From Candy Crush to Pokémon Go, it’s clear that consumers are, by and large, fond of playing games on their cell phones and tablets. In fact, according to Juliette Denny, ideologist in chief at Growth Engineering, in 2016, “mobile gaming claimed the largest portion of total [games] revenue for the first time, netting $38.6 billion or 39 percent.” Can training organizations tap into learners’ mobile gaming habits to improve learning?
The Science of Mobile Games
Duke University’s Center for Advanced Hindsight (CAH) is a behavioral economics lab that investigates decision-making in the areas of health, finance and morality. Its Startup Lab invests in health and finance startups that use behavioral economics in their products. Last month, it made an investment in Talented, a startup founded in 2016 by Danvers Fleury. Talented’s mobile experiential learning game platform is aimed at supporting and reinforcing training to “deliver real results.” The investment from the CAH Startup Lab means the company will be able to leverage CAH research to improve the product.
For example, behavioral economics tells us that “people tend to have a hard time tracking and working toward long-term goals, like achieving mastery of a complex skill,” Fleury says. With Talented, he hopes to “help visualize that progress for learners, and their employers, to keep everyone committed.” Additionally, behavioral economists have shown that people tend to invest time and energy in other people more than they do for themselves. Talented’s platform leverages this knowledge by offering “communal and altruistic rewards and goals for learning cohorts to work toward.”
According to Growth Engineering, the neurotransmitters released when playing games help users make connections, motivate them and help them learn. Denny cites a study by the University of Colorado Denver that found people who played learning games had “11 percent higher factual knowledge, 14 percent higher skill-based knowledge and 9 percent higher retention” than people who used other types of learning. One of Growth Engineering’s clients attributed a 94.3 percent increase in learner engagement due to using mobile gaming.
Experiential games in particular are supported by science that shows people learn by doing; using a mobile platform, Fleury says, means learning can “meet them where they are and breakdown barriers to practice.” Short microlearning content, like Talented’s, make it easy to fit that learning in between meetings or on the train.
With adult learners,” Fleury says, “we do a great job introducing them to new content via books, videos, on-day off-site [events], etc. But after that, life usually gets in the way of deeper learning, and the intended skill development doesn’t take hold.” Mobile experiential games “act as the bridge between content introduction and mastery.”
Initially, the Talented platform was “spaced microlearning.” However, Fleury says, users were bored with the experience, and after doing some research and testing, he and his colleagues decided to make Talented “a quasi-serious game company.” They concluded, “Gamification can be a huge enabler of success if it contributes to, rather than subtracts from, the core contextual relevance of a learning experience.”
The results have supported this decision. Residential Services, Inc. a social services organization, used a Talented game to teach goal-setting skills and reported that 92 percent of participants reported achieving a higher level of success. Rowan Companies, an offshore drilling services provider, used a Talented game to help learners apply new situational leadership skills. The company reported that the average participant demonstrated one level of improvement in his or her situational leadership abilities after 40 minutes of practice.
Hurricane Harvey hit during Rowan’s training program, but 88 percent of all game challenges were completed. The learners also played the game to raise money for hurricane relief efforts and were able to raise almost $1,000 in fewer than 15 hours. “The most motivational thing we can tap into in our learners,” Fleury notes, “is their inherent empathy and nobility. Whenever we let them be a part of something bigger than themselves, we create a sense of purpose, which is inherently motivational, and this can act as a bridge to compelling business outcomes.”
Tips for Using Mobile Gaming Effectively
“Keep it simple,” Fleury says. “We have found compelling stories and useful challenges to trump bells and whistles.” Similarly, Denny says to make sure you’re not “creating a game for the sake of creating a game.” Use a business goal to guide game development.
Additionally, make sure the game will fit with your organizational culture. If your employees don’t typically play mobile games, they may not reap the benefits of using mobile games to learn, and your strategy will seem disingenuous.
Finally, Denny says, “it’s important to remember that learning games are just one factor in a successful training program.” Your comprehensive training strategy should include other forms of training to make sure your organization sees a return on its training investment.