Gamification can positively impact employee learning outcomes, performance, and engagement.
As gamification and game-based learning continue to expand their reach into corporate learning experiences, learning and development professionals are increasingly exploring how game mechanics can improve employee learning outcomes and increase learner engagement.
While some organizations might invest in full game development or products that provide platforms for gamifying processes in order to leverage games to frame learning and job performance, the threshold for gamification and game-based learning doesn’t actually have to be so high. There are also some effective lower threshold options for incorporating gamifying learning experiences that can have an equally significant impact.
Here are five gamification and game-based learning elements you could consider using to gamify your next learning initiativeand the impact they can have:
One of the underrated aspects of games that can have a big impact on learning is the inclusion of characters. Some of the most popular and long-lasting games are beloved in no small part because of their characters. Think about Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Lara Croft, or Mario—all characters who have resonated and connected with the players of their games. Even board games have leveraged the inclusion of characters to draw players in. Who doesn’t remember Ms. Scarlett and Professor Plum? And game show hosts like Alex Trebek or Pat Sajak and Vanna White help personalize otherwise repetitive game experiences.
Adding a character or characters to a game-based learning experience can help with retention of key concepts and make content more relatable. Use a single character to act as a learning guide through a learning experience, a coach to provide hints or help, or use multiple characters to represent different key concepts to help strengthen recall of important information. People love to learn from other people and incorporating characters into learning experiences can make content that’s otherwise straightforward feel more relatable and meaningful.
Go beyond just including characters by developing a storyline to contextualize learning experiences. Learning concepts out of context can make learning less “sticky;” with a storyline wrapped around learning, suddenly learners understand not just the what, but also the why. Storylines can also add in elements of personalization and humor to increase engagement. And while some training should be kept realistic to ensure learning transfer from the training experience to performance on the job, not all storylines have to mirror the real world. In fact, for some experiences, it’s actually better to use a fictionalized situation—like a spaceship or a tropical island—so that multiple audiences can relate to the key learning outcomes and not be distracted as they may be if a realistic storyline doesn’t mirror their experience completely.
Storylines work particularly well in tying together longer duration learning programs, as learners become invested in seeing the story to its conclusion. Try applying a storyline to practice activities so learners can apply their learning to handle various scenarios and see the impact of their decisions in a fictionalized world.
Points and leaderboards
Looking for ways to ensure that people are applying learning on the job? Points and leaderboards can offer extrinsic motivation for groups of employees who are naturally competitive to demonstrate what they’ve learned and how well they can apply new skills or concepts. Points can be given for demonstrating behaviors or skills, and leaderboards provide public recognition of people who are demonstrating what good looks like. Working with a group that’s not so competitive? Leaderboards can be modified and personalized so people can see where they rank compared to others without seeing everyone’s names and ranks. Or don’t use leaderboards at all and set goals for points achievements within certain timeframes to set common expectations for how learning should be applied outside of the training environment.
What’s better than awarding people for achieving a goal? Awards are a great way to link training to on the job performance, and can be used to meet different types of learner motivations, from public recognition on an achievement board to physical or monetary rewards. Awards work best for timeboxed achievements, and can be individual or team-based, competitive, cooperative, or collaborative.
Think of ways that awards could be used to motivate learners for a specific learning experience or create a system of award levels based on application of learning. Consider awards as a culminating activity for learning rather than for completing an activity or demonstrating competency or expertise. It’s always more meaningful to receive an award for achievement rather than participation.
For learning experiences that focus on multiple outcomes, badges are a way to recognize a variety of different skills or competencies, with an option to show different levels of expertise. Badges can demonstrate a one-time achievement but have particular power in showing how achievements are accumulated over time. For learners who are motivated by mastering the full set of skills or competencies, badges offer both a map of what’s possible and a snapshot of progress against multiple goals. Badging can be used in combination with points, leaderboards, and awards to show learners what they’ve achieved and where they need to focus. For some learners, motivation to complete a set of badges will drive performance and behaviors (similar to Pokémon—gotta catch ’em all!).
For learning managers, badges are an excellent way to get visibility into the strengths and weaknesses of a group, potentially driving additional training investment where people are struggling to achieve badges. Badges can be a powerful feedback tool for managers to identify where coaching and additional support may be needed.
Between a simple trivia game for knowledge reinforcement like Jeopardy!and a fully immersive game-based learning curriculum like simple game mechanics that, when incorporated into learning experiences, can positively impact learning and performance outcomes, learner engagement, and decisions about additional training investment. Experimenting with these game design elements is a great way to gamifiy your learning curriculum and evolve the impact of your learning programs from satisfactory to spectacular.