How Kaplan Financial Took Gamification to the Next Level

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Unexpected results drove UK-based Kaplan Financial to seek out gamification at scale.

When it comes to motivating new learning behaviours, encouraging a bit of healthy competition never hurts, and when a new gamification platform, Kaplan Financial created, reared unexpected results, the UK-based professional education company knew it needed to take the experience to the next level.

Kaplan Financial is part of U.S.-based Kaplan Inc, which trains over one million students across 30 countries every year. The company specialises in helping accountancy and tax students achieve high-stakes qualifications (the make or break kind of qualifications), servicing both large and small employers, major accountancy firms like PwC, EY, and Deloitte, as well as individual learners. Its ongoing challenge is improving upon how it helps its learners achieve exam success. That led Stuart Pedley-Smith, CLO at Kaplan Financial, and his team to create the gamification platform for one of Kaplan’s clients.

How game mechanics unlocked a hidden level of measurement

Combining a badging system that awarded academic performance—doling out designations like “tax knowledge champion”— and a points-based leaderboard, or “league table,” the Kaplan crew were able to mobilise learner motivation and encourage behaviours well-suited for achieving exam success. Learners could earn points towards the table as they worked their way through specific learning behaviours, for example:

  • First attempt at a test
  • Completing the first attempt by the deadline set
  • Each subsequent attempt that led to an improved score.

Kaplan had historically measured performance using internally assessed simulations and success in the final exam. But as the gamified learning platform began to gain traction amongst learners, Pedley-Smith and his team made an interesting discovery: they had potentially unlocked a hidden level of measurement outside of performance: progress.

Pedley-Smith realised that, in time, it might be possible to refine students’ gamification scores to help identify particular personality traits that indicate a propensity for progress—key soft skills that, these days, are highly valued by employers in a quickly changing workplace: diligence (hard work), determination (grit), and desire (motivation).

Changing the game for financial services

The message that Pedley-Smith says he’s heard of late from some of Kaplan’s larger clients is that, these days, just because someone scored well on a critical exam, it doesn’t mean they’ll perform well in the workplace.

“The environment has changed,” says Pedley-Smith. “It’s all about critical thinking now. It’s all about problem-solving. Technology has replaced a lot of the tasks that finance professionals would have done. Now it is about thinking. Now it’s all about working in a world of uncertainty.”

That’s why the ability to measure progress is potentially valuable for Kaplan clients. It can help them address three key challenges they’re currently facing when it comes to cultivating the right talent, and effectively future-proofing their workforces in the face of a changing world of work and an evolving industry.

  1. Out of university, learners look very similar. It’s hard for employers to know exactly what they want and to find the right person for the right job.
  2. Knowledge and skills are quickly becoming out of date. In previous years it was easy; it was all about compliance, rules and adhering to the rules. Now it’s all about the value-add: soft skills like creativity and problem-solving.
  3. The other problem is the speed at which qualifications are changing is becoming more challenging. Historically, little changed other than certain regulatory requirements. Now, whole new areas are coming into play, blockchain being one example. These new areas need to be increasingly taught and examined more quickly.

Plus, a propensity for progress is also indicative of higher performance, says Pedley-Smith. Although it’s still early days, the results so far have indicated that learners who score high in the gamification platform are more likely to pass their final exam and with a higher mark.

“We break student results into quartiles. We’ve seen some evidence that [playing the game] will move people up from the lower quartiles.”

Taking gamification to the next level

Pedley-Smith believed that the new level of measurement he and his team had uncovered had potential. It had to be taken to the next level. To refine the platform and its progress measurement capabilities, the Kaplan team needed more data. That would involve rolling the gamification platform out at scale across client cohorts. So, Kaplan teamed up with D2L to upgrade its gamified learning experience using D2L’s modern learning platform to deliver it to learners at scale while leveraging built-in gamification capabilities to enhance badge delivery and league table upkeep.

D2L’s learning platform offers Kaplan three distinct benefits:

  1. Evidence-based learning: Kaplan is an evidence-based educator, they follow learning science principles, they have an instructional design team, and employ learning scientists. The platform fits nicely with that analytical process; they want evidence in order to be able to make better decisions about learning.
  2. Visibility from the platform:  The platform gives them more data than they ever had before. Once someone logs into a course, Kaplan starts to get lots of data that they can turn into tangible insights.
  3. Learners are naturally moving toward online learning: Kaplan still offers classroom learning as well as online delivery, but they’re noticing that more students are seeing the benefits of going online.

D2L’s platform will not only allow Kaplan to deliver its gamification experience at scale but also gamify behaviors to potentially deliver robust data results around those previously hidden qualities— diligence, determination and desire— as well as social interactions.

“We were trying to make this a completely data-driven exercise,” says Pedley-Smith. “D2L’s platform will help us do that. One of the things that it has been able to do is it’s given us an immediate response. Now that [the gamification experience] is embedded in the D2L platform, [learners] get an immediate notification when they get a point or are awarded a badge.”

The sequel: an underlying score

For Kaplan, the question has now become, can the company, by measuring the way students behave online, effectively develop an underlying score that identifies those learners that are diligent, determined, and have a desire to achieve success? By being able to monitor students’ engagement on the D2L platform, Kaplan would like to see if it’s possible to come up with a score that shows its clients how some of their top academic performers might also have other qualities, such as being hardworking and determined, that are potentially more valuable.

“We’re pursuing a process that we wouldn’t have been able to do in the past in a fast-changing learning environment and a fast-changing employment environment,” says Pedley-Smith. “What this will enable us to do is shift [our clients’] perception slightly as to what they’re looking for.”

By putting measures of progress and performance together, Kaplan could help its clients identify more well-rounded employees who are more capable of meeting the new business needs being created by a changing world of work. That would constitute a pretty compelling competitive advantage for both Kaplan Financial and its clients.