Gamification in Corporate Training: Expedite Learning and Development

As you enter the fifth hour of employee development day, your gaze wanders, eyelids heavy…how many more slides can one eLearning deck contain? The visuals blur. Bullet points blend together. Eventually, the only aspect of your work self that has developed today is your endurance.

That’s the recent history of workplace training. Paper SOPs are digitized. Roles are boiled down to a list of responsibilities. Everything is tossed into an online training suite, and the employee is left to their own devices to patiently plow through the course material.

Inevitably, this checks several boxes on an HR checklist, but did the team member actually retain anything? The workplace training model that gradually evolved from Computer Based Training (CBT) in the 1980s desperately needs a shakeup.

Enter, gamification.

Gamification Aims to Engage

Even if you haven’t encountered the term before, you’ve probably experienced gamified software in mobile apps or on your laptop.

Gamification is a technique designers employ to integrate aspects of play into activities that might not normally be associated with gaming. This is done to enhance user engagement with the activity and, ultimately, to maintain attention and increase retention of information.

By taking an existing system and blending in entertaining features such as specific challenges and achievements, accompanied by competitive elements like leaderboards and rewards such as badges and awards, motivation and enjoyment of the system improve.

Achievement Unlocked: Gamifying Workplace Training

Gamification moves workplace training from a chore to a challenge. Both require persistence, but only one keeps the employee engaged.

Take one of the most universal entry-level positions you can think of: server at a fast-food restaurant.

Processing orders and moving food might not seem ideal for gamification but take another look. The order interface is now entirely digitized at most major brands, with deep menus offering seemingly endless customizations. Receiving the right food quickly keeps customers happy, which means getting orders right with accurate data entry.

With that in mind, it’s easy to see why McDonald’s partnered with Kineo to make cash register training more engaging.  The interactive training game rewarded 100% order accuracy and resulted in an overall reduction in order processing time of 7.9 seconds. Gamifying the training at the world’s largest fast-food chain offers a glimpse into how even the most repetitive tasks can be reframed as a challenge and transformed from chore to achievement with the right system in place.

Furthermore, empowering your team to take charge of their training by choosing a path of their own yields benefits around recruitment and retention.

A 2019 study by Execu|Search Group found that 86% of employees surveyed admitted they would take a position at a new company if the job offered them better opportunities for professional development. When a company can point to team members who have embraced their training and used it as a springboard to further career success, applicants can feel confident in making that step for themselves.

Why Does Gamification Work in Corporate Settings?

To understand why gamification works, it helps to know where traditional training methods were failing us.

Early training success is important for employee retention. Research by Built In finds that 45% of workers are more likely to stay in their current roles if their employer offers training that meets their needs.

Unfortunately, first-year employees frequently report poor training experiences, which often boils down to a few common problems that gamification can address:

Improves Learning Retention to Combat Information Overload

Training Problem: 

  • Information Excess – Digital systems that focus on simply presenting materials can cram a lot of information into a small space, with little consideration for how much the user can take on in one sitting.

Gamification Solution:

  • Improves Learning Retention – Game-based learning aids memory retention through experiential and interactive methods.

Motivates Employees to Learn Faster, Saving on Training Costs

Training Problem: 

  • Repetition – Older training systems rely on the same format to deliver information, resulting in a repetitive, mundane experience that fails to hold the trainee’s attention.

Gamification Solution:

  • Boosts Motivation – Rewards and achievements create incentives, spurring employee motivation to learn and progress.

Increases Engagement Helping Eliminate Mistakes, Boosts Morale, and Reduces Turnover

Training Problem: 

  • One-way Flow – When trainees click through an online course and answer questions to demonstrate retention, the information flow is still one-way. Engagement suffers when the trainee has limited scope to define their training path.

Gamification Solution:

  • Enhances Engagement – Interactive elements create opportunities for employees to apply their learning immediately and make training more stimulating, increasing participation and attention.

Games are inherently interactive, requiring inputs from the player to elicit a response or progression in the game environment.

In the workplace, this concept empowers employees to decide how and where their training moves forward. This delivers a two-way flow of information, proceeding at the pace an individual trainee is comfortable with and giving them choices at every turn.

All of these qualities of gamification make training a more interactive experience, which in turn retains attention and improves the retention of information.

Departmental Differences: How Various Business Functions Use Gamified Training

Back in the 1970s, Bell Labs and Xerox pioneered dedicated spaces where their engineers were urged to experiment and explore, with their curiosity leading the way. This alternative form of play galvanized creativity, which quickly became the innovation to drive new products and services.

Today, Silicon Valley is awash with creative spaces like these.

That same spirit comes alive when employees choose their own path in training, which is a natural fit for game design. But what does that look like across different business functions?

Knowing that training is a fundamental part of setting a new employee up for success in their role, HR and the onboarding process stand out as a priority for gamification.

Managers responsible for getting new employees up to speed can engage them from day one with tasks and challenges that stimulate thought and clearly communicate progress. Better yet, HR can deploy collaborative games for groups of new employees to promote integration and foster cross-departmental creativity.

Some other applications across different departments include:

  • Operations: Games that simulate common duties on the floor or in the field, aiding on-the-go decision-making and clarifying the organizational approach to core processes.
  • Sales Training: Interactive simulations. Customer role plays mapping out industry-specific sales paths. Competitive games related to other unpopular CRM and pipeline management tasks.
  • Marketing: Collaborative campaign-building games that bring together designers, writers, videographers, and other distinct yet complementary areas of marketing creativity.
  • Office Management: Games that assess organizational abilities, planning for interdepartmental needs, and event planning.

As the list suggests, gamified training need not be limited to office and administrative environments. One classic example in an operational setting dates back to the early days of gamification in 2011, when German technology giant Siemens introduced the Plantville game to its team members.

The Plantville training environment looks basic by today’s standards. Still, it leans into the core elements of gamification, setting stimulating challenges that replicate real-world scenarios, requiring creative thought and interaction with the game’s entities to achieve your training goals. Within one year, Plantville was played by thousands of Siemens employees and 23,000 engineering professionals across multiple social media platforms and educational institutions. It also aided recruitment, engaging potential candidates from more than 600 US colleges and universities.

Even greater value lies in bringing departments together through training gamification. Training provides an early, low-pressure sandbox environment in which different skill sets can get creative without the pressure of everyday work outcomes. Using game-based training assets enhances that more playful aspect of learning, promoting creativity and idea sharing more than traditional one-way training methods.

What Next? The Future of Gamification in Training & Employee Development

As the practice of gamifying training becomes a more common tool for organizations across the world, we can expect to see increasingly intricate and targeted applications of the concept in the workplace.

Technological Advancements

A primary driver of enhanced gamification is new technology.

Building virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) devices in the workplace will be a significant opportunity for organizations at the forefront of gamified training. A handful of major companies have noted success with VR, particularly when applied to specific operational training scenarios.

For example, Walmart deployed VR in 2017 to assess employee performance. The retailer’s VR training pilot at Walmart Academies is a weeks-long course that uses 360-degree video to recreate in-store and distribution center scenarios that cover everything from health and safety to customer service skills.

Early reports indicated that Walmart’s VR training pilot led to associates scoring up to 70% higher on tests than those using other methods and retaining knowledge at a rate up to 15% greater than traditional training methods.

As more sophisticated technology becomes available, expect to see a greater focus on simulating real-world scenarios and integrating more complex tasks into training games.

Cross-departmental Creativity

The fundamentals of gamification – creativity and collaboration – can also drive the development of gamified training.

Building an interactive training environment that engages the individual and supports company objectives is a challenge that in-house developers will relish. Assembling a team from talent sourced from multiple departments will foster creativity that develops comprehensive, well-rounded training games.

This combination should ensure that gamified materials and courses become accessible to everyone who needs them, with diverse perspectives coming together to create training that serves the wider organization.

Mission-driven Development

One note of caution on gamified training: organizational values and mission must lead the way. Gamification that lacks direction or fails to align with your organization’s vision for the future can lose the cohesion that more traditional training materials have carefully laid out.

Rather than simply implementing out-of-the-box gamification software or bolting gamified components onto existing courses, training managers should start with overarching learning points that sync with organizational goals and then work backward to create gamified training that supports these themes.

For some, though, a complete replacement of existing materials with gamified elements might not be enough. These organizations will position themselves for a paradigm shift in workplace training.

Move Beyond Basic Gamification

Despite the many benefits, from increased engagement and retention of existing employees to improved recruitment and better onboarding experiences for new team members, gamified training has primarily been deployed in limited pilot programs by organizations with large budgets.

Gamification is not a new concept, but it has only recently started to impact the world of workplace training. To accelerate the advantages of gamified training highlighted in this article, a shift is needed to put gamification at the heart of the training process.

In short, we must move from traditional training with gamified add-ons to courses built from the ground up with gamification as their defining characteristic.

This shift in perspective banishes tedious one-way courses to the past in favor of engaging, interactive courses that follow the principles of a new approach: Trainification.

Forward-thinking organizations will soon move to reimagine workplace training. This will start with onboarding, where hirers will see maximum returns from new employees who are enthusiastic and ready to hit the ground running. As the advantages of this new approach to training become apparent, it will demand attention and quickly move throughout organizational training programs.

Trainification provides the foundation for a transformative approach to fast-track learning, decreasing turnover rates and reducing onboarding costs in the process.