Gamification in Corporate Learning

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Gamification is the process of utilizing and combining game-based elements and mechanics to engage people in learning and taking action. Through this technique, the traditional elements of games are used to make people maintain their focus – deeper and for a longer time. This increased motivation to pursue a specific goal results into a more sustainable and lasting learning efficiency and impact. Through gamified learning in the workplace, managers can reinforce positive behaviors of employees and ensure that they are happier, more engaged and pro-active within their job assignments. They will also enhance communication and collaboration, thus making learning cascade through the organization. This is what makes the gamified learning process so impactful: not only making learning fun but wanting to apply it, over and over again.

Gamification: Why and how does it work?

Although it is difficult to give a clear definition of gamification, it is commonly known as the integration of “typical” game elements and processes in a non-gaming context. One way to understand gamification is to break it down into single components and elements, which are – each one on its own – motivating and interesting to do, repeat and improve. Sometimes, it’s points, sometimes it’s visual feedback, and sometimes it’s curiosity and the aspect of an interesting task.

Gamification is composed of 6 key elements:

Epic meaning
Tasks that are challenging but achievable
Clear interdependencies and rules
Community collaboration
Status and Ranking
Accelerated feedback cycles

Business Simulations as part of Gamification: the Serious Games

Simulations in general and Business Simulations in particular, are considered as a type of serious games, which is a subcategory of gamification. In his book Serious Games, published 1970 by Viking press, Clark Abot gave a relevant definition of serious games:“[serious] games have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement.”

Contrary to some other types of game within gamification, which can be used for different purposes like improving motivation or influencing a behaviour with a strong focus on entertainment like the Starbucks My Reward app, Serious Games have the clear goal to make people learn.
To make this clear the example of a flight simulator seems promising, which is a simulation and a serious game. In terms of gamification the flight simulator represents playing in a non-gaming context, in order to achieve a goal, to learn and to change one’s behaviour – in that case the one of the pilot who needs to train over and over to acquire the right reflexes. Similarly, Business Simulations aim at training employees at every hierarchy level within an organization, in the management context of simulated real-world conditions, with a structured game process and clear rules.

Game designers are responsible for shaping the business simulation structure and for setting the modes of action and rules. These enable the participants to pursuit a goal-achieving process, which keeps them into the simulation game. The players need to receive key information, which shall be revealed through the game design like: what is the game about? (epic meaning), how to play? (clear rules), what are the objectives? (challenging tasks to achieve), how to win or lose ? (ranking and feedback cycles). In business simulations, the biggest challenge in game design is to create a holistic model which is close enough to the reality of an industry to appear realistic, while at the same time complexity should not inhibit the main learning goals.

Applying gamification elements and mechanics in business simulations to facilitate corporate learning

In Business Simulations, players are adopting the position of the managing board (CEO, CFO, Change Management Director…) of a virtual company, which they have to manage. Simulations work on the principle of Learning by Doing, so players can bounce their ideas and visions against a (virtual) reality and see, in a safe environment, how hard this reality bounces back. They are designed in a “Trojan horse” construct to convey skills and learning through application. Business Simulations are a part of gamification and therefore directly use all the six previously described elements of gamification to facilitate corporate learning.

Epic meaning: Gamification builds a narrative (story) that engages people to participate in and achieve clearly set goals. A proper and compelling narrative provides the formation for motivating context (the WHY to participate). In business simulations specifically, users are managing a replica of their own enterprise or a company in an environment either unknown or familiar to them. The participants are the central part of the story, as they either steer their own virtual company (e.g. in general management simulations) or have a specific mission to accomplish (e.g. in change management simulations). This narrative fosters their commitment to achieve the given goals (e.g. growing the company, managing disruptive events etc.).

Example: One of the world’s largest companies in the aeronautical sector defined a new strategy to adapt to the evolution of its market. Its issue was to successfully implement the change process internationally across the group. Through a Change Management
simulation, customized and adapted to the very specific needs of this company, the intercultural group of Change Consultants appointed to this task learned and applied key elements to help them lead the change process smoothly. The three most important steps were: getting sensitized to the different personality types, knowing which measures are relevant to steer the change process and how to communicate the decisions efficiently taking into account the different personalities and priorities of the individuals involved.

Tasks that are challenging but achievable: Gamification provides a great number of small, short-term goals to maintain participants’ engagement. These multiple, but achievable, challenges should be employed to initially engage employees to start and continue learning. In simulations, the task of each team is to make their company the most successful among the whole, according to a number of key performance indicators (turnover, profit, customer satisfaction, share price…). Thus, simulations offer a realistic and safe environment where users can test different strategic options and are not afraid of making mistakes. This is a key to the continuous learning process: with short-term, achievable goals and the possibility to try out their own problem solving techniques, people are more likely to start and continue learning.

Example: Every year, Germany’s first insurance company trains its apprentices with a dedicated Insurance Business Simulation, to introduce them to the operation of an insurance business in a safe and interactive virtual environment. Thanks to the short-term goals to achieve for each period, the apprentices get more familiar with the business model of their new company, dare making various strategic choices and learn along the way.

Clear interdependencies and rules: Gamification provides well-defined rules to ensure players feel empowered to achieve goals. Participants go through a clearly defined process including goals to achieve at each step in an announced time limit, and earn rewards accordingly. As a gamified process, business simulations are also played according to a set of clear rules. The cycle of analyzing information, making decisions and debriefing results is repeated over 4 to 8 business periods built on one another. Through cumulated success criteria the “winners” are designated. This regulation enables straight understanding and focused engagement of the user.

Example: The world’s biggest sports organization was faced with market saturation and changing customer needs on its home market. Through our tailor-made simulation, the company could engage its operational managers in the new strategic orientation. In this structured environment, the participants felt empowered to achieve the set goals, thereby bettering their understanding of their company’s business model and challenges.

Community collaboration: Working together towards a goal motivates participants to establish mutual contacts and to be more productive and creative in finding new solutions. A collaborative environment helps to gain and create knowledge faster than being on your own. In a gamification context, the social element is overriding: participants should be able to share information within their team or publish their findings and achievements on the game platform or on social media. Similarly, the simulation is traditionally played in teams of 3 to 5 players, who compete against one another to improve team performance and decision making as well as to provide the perfect setup for team feedback. The participants need to work together and rely on each other’s knowledge and competencies to take common decisions within the given time limits.

Example: The world leader in the cleaning industry was experiencing the increasing difficulty of using the locally available expertise of the staff due to its global expansion. The simulation developed enabled the participants to experience the impact of their strategic decisions taken in teams and engaged them to find solutions to improve collaboration within the company. Coming together for a common cause, players were strongly emotionally invested in the activity, which fostered positive team behavior and creative ideas. As a result, the new initiatives developed in the workshop could be additionally implemented in the future corporate strategy.

Status and Ranking: In gamification, the users can identify their learning progress through attributes (e.g. badges) or a percentage display. Rankings also allow users to see their status and progress compared to others. This maintains the engagement of the participants and motivates for further endeavor. Acting on the same principle, the business simulation monitors the progress of players’ results in the form of status and ranking displays, which are available after each business period. This creates transparency in the realization of goals, as well as competition with other teams, which is a key element of motivation. Thereby, teams work harder to be at the head of the most successful company.

Example: A European insurance company, specialized on clients with an agricultural activity, is having difficulties predicting its future challenges, due to the complexity of its business model. Thanks to the adapted business simulation, the participants get an interactive and holistic view of the different divisions’ interaction within an insurance company. The transparency of the goals realization and the competition with the other teams motivated the players to make their company’s prosper. As a central element of corporate learning, this simulation is now officially used in executives’ training, to develop their understanding of the business model.

Accelerated feedback cycles: Gamification increases the velocity of feedback loops, which is a key element of the learning process. Gamified learning can give learners real-time feedback on performance as well as instant gratification with scores or other systems that update automatically. Likewise, short feedback cycles are one key element of business simulations. Having regular objective feedback cycles is essential to achieve a high performance over several decision phases. Therefore, in the business simulations, assessments on the company’s performance (based on the results, the presentations of strategies and the explanations of decisions taken), are given after each period. This display of their already achieved status spurs the learners to work harder to beat their own personal best or to strive as a team. Furthermore, it helps shape preferred behavior by rewarding individuals and teams through recognition.

Example: To create additional growth, a well-known potato chips producer is requiring more innovation and an optimization of its processes. Through an adapted business simulation, the executives could test different strategy approaches. Thanks to regular assessment of their performance in the game, they understood the impact of specific innovations on the supply chain and forged new strategies. As a result, the ideas that arose during this one-week simulation-based training were implemented and have had measurable results, such as sales growth (+ 5%) and significant costs reduction.

Limitation of simulation-based, gamified learning

Before engaging gamification in corporate learning or using a business simulation, it’s highly important to understand the motivation of the potential user. The why of the gamified context and the goals, which shall be achieved through it need to be in line with the user’s commitment. Research shows that when people understand the business simulation and are willing to follow its story, gamified learning works out.

Conclusion
Business Simulations are an enabler for gamified learning solutions. They contribute fun and compelling experience-based activities to the corporate learning process composed of three stages, using specific gamification components in each of these phases:

First, during the Onboarding Phase, the employees get to know the business simulation and, thanks to a realistic compelling narrative, emerge into their role as CEO, CFO or Change Consultant. Moreover, clear goals and well-defined settings create a sense of empowerment.

Second, during the decision rounds, the players rely on community collaboration, complementarity of competencies and knowledge sharing within their teams to steer the company to success.

Third, the teams go through regular assessments of their performance and results. Status and rankings of the virtual companies, as well the short feedback cycles activate competition and enduring motivation.

These gamified learning elements enable the employees on different hierarchy levels to learn gradually and effectively but also to understand how communication and collaboration can be increased. In doing so, corporate learning and development initiatives, enriched by simulations, can enhance sustainable and long-lasting learning experiences, facilitate impact measurement and induce behavioral change.

About the authors:

Max Monauni is Consultant for Corporate Business Development at TATA Interactive Systems and has conducted more than 100 client-specific management simulation seminars. He previously finished his PhD thesis in strategic management at the University of Stuttgart.

Angela Feigl is Senior Consultant Corporate Learning & International Partnerships at Tata Interactive Systems, and has previously worked for Paris Graduate School of Management, HEC Paris Executive Education, EML Executive Development, and Harvard Business Publishing.

Marie Guillet ([email protected]) is supporting international and innovation activities at Tata Interactive Systems and has a strong expertise in gamification of learning as well as cutting edge learning technologies.

References
Barrett, Peter (2015): Gamification – Does it have a Place in Your L&D Content Development? A NetDimensions White Paper
Glover, Ian (2013): Play As You Learn: Gamification as a Technique for Motivating Learners
Monauni, Max (2012): Konzeption von Lernarrangements für Unternehmensplanspiele. In: Planspiele – Trends in der Forschung
Monauni, Max (2016): Closing the strategy execution gap through business simulations. In: Development and Learning in Organizations – An International Journal, Volume 30, submitted.

1 Comment
  1. Profile photo of Paul Duxbury
    Paul Duxbury 10 months ago

    Very interesting post covering a lot of ground when it comes to gamification of learning.

    From feedback I have had one of the issues that is missed with this is linking the “badges” to something tangible for the individual. If one achieves a new level or badge in a game normally there is an element of game playing reward associated with it – a new weapon, additional lives, etc.

    Simply achieving the badge might not be enough for people to want to achieve the next level so we need to consider how we can reward learning badges. Lots of ways I am sure!

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