In his acclaimed book, “A Theory of Fun for Game Design,” Raph Koster says: “Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. In other words, with games, learning is the drug.”
Koster, a gaming industry thought leader, is focused on challenging designers to get away from the predictable, and therefore boring mechanics of games, and to look for something new that drives engagement. But he might just as well have been talking to designers of employee education programs. And most of them could use his help.
An effective training program starts with a risk-based analysis of who in the company needs to be taught what, and at how deep a level of understanding based on each person’s effect on or exposure to a given threat, and the level of risk that threat presents to the organization. OCEG Chair Scott Mitchell says that a great way to figure this out and determine the types and frequency of training and assurance for each role is to use a “Job Exposure to Risk Factors Heat Map.”
But that really is just the start, isn’t it? Determining how to ensure the required understanding is as important as deciding who needs to know what.
With the advent of online e-learning and the ever younger workforce familiarity with video gaming and role playing, research is demonstrating the value of adding a gaming aspect to your education plans. But really, is this anything new? For decades, researchers have demonstrated that children learn best through play, and more recently the same findings have been developed for adult workplace education. Before the use of computers for training, and even still today to meet certain high-risk needs, simulation gaming in workplace classrooms has been an effective tool.
So what is new? It’s the focus, as Koster describes, on the methods or mechanics of the game. The content is the content, but when we can make employees want to engage, and develop a teaching approach that they learn from and actively seek out, we are, no pun intended, ahead of the game. And games that work use a wide variety of styles and approaches.
Well-designed games encourage engagement, and more engagement means more reinforcement, and that leads to better recollection and application of the information. Situational decision making drives the player to think, not just act. Making wrong choices and seeing the consequences leads to desire to act the right way and gain rewards, be it advancing to the next level of the game, earning a prize for success, or understanding that in the real workplace world the reward may be achievement of personal and organizational objectives.
An added value of gaming beyond teaching in the first instance, and reinforcing learning on an ongoing basis for those who fall into the hotter regions of the heat map, is the opportunity to track and evaluate the choices the player makes. Seeing a repeated failure to make the right decision may lead to a call for a refresher course, one-on-one training, tracking of behavior on the job, or tagging the individual as more high risk which may lead to more monitoring or a change in job responsibilities and rights.
Just remember, as one size does not fit all in deciding the content and intensity of training needs for each role or individual, neither does one size fit all in a gamified learning experience. The successful use of gaming requires expertise in design and testing of the selected approaches. As Koster says, “Since different brains have different strengths and weaknesses, different people will have different ideal games.”
Check out this illustration on Risk-Based Education and Training to start a discussion with your team on improving your training programs.