How can training learn from gaming?

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Written by Donavan Whyte on 18 November 2015

The gaming industry arguably leads the way when it comes to creating and maintaining high levels of engagement. Customer take-up is phenomenal and most people who give the gaming experience a try continue to come back for more. It’s a level of motivation and engagement that education and development professionals strive to achieve.

Training developers and designers who recognise  the opportunity, look to incorporate tools and techniques used in gaming into their digital learning programmes, in an approach known as ‘gamification.’

If studying is fun, learners may engage with it more readily. Research studies have looked into the effectiveness of different learning techniques. In one example Sitzmann of the University of Colorado researched the effectiveness of simulation games (2010) and found that retention was nine per cent higher against a comparison group.

Simulation can be one way of bringing study to life. With many different techniques at use in training programmes we can begin to understand that gamification isn’t just about giving programmes a more engaging look.

The tools and techniques at work are rooted in an understanding of human behaviour, motivation and engagement. Getting it right can mean success at helping individuals and teams meet business objectives through an enriched training experience.

The following are some of the techniques that can deliver results in any learning environment:

1. Setting goals – When people embark on an activity they like to know what they are aiming for, how they are progressing and when they have completed the task. A simple progress bar is an example of a motivational tool because it keeps learners informed on where they are within the programme and the achievement that represents. They can visualise their goal as they work towards completion.

2. Creating a bit of competition – People naturally compare and they like to know how their achievements rate among the achievements of their peer group or community. Scoreboards that rank participants in a programme can play to the competitive nature of people and serve as good motivation.

3. Providing feedback – People expect the efforts they put into their work to stimulate some sort of a response, and are motivated by encouragement. They need to see that there is a clear outcome from an activity. This can be the awarding of a digital certificate. Points are a classic reward and feedback mechanism familiar from the earliest of our experiences – be it class activities at school, board games or video games. Points have long been used as a way of tracking progress and motivating people to keep going.

4. Reward generation – People like to receive recognition but rewards don’t necessarily have to have monetary value. Motivation comes from the acknowledgement; from the recognition that they have achieved something.

Rewarding learners as they progress through a digital learning programme helps take away the isolation that can be felt from learning outside of a group environment. This can be in the form of a simple, “well done” or other social validation. In the online environment, rewards can be innovative and varied because online sessions can be tracked and milestones or activities can automatically trigger reward responses.

FourSquare, the location and rating application, took an interesting approach to rewarding people for their use of the app with its system of crowning people ‘Mayor of’ a venue when they had checked-in the most times. This strategically plays to the part of us that likes to see that what we do has an impact and that somewhere out there, it is recognised and acknowledged.

Interactive, digital learning programmes provide an ideal environment for learning new skills and maintaining and building on existing ones. By incorporating tools and techniques used to such great effect in the gaming arena, these programmes can engage and motivate learners even more effectively and create an ideal opportunity for smart businesses to tap into.

Donavan Whyte is Vice President, EMEA Enterprise & Education at Rosetta Stone. Donavan contributes regularly to the Enterprise & Education blog at