The good news is that business education and training are evolving to incorporate these crucial concepts. As recently as five years ago, learning and development teams would have had to design these experiences in house; now, it is possible to buy off-the-shelf solutions that harness both the latest thinking in pedagogy, and cutting-edge technologies such as immersive video and artificial intelligence (AI) to provide a rich role-playing experience.
One pitfall to avoid here is the possibility of too much fidelity. Ironically, just as unrealistic workplace scenarios can fail to resonate with users, when learners are given gaming experiences that reflect their day-to-day experience too faithfully, they tend to start picking them apart – the bits that aren’t quite right stand out all the more. Managers are often better off learning leadership skills via an analogical context, a mission to Mars, say, than in a direct simulation of their own business.
This is why effective training tends to shift learners out of their familiar lanes – obliging them to learn and practice new skills, rather than simply running through those they know they have in the locker. The experience is artificial, in the sense that the activity essentially takes place within the heads of the participants, but it is convincing and relevant. The possibility of constructing new, explorable worlds brought by the metaverse will only add further dimensions to the experience.
Start by looking at the end
The key to success will be to focus on the outcome. While the technology is exciting, learning and development teams looking to experiment with gamification for the first time need to keep basic principles top of mind. Which learning objectives are they striving for? Then, the debate is about whether delivering learning via these new technologies could secure better results.
One size will not fit all, particularly as organizations think about how to satisfy the curiosity of each individual learner. It may be that a particular experience – a program designed to help mid-level executives get to grips with sustainability objectives, say – works well as a large-group activity. Nevertheless, individual learners will inevitably see challenges through different lenses and have distinct learning objectives, so allowing them to explore different paths will be important.
Indeed, learning developers should be prepared to explore too. It’s easy to fall in love with a new technology and assume your colleagues will feel the same. In practice, however, experimenting with different techniques and features will enable learning and development teams to piece together the most effective bespoke experiences.
That said, the principles of safety and consent are non-negotiable. Learners must feel comfortable that the environment has been designed to help them acquire new skills, rather than to test and potentially punish them. They must engage through volition, rather than coercion; and if engagement does not happen, it may be time to revert to the more traditional route.
We would still emphasize that even a slight pivot towards gamification can produce remarkable results. For example, when IBM introduced into its training the opportunity to acquire digital badges, it saw a 226% increase in course completions and its pass rate rose even more markedly. A bit of fun, it seems, can go a long way.