One of the most common misconceptions about game-based learning is that it makes training fun, but it doesn’t have a measurable impact on learning outcomes.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Game-based learning does make learning more enjoyable — but it’s also specifically designed to get employees job-ready, in less time.

Increase Training Usage

To improve learning outcomes, first you have to get employees to actually take your training. Oftentimes, employees think of training as boring or useless, so getting them to participate is challenging, especially when training isn’t mandatory.

Game-based learning can help increase usage in two ways. First, it increases voluntary participation by changing learners’ perception of training from boring to enjoyable. Transforming old PDF and classroom content into games makes taking training much more appealing, increasing voluntary participation rates by 106% on average.

Second, game-based learning also helps increase regular usage of your training content. Tactics like narrative, challenge, levels and scores help intrinsically motivate learners to keep taking training. That’s because when employees are challenged — but have sufficient opportunity to overcome that challenge — they feel accomplished or intrinsically motivated. And they’ll continue to engage with the program to feel that accomplishment again. That’s why, on average, game-based learning increases repeat engagement with training content by 266%.

Increase Knowledge, Comprehension, Retention and Application

Beyond increasing usage, game-based learning also improves the efficacy of your training programs.

Game-based learning is designed using four key principles from cognitive psychology: active learning, practice testing, distributed practice and interleaved practice. These principles help increase knowledge comprehension, retention and application — so your employees learn, remember and apply more of what is covered in the training.

1. Active Learning

Studies have shown that our ability to remember things we hear is significantly less compared to our ability to remember things that we see and touch. Encouraging active participation, instead of just passive engagement with training materials, helps encode knowledge more effectively.

Game-based learning uses active learning almost exclusively. By taking passive content (like videos and PDFs) and transforming them into interactive games, game-based learning forces learners to stay actively engaged with the course content. Employees can’t doze off or zone out because they’ll lose points or miss questions. They need to pay attention and stay engaged to max out their scores and master the material.

2. Practice Testing

Practice testing is a technique where learners “test” themselves on learned material in a low- to no-stakes environment (i.e., they aren’t evaluated on the test).

This technique is extremely effective for increasing knowledge retention as well as learning comprehension. That’s because it helps keep information “at learner’s mental fingertips” by forcing them to practice recalling it — which in turn, helps encode it in their long-term memory. In fact, research shows that learners who used practice testing consistently remembered 10-20% more information than their peers.

Game-based learning incorporates practice testing in the structure of learning modules. Most game-based modules are quizzes combined with game tactics to improve engagement. The underlying quiz structure increases retention by forcing the learners to recall the information, then providing immediate feedback about whether or not their recollection was correct. Immediate feedback is critical for corporate training so employees don’t accidentally encode incorrect information.

3. Distributed Practice

Distributed practice refers to a schedule of practice that distributes learning activities over a period of time. This is one of the most effective techniques you can use to improve learning and knowledge retention. Employees have to work harder to remember information after time has passed, which helps encode it in their memory.

Game-based learning follows this principle by breaking learning content up into smaller sections, reducing the overall amount of information consumed in one learning session. Learners are also encouraged to take training in short daily sessions of about five minutes, thus spreading learning out over time and improving knowledge retention.

4. Interleaved Practice

Interleaved practice is a technique where different topics and/or materials are woven together. It’s effective because it allows learners to compare and contrast different kinds of challenges at the same time. While this can negatively affect initial learning scores, interleaved practice helps learners organize learning material in their minds so they apply it more accurately.

Blocked practice (where learners only learn about one topic) shows initial scores of 80% and higher. But in follow up tests for these learners, accuracy falls to just over 20%. In contrast, interleaved practice learners maintain their level of accuracy in follow up.

Game-based learning incorporates interleaved practice in two key ways. First, its modular structure allows learners to bounce between different topics easily. They can complete a module in one course, then take another module in a different course. Second, it allows for one course to use a variety of game modules that present information in different ways — this could be quizzes, choose-your-own-adventure type scenarios, videos, technology walkthroughs, spot the error rounds, etc.  — which similarly increases application by forcing learners to apply information they’ve learned in different contexts.

Reduce Training Time and Costs

Because game-based learning uses more effective learning techniques and is designed to fit into employee workflows, game-based learning allows you to improve training outcomes while also reducing overall time spent in training.

While most people tend to think of game-based learning purely as a way to increase usage of their training programs, the reality is that it’s also an effective way to improve training outcomes and reduce overall training time.

Choosing a game-based approach to learning significantly improves the retention and application of material learned in training — which, depending on your use case, can have a measurable impact on key business metrics, like call times, product recommendations, time-to-proficiency for new staff and regulatory compliance. And because of game-based learning’s modular structure, you can achieve those outcomes in less time than traditional training methods. It’s a win-win.