As the gaming industry continues to grow at an exponential rate, the benefits of using games to educate, engage and boost employee learning have become increasingly pronounced. With technology advances and the vast number of devices readily available to businesses, they, too, are tapping into this new learning resource. How can we best use games in the training room as a valuable part of the corporate training process and continuing professional development of the workforce?

What Is Gamification?

Gamification uses elements of game principles and designs in learning and training contexts, promoting situational learning and offering training opportunities that are immersive and interactive. The benefits of using well-designed games for training purposes have been brought into sharper focus with generational shifts in the workplace, as more millennials, who are well-versed and responsive to gamification in all aspects of life, enter the workplace.

There are several ways games improve performance:

Games engage and immerse learners. Hungarian psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi described what he called flow, a highly focused mental state in which an individual is completely absorbed in a task. He suggested that individuals are happiest and most effective when they achieve flow.

Games encourage individuals to stay in flow by tapping into different aspects of human emotion, including pleasure, competition and reward, and mirroring real-life experiences. Flow is most likely to occur when there is a balance between the skill level of the learners and the challenge level of the tasks; therefore, games constructed with the right tools and rules to monitor the process can achieve optimal results for each individual.

Games provide a safe space for trial and error. As Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” Games provide a safe environment for making mistakes by offering a rich virtual world in which the learner can experiment and make decisions.

Game-like materials are also far more interactive than many traditional forms of training, like tests and quizzes, allowing users to learn through active practice and to review the content to increase their knowledge, skills and confidence through repeated practice. Games can thus boost understanding and retention, giving the learner a much better chance of getting it right in real life.

Games engage both the cognitive and the emotional. It is a widespread misconception that the cognitive part of the brain alone is responsible for learning. In fact, it also can have a strong affective component, with much of decision-making taking place in the limbic system, which is connected to emotion and motivation. Gamification taps into both parts of the brain, helping to achieve optimal learning results.

From a cognitive perspective, tasks involving comprehension, analysis and recollection are important elements of the learning process. Games can develop all of these functions by asking learners to assimilate information and use hints where appropriate to reach effective and informed decisions.

When it comes to the emotional component of learning, games help train employees to develop the right instincts and attitudes. Online games are immersive and realistic, offering opportunities for learners to manage their emotions and responses while also providing a chance for employers to monitor these reactions in a simulated real-life scenario.

Gamification Achieves Results.

There is a substantial amount of research pointing to the benefits of using gamification to boost learning and achieve results. A 2013 study published in the International Journal of Science and Nature found that playing games can give a healthy 60-year-old the mental capabilities of someone 25 years younger, with the effects lasting for six months, even after individuals stopped playing the game.

Another study, by the University of Colorado Denver Business School, found that using video games in training led to substantial improvements in performance, particularly when the video games actively engaged participants. The researchers analyzed 65 studies and data from 6,476 trainees, focusing on studies examined post-training outcomes for simulation games. The findings indicated that self-efficacy was 20 percent higher for learners trained with simulation games than for a comparison group, declarative knowledge was 11 percent higher, procedural knowledge was 14 percent higher and retention was 9 percent higher.

In light of this research, a number of major companies have successfully used gamification to improve engagement and learning. The Deloitte Leadership Academy, an online training program, was struggling with completion rates and incorporated badges, leaderboards, tests and quizzes to encourage employees to complete the program. Just three months after implementing gamification, completion time dropped by 50 percent, with a nearly 47 percent increase in the number of users who return to the site daily.

At Domino’s Pizza, to maintain a high quality of food preparation and distribution services, it was imperative that the global fast food chain trained new employees quickly and productively. Domino’s developed the “Pizza Maker” course, which used gamification and online simulations to instruct, engage and monitor employees. The games enabled employees to develop their knowledge of the menu sooner and decreased preparation time in practice.

These examples demonstrate a boost in employee engagement and learning. To use gamification effectively, companies must use the right tools and systems to deliver, manage and assess employee training. Look for tools that provide efficiency by, for example, using a central system that will incorporate management and training as well as gamification elements.

As technology continues to develop quickly, and with technologically engaged younger generations entering the workforce, the advantages of using gamification to support learning and development are substantial. Businesses would do well to harness this effective way of learning.