Selling to a split audience in learning gamification

A large percentage of our work is in learning related gamification and very often what the learning and development manager wants to suit their needs and what the end-user learner needs are poles apart. Learning and development professionals in most corporate organisations have a set of metrics to adhere by. Often they include course completion and satisfaction levels and proof that all the mandatory courses have been done by everyone.

When working as an in-house trainer, we had the following metrics: number of people trained, courses delivered, training needs analysis done with core clients and average score of the happy sheets at the end of a training. I knew that if I positioned the happy sheet also known as feedback form as an important way of delivering honest feedback then the scores would be lower than if I positioned it as a tool for me to keep my job, which would boost the numbers. Equally if in a course I made people reflect and think, the scores tended to be lower than in a course where I entertained them through course material with light exercises. Personally I am not a fan of edu-tourism, the people that come for a day in training that is and hope to have a great time, I would rather have a room full of people who really want to learn something, but either way that audience exists.

For the learner, most of the time they want learning at their moment of need. In today’s world that means ask a colleague or if they don’t know search online for an answer. The instinct is rarely, I will look into the learning management system or knowledge bank for the information. When I worked in one of the big 6 consultancies, way back when there still were 6, we had a comprehensive knowledge bank with good old 1950’s style interfaces to search on. As ugly as those were, we could usually find a project similar to yours somewhere in the archives, but it was rare when the problems faced were completely similar and the solutions still relevant. So even with great knowledge databases, the search typically ended up further than just internal tools.

In most corporate learning systems, we will find generic courses on time management, goal setting, project management, leadership, etc. Most of the time when an employee is stuck and looking for answers, it comes in completely different words than the positive ones used to describe a course. The answers may be in there, but in a search they would never come up. Tailoring the content to the needs of organisation is again something a lot of learning teams don’t have the time to do or fail to do. I remember being asked to revise the project management training program for one company, they had great PRINCE2 heavy methodology and whilst that serves it’s purpose the reality was more a fly by the seat of your pants and hope and pray that it works approach. So Prince2 and all it had to offer was deemed over-kill and unpractical, so I made an Oceans 11 version with key methodology and good practices sprinkled into it. That became a very popular course, I was even ask to fly in to Ukraine on a weekend to come and deliver it once, which in the corporate world was unheard of.

The disconnect that exists between what learners need and how learning and development teams are measured is often where the two fall down also in learning related gamification. Management wants to reward completion because it suits their metrics and learners want to see their progress towards a specific competency or career track, which often is not included. So the disconnect continues. As a gamification designer we will not go ahead with our designs unless we can test a sample size of end-users or learners to find out what their current experiences are, their likes and dislikes, what motivates them to learn and achieve, etc. We find it rather fascinating that learning management systems and even some gamification platforms just say, we  have added badges for completion, leaderboards for some competition and points to track everything else and your learners will love it and do more without ever asking a learner anything or looking at their goals.

In my view this is where a lot of work is needed and implementing gamification without user research is in my book equal to flushing money in the toilet. I just wish that more people involved in gamification put user research forward as a key to successful design and engagement.

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