In focus: Gamification in learning

Gamification has become a bit of a buzzword and also in some cases a must have strategy for learning and development teams. Obviously I am delighted about that and may have contributed a little in sharing my knowledge and excitement about gamification in learning, mainly because for all of my career I have been using game mechanics both online but primarily off-line to achieve learning moments for clients.

First and foremost you still need a good understanding about how people learn and when learning happens. In the case of a child exploration is their first learning modality and most exploration is done through play and through mirroring what adults around them do or other children. In the case of adults we are learning for different reasons, most of us have the necessary skills to function adequately. Yet at different moments we will see the need for more information, more skills and more insights.

Typically as an adult we need to get to the point of awareness that you are in need of more, before openness to learning really occurs. Once awareness hits however, we want an instant solution that we can work with. In todays world we typically turn to Google Search or a colleague to show us how to do something. We also layer our learning on top of things we already know and understand. When we realise the information we seek may require taking a course puts us in front of a decision point which is usually based on time needed, effort required, personal motivation and budget required. Marketing people understand that it is important to help potential buyers through this decision making process. What I see most often in internal learning and development teams, is that the marketing step is overlooked, yet for the learner an essential part of the buying decision making process in todays world.

If a learning management repository was as searchable as google or even better included in a google search instigated from inside the company walls to include internal information first, the adult learner looking for answers to his learning need may have found the relevant resource. For most the internal search is the last on the list. Part of the reasoning is mistrust of internal resources, or often simply not enough content (mainly due to not having enough of a team to create or curate content for all the knowledge needed in an organisation). It is typically only when someone has spoken to a manager about wanting to do a course on a specific topic that they get pointed back in the direction of internal sources first.











So the companies that claim that gamification will solve all learning problems, are over-promising. The first hurdle in my view is that L&D teams need to think like marketeers to publicise courses first. One of the things I do with my clients when we map the learner journey is to look at how will you attract people in and what will make them come back. Most employees are mainly concerned with doing the best job they can, perform to key performance objectives and when they are stuck they want a quick fix. Organisations with a strong learning culture build learning into all business processes from debriefing after projects, sales, etc as well as having learning time and learning objectives as part of the critical performance make up of employees.

You can gamify the marketing process of learning all the same, from scarcity of places for a live courses and opening enrolment for a short space of time each quarter to competitions, etc.

For adult learners, one saying often comes to mind “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear” (quote origins are debated to be from Zen or Buddha and others). I think it points at an important distinction we need to make in corporate learning, namely that adults although they are always learning unconsciously, they will typically only search for learning actively when they have an internal need to improve something or answer a very specific question.

So the second thing I will do with clients around learning is to find out why people learn in their organisation. User research in effect. It gives us insights into the company culture, attitude to learning and learning personalities in a company. The motivations will become clear through this process and this is when gamification design can add value to learning.

The challenge I see with learning systems providers who have jumped on the gamification band wagon, is that many of them only focus on the superficial side of sprinkling game dust over existing learning. Now in my opinion, sprinkling icing on a cake doesn’t ensure you have a great cake, it may look fabulous, but if the recipe is flawed the taste will still be poor. It is the same with gamification.

Great gamification design delves into the motivations and culture of the people that make up a company. Business is done by people, people have motivations and they are influenced by other people. Systems can be enablers, but only that. What stuns most of my clients in the corporate sector is that gamification designs we work on also include a large component of user experience and communication planning.

Basically what I would love you to take away from this post is to ask the questions that matter from your suppliers, namely “How will you ensure the gamification is right for my people?” assuming you are making the decision in a learning and development capacity.


2 thoughts on “In focus: Gamification in learning”

  1. Where I used to work we had long discussions about the search capabilities of the intranet and in turn the learning platform. I am so glad you emphasise the need for robust search here before getting on with gamification. The number one complaint we had was that the learning materials people actually wanted were tough to find from the learning platform and impossible from the intranet – there was no joined up search at all.

    The thing that did work reasonably well was that the created learning "packs". These were news articles and pages on the intranet that were aimed at specific themes of learning each month to help people get some of the content they may find interesting.

  2. For one client it meant setting up preferences from users on how they wanted to be notified. This could mean topical update notifications, newsletters, evidence of learning notifications etc. Most L&D teams don't think like marketing people and if it is too far a stretch, then ask for help from the internal marketing team to get your best materials known to your audience. Marketing can be gamified too and that is the part most learning systems providers will rarely address.

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