Gamification is not a new concept, but now, thanks to advancements in technology and learning and development (L&D), many instructors are now using modern gamification techniques to enhance virtual classrooms.

In light of training disruptions due to COVID-19, organizations are shifting their in-person classroom training to the virtual classroom. If your organization has been only using classroom training in the past, you and your facilitators might be wondering:

    • How do I retain the essence of in-person classroom interactions?
    • How do I replicate classroom activities in the virtual space?
    • How do I keep learners engaged throughout a virtual training session?
    • How do I jazz up virtual training sessions without losing sight of the training agenda?

While modern virtual training platforms offer many features, many do fall short in the engagement section — which is where gamification can help.

Training Industry, Inc., defines gamification as “the process of applying game designs and concepts to learning or training scenarios in order to make them more engaging and entertaining for the learner.” Importantly, simply including games in training is not gamification. Rather, gamification is leveraging game mechanics, such as rewards, points, competition and leaderboards, to improve the outcome of training.

Here are five gamification techniques your organization can use in your virtual classrooms:

1. Set a Mission and Stages for Every Session

You can begin by setting a “mission,” or goal, for every virtual classroom session (instead of a training agenda) to incite curiosity. Once you define the mission, divide the session into stages or milestones. This approach helps with pacing and offers learners a sense of immediate accomplishment as they cross each milestone.

Using Gamification for Product Sales Training

    • Mission: Develop a persuasive sales strategy for product A.
    • Depending on your requirements, you can organize the mission into multiple sessions, or keep it at one session.
    • The instructor plays the role of a prospective customer.
    • Divide learners into teams, and have them work in breakout rooms to prepare a sales strategy.
    • Once the teams have finalized their strategies, they will present them to the entire group. The instructor (or “customer”) selects the winning team.

2. Make It Collaborative and Social

Collaboration is the key to gamification. Help your learners collaborate, share knowledge and build relationships with one another by making your virtual sessions social.

Gamification Ideas

    • Use social media platforms for icebreakers. Ask each learner to describe himself or herself in fewer than 280 characters to encourage creativity. Create a short list of the most creative posts, and launch a poll to decide the winner.
    • Develop creative assignments, such as self-shot videos, podcasts and blogs, on relevant topics for learners to post on their social media profiles. The person with the highest number of likes, views, shares and engagement is the winner.

3. Use Real-world Rewards and Recognition

Rewards and recognition are important game elements that enhance learner engagement, especially if the reward in the virtual training session is related to the learners’ jobs — for instance, winning points as “commissions” for the successful “sale” of a service or product. The idea is to create a sense of accomplishment in learners after they’ve crossed training milestones.

Gamification Ideas

    • Include badges for learners to earn when they fill a certain number of orders within a given time and without any errors; learners with the highest number of orders delivered successfully win a gold badge.
    • Use a leaderboard to highlight top performers in the virtual classroom.
    • Offer virtual incentives, credits or bonuses for the winning team, such as extra time or the ability to ask for another question in the next training session. These rewards keep competition alive and motivate other teams to perform better.
    • Leverage applications to help encourage interactions through peer-to-peer recognition, social features and integrated rewards.

4. Offer Real-time Feedback

Gamification can offer learners constant real-time feedback through gamification. This type of feedback enables learners to gauge their understanding and motivates them to move ahead.

While offering feedback in asynchronous virtual training (eLearning) is easy, it can be time-consuming to provide real-time feedback in a virtual classroom. Here are some ideas:

    • Use polling features to capture learners’ responses and provide quick, detailed feedback for each response.
    • Encourage learners to use the “raise hand” feature in the virtual platform so you can offer immediate in-context feedback — while explaining something, during an activity or even in the middle of a collaborative activity. Learners who aren’t comfortable seeking feedback in the group can use chat instead.
    • Encourage learners to provide feedback to one another. For instance, when a team is presenting a case study to others in a group activity, “pause” the session, and ask the other groups to respond. This way, each learner has the opportunity to be part of a team, present a case and offer feedback.

5. Replicate Popular Games to Fit the Virtual Space

Use games in your virtual classroom to keep learners engaged throughout the session.

Popular Game Ideas for the Virtual Space

    • Use the Jeopardy game format (learners respond with questions to answers on the screen), and award points for each correct response. Customer service training can be a good use for Jeopardy; based on the answers on the screen, learners have to respond with a question customers might ask.
    • Use puzzles, crosswords, word searches and quizzes to break up the monotony of assessment questions and make learning more fun. You can use them at the start of the session as icebreakers or after each learning milestone.
    • Design polls using the format of the TV show “Who Wants to be a Millionaire?”, with each correct response earning learners increasing amounts of virtual cash.
    • Try applications that enable you to create and implement puzzles, crosswords and social maps. You can gauge learners’ performance through reports in the form of PDFs and spreadsheets.

In all of these gamification examples, there is minimum lecture and more activities. The key is to design activities based on your learning objectives and to capitalize on the opportunities for collaboration offered by virtual classrooms. After all, with the new normal, virtual classrooms will be here for the long term, and they are an effective alternative to in-person classroom training.