How gamification is transforming training

Expected to be worth £1.3 trillion by 2024, the gamification education market is proliferating across the corporate world as pandemic-pressured companies search for new ways to upskill and engage teams

When Leon UK managing director Shereen Ritchie started her first hospitality job in the 1990s, training consisted of reading a “100-page document, sat in the smoking section with a milkshake for about four hours”. 

“You’d lose the will to live,” she jokes but, on a serious note, recalls engagement and retention being low. It is a world away from now, when she is woken at 3am to the sound of her phone pinging with notifications of employees all over the country rising up the leaderboard of Leon’s new gamified learning platform. 

“Honestly, it got real: people were challenging each other and wanting to get more points. It’s created such a buzz. I’ve never had health and safety training completed so quickly,” she quips. 

Working with gamified solutions provider Attensi, the coronavirus pandemic was an ideal time to redefine the training experience for the Leon UK team across 59 branches. Some 94 per cent of staff have now undertaken the gamified training, taking part in simulations set in a 3D replica of a Leon restaurant with authentic dialogue and characters. Some 91 per cent report it has helped them better understand company values.

Leon can now update and publish its own content on the Attensi platform, which is built on the same game engine Xbox and PlayStation game designers use. And Richie is benefiting from a more data-driven approach to both staff and business development.

“Evolution in training was needed before the virus, but when the pandemic hit you had three options when it came to learning and development: you stopped doing any, you tried to adapt your current processes as best you could and hope they worked or you took the opportunity to evolve and grow,” she says.

“We have a training school in our head office, which is amazing but not scalable. I’m not saying gamified training is the only training tool we’ll use; there will always be a place for face-to-face and some documentation. But it’s about how people retain information by learning in a gamified way.”

Gamification is also gaining traction in the insurance sector. Attensi this year announced the world’s first underwriter simulator for insurer Hiscox, a custom-built 3D simulation challenging underwriters to compete in a number of realistic, gamified scenarios.

By the end of 2021, more than 90 per cent of the firm’s junior underwriters will have done the training. Around 85 per cent of the participants say it has helped them understand how to apply technical concepts across the underwriting cycle, freeing up senior team members to provide support for more complex tasks, such as assessing risk. Like at Leon, the competitive element has been a hit, with people repeating a simulation up to 30 times to top the leaderboard.

Des Bishop, group head of people development at Hiscox, describes the shift as a” game-changer” against one of the sector’s key challenges, which is a shortage of high-quality technical underwriters.

“Underwriting drives profit, so our business needs an exceptionally talented team of technical underwriters. Our simulation allows team members to experience the results of their actions in a safe environment. It provides insights that face-to-face and elearning exercises can’t match,” says Bishop.

Putting purpose over platform

Yet there are senior learning and development professionals who warn gamification should be used carefully, especially when tackling complex subjects like leadership as well as diversity and inclusion, which may need a more specialist, tailored approach. 

“We’ve seen a backlash in the past couple of years from people getting excited about gamification, but without thinking about the purpose. For mandatory training, it can spice up a dull subject matter. But we have to make sure gamification adds value for learners, rather just being a gimmick. This is especially true for senior leaders who may be more sceptical,” says Julia Tierney, chief executive of peer learning platform Hive Learning.

Purpose is certainly more important than platform for finance firm Legal and General, which last year undertook a digital transformation of its entire learning offering. While exploring the use of gamification, the company’s head of people development for experiences and innovation Gemma Paterson is cautious not to “introduce tech for the sake of tech”.

“People are dealing with so much change already. We have to only do what’s going to be helpful. It’s about how we understand the challenges people are up against, then give them exactly what they need in a format that’s going to work for them,” she says.

And as Legal and General group people development director Tanya Bagchi adds, it’s about making meaning and connection part of the rollout process. “If we can help people see how technology can make their lives easier, not as another system to learn, then we can connect people more meaningfully and frequently, giving them a better chance of collaborating and working in agile ways,” she says.

Applying gamification to leadership and diversity

Yet Leon’s Ritchie sees the value of gamification in areas like leadership and diversity, and is considering how it can be applied to individual team member development and appraisals. 

This does require a different approach from practical skills building, adds Attensi’s business development director Greg Hull, switching the focus from points and high scores to metrics like trust.

“We work with professional services and consultancy firms around management and leadership training. We’re able to put people into situations that are familiar and build confidence. Especially when you promote somebody from within, it doesn’t necessarily mean they immediately have the skills to suddenly take on leadership. We do a lot of this type of training, in terms of soft skills, around team interactions and peer-to-peer management,” Hull explains.

While Ritchie now sees previous training styles as “old hat” and gamification “the way of the future”, Hull’s final piece of advice is to prepare teams adequately for a new way of learning. “If you can do that, then when you implement something you are 70 per cent of the way there in terms of it really landing,” he recommends.