Why gamification could level up your training

Games controller to illustrate appeal of gamification

Gamification is the process of using gaming mechanisms (e.g. unlocking levels, achievements, experience points, competitions, etc.) in a non-gaming environment to increase engagement, happiness and productivity.

There are many ways that gamification can be applied to modern life but the training sector is leading the way in exploring its potential for learning and development. If you’re not using gamification yet, it might be something to explore to add an extra level to how you connect with trainees.

The feel-good factor of gamification

We humans have always loved games. They’re fun and represent a kind of controlled freedom where we are allowed to do something outside the norm within our usual environment.

Games designers refer to “the magic circle” that we step into when gaming – a space where everyone agrees to adhere to the accepted rules while they try to win. In pre-historic times, humans would play a game similar to Jacks with sheep ankle bones. Today, we play PUBG (Player Unknown Battleground) or Elden Ring but the psychological benefits of playing remain the same.

And this is the reason that computer games represent such a colossal industry; they’re exciting and addictive, releasing neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin and endorphins into our brains each time we unlock an achievement or receive a reward.

These small but steady hits of feel-good hormones keep us coming back for more because they’re incredibly reinforcing. Our brains quickly learn that if we repeat a certain behaviour, i.e. playing the game, we’ll be rewarded with happy feelings.

Ever since we started playing Pong, the first commercially successful computer game, half a century ago, huge swathes of the population have been hooked on “video” gaming (and it’s not just teenage gamers).

In fact, according to Statista, 39% of UK adults regularly play games on their mobile phones and well over 60% of the population in each age group under 55 has played games at some point in their lives. In 2021, more women played computer games than men.

Games controller to illustrate appeal of gamification

Why trainers are gamifying learning and development

This influence has extended beyond the computer screen into modern life, changing the way that people learn.

January 1st 1983 is considered the official birth date of the internet but the real turning point was 6th August 1991 when the World Wide Web became publically available and brought connectivity and social learning to the fore.

Those born after 1991 have only ever lived in a world with internet connections and information a search away. They also see computer games as a go-to entertainment source.

These learners are now heading into their 30s, while people in their 40s, 50s and 60s have spent the majority of their working lives with internet access. In other words, they’re tech-savvy.

Modern learners are busy, independent learners who unlock their smartphones nine times an hour, want information in snippets (micro-learning) and get frustrated with traditional learning formats. They’re people who use apps every day and may enjoy playing computer games, including on mobile phones, to relax.

It’s also estimated that they have a 20-minute attention span before they switch off from training!

Gamification is proven to boost engagement

Keeping learners engaged is the number one challenge in the e-learning environment and a problem in the training room too.

According to Xperiencify (a course platform that incorporates gamification), only three per cent of people who purchase a course ever complete them. The abandonment rate is the same regardless of investment. People buy courses to solve a problem – and that includes in the corporate training world – but then trick themselves into believing the problem has been solved simply by attending or buying the training. They may never engage with the content.

Gamification offers a solution, keeping learners invested in their development.

Games are fun, they make time fly and they help you feel good. Even completing a virtual task and winning experience points can help trainees feel a sense of achievement.

Xperiencify points out that the travel industry was the first industry to use gamification to improve the customer experience. Airlines, hotels and car rental companies started offering loyalty points and rewards and soon realised that people were hoarding their points instead of spending them. Research into this phenomenon found that saving the points was satisfying and fun without needing to do anything with them. This is why these companies often offer fantastic reward prizes; they know that very few people will actually claim them!

So how can you use this power of gamification in your training?

The seven gamification “triggers” that engage learners

There are apparently seven main gamification “triggers” to which people respond – these are:

  1. Gaining points – e.g. points for completing certain actions, points that unlock content, points to spend
  2. Receiving variable rewards – if people don’t know whether they’ll receive a small or higher value reward for completing an action, they’ll be more engaged than if they can predict the outcome – this feature can be added to training through random points, Easter Eggs (bonus content) or surprise gifts
  3. Urgency and FOMO – people don’t like to miss out, so adding time-limited content to a course can help to create a sense of urgency – this could include countdowns, self-destructing content (especially for online programmes) or “use it or lose it” rewards
  4. Social proof – people like to see what others are doing and they like to share their own achievements; adding social proof to your courses could include achievement badges, leaderboards, certificates, a Facebook group, and Instagram hashtags for participants to use
  5. Community – trainees are more likely to engage with learning if they’re part of a community; you could tap into this by facilitating more discussions, giving online chat options, or running watch parties on social media
  6. Celebration – we all love it when our efforts are recognised and celebrated, which is why gaming elements such as achievement points, rewards, milestones and prizes help trainees to feel like their participation is valued
  7. Personalisation – features such as individual goals, personalised congratulations messages for achievements, follow-ups, quizzes and even the opportunity to repeat bits of learning and better previous scores can all help to boost training engagement


Gamifying your training

It’s easy to assume that gamification is only suited to online programmes but it can translate brilliantly to the training room too.

Here are some of the ideas that I’ve come across recently:

  • Changing the language you use to things like “starting a mission”, “level up”, “defeating a challenge”, etc.
  • Awarding trainees with points or achievement badges for completing activities, modules, assessments, etc.
  • Translating award points into tangible benefits such as an extra day off, a team lunch or even simply a shout out in the company newsletter
  • Using leaderboards to track achievements (either across teams or individually)
  • Awarding achievements such as the most “Creative Mind” or best “Social Connector” (a bit like role-playing game roles where characters excel in certain areas)
  • Announcing successes and wins on social media
  • Running raffles or mini-games
  • Adding levels into training that people need to complete before they can level up
  • Breaking training down into bite-sized sessions with a mini-assessment or quiz at the end of each contributing to an overall leaderboard (a tool like Kahoot! enables learners to take part in quizzes in the classroom via their own mobile)
  • Giving feedback throughout the course so that learners know how they’re doing throughout
  • Receiving feedback such as reaction or relevance scores as the training is delivered
  • Creating a peer setting where trainees give each other feedback
  • Linking tasks with storytelling – for example, teams become treasure hunters who must successful piece together specific pieces of knowledge to find the treasure

As you probably know, interactive training software options are available that trainees can access on their mobile phones or laptops while in the training room. Many of these tools now include gamification elements to make each training session as interactive as possible.

Life feels quite “heavy” with all that’s happening in the world. Adding gaming elements to your training is a fantastic way to develop playful realities for learners to thrive in. It’s fun, accessible and, most importantly, enables you to convey content in a way that sticks in people’s minds.

Are you gamifying your training provision yet? Is gamification something you’ve considered or does it feel alien? How do you think your typical clients would react to gamification in the training you offer?

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