaging and ensure high information transfer rates. Immersive environments manage to give users a very realistic experience and that leads both to a better understanding of concepts and to skill and competency development.

Read more: Immersive learning environments may become the norm in training

Gamification has to be taken to the next level

Apart from the necessary technological upgrade, instructional designers also have to re-think the way gamification is used and move away from focusing solely on extrinsic motivation (giving out rewards and incentives) to intrinsic motivation (making the content and the actions that the user has to perform truly enjoyable).

Immediate gratification is still very sought after but it needs to be continuous and at some point it just starts to lose its appeal. Dangling the same carrot for too long will lead to nobody wanting it anymore. Learning has to be designed so that it is engaging and enjoyable.

The new technologies I mentioned before have great merits in making learning fun but there also has to be dramatic shift in the way gamified learning is designed – people in charge with this should ask themselves “if this was an actual game we put on the market, would people buy it?”.

A good model is provided by Werbach and Hunter in their 6D framework:

  • Define business objectives,
  • Delineate target behaviors,
  • Describe the players,
  • Devise activity loops,
  • Don't forget the fun,
  • Deploy appropriate tools.

All in all

Gamification has already proved to be more than a fad. It is increasing and popularity and taking over all aspects of modern life. Organizations have to be constantly in tune with these developments and adjust to them in order to be able to attract and retain the right people.

Learning is not all about fun and games but fun and games can surely be beneficial to learning.

MATRIX Guide: How to make learning engaging with gamification