Whenever I want people in my courses to feel more excited about an activity, I call it a game.

Over the years, I’m pretty sure more than a few of my students have questioned my definition of that term, but the fact remains that calling something a game is a surefire to make an activity sound less…boring.

For example, in Activity A, you’re going to work with a partner to describe in Spanish objects typically found in a classroom. In Activity B, however, you’re going to play a game in which Partner A describes in Spanish an object typically found in a classroom without using the name of the object while Partner B tries to guess what’s being described. Which activity sounds more appealing?

The activity is nearly the same, with identical learning goals, but Activity B wins every time. Sounds great, but what does this have to do with other kinds of training?

Gamification is an approach to organizational behavior and learning that has influenced everything from curriculum design to sales training to combating voter apathy. Basically, it’s the application of “game mechanics and game design techniques to engage and motivate people to achieve their goals” in contexts beyond what we’d normally think of as a game.

In other words, you take the same things that make, say, video games fun and you apply them to a training exercise. Or a Spanish lesson. Or a team-building activity. Or whatever it is you’re working on.

The idea, essentially, is to tap into the kinds of things that motivate people when they’re playing games and use them to facilitate learning. For some, this could be competition and a desire to win and gain recognition or status within a group. Other games require collaboration and teamwork, and produce a sense of collective achievement. Still others require mental agility and problem solving of the sort used to solve puzzles.

Building game-like components into a training course has several key benefits.

Gamification helps people lighten up.

No, really. This is a really, really important part of learning, at work and in life.

By approaching an activity as a game, rather than as a deadly-serious learning activity, you give people permission to practice. Which is another way of saying that you’re giving them permission to fail, productively.

Games are–rather obviously–something that people do for fun, so turning a learning activity into a game helps people shift their mindset. It’s as if, by simply calling something a game, you let people try new ideas and be more creative.

Gamification makes for more engaged learners.

Who hasn’t sat through the typical, lecture-style delivery of information? Whether it’s someone droning on from their notes on a lecture stage or a bloated PowerPoint deck, the model is the same: Expert speaks and transmits knowledge to novice. Novice sits quietly and receives information, then magically understands all the information they’ve received.

(In a side note, I’m not opposed to good lecturing or good slide decks, the kinds of things that ask you to reflect and think as you listen, but that’s not what we’re talking about here.)

The problem with this model is that people learn things more deeply when they have to recall information from the recesses of their memories and actually put things into action. (This is also why testing, done well, is effective.)

Games give people a low-stakes, low-stress way to put concepts into practice. Whether it’s a role play activity or riffing on I Spy for a Spanish vocabulary practice, games mean that people are practicing the thing you want them to do.

People don’t magically know how to do something, just because they’ve heard about the process or watched someone else complete the task. Instead, mastering something requires understanding how a concept or tool works in a variety of situations. And that requires actually doing the thing.

Games are a great way for people to get extra practice when there’s still some wiggle room in terms of making mistakes.

Gamification makes things more fun.

At the risk of stating the obvious, it’s called gamification because it’s supposed to be fun. Like, you know, a game.

This obviously means different things to different people, so understand your team or training group. Figure out what motivates them–and what they think is fun–and then use it to design activities that encourage people to have fun while learning new things.

The recent Pokémon Go phenomenon illustrates this point. Motivated by the game’s social aspects, Pokémon Go’s players did indeed get out and try new things, perhaps sometimes to their detriment. And the perhaps-inevitable mocking of the game and its players misses the point: A game made new activities interesting and rewarding, which is a powerful example of why gamification works in training activities.

Organizations have also used gamification to drive everything from scientific research to online education to charitable giving, as this wonderful list details.

At Avizr, we’re big fans of gamification because, well, we believe that learning should be fun.

If you’re looking for other, more tangible ways to motivate your trainees, check out our brand-new Course Rewards program. It allows organizations to give their trainees gift cards in exchange for completing a training course.

We’re currently looking for beta testers for the Course Rewards program, so drop us a line if it sounds interesting.


Kirsten Drickey

Kirsten Drickey

Chief Marketing Officer at Avizr

I'm endlessly fascinated by how people learn, and I'm happiest when I'm in the process of learning something new myself.

When I'm not working on marketing for Avizr, I can be found teaching Spanish, working with my student teachers, hanging out with my dogs, and exploring the many trails around Bellingham.
Kirsten Drickey

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