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HR plays to win with gamification for learning

At some companies, corporate education has become a tool for engagement and employee experience. See how gamification is putting the 'fun' in learning fundamentals.

Work is fun and games at Advice Media.

A digital marketing agency for medical organizations, Advice Media intertwines healthy competition and work to foster learning and boost productivity. The agency's leaders believe that employees take more interest in work when it is tied to gamification, and it's why the company endorses the use of several online programs to encourage the learning of new concepts and skills.

Advice Media approaches the gamification for learning in a number of categories. For example, HubSpot's Inbound Certification courses give employees a "3,000-foot view of the marketing world" and help them better understand the different stages of the customer journey by gamifying those steps, said Joe Sloan, Advice Media's marketing and communications coordinator. With bite-sized videos and quizzes, Google's Academy for Ads helps Sloan's team see the nuances of Google AdWords and search engine optimization, critical tools for their marketing work. And the gaming elements of Codecademy strengthen employees' coding skills.

If those gamification for learning tools aren't enough, Advice Media employees who work in the company's Park City, Utah, office alongside Sloan only need to look at the many Post-it notes on the wall to track how often they communicate with clients. "If you can gamifiy as much of a job as possible, it makes it more fun, and the tasks are more enjoyable," Sloan said.

Gamification for learning may boost engagement

In the workplace, gamification aims to engage employees more effectively than traditional methods of training, development and performance management by tapping the human desire to feel excited about reaching a goal. As HR departments face increasing pressure to hire and retain highly skilled and productive workers, gamification can be an effective way to capture attention and incentivize improvement.

"Gamification does continue to be a trend in learning and development," said Stacey Cadigan, director of HR technology and delivery strategies for advisory firm ISG. Cadigan said ISG doesn't have any statistical evidence to reflect the growth of gamification, but her firm is seeing more organizations adopt it because gamification technology continues to mature. Initially, gamified applications centered only on the presentation of leaderboards and badges, but they are now integrating more organically with learning management processes and offer more than basic scorekeeping, she said.

Next-level leadership via gamification for learning

The ability to blend her company's training curriculum with competitive scoring is what Jessica DiCicco likes about the gamification platform mLevel. DiCicco is the U.S. VP of learning and development for international HR consulting firm Randstad. Last year, Randstad integrated its leadership training program with mLevel and is now finishing a pilot training run of 35 employees, while starting a second run with another 35.

Participants complete "missions" that are centered around short videos, and they also play games to reinforce the curriculum. A game can be a quick quiz or another type of fun activity that generates points on a leaderboard. Randstad created the videos with hired actors and posted them, along with other types of content, into the mLevel platform. Leaderboard scores and employees' performance in weekly webinars -- in which they role-play leadership scenarios -- attest to their engagement and mastery of concepts and verify that gamification is effectively passing along the lessons of leadership, according to DiCicco.

Before Randstad used mLevel, the leadership training program was successful, but it had become a "bit stale," DiCicco said. She wanted participants to stay engaged. The training content that's fed into mLevel is essentially the same as it was previously, but employee engagement and learning have vastly improved because the program is now presented through gamification, she said. "They're interacting with the elements of training more than before," DiCicco said. "When they join the weekly leadership [webinars], the conversations are much richer."

Randstad is trying to avoid the dissatisfaction and restlessness reflected in the U.S. work world at large. A Gallup poll showed that only 33% of employees are engaged in their jobs, prompting the majority to consider looking for a new place to work. Indeed, Gallup found that 91% of those who switched jobs left their employers to do so.

Ideal players in gamification for learning

Companies that turn to gamification are mostly focusing on the continuous learning process, ISG's Cadigan said. Younger workers seem to respond best to gamification for learning because of their lifelong exposure to video games and digital tools, she added. "The success of gamification depends on the attitude, experience and culture of an organization," she said. "It has to be done in the right way. If it feels patronizing or gimmicky … it can turn off learners. It needs to have clear outcomes and place the employee experience at the center."

Gamification has been a part of the culture of the marketing company Influitive for so long that it seems almost natural to have a point system connected to the completion of onboarding activities, product feature updates, company news and training courses, said Katie Smith, a talent coordinator in the company's Toronto office. For instance, HR can challenge employees to complete their learning and development plans, while marketing can use the incentive of scoring to spur employees to share their latest blog posts on social media.

There are some employees who are more likely to be receptive to gamification and others who are less likely to be receptive.
Mike BrennanCo-founder and chief services officer, Leapgen

Influitive uses its own software to gamify. An internal hub known as HQ is the home for various challenges, and it's where employees can redeem gamified points for gift cards and swag, such as sweatshirts, Smith said. "It's a reason for them to be more engaged and involved in the employee platform," she added. "Our platform educates employees on what's going on at Influitive, and they receive feedback on how to share the company brand and help us attract more quality people."

Mike Brennan, co-founder and chief services officer at HR consulting firm Leapgen, expects gamification for e-learning and performance management to keep improving to where friendly competitive rivalries will push employees to always be on top of their games. Employees of a cybersecurity company, for example, can try to win a neck-and-neck battle on a leaderboard by writing a bylined article or creating new computer code.

"There are some employees who are more likely to be receptive to gamification and others who are less likely to be receptive," Brennan said. To make gamification work, HR departments should make sure the gamified program is tied to a learning path or performance initiative that lends itself to competition, he said. "You're not going to put gamification on harassment training," he said.

Just as importantly, HR should ensure the employees are actually competitive, Brennan said. A group of employees might be creative and productive, but that doesn't necessarily mean they'll want to play a game, he said.

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