Despite its prevalence across the corporate world, research suggests that current diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training isn’t working. Harnessing the power of gamification can help address these failings and improve outcomes, making DEI training more engaging and effective.

Though DEI training has become a staple of onboarding and training programs in large workplaces around the world, they are too often one-off sessions typically involve clicking through a set of slides, listening to presentations and reading about company policy. With a growing body of research identifying the ineffectiveness of this approach, many organizations are searching for alternatives. Could gamification provide a more successful solution?

Gamification, popularly defined as the use of game elements in non-game contexts, is one of the biggest trends in corporate training. Gamified training incorporates game mechanics such as rewards, points and leaderboards to increase engagement, trigger positive emotional responses, and improve the learning experience. Skilful application of these techniques within DEI training programs has yielded promising results.

Daphne Forbes, Assistant General Counsel at Microsoft and advisor to the DEI gamification specialists Conscious Inclusion Company, has observed these results first-hand, and explained to Law Journal Newsletters (LJN): “All too often in diversity training, people attend sessions and memorize facts so they can check the box and say they completed their diversity training. With gamification, the goal is to encourage people to learn by doing, rather than memorizing, and to increase their knowledge.”

Transforming participants from passive listeners to active learners is a key benefit of gamified DEI training. Many games are designed with player autonomy in mind, enabling individuals and groups to chart their own path through the journey, setting their own pace and their own learning objectives. This is especially important in light of research on the failings of current approaches – people react negatively to perceived efforts to control them, and mandatory DEI sessions and anti-bias training can provoke hostility from some participants, causing more harm than good.

Making sessions voluntary and enabling player autonomy can make gamified DEI training seem less like an enforced effort to control behavior. Gamified training programs are more likely to foster team work, fun and friendly competition, increasing levels of engagement with the training.

Team-based gaming is especially effective for driving engagement and outcomes. In addition to promoting collaboration and communication, team games can be more inclusive, taking some pressure off individual participants.

Game dashboards provide a useful feedback loop for DEI training, enabling leaders to track emerging trends and build on feedback data. Playing under assumed team names rather than personal names helps generate more honest feedback and prevents people feeling like they are being judged or reviewed, especially when there are points and a leaderboard! Creating a safe, inclusive environment for participants to explore DEI issues is a prerequisite for achieving better results.

What does gamified DEI training actually look like? Types of content can include immersive scenarios, team-based challenges and fact-finding missions, video and audio activities, and interactive quizzes, combined with reward-based game mechanics like badges and leaderboards.

Immersive scenarios use real-life examples and situations to contextualize the learning points, making the material more tangible and applicable to everyday work. This ultimately helps drive behavior change – the more realistic the scenario, the more relatable the taught behavioral nudges will be for learners. Taking on these challenges as a team can stimulate important discussions, creating a peer-to-peer learning experience that can drive a culture of knowledge sharing and collaboration in other areas of the organization. Players explore different perspectives and situations in a safe, immersive forum, helping them to take on new ideas and experiment with new concepts.

Although gamified D&I training is an emerging field, there is already a range of companies developing innovative approaches in this space. Some offerings use a peer-to-peer learning experience, using gamification to create a more sustained and long-term training solution designed to turn inclusion into a daily habit. Users progress at their own pace, taking on daily inclusions, insights, exercises and quizzes to earn inclusion champion badges.

Despite its promise, gamified DEI does not represent a magic elixir to solve all the industry’s problems, and there are a number of potential pitfalls to avoid. The success of gamified DEI solutions is dependent on the content upon which it is based. Most importantly, learning materials should be based upon reliable sources and independent studies. Additionally, practitioners must strike the right balance between fun and learning, making sure they avoid trivializing the seriousness of the topic.

When incorporating gamification into DEI training programs, companies must adopt a clear stance on the topic. What is the goal, and what are the behavioral outcomes they desire? Effective corporate communication and clear objectives are vital in achieving buy in and driving genuine cultural change.

Finally, training games must be aligned with the overall business strategy and incorporated within a broader organizational effort to achieve DEI objectives. One-off games are not the answer by themselves. In order to truly drive outcomes and behavior change, gamified training needs to be ongoing and combined with other important structural elements, such as more diverse hiring practices across the organization.

Nevertheless, gamified DEI training still represents a step forward, helping to make the learning experience more effective and engaging. When used effectively, it can help organizations take DEI to the next level.