Few people contradict that games often have educational value. That games also belong in the workplace is, oddly enough, a somewhat more controversial proposition. Concepts such as gamification are therefore often received skeptically. For still quite a few organizations, it seems more appropriate to approach training in a really formal way. This is usually due to confusion about what gamification actually is and also what it is not. In this article we clarify this.

Gamification: not just a simple game

When you use gamification, you add game elements or mechanisms to a specific learning solution or learning path. The point is not to provide entertainment for your target audience but rather to stimulate their intrinsic learning motivation.

Take, for example, a warehouse employee who does hard, physical work every day and occasionally comes into contact with suppliers. You may want to sensitize him or her around behavioral guidelines to support your organization’s image. However, the priorities of that employee lie elsewhere than the meticulous adherence to such behavioral guidelines. After all, there is a lot of daily work that needs to be done within tight deadlines. By adding game elements to the learning process, like for example a form of competition or rewards (such as badges) that employees can collect, you develop intrinsic motivation among people to pick up the behavioral guidelines.

So again, gamification is not simply a matter of adding some games to a learning solution. It is important to first analyze your target audience to know what drives them. Then you link the right game mechanisms to them that are needed to activate them.

Gamification is not the same as serious gaming

Sometimes there is confusion between gamification and serious gaming. Instead of just using game mechanics, serious gaming aims to train very specific behaviors or specific skills. Serious gaming will therefore strive to simulate particular situations as realistically as possible. In this sense, it is a bit more like a real video game than gamification.

Let’s take the example from just now. As an L&D manager, you expect your warehouse employee to adhere to certain, general behavioral guidelines when interacting with suppliers or customers. For a salesperson you probably have quite a few other, additional expectations and this, moreover, in very specific situations. In that case a serious game is useful to train your sales person intensively, without throwing him or her yet confronting the real risks. In the daily workflow of the warehouse worker, nothing can be left to chance when it comes to physical safety. A serious game to prepare him or her for risky situations therefore undoubtedly has added value too.

Gamification is a lever for learning

In short, gamification is a learning approach that contributes to the overall efficiency of your (digital) learning solutions. In other words, it is a lever to enhance learning. With serious gaming, you take it one step further.

How successful the approach ultimately proves to be depends on various factors. One rule of thumb we can share: “Don’t overkill.” It’s better to have one clear game mechanism than a complex jumble that causes your target audience to lose interest. Don’t lose sight of the big picture of your (blended) learning path and above all try to make the learning results measurable.

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