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gamification in workplace learning

Gamification in Workplace Learning: The Role of Play

This month, the Learning Circuits Blog is back with its first "real" big question since Tony Karrer took a break from managing the blog. In the new format of a different industry thought leader managing the blog each month, Ben Betts is up to bat for October. Mr. Betts is the Managing Director for HT2 and his question for this month is "Does Gamification Have a Role in Workplace Learning?"

Let's start with the simple answer. Yes, it does. The more complex answer is not nearly as simple as yes or no...but the interesting stuff never is.  First, let's define the meaning of gamification.  When referring to the gamification of learning, the definition is:

The application of typical elements of game playing (e.g., point scoring, competition with others, rules of play) to encourage engagement with the learning module or training course.


So now for the more complicated answer. It still starts with yes, but only if the gamification serves a purpose other than "all the cool kids are doing it."

I've been considering this question since it was posted a couple of weeks ago. It quickly dawned on me that I have been using "gamification" in workplace learning for most of my career, just not in the digital, video game type format you might think of when it comes to this buzzword. Here are a couple examples:

  • In classroom ERP software training sessions, I've designed and used various individual and team-based games to review material, cement concepts and break the monotony of lecture and exercises. In some cases, students in these courses could win and collect tokens redeemable for some pretty neat prizes at the end of course. There was an incentive to actively participate, an element of competition with fellow students, and the excitement of watching your token count go up to become eligible for better prizes. This basic model has been used by organizations for years to provide incentive for everything from girl scouts selling cookies to meeting goals in a weight loss program. The difference now is that things have gone virtual.
  • For several projects where it was imperative that users practice and become comfortable with SAP prior to the system going live, I designed a kind of sweepstakes program to help the process along. During certain hours, users could be "caught" using the practice system. Each time you were caught, your name went into the hat for a daily prize drawing for a $25 gift card and a grand prize drawing for a $250 gift card. Surveys indicated that many users wouldn't have put in the amount of practice time that they should have without the added incentive of the sweepstakes.

The other point I want to make about these non-digital workplace learning games is that for every client that has been willing to incorporate games into training programs, there has been another client who could not see the value of any type of "play" in the workplace. In my experience, the clients who embraced the role of play in workplace learning had happier, less stressed and more engaged workers, and consequently less disruptive and painful system implementations...just saying.

So, that brings me around to the more recent trend of gamification in eLearning environments. In many ways, this is a natural extension of the games we can play in the classroom, particularly if the eLearning allows the users to see how others are doing in comparison and provides incentives to keep trying to master the game, and thereby, the content. But we have to careful of gamification for gamification's sake. It's imperative that gamification be used strategically. When we choose to gamify content, we really need to provide an alternate means for users who just don't want to play to access that content.


In my opinion, Dr. Sivasailam Thiagarajan's (Thaigi for short) 4-Door approach to eLearning is the best example I have seen of this. In a nutshell, this approach gives users of an eLearning module four options, or doors, to choose from and these doors can be utilized as much or as little as the user deems necessary. Here's what's behind each door:

  • The Library - This door houses all the course content in whatever form it may be, including documents, video, audio, photos, info-graphics, and other media. Learners can consume this content in small bites or large gulps as they choose. All the knowledge they need to pass an evaluation is contained in the Library.
  • The Playground - This door contains "gamified" content in the form of fairly simple web based games that help the user to recall and apply content. Games can be played over and over or skipped entirely as the user chooses.
  • The Cafe - The door houses the social learning hub for the content. For example, users can post and respond to questions, allowing them to reflect on content with others or browse expert responses.
  • The Torture Chamber - This door houses the dreaded "final exam." Some users may choose to try the exam before accessing any other door and then just pick and choose content to fill in knowledge gaps. Others may choose to wait until they are sure they are comfortable with the content before accessing this door.

Gamification Choose Your Path

What I like about this approach is choice, and the validation of play as a learning tool. Users have almost unlimited choices as to how they access and interact with the course content, and games are one aspect of that. Of course, gamification can be taken to much more extreme levels. However, starting small with something like Thaigi's 4-Door approach is a good way to see how your organization may be willing to embrace the role of gamification in the workplace.

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