Behavioural design expert Ankit Shah talks to RedJamJar about developing gamification for learning and development and why meaningful business outputs are the only metrics that matter.

What first fuelled your interest in gamification for learning and development?
Funnily enough, I was initially drawn to gamification by the name itself. As a gamer, I liked the sound of gamification and I wondered what it involved. A more interesting question is what kept me there, which was the significant results achieved by early efforts.

This was 1st generation of gamification for learning and development, before anyone was using particularly complex approaches or techniques backed by lots of theory. Nevertheless, early attempts still had a significant impact on user behaviour. People were more engaged and were having more fun; that was really interesting to me because I had always thought those responses were constrained to the world of games alone.

First generation gamification was based around points, badges and leader boards: they were simple systems. These attempts didn’t really account for the more sophisticated mechanics that are now present in games; they didn’t include insights from complementary behavioural fields, so it was pretty basic, but they still had positive effects.

Gamification is really popular in product marketing, but what about internal usage for uses such as organisational learning?
I think about gamification for employee and client engagement as two separate buckets. My first exposure to gamification was for internal use. It was fascinating to see how the tasks people would ordinarily complain could become the jobs people were now doing first or competing on. People were feeling challenged simply by the addition of game mechanics into the layer of user abstraction.

What mistakes do businesses commonly make when approaching gamification for learning and development?

The field is metaphorically littered with the bodies of people who didn’t have a good understanding of what they were doing up front and viewed it as a new shiny toy. There is an often-quoted report from Gartner that predicted 80% of gamification initiatives would fail between 2012 and 2014. The high failure rate makes sense because a lot of people are looking at gamification for learning and development in a couple of ways that don’t engender success.

The first misstep is that many businesses haven’t evolved beyond gamification 1.0, the days of points, badges and leader boards. They’ve included it in a slapdash way as an add-on to an inherently poorly designed experience. The second error is failing to realise that mechanics evolve. Game mechanics have a limited shelf-life; to maintain a user’s interest in the long term, two things have to change: the mechanic’s tactics and the content itself. If people become overly familiar with the content, its ability to hold the user’s attention is diminished.

Can you further expand on gamification in the context of staff engagement?

Fundamentally, you don’t want to create a gamification layer to make peoples’ lives more annoying. It shouldn’t be a barrier to the task you actually need to complete. In an internal work environment, having to fight through a layer of gamification to get your work done doesn’t make sense, it’s a disincentive.

Gamification for learning and development falls in the tool box of engagement tools. At Dopamine, we’re ultimately interested in three things:

  1. Is the challenge fundamentally associated with behaviour or process? If it’s process based, gamification won’t do much to move the needle. Behavioural issues on the other hand are the appropriate milieu for utilising these principles.
  2. We focus on progress. If this is a behavioural issue, what are the things that need to change to engender progress?
  3. We look at feedback. Ultimately, one of the most powerful reasons, if not the core conceit of gamification for learning and development is providing meaningful feedback in real-time.

These are the areas consider when scoping applications of internal gamification for clients. Blanket applications of gamification make no sense.

We need to think about the meaningful business output we’re aiming for; what are the Key Performance Indicators or progress goals and what feedback we can offer consistently to ensure we offer reinforcement time and time again.

What project are you most proud of?

Seven or eight months ago we rolled out a brand new training and on-boarding program for KPMG. By the end of 2016, the program we’ve designed will be used in about 140 different countries. We’ve been piloting the program in around 50 countries in the last six months, and we’ve seen some pretty incredible results.

The point of the system is to engender learning interest in learning and to help on board new hires to KPMG ways of keeping due processes. In six months, we’re yet to receive a single negative comment via KPMG’s internal feedback system. Previously learning and on-boarding processes used classroom-based learning with lots of ring binders; the process wasn’t very engaging. Now, staff play through a gamified experience and engagement has skyrocketed: some offices have organised entire days to play group tournaments against one another!

Besides the KPMG project, we also built a national financial literacy program delivered through gamification for Fidelity Investments. That program will go out to 1,000s of 6th to 8th graders across the USA.

Ankit Shah is a behavioural design expert who leads strategy and consulting at Dopamine Agency.

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Until next week…
Paul Brown