What is the gamification of L&D - and how can it can help organisations achieve their goals?

by Pete Jenkins

What is gamification?

The generally accepted definition is that “Gamification is the use of design techniques from games in a business context or some other non-game contexts.” (Werbach, 2013). That doesn’t explain why you would use gamification though. I see gamification as a way to apply game mechanics to increase someone's engagement with a process, so that you get more of the behaviour you desire from that someone. One definition that describes what we do for companies more accurately is that gamification is “the use of game design metaphors to create more game-like experiences”.

Gamification is also about understanding why certain game mechanics are so engaging and fun and how to choose which game techniques we should be using in any given situation. It is based upon existing theories from motivational psychology, behavioural economics, user experience design, game design and more. Importantly, gamification gives us a practical framework that enables us to easily apply these psychological theories to a business or process.

Where can gamification be used in a business?

Gamification can be, and has been, applied to tackle a variety of business challenges. My advice is to have a clear view of what your objectives are and then set clear goals for your projects. I'm going to give you some examples of challenges that businesses have faced successfully through gamification. The three challenges I will talk about are: employee collaboration and team building; training; and innovation. I will also show you some gamification projects that are non-digital to demonstrate the fact that gamification does not have to be either expensive or digital to make a difference.

So let’s play!

Employee Collaboration – Team Building

One of the areas that we see gamification really assisting companies is team building and collaboration. Games create great spaces for people to work together in teams. Even if they don’t play in the same team to beat the game, they are having a communal experience that helps them connect and facilitates collaboration in the workplace. Working remotely is a growing trend in a lot of industries which may have multiple benefits for companies and employees but it does make team building and collaboration more difficult as employees may live and work in different countries.

mobilj.jpgVideo games can give us a lot of insight on how to fight this problem. Think about Massive Multiplayer Online games like World Of Warcraft or Halo. These games have millions of players, that may have never met in person, collaborating to overcome difficult challenges and beat the game. It’s very common in games that have social elements for players to create teams and guilds and stick with them for a long time. Brand new communities are created that sometimes turn into relationships outside the game. Companies can facilitate team building and collaboration with gamification to help their employees know each other and work more effectively.

McGonigal (2008) describes a case study in collective intelligence gaming that gives us insight on how to achieve collective work on a large scale. McGonigal worked as the lead community designer for ‘I Love Bees’, a web-based interactive fiction that aimed to create a back-story for the video game Halo 2. The designers gave players hints and clues about the story of the game through various outlets like websites, blogs, emails, images and mp3 recordings. What was different about ‘I Love Bees’ though was the fact that the clues to the story were not given to all players. Some of them could be unlocked when a player was in a specific location in the world or were emailed to just one player. That way, the players had to work with each other to solve the mystery of ‘I Love Bees’. They not only needed to collectively analyse data and brainstorm on the solutions to the puzzles but they needed to share the data they each gathered with the community.

Training – Learning

The truth is that humans love to play and have fun. It has been observed that we learn much faster while playing games. Quest To Learn is a public school based in the USA that is using games as a core element of their education process. They describe their experience by saying “learning experiences in games don’t feel like spoon-fed education. Learning experiences feel like play.”

Whitney (2007) talked about Cisco's game “The Binary Game”. The Binary Game is an arcade game that looks like Tetris and teaches employees how the binary system works. Players learn the concept of binary numbers while playing. Within five minutes, the game exposes the player to forty to fifty binary problems. Quickly, people start to recognise patterns and develop strategies to tryto beat the game. Those patterns and strategies give players the ability to think in binary. Jerry Bush, who managed the project, said “It’s a more efficient way to learn.”

Another great example of a gamification solution that helped a company’s employees learn more about other departments of the organisation is INNOV8. IBM created this interactive first-person thinker game. It teaches the complex ideas of business process management by making players responsible for making decisions that impact a fictitious company named After, Inc. Roodt & Joubert (2009), in their evaluation of the game, state that there are two primary aims. The first aim is to teach players about business processes and Business Process Management/Modelling (BPM).  The second aim is to immerse them in a three-dimensional world which is closely aligned to real-life scenarios.

Innovation

Games are great at motivating people to find new ways to solve a problem. Games like Civilization empower people to think of different ways they could finish the game. Using games in your innovation or ideation process is useful. Additionally, games can be designed to offer safe places for people to fail. When your character dies in a game, you start again trying to figure out what you did wrong and improve on the next play. Safe places to fail are important for employees to be truly creative.

One case study where gamification enhanced an ideation project is a game called Idea Street, from the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions. Lawrenson (2013) explained that the goal behind the game was to decentralise innovation and generate ideas from its 120,000 people across the organisation. Idea Street is a social collaboration platform with the addition of game mechanics. The mechanics included points, leader boards, and a buzz index. Within the first eighteen months, Idea Street had gained 4,500 users. Those users generated 1,400 ideas, sixty-three of which were implemented. “Cost savings from the implemented ideas exceeded a whopping 20,000,000 pounds” (Lawrenson, 2013).

Non-digital gamification

Of course gamification doesn’t always have to be digital. There are great examples of gamification projects that had nothing to do with a digital platform. One famous project is the Piano Stairs, where a staircase located inside a metro station had each step turned into a playable piano key. Designers of the Piano Stair successfully motivated people to use the stairs instead of the escalator.

The speed camera lottery is another project that proves that gamification can change people’s behaviour for the best. The goal of the speed camera lottery was to motivate drivers to keep their vehicle’s speed inside the speed limits. The way they achieved that was by setting up a sign with a screen that gave you feedback on how fast you were driving. Drivers that drove over the speed limit got a ticket and were fined. Drivers that drove inside the speed limit were entered into a monthly lottery to win money from the speeding ticket fines.

 Final Thoughts

To sum it all up, gamification is a way to improve processes and tackle challenges in a business. You need to design it carefully while thinking about your goals and what the end user is going to get from it. Gamification should add value to an organisation by engaging and motivating people to take action. 

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1. McGonigal, J. (2008). ‘Why I love bees: A case study in collective intelligence gaming’. The ecology of games: Connecting youth, games, and learning, Vol 199, p.227.

2. Lawrenson, A. (2013), ‘Britain’s Largest Public Agency Links Innovation with Lean Practices and Saves $Millions’. Management Exchange

3. Whitney, K. (2007). ‘Cisco illustrates how gaming could work for corporate learning’. Chief Learning Officer