When it comes to engaging and motivating remote learners, traditional learning approaches have their limitations. Game-based learning can foster learner engagement, encourage motivation and deliver a higher return on investment (ROI) for organizations that embrace it.

What Is Game-based Learning?

Game-based learning (GBL) is the application of games to learning using tailor-made content or third-party content, all within a gaming environment. The goal is to engage and motivate learners to acquire new skills, enhance existing ones or change behavior.

What Are the Benefits of Game-based Learning?

Game-based training benefits organizations across industries as wide-ranging as health care, hospitality, retail, manufacturing and construction. Its benefits apply equally to commercial, industrial and government sectors.

Because of its unique approach to training (learning through playing and having fun), GBL appeals to employees across the generational spectrum. Unlike the typical entertainment value that games provide, when used in a learning context, games:

    • Encourage strategic thinking.
    • Provide an opportunity for practice.
    • Enhance motivation among disengaged learners.
    • Promote healthy competition.
    • Improve self-directed learning and independent thinking.
    • Foster collaboration.
    • Create a safe environment for learning through experimentation and trial and error.
    • Help develop a spirit of patience and persistence among learners.

Game-based learning is ideally suited for repackaging existing eLearning content in ways that not only lead to improved learner engagement but also support critical thinking. For example, health care entities might adapt their health and safety protocols to a game-based learning environment, while industrial organizations may benefit from training employees on good manufacturing practices (GMPs) using game-based scenarios. Given that mobile learning is a trend, it makes sense to include game-based learning strategies as part of any organization’s learning and development (L&D) plans.

How Does Gamification Compare With Game-based Learning?

Gamification uses game elements and principles in a non-gaming context (e.g., business or social settings) to drive behavioral change. Its primary focus is on teaching new skills and modifying behavior through gaming mechanics.

Game-based learning, on the other hand, is the use of games to achieve learning objectives. Its primary focus is the game itself.

What Strategies and Techniques Can Drive Learner Engagement and Motivation With Game-based Learning?

Here are some useful strategies and techniques to consider as part of your game-based learning game plan:

1. Personalized Journeys, Not Prearranged Trips

The best way to drive learner engagement is to entice them to go on a personalized journey with you. Instead of following a predetermined course through the game (by, for example, using templates), design game-based learning to deliver an experience that’s based on learner preferences. This approach could involve techniques such as personalized game paths, customized characters and avatars, and learner-selected difficulty levels.

2. Stories, Not Brief Narratives

How do popular television shows motivate their viewers to come back for more, week after week and month after month? They weave a compelling story each week. For maximum impact, design your game-based learning strategy around a digital story with a purpose, rather than using a multitude of disconnected single narratives.

3. Learning, Not Winning and Losing

Games produce winners or losers — except in a GBL context! Make learning the primary objective by giving learners multiple opportunities to “lose” without the dreaded “game over” consequence. This approach encourages them to return to the game with new strategies and different approaches with the objective of learning from failure.

4. Feedback, Not Results

There’s no better way to foster learners’ motivation than by promoting, encouraging and guiding them continuously and instantly throughout their game-based learning experience. Unlike end-of-game “win or lose” feedback, instant feedback enables learners to self-check and take remedial action while in the game.

5. Team Gaming, Not Individual Sports

Where possible, include team games as part of your game-based learning strategy to foster competition and promote collaboration.

Finally, with the proliferation of mobile gaming, it makes sense to pay special attention to what makes gaming mobile-friendly, including small footprint games, download-friendly content and greater attention to interactivity.

L&D teams can’t fully replace traditional learning with game-based learning. However, integrating it into an overall training strategy yields huge payoffs, including better learner engagement, higher levels of motivation, greater learning retention and “stickiness,” more effective application, and demonstrable behavioral change. When deployed well, game-based learning has the potential to deliver enhanced ROI compared to traditional training strategies.