Knowing When To Gamify and Not To
In previous entries of this blog, we have advocated for and advised adding different creative elements to your training to make it more memorable and learner-friendly. But adding a game just for the sake of having different, more exciting training is not a good idea.
To help demonstrate this point, here’s a story from early in my career: I was working in a non-profit with about 30 full and part-time employees. As an organization, we were at a unique place in our history. For a variety of unrelated reasons, about a third of our staff, including myself, were new within the previous 18 months or so.
Soon after I started, there was a wave of retirements, and new employees were replacing people who had been there for decades. This new wave of employees highlighted the need for the upper leadership to re-evaluate the organization’s policies and procedures for almost every aspect of our operation. After these were decided, a series of all-staff training sessions was announced, and we were treated to lunch and an hour of training once a month.
The first two sessions were boring and dry. Even the eager-to-please new cadre of employees had a tough time acting interested.
So, when we showed up for the third training session, we were pleased to see a Jeopardy-style game board with categories such as “Copy That,” “A Request for a Day” and “Know Your Team.” We were divided into three teams, taught the rules of the game and then competed in answering a mixture of questions covering everything from policies and procedures to the company’s history to fun facts about the teams.
It was fun. We got to know one another through playing a game. Teamwork increased. We were excited to collaborate more. And we began looking forward to the rest of the monthly training sessions.
But something interesting happened when we showed up for training the next month. We started to review what we had learned in the previous three meetings, but we all struggled to remember the policies and procedures we had learned the month before, even more so than those from those first two boring months. It was clear that we all cared more about getting the company history and "fun facts" questions right, and remembering those, than we did about the policies and procedures. While the game had accomplished some good team-building and excitement generation, it failed in its primary goal: teaching us the new policies and procedures.
Remembering 'true north'
I'm not advocating cutting all games from training. But what is important is to remember the central purpose of the given training. These might be called different things, like “key goals,” “learning objectives” or “main takeaways,” but they are vitally important. These goals should be one of the first aspects of the training that you decide on. Then, they should be used like "true north" on a compass, guiding every other aspect of the training.
If a new element, like a game, a video, a group activity or guest speaker, does not specifically and clearly support one or more of these central goals, the element should be modified or removed. Adding elements that do not support the true north of the learning objectives stand only to confuse the learning and dilute the efficacy of the training.
So, go ahead, plan a game for your next training. But make sure that you tie it into the rest of your training, rather than tying the training into the game.