When to Build Learning Games . . . and How to Do It Without Breaking the Bank!

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by Dan Black, VP Client Engagement, Tortal Training

The world of training is infatuated with games today. Everyone seems to have gotten the idea that games motivate learners to get more involved, to learn faster, and to retain more information – gamification, the new buzz word of learning industry.

I’ll share a secret with you – games can be good but like everything else in business, they’re not always the best solution – and you know this! In the back of your head there is something telling you to hold off, wait, this might be like the Beta Max or HD DVDs — perhaps this sizable investment ISN’T the best option.

The Learning Team here at Tortal is here to tell you to LISTEN to the little voice in your head, but only to a certain extent. Gamification is a great tool in the arsenal of corporate learning professionals and has been for some time now, like 60 years. Gamification, just like all tools, can produce brilliant results when used properly – it can also wreak havoc when wielded inappropriately. Additionally – it doesn’t have to cost you a bundle. Let us share just a few thought we have on the subject – if you don’t have a lot of time, just read the first line in each paragraph.

WHEN are Games right?

Here are three questions to ask when considering whether to use game-based elements in your training. There are more – but these will get you started.

  • Will the content change often?
    If the answer is more than once every year or two, then building a game probably isn’t your best bet. You want to be sure the CONTENT your game is focused on will not need to be updated frequently, or you’ll spend a bundle. Gamified learning is perfect for content that will stay static for years to come of change infrequently and minimally. Interestingly enough, this applies to most formal learning assets.
  • Who is your learner? What is the subject?
    We don’t recommend throwing your new learners into a game scenario as their first experience with your company. Think about it, you just joined a company and they say – “Welcome aboard little buddy! Here’s a boating-style game to teach you about your job – go play and be successful!” It lacks personal attention and an immediate feedback loop.However, got a group of sales people you want to encourage to use a new system? A Mission Impossible game for core functions could be the ticket. Want to make your compliance training NOT SUCK – Sexual Harassment Jeopardy will at least help ease the compliance woes.
  • Are you trying to change behavior or deliver information?
    A game, in and of itself, probably won’t change behavior. Remember our brains need to encounter a similar task or situation a couple of times before forming a behavior pattern. Playing through a game once or twice won’t necessarily help you with behavior change. However, if you are trying to get learners through an educational journey – well, a game-based scenario might get them more immersed in the experience.

So if after those three questions, you’ve got some content that:

  • isn’t really going to change
  • isn’t lighting the intellectual world on fire
  • needs to go to an audience who tends to avoid boring

. . . well, you should make it into a game! Now let’s talk about how to do it without breaking the bank!

Part of that mistaken belief that gamification costs the bank is rooted in the misconception that gamification means creating elegant, complicated interactive games that look like Minecraft, flight simulators or The Sims. That is not the case. The best games are often the simplest – think Pass the Pigs or Candy Crush! Simple, engaging, fun, short, easy to learn to play, flexible for different numbers of players.

The Two Mediums

Let’s talk about the two mediums:

  • Live Games: Like the Pass the Pigs example above, these are games played in person. They are perfect for conferences, workshops, instructor-led, virtual instructor-led or even team initiative training interactions. These games cost you a little time in creativity at the least. You may need to buy some swag or recognition material for your learners. You don’t have to do it yourself – Google “great training games” and just wade through the first two pages.
  • eLearning Games: They can get expensive quick – let the impact of the learning be your guide. Hey, it may make sense to build a multimillion-dollar simulation to recreate reality in a safe environment. If you’re a pilot, practicing in a simulator is a LOT LESS expensive than crashing a plane. You get the idea, so let’s eliminate those scenarios where mistakes lead to massive loss of life and money. Let’s talk about the majority of learning content out there for compliance, sales, soft skill, systems and technical training. These are great opportunities to introduce cost-effective methods of using games in your learning. Here are some tried-and-true techniques:
    • Competitive Point Systems: You can use star ratings, level ups, point systems, leader boards and time trials to incorporate an element of competition into the learning interaction.
    • Individual Achievement Structures: As learners journey through the curriculum they can achieve higher levels, game pieces, tokens or any number of trinkets to represent their passage through to the end of the learning. Think in terms of levels of Candy Crush or money/property/houses and hotels in Monopoly. The accumulation of these tokens along the learning path can encourage the learner to gain more, especially if there is a goal. We built a game once where the learner had to collect all the puzzle pieces to their certification simply by listening to recorded calls and answering some questions.
    • Learner Centered Feedback: It’s an immediate feedback loop based on the learner environment encouraging the learner to think critically about their scenario and choose the correct response, or essentially, a quiz. The twist, it is LEARNER CENTERED. In a customer service space, wrong responses result in a customer getting madder and madder. In a sales space, the learner WINS deals for correct responses. In safety training, the avatar gets band aids, stitches, surgery or a funeral. These simple, unexpected, credible and relevant ways to relate the information to the actual environment with a goal in mind. Instead of scoring 80% on the quiz now you are making at least four customers happy or keeping eight employees out of the hospital.
    • LET’S TALK ABOUT DEVELOPMENT: If you are thinking Mobile App specialized coding – well break out your wallet. However, many of these solutions can be easily developed using existing authoring tools like Storyline or Captivate. They can also be developed as WEB BASED APPS access via the browser in HTML5. It’s important to understand HOW the learners will be accessing the game. These business requirements will drive your development decision but those mentioned here are ones we’ve found handle 95% of the requests we get.

It’s Not Rocket Surgery – but It’s Easy to Get Wrong!

If you’re like many organizations, the head of the training department doesn’t ACTUALLY have a training background. We’d like to ask you this, would you let your mechanic do your taxes? Now, perhaps you have this amazing mechanic who also understands the nuances of the double entry accounting system and deferred losses. We’re pretty sure most of you just giggled (or gasped) a little in your head.

You will be amazed to know there is an entire population of us out here who studied for this life, we practice this life every day, we learn more to make what we do better and we are constantly studying how people learn in organizations and what organizations need to succeed. We’ve dedicated our lives to the science of learning and the art of design – we encourage you to seek out one of us and let us shine a light on what’s possible in your organization.

Dan Black, VP Client Engagement, Tortal Training
Dan Black, VP Client Engagement, Tortal Training

About Dan Black

Dan is VP Client Engagement at Tortal Training, Inc., where he provides strategic consulting and learning development services that help organizations leverage the power of their people. He helps his clients get projects moving forward, discover innovative solutions to business challenges, and link talent development to strategic business objectives. Dan brings his diverse experience as a business owner and corporate executive to every engagement. As a sought-after speaker, trainer, and facilitator, Dan has delivered thousands or programs over the past 15 years. Dan has developed training programs, facilitated leadership workshops and done solution design sprints. He is often consulted for training, management, and performance sustainability programs nationwide.

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