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Gaming for Talent

Totem-Talent 400x265Can games engage, retain and train talent?

There’s a lot of noise about gamification, serious games and playlists.  What do these mean and how could these concepts be useful for us in talent, learning and assessment?

The Learning Technologies event is a great place to hear about current and future developments in the world of interactive learning and assessment.  Whilst the definitions and usefulness of gamification varied slightly according to which exhibitor or seminar speaker we spoke to, there was some general themes which we found really helpful in understanding the difference.

Gamification is about taking what we already have and making it more like a game – ie “gamifying” something.  This has its roots in the unconscious drivers that motivate a lot of our behaviour – like a need to achieve and peer comparison.

If I’m on an elearning system and I can see I’m 48% of the way through a course and my peers are at 88%, there’s a good chance I’ll feel motivated to do more of the course.  Likewise if I’m awarded ‘badges’ or points for completion and passing confirmation of learning tests, this is likely to prompt an unconscious feel-good factor of achievement.

Many Learning Management Systems or elearning providers already have all this data – so by making that data public, and displaying it like game statistics, there could be some benefits to you motivating people to complete your online learning.

But be warned, there are also some big watch-outs with this idea.  First off, people are quick to feel patronised and this is a big switch off – so be careful with badges and achievement points, that people don’t feel like they’re being treated like children.  “Woo hoo you scored 5 bonus points for ticking this really boring health and safety box” is not likely to be motivational for people.

Jelly Bean Diversity

Duolingo and Headspace are known for their easy-to-use, somewhat childlike (but nobody seems to mind) completion % markers, daily practise streaks and comparisons with other users.  Maybe this works well because users have chosen to complete the learning, so this gamification encourages them to keep going.  Whereas in a business setting, being told we need to complete online learning puts us in a different mindset.

The combination of being told we must do something, then seeing childlike points and badges that we view as patronising, could be a recipe for disaster, resulting in non-completion and low engagement.

In the wider context of the challenge: Stop your elearning – you could argue this is all a moot point.  However there does appear to be some benefit in acknowledging those unconscious drivers of need to achieve and peer comparison.  If we all stopped sending out system, process and compliance elearning courses, and engaged people in a daily learning practice to help them do their jobs, then our offering would be more like Duolingo and Headspace, and it could be worth us adding in the gamification elements.

But as it stands right now, we risk simply adding to the feeling of being patronised.

Serious Games are a different animal.  Whereas gamification is taking what you already have and ‘gamifying’ it, serious games are the creation of an adventure or experience, which has a learning outcome and useful result.

Take for example a project management game, which might look like any other X Box adventure, but challenges the user to engage principles of best practice project management.  This provides a safe environment for application of learning and practice.

You could therefore consider adding serious games into your learning journey.  Common sense, Kolb’s learning cycle and even Kolb’s critics all point to the importance of practice when it comes to embedding learning.

Totem Gummi Bears

The best option is often to just get right into the day-job and use what you’ve learned, try it out, then reflect and work out what to do better next time.  But that’s not always possible or attractive.  What if I’m learning how to deal with a certain kind of crisis that is extremely rare?  Or what if I’m learning a skill that I might consider risky to try out at work?  Even coaching skills can feel scary for managers trying it out for the first time, as it can be such a departure from what the team are used to.

So perhaps serious games – just like scenarios, role plays and practical exercises have historically done in learning – give us an extra opportunity for practising new skills.  And the benefit of serious games online, is that like the X Box game, you can be anywhere in the world, playing a leadership or teamwork game, together.

An interesting reflection may also be how these games could be used for assessment.  Many firms are wanting their assessment and selection processes to be different, more engaging, reflecting a more 21st Century employer brand – so could we add in serious games?  It certainly seems like the potential is there, for a game purposefully designed to test leadership skills, assessors can observe behaviour and see how people really react under pressure.

So whatever way you look at gaming applied to talent assessment and development, there’s no doubt there is value in the idea.  Perhaps like all of the messages we heard at the Learning Technologies event, they key is to make sure you get the result you’re after, rather than simply run toward the latest fad or gadget.