Effective training depends on accurate learner assessments. After all, if you can’t identify the areas where your learners need help, you will be taking a scattershot approach at best.

Broadly, the term gamification refers to the practice of making content more engaging by incorporating game elements like competition or achievement badges. Gamification is increasingly being used as an engaging training tool but can also be used to incentivize learners to complete post-training assessments. Learning leaders can use the data collected from training assessments to improve the quality of their training offerings and also prove training’s effectiveness to shareholders.

Let’s examine three ways that gamification can improve the assessment experience.

1.   Increases Learner Engagement

One of the secrets to gamification’s success as a method for learner engagement may lie in the difference between active and passive engagement. For instance, a video can play all the way through even if no one’s watching — but a game requires player participation in order to progress.

As the pace of change accelerates, upskilling is becoming imperative for organizations to stay competitive. Learning and development (L&D) has stepped up, creating and administering engaging training content to meet learner needs. But engaging content is only half the battle. To craft training content that moves the needle, L&D needs to focus on improving learner assessments. Assessments allow L&D and managers to see what’s really going on with regards to learner skills (and how they can improve); but it’s useless if we can’t get learners to engage with it in the first place.

The element of fun shouldn’t be overlooked in the battle for learner attention. Fun, says Karl Kapp, gamification expert and professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University, can create “a positive feedback loop that encourages a person to continue a process or action.” In other words, if learners have a good time with assessments or trainings, they’ll be far more likely to finish them — and quicker to start new trainings or assessments in the future.

It’s qualities like these that make gamification an indispensable tool in the effort to make an impact on the bottom line with training. “Lasting outcomes result from sustained, purposeful effort,” says Michael J. Noble, Ph.D., the president of Americas at Area9 Lyceum. It’ll always be an uphill battle if your learners are disengaged.

2.   Creates a Fun (And Safe) Space to Learn

Gamification can go a long way toward setting the right tone for learners when it comes to the assessment process. Kapp says, “One thing that a game can do really well is to place the person in an authentic mindset. A person playing a game tends to get into the game, they become immersed in the gameplay and tend to let their guard down a little bit.” This state of mind is essential, Kapp argues, because it leads learners to engage with your training more honestly and openly — which is extremely valuable when it comes to learner assessments.

Games can also serve the important purpose of providing “a safe space for learners to fail,” writes Stephen Baer, chief creative officer at The Game Agency. When learners have instant access to automated feedback, they’re less likely to build up anxiety over some assessment looming in their calendar.

Fun is an important factor in gamification, but the way it’s incorporated (or not) depends heavily on “your company’s culture, your learners and the nature of the content itself,” says Emma Klosson, senior instructional designer and learning evangelist at SweetRush. The key, she says, is to make sure that assessments “reflect the real world as closely as possible.” Since the goal of training in the workplace is always to make a measurable impact on the organization’s bottom line, training and assessments that resemble real conditions and circumstances will be of far more use to learners than more abstract trainings.

3. Captures Valuable Data

As digital transformation demands increasingly varied skills from employees, the types of assessment we use will have to get more specific: “We think of gamification in terms of levels, times or scoring,” says Noble, but the analytics generated by a gamified solution should provide much more granular data. Ultimately, “Helping [learners] calibrate their performance is more important than high scores.” With more granular data come greater insights into the types of skills needed by each learner.

As always, it’s key to begin your training design process with your end goals in mind. “Think carefully about what you need to assess,” says Klosson, “and how you’ll use the gaming mechanics to track the learners’ decisions and performance.” Doing the work up front to figure out the specific skills in need of assessment will save you — and your learners — valuable time.

Getting Started

We’ve seen a massive shift in the way the business world approaches the topic of gamification. “The conversation has changed dramatically,” says Kapp, “from ‘does gamification work’ to ‘how can we make gamification work in our environment.’”

One important thing to keep in mind when designing a gamified learner assessment is to focus on behaviors before outcomes. “Gamification shouldn’t be ‘earn a prize if you sell the most,’” says Karl Kapp. “The people who sell the most already know what to do. You don’t move the needle in a situation like that.” Instead, gamification should prioritize actions that correspond to increased selling, but that people aren’t already doing.

It’s also important to remember that gamification is just one tool in the toolbox, and it might not always be appropriate. For example, there are some areas that might be too serious or difficult to apply gamification. “You wouldn’t want to gamify your driver’s test,” says Klosson, “but you might want to gamify the theory part of the assessment.”

Still, for those tasks where it is appropriate, gamification can prove an effective way to keep your learners coming back for more. With the need for continuous assessment growing each year, L&D can leverage technology to collect meaningful data and craft engaging training experiences that help to retain employees and contribute to organizational success.