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‘Gamification’ has increasingly become one of the latest buzzwords in business. From driving customer loyalty to tailored training programs – evidence of the trend is springing up in boardrooms across the globe, but is it a gimmick or could it really be the next big thing?

Back to basics

Gamification is about taking the essential ingredients of a game and applying them to real-world, non-game situations. By introducing game mechanics such as rules, challenges and rewards for achievements; businesses can not only increase the fun factor, but most importantly motivate and engage their audience.

Early endeavors have proven that a healthy dose of competition really can make all the difference. Training, for example, is key to any business, yet traditional teaching methods are often more likely to induce slumber than an expansion of expertise. Here, gamification can provide a very real solution; but it’s not as simple as providing points or badges for a job well done – effective gamification is something of an art form.

The psychology of play

In any context, a game is only as good as it’s design. When training, a clear understanding of how game elements can drive learning behavior must be gained before a gamified framework can be constructed.

One of the most powerful aspects of games is their ability to ignite a player’s emotions, producing everything from frustration to pride and therefore deeply engaging them in the task at hand. Beyond raw emotion – rules, for example, provide the player with boundaries within which they are free to explore and discover – testing theories and learning through trial and error. Problem solving can also be approached from a fresh perspective as players are provided with the opportunity to assume new identities and tackle challenges from within that new role.

Once considered, a game designer has to work out how to harness these drivers by carefully selecting the basic building blocks of a gamified system and placing them within the framework. These mechanics can include anything from points and leaderboards to levels, achievements and virtual goods. Each of these blocks have to satisfy basic human motivations, such as that for status, recognition and self-expression that are important to the player.

The secret of successful gamified training is to accurately pinpoint the motivations of the learner and provide them with the perfect balance between challenge and reward. These small rewards represent only part of the overall gain, as they come accompanied by a reinforcement of learning objectives, constructive feedback and dynamic classroom environment.

Playing games in the workplace

Typically, having fun doesn’t trump deadlines on the to-do list of business executives – but gamification can be a potent way to dispel the tedium of training and boost the talent pool – without trivializing the learning content.

Deloitte, for example, created a Leadership Academy – an innovative digital training program that is currently accessed by more than 50,000 users in over 14 different countries around the world. The academy provides content from leading educational and training institutions using an online portal and mobile applications. By signing up to the academy, senior executives can deepen their knowledge of effective self-development, communication methods, talent management, developing strategy and innovation. Most recently, collaborating with software company Badgeville, users who complete course modules, share ideas or reach notable leaderboard statuses are rewarded with badges – and can share their achievements through social networks, such as Linkedin and Twitter.

Getting serious about gaming

Gamified mechanics, such as these are only the tip of the iceberg. Serious games can also involve the use of simulations that immerse the learner in a virtual world, allowing them to put theoretical knowledge to the test within a safe environment. The learning value of games such as these is marked. Research carried out by the Federation of American Scientists revealed that, “Students remember only 10 percent of what they read; 20 percent of what they hear; 30 percent if they see visuals related to what they hear; 50 percent if they watch someone do something while explaining it; but almost 90 percent if they do the job themselves, even if only as a simulation”.

With such effective learning outcomes – it’s easy to understand why the aviation industry, the military and medical teams have for decades relied on the strength simulations when training their experts; and finally companies have caught up.

With the seeds of potential having been sown, it is increasingly clear that with careful development and commitment, gamification could reinvent the way we train and learn – helping industries meet the complex challenges presented by the modern world and taking them to the next level.