Gamification in corporate learning: the holy grail or not?

The positive and negative sides of gamification in learning tools

Gamification in learning tools is a trend that has been around for a while, including the world of corporate learning. We hear the term used more and more, such as with every use of an avatar being characterized as gamification – even when not much more than a profile picture. In many cases the term is misunderstood and misidentified, though the concept can serve great value to many. What does it mean? How far can you go? And is it actually useful in learning tools? We will discuss all these critical questions in this article.

The meaning of gamification

Let’s start with the meaning of gamification. Gamification is the application of game elements and techniques in areas where they were not originally intended, such as in corporate learning. The varying degrees of gamification in learning could be as simple as a personal avatar or as complex as competition with colleagues. Unique examples of seriously implemented gamification are quite prevalent within the learning world. Think of entering into competitions with colleagues, allowing you to get higher and higher in the company rankings, or collecting so-called ‘experience points’ (XP) to unlock rewards. You can picture something as engaging as an evil villain to defeat at the end of a quest instead of a traditional final exam. The ‘Bowser’ of your training, so to speak. 

A motivating factor?

When used properly, gamification can be very motivating. Naturally, users want to get better. They want to beat their colleagues, achieve a level higher or maybe even ‘unlock’ something such as a bonus or incentive. The playful and competitive elements encourage them to do their best just a little bit more because it feels more like a reward. After all, the results are immediately visible and if a tangible gift is waiting at the end, the incentive is apparent. The reward concept in gamification serves as the agent that motivates employees to learn more and faster. And don’t forget: gamification can make learning fun. In order to have an enjoyable gamification module, there must be some variety to it, otherwise, it becomes boring and counterproductive fairly quickly.

… Or aimless struggles?

With all the benefits of gamification, there are also a few drawbacks. A relevant question to consider can be: Is the motivation created by competition really intrinsic? When someone does everything they can to beat the line manager, they become focused on that task specifically. This creates a scenario where the aim is then not to become better/smarter, but to beat the manager. Ultimately, it is important not to lose sight of the higher goal. The purpose of gamification is usually not to trump your colleagues, but to gain and retain knowledge. To ultimately be able to do your job better, smarter, faster, safer. Learning is a marathon, not a sprint. Three hours of cramming may get you the first place in the game, but apart from that, it’s of little use to you. After all, cramming is not a long-term solution for knowledge building, because that knowledge quickly disappears

Did you know that positive exam results are merely false positives? Learn more about ‘exam syndrome’ here.

If gaming in learning tools end up in an office-wide battle for first place, you’re better off opting for a ping-pong table in the office to beat your colleagues, and keep learning for what it’s meant for. On the other hand, if learning is a side effect of the battle, that is of course positive. Learning as a side effect of the battle must be a condition for applying gamification in learning. 

The golden mean

As with many other learning tools, gamification can be incredibly useful, if applied properly. Obviously, only adding minimal gamification elements into your system in order to call it gamification makes no sense. It must fit with the target group and the subject at hand. Effectively applying gamification includes looking for the perfect combination of gaming and learning. Choose a learning solution that applies game elements that add value to the learning experience. Think of, for example:

  • A score: Users want to see the result of their efforts.
  • Performance graphs: What is the effect of the efforts over a certain period of time? How does that relate to colleagues?
  • Storytelling: Use stories and case studies in learning modules.

How do I apply storytelling in learning? When you use storytelling in learning modules, it can work miracles. It creates a sense of connectedness, empathy and autonomy. By applying realistic case studies (i.e. situations that employees can recognize and relate to) and letting people make choices within those cases, you create user involvement. Users are allowed to make the decisions and see the consequences directly (like in a game). This makes them more aware of the situations they may encounte1r on the work floor and how they can best react. This novel way of learning can be read more about in this article about storytelling.

To game or not to game?

Here we are. Gamification in corporate learning tools. To play or not to play? Game-elements can certainly have an added value in learning, provided you do not take it too far. The end goal should always be the learning objectives from the game, not the battle, extra points or level-ups. Sticking to elements that generate results and increase involvement, such as scoring and case studies, are the best practices for gamification. When gamification can be applied to make learning more fun and increases intrinsic motivation in users, the benefits prove useful in organizations. 

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