Employee Engagement

Spark Professional Development With Gaming — Here’s How


Young and old alike, people love a good game. There’s a universal appeal to friendly competition, and nothing quite matches the thrill of a hard-won victory. In fact, Pew Research Center found that roughly half of all American adults play video games (Source: Pew Research Center, Half of American Adults Play Video Games; 10% Consider Themselves Gamers, 2015).

This passion for play can be particularly handy when it’s time to tackle professional development in your organization. A learning management system (LMS) allows companies to disseminate and measure online learning initiatives, ensuring employees have the knowledge necessary to do their jobs. Businesses have noticed this utility, with some experts predicting that the industry will grow from about $5 billion in 2016 to nearly $16 billion by 2021 (Source: MarketsandMarkets; Learning Management System by Application, Delivery Mode, Deployment, User Type, Vertical, and Region — Global Forecast to 2021; 2016).

Game-based learning can make an LMS more attractive and efficient for the staff members who regularly use it. Gamification rewards employees for actively engaging in online training, allowing companies to bridge the gap between internal and external motivation while adding an important ingredient to mandatory training: fun.

Putting the ‘Fun’ in Fundamentals

At their core, game mechanics like points, badges, and leaderboards are enrichment tools that spruce up sometimes dull and drab training. These mechanics add entertainment value to educational material, making it possible for employees to build their skills without even realizing it.

A gamified LMS platform takes interactivity to the next level. Employees are no longer passive observers — they’re rewarded for their effort, pushed to compete, and fueled by a sense of accomplishment.

Injecting your professional development with a dose of fun and games might sound like a tall order, but it’s easier than it seems. Start with these four steps:

1. Make game mechanics part of your infrastructure.

The biggest mistake organizations make is merely cramming a gamified element into their existing online training and focusing on rewards instead of taking a holistic view of professional development. This completely misses the point of gamification: providing an emotionally charged training environment that connects with learners on a deeper level.

Instead of offering a few badges and calling it a day, it’s crucial to integrate game mechanics into your infrastructure. Analyze every training module to create an interwoven theme that meshes with your company culture. Unless employees are able to bank their points and use them to advance their careers in some way, the gamification will fall flat.

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2. Select rewards to reinforce favorable behaviors.

The heart of a gamified LMS is finding ways to reward employees who display favorable behaviors. You can accomplish this by doling out badges when team members complete a compliance course, or you might use a leaderboard to rank performance in a sales simulation. A 2016 study by German researchers found that badges, leaderboards, and performance graphs help people feel like tasks are meaningful, effectively making a game more than just a game (Source: Elsevier, How Gamification Motivates: An Experimental Study of the Effects of Specific Game Design Elements on Psychological Need Satisfaction, 2017).

Regardless of the subject matter, select incentives that align with your objectives and outcomes. Conduct a training needs analysis to identify pain points, choosing game mechanics that fall in line with your current needs. Finally, choose rewards that reinforce any desired behaviors. Tailor your system to your staff members, giving everyone an equal opportunity to prove his or her ability in a gamified environment.

[Related: Complete Guide to Employee Engagement Activities]

3. Entertain and inspire at every stage.

Onboarding isn’t the only time you should be thinking about training. It should be a regular part of every stage of the employee cycle. An effective gamification program covers everything from orientation to ongoing education to promotions and even employee exits.

Seasoned employees worth keeping around continually develop their skills and practical knowledge. A game-based LMS can motivate team members to aim for high scores for years of service, attendance, and job performance.

4. Put employees in control.

Gamification isn’t one-size-fits-all. Every learner has different needs, and team members should be able to choose from a broad range of LMS game mechanics and coursework. By allowing employees to pursue their own to professional growth, you’ll ensure they can go at their own pace and focus on training areas that appeal to them.

For example, a member of your human resources department might be interested in transitioning into a sales role. She might be inspired to work through the necessary online training activities toward a negotiation skills badge if she sees it as a viable way to forge her own career path. Gamification should encourage people to improve themselves, even if it isn’t immediately relevant to their current positions.

Successful gamification hinges on an effective LMS platform with advanced reporting capabilities, social collaboration features, and customizable templates. Once you have a system in place, everything from sales and service to back-end operations should show improvement. The more educated your team becomes, the better your company will be able to educate its customers.

Christopher Pappas is the founder of eLearning Industry, the largest online community of eLearning professionals in the world. Christopher established the company as a safe online community for eLearning professionals and instructional designers to connect and share their knowledge. Christopher holds an MBA and a Master of Education from Bowling Green State University. Connect with him on Twitter.

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