Gamification in e-learning is not the same as playing online games: it essentially means adding game elements to non-game activities and processes; and even if actual games are involved, they will have a purpose and affect work positively.

The point of gamification in e-learning development is not to foster entertainment in the corporate environment. The truth is gamification allows you to turn otherwise unengaging but important elements of work into more productive experiences that employees will not only profit from but also enjoy having.

Giant companies such as Coca Cola and Nike have been using gamification to attract customer attention and increase revenue for years. It eventually occurred to many decision makers in the corporate environment that the logic could also be applied to employee training for superior results—especially but not limited to millennials—and the reasoning was proven right.

Then why is it not widely done?

The misconception that gamification at the workplace is a counterproductive, time-wasting measure—or even a silly fad—is understandable. The name itself may generate doubt as to whether there is any meaningful work involved, and there has been no shortage of questionable corporate trends—hot desking, the word “synergy” and so on.

One of the possible reasons for the general skepticism toward gamification—besides sheer bias—is that some companies, driven by the fear of missing out on a new trend, simply add game mechanics to their e-learning platform without much consideration. Then it ends up being a bland, stiff task on employees’ to-do list.

Naturally, if the “gamification” consists of a mandatory online mini-game in which you control a barn animal jumping over ugly enemies named “unproductivity” or “disregard for deadlines” while collecting “clients’ satisfaction” coins, then there is nothing to be gained. The sad consequence is that what could be a hugely beneficial addition becomes a distraction and ends up proving naysayers right.

Why it works

However, there is solid scientific evidence to support true gamification as a valid approach to education and employee training. Institutions such as the Rotman School of Management of the University of Toronto have found that bringing core game characteristics such as competition, challenges, instant feedback, and a reward system is a proven strategy to boost the learner’s motivation and increase learning retention.

Gamification even allows you to give the experience an extra kick by adding leaderboards, thus encouraging employees to perform better during training to compete among themselves and rank first. Everyone likes to compete and stay on top. In addition to that, seeing yourself rank up after a challenging task is self-motivation done right.

It doesn’t stop at academic findings, though. In fact, a number of successful examples serve as empirical confirmation that the work environment can indeed profit from having specific game mechanics.

According to a survey conducted by the Aberdeen Group, the use of gamification in the business environment was able to raise employee turnover to 36%, which contrasts with the 25% shown by others. As for engagement, the results proved themselves even more promising, as they showed 48% improvement against 28% by companies who did not gamify their training.

One of such successful examples is Domino’s. Their web-based gamified course teaches employees how to prepare the items on the menu correctly—and avoid food waste. The course works because instead of remembering a monotonous, sleep-inducing lesson showing what goes first in a pizza, staff members remember scoring points, unlocking badges, and seeing the progress bar move after completing stages. That knowledge stays with them.

But onboarding is not the only business area within the scope of gamification: one can add it to skill development or even something as mundane as compliance. Spotify, for instance, gamified its annual review and saw voluntary employee participation rise to an unprecedented 90%.

The key is to understand that gamification is meant to turn necessary and productive parts of the job more engaging, and not randomly add fun for fun’s sake. Put differently, it must be well integrated to existing processes and feel organic; it needs to have (and achieve) the same goals as your standard training. That is attainable indeed.

Take World Bank’s Evoke, for example. The reason why the initiative is so successful is that it encourages users to find solutions to complex modern problems, which demand key corporate skills, such as collaboration and creativity. It works as part of the necessary training while developing knowledge and skills to be used immediately after it.

Where do I begin?

That said, we learn from both theory and practice that in order to gamify employee training effectively we must answer a few questions:

  1. How can it help in my particular case?

Each case is a unique one. Although the game mechanics are worthwhile and helpful by their very nature, their application requires consideration. Ultimately, the goal is to have employees develop reasoning and practical skills that will render their work more productive. In other words, “what learning would they profit from?”

  1. How motivating is it?

Problem-solving is an essential part of business; also, an essential part of gaming mechanics, since games demand overcoming challenging situations. Bridging both is how you will infuse work with fun. Does it promote friendly competition among co-workers? Is the gamified process appealing enough so that employees can see the whole point of completing it?

More than being fun and visually attractive—as good games are—the difficulty of the challenges will play a crucial role in the training. A good but feasible challenge that tests their skills and raises the ante will make them eager to progress and develop more.

  1. Is it feasible at the moment?

Implementing the technology that makes the change possible involves an initial investment for the company. As you can imagine, the ROI will eventually make the change well worth the effort, since a trained and engaged team brings better results—and being interested means being eager to learn more.

On a final note

In short, gamification works well in the corporate environment. It is a proven way to ensure employees will be interested in and better retain the content they find during their training. Companies that harness this innovation properly (with due consideration about how it can be useful in their case) can experience better results. They can even see employees willingly performing traditionally off-putting and laborious tasks with the same absorbed attention they use their phones during lunch break.

By Adriana Blum

About the author

Adriana Blum is a Senior Technology Architect at Iflexion. She has over 12 years of experience in managing and delivering custom eLearning solutions. Adriana helps organizations automate processes and find new opportunities.