Serious games are a serious business……
If anyone needs proof that online learning is the hottest way to upskill or reskill, thanks to the protracted COVID-19 crisis, it lies in the statistics from online learning platform Coursera. Since mid-March 2020, Coursera reported over 50 million course enrolments – an increase of 444% over the same period in 2019.
With multiple industries seeing no alternative but to furlough or even lay off staff, the pandemic forced an estimated 1.69 million people in the UK into unemployment. Some were studying to pass the time, no doubt, but most were likely boosting their skills in an attempt to stand out from the ever-growing crowd at interviews.
It’s common cause that employees must be learning constantly if they are to keep pace with evolving ideas and technologies. However, for those who have continued working remotely through the pandemic, personal and professional development has been put on hold as they pick up the work of furloughed colleagues, or help their companies fight to stay afloat. Unfortunately, that means companies are losing out on the myriad benefits of corporate learning, including higher employee efficiency and engagement, better onboarding and less need for supervision – hence higher profits and less resource wastage.
Having a well trained and motivated workforce is not only important for employees’ own career progression, with many investing so much of their “free” time to learn, but is also a valuable asset for any organisation, and especially those navigating their way through a pandemic and beyond. As the UK moves into yet another uncertain lockdown, it’s critical for employers to revisit and update their corporate learning plans to better accommodate new ways of learning like never before.
So where is the best place to start?
With games. But not the ordinary kind; what some call serious games, or more accurately games for impact. These are games that are custom designed to drive social, learning, marketing or business goals. Whether for on-boarding teams remotely, developing essential skills (once called soft skills, but surely no longer) or deepening employee wellness, games for impact have a significant role to play. Done well, they can deliver hours of engagement, measurable results and significant cost savings.
Games can be defined in many ways; put simply, a set of rules, a goal, feedback and, critically, that they are played voluntarily. In a corporate context, truly voluntary games aren’t always possible – although the data from Coursera suggests that the appetite is there, since the vast majority of courses are paid for by the individual. And as mentioned, people don’t only learn while at “work”, whatever that means in a work-from-home context.
Gamification refers to the application of gameplay elements in non-gaming settings. Effectively, you harness the power of voluntary engagement, a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – and sometimes even fun – to motivate people. With the growing power of digital media and smart devices, organisations looking to stand out should consider supplementing live virtual learning sessions and online learning with customised interactive games and properly designed gamified learning.
To gamify corporate learning, skilled game designers work with organisations to understand their desired learning outcomes. They then manage the concept development, creative and visual design of the game, also taking care of all the coding and software engineering required to convey learning messages – all in an engaging and captivating way. Narrative frameworks, level advancement, competition, quest-driven tasks and other game mechanics are used to ensure learning experiences are accessible to all employees, across cultures, languages, and in a way that is well suited to remote teams.
The mindset should always be that the user is honoured in the design, that we answer “why” someone would want to play this, and that we tap into intrinsic motivation, which is what makes games so addictive and engaging.
The line between games and gamification is largely arbitrary, so just focus on the principles. For example, a quiz can be a game (Trivial Pursuit as just one of so many beloved examples), or a quiz can form part of a gamified assessment. Unfortunately some corporates rushed into the area, applied the quiz mechanic badly, and gave gamification a bad name. Taking boring compliance training, and slapping a quiz in between clickable PowerPoint slides to see who recalls the most info isn’t a game. Creating arbitrary points, and mysteriously hoping that these points are worth something to players, doesn’t work.
To deliver real value, we need to start by considering why we’re creating a game or gamified solution in the first place, what’s in it for the user, and identify the learning goals. Don’t assume that current methods of delivery then automatically apply, because digital solutions can often deliver highly innovative solutions using the power of games. Sometimes corporations say they want 10 minutes of game play. Why? What are you hoping to embed and how will we know when users get it?
What games do better than any other media is allow users to apply skills instead of just recalling information. And they can be done in a way that is highly nuanced, measurable, cost-effective and engaging.
Glenn Gillis is the co-founder and CEO of Sea Monster, a leading animation, gaming and augmented-reality company. Sea Monster utilises games to increase engagement, improve learning, and strengthen the impact of learning outcomes for corporations across Europe and Africa.