Gamification concept in learning, interactive engaging content.
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If your employees aren’t picking up new skills as quickly and as thoroughly as you’d like, it may be time to have them play — or at least feel like they’re playing.

More companies are integrating gaming into their learning, onboarding and training processes. Gamification, as it’s called, doesn’t actually turn work into play. Instead, it mixes elements of gaming such as story lines, challenges and rewards with elements of work like new information, skills and tasks to enhance learning and boost productivity.

It does all of that while saving employers the cost of in-person training, and it delivers a smash! boom! and pow! to the boredom factor of employee onboarding and upskilling.

SEE: The COVID-19 gender gap: Why women are leaving their jobs and how to get them back to work (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The career-builder website Zippia found that employees experience a 60% engagement increase with gamification on average. Nine of 10 employees report that gamification makes them more productive at work, and seven of 10 say gamification motivates them to work harder on the job. According to one measure, some 1,400 of the world’s 2,000 largest companies are now using gamification of some kind to train employees and keep them engaged.

That all makes sense when you consider the makeup of today’s workforce. The current crop of college graduates — 22 year olds — were seven when the iPhone debuted, nine when they started playing Angry Birds on Mom’s phone, and 11 when Minecraft was released to the public. This is a generation that lives and breathes on screens. What doesn’t make sense is expecting them to suddenly start learning with PowerPoints and pencils.

To be clear, gamification does not mean your workers are going to be killing zombies or aiming onscreen lasers at the competition. Instead, employees engage with onscreen scenarios to solve problems, overcome challenges and build skills to advance — just as they do when playing video games. Effectively incorporating gamification does not mean plunking team members in front of a laptop and hoping for the best.

Here are some pointers for making gamification work for you and your team.

How to implement gamification in your workplace

Link gaming and goals

Unless your aim is a workforce that excels at stealing virtual cars, you must tie what employees are doing onscreen to desired outcomes. Typically, this is exactly what is going on in actual gaming: Players are working toward specific goals. So if you’re doing harassment training, or ethics and compliance instruction, gamification can use real-life scenarios to put employees in specific scenarios and challenge them to navigate those situations.

It unfolds much like playing Super Mario and trying to get from point A to point Z without losing all your lives along the way. This way, you’re conducting training in a setting your team is familiar with and comfortable in. Employees being actively involved in the scenarios means they are more likely to retain the messages you’re trying to send.

Embrace competition and team-building

Integrate department-wide leaderboards, award badges, organize groups into teams and provide rewards as employees advance in skill levels and rack up onscreen achievements while progressing toward your overall learning goal.

This way, you lower the risk of an employee becoming a lone gamer, sitting in their basement making random, shot-in-the-dark guesses at multiple choice questions in hopes of passing a test but not caring much about learning anything. It also provides a method for employees to work together to get answers to issues that may be confusing them.

Throwing in avatars also can even be an effective tool to further engage participants. Just make sure avatars don’t detract from the goal of the lesson.

Mix it up

Rightly or wrongly, this tech-savvy generation has a reputation for having short attention spans. Don’t give them the opportunity to get bored. Change up scenarios. Vary on-screen scenes as employees move to different levels. Make sure the next module doesn’t look exactly like the last one.

When you introduce gaming to learning situations, expect some push back, at least initially, from employees who did not grow up in the age of iPhones and virtual universes. Technology is advancing rapidly, and we all have to adapt. Even your grandmother knows she doesn’t have to rent videos at Blockbuster anymore.

Gaming as an institutional teaching device may seem strange or even scary. But it really isn’t new. Pilots have trained on flight simulators for decades, and with good reason: Better to learn to land a virtual plane than crash a billion-dollar bomber. You may not have any budget-busting aircraft at your workplace, but there still are many advantages to mastering skills and concepts in a virtual world before trying them out in real life.

Jay Titus.
Jay Titus

Jay Titus is vice president for workforce solutions, at University of Phoenix.

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