Game on: Why gamification is effective when it comes to learning

The increasing importance of technology in organisations has opened up new avenues in business, not just in the way in which we work – such as bring your own device (BYOD), which allows workers to be far more mobile and not tethered to the desk from nine to five – but also in how new employees are recruited and how on the job training occurs.

These days, management training at some companies involves a lot more fun and games than it used to. More companies are turning to gamification to not only hire employees, but also for helping their workers become more engaged at the workplace and for teaching them new skills.

Gamification is when you apply the concept, mechanics and design techniques of game play such as rewarding players by awarding points or letting them advance to the next level; rules of the game; and fostering competition with others. It is successful in the workplace, because it also taps into that deep rooted desire that people have to achieve status and achievement, which is why it is effective in keeping employees motivated and engaged.

Neuroscience and research have shown that gamification is extremely effective when applied to learning. What people learn when playing games seems to ‘stick’ so much better, because games impart knowledge in a fun, colourful – and natural – way. It works because the nature of playing is more intuitive than absorbing the content of a lecture. You essentially learn by doing, since the game offers a first-hand experiential involvement crucial to learning, and the game play engages players socially, emotionally and cognitively.

It is surprising that it is not used more frequently in the education and training system. There is still this idea that games and playing are the opposite of work, and should therefore be left on the playground. Luckily the perception is changing as evidence mounts to support that quite the opposite is true. One former game designer who became a lecturer, Lee Sheldon, decided to implement gamification at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he is a professor. He introduced leaderboards, rules, tasks, incentives and scores and in so doing, boosted the school’s average grade from a C to a B and managed to get attendance levels up to 100%. Katie Salen takes game-based learning a step further: she is head of design at Quest to Learn, a high school entirely organised around game design.

Conventional learning mechanisms are often boring, and usually do not provide enough incentive to keep employees focused, motivated and passionate about learning. It is difficult to keep someone enthusiastic about learning if they don’t see how doing all this work will benefit them in the long run. With gamification they get instant results – what they learn is applied immediately in order to pass a level. This is why 3 billion hours a week on earth is spent playing video and computer games.

Every learning moment should be optimised by blending knowledge and technology. And since game-based learning has an element of play, as well as an undo button, employees know that they are in a safe environment. Once you remove that stressful element of having to perform, learning also comes much easier.