The Gamification of E-Learning

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Gamification is the hot buzz word in the training and e-learning world, but what does it mean to you and most importantly your business?  I think the premise of Gamification is good, the basic ideas behind it being that people learn best through experiences.  Those experiences then drive user engagement which helps compliance.  If the e-learning game is executed properly gamification should yield a positive result for your business.  Let’s take a look a the key tenets of successfully executing on the concepts of gamification in the e-learning world.  Learning though experience, driving user compliance and being built around a clear business objective.

People Learn best through experiences, if you look at the Cone of Learning it states that individuals retain up to 90% of what they do.  Experiences matter!  This is where gamification has the best opportunity for success.  A game by nature requires active participation, the user (player) is doing something as a part of being involved in the game.  The concept of gamification exploits this idea by creating scenarios or simulations of real life on the job situations in a game format.  A great example of this was implemented by Hilton Hotels back in 2008, before gamification was even a phrase.   There is a great article on it here, but the gist of it is a SIMS style game played on popular gaming consoles that simulates real world customer service and employee interactions at a Hilton Hotel.  The user is scored and advances in the game based on their performance in real life situations at their hotel property.  This was ground-breaking training 5 years ago, but one of the best applications of gamification I have seen based on the fact that it is purely experiential, which as the Cone of Learning tells us is the best way to get people to retain information.

The second reason gamification is such a hot topic in the e-learning world is user compliance.  The biggest fear for a business investing in e-learning is use!  Are my employees, customers, contractors going to use the training I have provided for them.  As valuable as the information may be to you and your business, unless the users’ job is contingent upon taking training compliance is an issue.  The idea of a providing game based training taps not only into a users’ desire for an experience, but also the idea of achievements and ranking.  People are competitive creatures often times an opportunity to outrank a colleague is enough to drive someone to do something.  Gamification of e-learning provides ample opportunities to have employees compete against each other or even against themselves though levels, achievement badges of honor or even hard incentives based on performance (things like Starbucks and iTunes gift cards come to mind).   Build it and they will come is not always the case when investing the time and energy into an e-learning solution, creating game based training may help drives users to your online learning portal.

The last point I want to touch on may seem obvious but it is extremely important.  Game based learning, like any e-learning application must focus around your business and the specific objectives of your training.  Where game based learning fails is when it is gamified for the sake of being gamified.  A sharp focus on your business objective must be the priority from day 1.  I have seem companies make a decision to experiment with gamification of their e-learning but failed to focus on the business outcome, rather focused on the game itself.  The game may turn out great and drive users to your learning platform, but behavior change and the transfer of knowledge to on the job skills may be lost.   The Hilton Hotel example is on the extreme side of gamification, there was no doubt a significant investment in resources and capital to launch an initiative of that nature, but it was focused on their business in turn creating a positive business outcome.  Back in 2010 we developed an online version of Robert Kiosaki’s CashFlow board game.  It was a perfect online gaming application for their business.  The learning objective for the users was to increase their financial IQ through real life experiences in a multi-player online gaming format.  The business objective was also clear, drive leads to the Rich Dad website.  To this day the game developed almost 4 years ago is the number 1 online lead generation tool for the Rich Dad Company.  Clear business and learning objective will lead to a greater return on your gamification investment.

All trends have a life-cycle, some longer then others, gamification in e-learning is in its infancy.  There is good, bad and ugly out there, but the concept merits consideration for your employee and consumer training initiatives.  When executed properly it can increase user engagement and retention, drive use and compliance and ultimately have a positive effect on your business.

I would love to hear your thoughts on the gamification of e-learning?