Gamification, or the application of gaming design, mechanics and concepts to training, is increasingly popular, especially as technologies support simpler development and delivery as well as more engaging games. It’s certainly not a new trend, but it’s a popular one, which is reflected in new funding for companies that develop learning games for the corporate sector.

GamEffective, for example, announced a $11 million Series B funding round last month, bringing its total funding to $21 million. The round was led by existing investor Jerusalem Venture Partners, whose managing partner Raffi Kesten noted in the press release, “Next generation HR technology is developing rapidly as legacy Learning Management Systems and performance management are undergoing a process of transformation … In light of these challenges and changes, GamEffective’s technology creates an innovative work environment that improves employee performance and creates value for the organization.”

GamEffective is headquartered in Israel but opened a New York office last year. “We focus on improving employee performance in large organizations using elements of performance management, next-gen e-learning and gamification,” says Gal Rimon, founder and CEO. Employees participate in personalized, adaptive “learning journeys” formatted in a narrative game. They compete and collaborate with each other and compete with their previous scores. The platform also offers microlearning. In large companies like the ones GamEffective works with, there are so many employees that it’s difficult to keep employees motivated and up to date on training, Rimon says. GamEffective clients use the platform for onboarding and frontline employee training – areas where training is constantly needed and performance is relatively easy to measure.

Also last month, startup 1HUDDLE raised a $3 million Series A round led by NRD Capital Management, LLC. Like Kesten, NRD founder Aziz Hashim believes that game-based learning can provide significant benefits to companies that adopt it as a training method: “Competition for talent remains one of the biggest threats to unit economics for the foreseeable future,” he said in the press release. “NRD is pleased to invest in an innovative platform such as 1HUDDLE, which delivers effective solutions for workforce engagement and can even lower training costs for operators.”

1HUDDLE was founded by CEO Sam Caucci three years ago after over 10 years managing training and developing and leading sales and customer service teams in a variety of industries. He felt the tools used to train employees were ineffective and wanted to develop a better way. “I still feel in a lot of ways that we’re using tools from the 1990s to train a 21st-century workforce, and it’s not really working,” he says.

1HUDDLE launched in the sports vertical with clients like the Golden State Warriors, and now the company works with over a dozen industries, including hospitality, automotive, and aviation and defense (Denver Airport uses 1HUDDLE to train its homeland security professionals). The platform offers two types of games: a three-minute single-player game with 25 or fewer questions and a multiplayer live classroom role-playing game for customer-facing employees. The multiplayer game, Caucci says, “empowers managers to be able to deliver training, to be confident in their delivery,” and to “run a high-speed, engaging, competitive, interactive training exercise … in under 20 minutes.” The manager dashboard enables training professionals or even team managers to build games and report on performance.

Both GamEffective and 1HUDDLE use adaptive learning. “Maybe I’m a fast learner in topic A,” Rimon says, “but a slow learner in topic B. Then in Topic B, I will receive [more] reinforcement and it will be slower.” 1HUDDLE “is constantly reshuffling questions and content by user based off each user’s own performance and accuracy on content.” This functionality “is meant to automate the role of a manager in identifying … skills gaps and plugging that hole as fast as possible.”

“There’s absolutely no research out that proves that learning and training has to be serious to be effective,” Caucci says. But there’s a lot of research supporting “the power of play” in learning new skills. Training Industry research has found that while a little over 50 percent of employees say gamification is a useful learning modality, less than 10 percent receive training in this format.

Traditional e-learning, Rimon believes, is too long, too boring, out of context and “one-size-fits-all.” Gamification relies on behavioral economics to engage and reward participants, helping them develop new habits. “It’s kind of a FitBit for work,” he says. GamEffective has seen strong results so far; Microsoft uses the platform to train call center employees and, Rimon says, has improved upsell and resolution rates, average handle time, and training completion rates and reduced time to proficiency.

Last quarter, Caucci says, 74 percent of all 1HUDDLE games were played outside of traditional working hours. He believes that’s because the games are more motivating and engaging than traditional training, making the platform “perfect for the challenges of today’s workforce.” In fact, he says 1HUDDLE client Hand in Stone, a massage and spa franchise network, selected 1HUDDLE to increase voluntary learning in employees’ free time. “They were looking for a tool that brought training out of their desktop and into their pocket,” he says, and with 1HUDDLE, they saw 100-percent voluntary participation, as well as a 40- to 60-percent increase in knowledge retention and a 21-percent increase in sales.

Technologies like the artificial intelligence that powers adaptive learning and automation can improve the efficiency of developing and deploying game-based learning as well as the effectiveness of the games themselves. GamEffective, for example uses “engagement automation” to automatically provide positive feedback and adapt learning. For this type of feedback, Rimon says, “if you do it [just] one time, then you will have a diminishing effect over time.” Integrating adaptive learning into a game means learners automatically advance through levels based on their performance rather than a standard progression, keeping them engaged and learning.

Learning, Rimon says, “should be very engaging … [so that] people look at learning not just as a chore, but as a positive experience that helps them to complete their job and to meet their targets.” And it should personalized – just for them, and just in time. Adaptive game-based learning can support this “next-gen” learning. Adaptive learning also enables automatic feedback, creating “a circle of feedback [and] constant improvement,” because the organization understands the employees, and the employees understand their goals and what they need to be effective. GamEffective is also exploring the use of omnichannel chatbots to adapt learning across platforms.

1HUDDLE, meanwhile, uses automation to put game development in the hands of managers. “Business changes so fast today,” Caucci says, “and all the learning tools in the market don’t make it easy for managers to get content out of their head and to their people as fast as possible.” He believes the solution is a platform that enables managers to create their own games to train their team members.

“Now is the time to invest in tools and technologies to help our people today,” Caucci says. “Our team fights every day to make sure that the people that work hard and show up to work and want access do get access to the training that they deserve.”