If I asked you if you wanted to play a game or sit through a training presentation, which would you choose? I’m pretty sure I heard you say “game.” Unless the speaker is a professional who doesn’t need the slides, many training presentations sound a lot like Charlie Brown’s teacher: “whah, whah, whah.” Your brain just doesn’t focus as well when you are listening without being engaged in the content.

Transitioning your most rote, boring (I mean important) training content into something fun that creates better learning retention doesn’t have to be an expensive venture.

Why Gamification

Gamification is the art of transforming training content that is often not retained by learners into an interactive learning process with improved knowledge retention. A review of literature on whether gamification works provides support that gamification can provide positive learning results.

Gamification of learning provides learners with a comfortable, nonthreatening setting to participate and learn by listening to others. The more senses you use while learning – audio, visual, kinesthetic – the more likely you are to remember what you experience. And in my experience, laughter is included in those senses as a very useful learning tool. When you are learning with others in a setting that’s fun and someone says something funny, it will likely be the answer that everyone remembers most.

Gamification Examples

  • Board games: When you have at least 10 or more players, board games make a good option for learning content. This allows two teams to play at the same time with at least five people at each table. There’s a natural level of competition that occurs when there is more than one team.
  • Card games: When you have fewer than 10 players or you don’t really have the option to store or carry around larger items like a game board, a card game can be a functional choice for learning.
  • Pass the mic: This option works well when you have a listing of topics and a group of at least 10 or more participants. You can easily put your questions or “challenges” on a presentation slide and let the participants take turns going down the list sharing responses to scenario or challenge questions while standing in one or more circles, and passing the “mic” to the next person for their turn. Everyone gets to hear how others respond and learn from each other.
  • Charades: Standard games with new twists make great options for quick and easy engagement opportunities. You can use presentation slides where all but the acting participant turns away from the screen or preprinted cards to provide the options. Learners can also write a charade term down based on a theme when they come into the room and use those for the activity.

How Much Does This Cost

Monetarily, you can go all out on fold-up game boards and playing pawns but it’s not required. Your biggest investment should be in the identification of what the learning content really needs to include. So many times we throw in everything at once when learning theory has proven that only a small percentage of what is heard can be retained by most learners. Instructional designers use a method called “chunking” to break down content into manageable amounts of learning. If done thoughtfully, gamification will allow you to include more learning content than traditional methods of teaching.

If you think about the training content you are currently using and really drill down to the most important points based on the importance of the content to your business and relative to the time of the learning, those are the topics you really need to include in the gamification. So, the real answer on the cost is based on your budget and does not require a significant output of money. You can start off with cardboard and paper options and the positive results of your first project will support your budget for future development.

Steps for Successful Game Design

Successful game design initially involves an open mind and a lot of brainstorming of ideas. Then you have to select your delivery method and think simple. If you make your game too difficult to understand and play, it will take the fun out of the experience for the participants.

Many of the following steps overlap somewhat. Be sure to make notes as you go and change them as you hone in on your final product. Don’t try to make your first project perfect. Plan to design the project, test a prototype using inexpensive media and make some revisions before the final version. Always focus on what you want the learners to know when they leave the activity. Post those objectives on the wall somewhere as you develop the project to keep your “eye on the prize.”

  1. Determine the objectives for the learning

Good instructional designers know that you begin at the end. What are you expecting the learners to know when they finish? The topic and level of importance to the team, department and organization will be your guide and will determine factors like the amount of time you will need, what type of game should be used, and how you will determine success.

If you know that you are throwing more at them than they can learn in the current method of delivery, really spend time identifying the key learning objectives most important for the topic. Think about ways to teach the concepts so that learners can make the best decisions. In today’s fast food, fast internet and fast answer society, there remains a need for those who can think through a concept and develop answers themselves.

2. Identify the learners

Make a list and write down all the facts you can think of that impact the learning experience. Will they be familiar with some of the content already? Will there be a mix of knowledge? When participants are playing a game, they are less threatened with getting the answer right and they learn from each other by hearing answers and explanations. Adding a game element like a token to ask another player for help encourages collaboration and reduces the anxiety of players when they don’t know the right answer. It’s great to watch because you will see them helping each other to get the answer even without a token.

You can also scaffold learning by providing a matching or other method of learning before the actual game. For example, our company developed a finance and productivity game and we wanted to provide learners with basic knowledge prior to beginning the board game. We designed a “pre-test” to help them learn key concepts, which becomes a “cheat sheet” to help them play.

3. Identify the game setting

Will you have roundtables or rows of chairs? Is there a place to stand up in groups? What noise level will be acceptable?

4. Select delivery method

What method of delivery will work best based on the first three considerations? Examples include board games with dice and playing pieces, card games, scenario cards for teams, presentation slide content, or other creative methods.

5. Game development

If you haven’t already, identify a team of three to five members to further develop the content. The challenge will be to not add in as many gameplay aspects as you want to keep it simple. No one likes to read long instructions before playing a game, so follow expected gameplay norms as much as possible. Consider the amount of content and level of difficulty as you determine a delivery method and length of time for the activity.

For the finance and productivity game, we have three levels of play, or scaffolding of content, to gradually bring the learners to the same level of knowledge. We have a question and answer debrief between each.

6. Test your product

Don’t spend money on final versions of the product until you have completed some testing. Oftentimes, you will find that you receive some great recommendations from players of demo version products. Collect feedback from the players and those that will be facilitating the game and meet with your team to revise as needed. During your testing phase, you should also work on some instructions for the game process. Consider a detailed version, as if the facilitator is new and knows nothing about the game and a version that is short and sweet for a regular facilitator to use as a quick check before the game.

7. Engage in continuous improvement

Depending on your learning topic, you may need to make edits, additions and deletions to the learning content periodically. Keep this in mind when you determine what goes into your game design. For example, the board that we use for the finance and productivity game I mentioned earlier was designed using colors and places for interchangeable playing cards. This allows the playing board to be reused with different card deck topics. When we decided on our playing board media, we chose a rollout poster format that travels and stores easily and was less expensive than an actual playing board.

Invest in developing your own transformational learning content. Your learners will appreciate the effort you put into improving their learning experience. Start with something simple and see what a difference it makes. By turning training topics into games, you are creating an engaging learning experience that transforms boring content into something much more memorable.

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