Archives for April 2014

When Training Gets Into Trouble

“Training is good. Give us money.” This is how the training director of a large bank characterized his department’s request for money from the company’s president. They didn’t get any.

The late comedian Rodney Dangerfield always complained about not getting any respect. Sometimes it seems that’s the epitome of the training function. In organizations facing difficult times, training is often the third thing that’s cut, right after travel and free coffee.

It’s obvious to most of us that investment in quality training is a good bet. So why can’t we sell it? Here are three key “failures” to avoid.

1) Failure to meet new expectations for what training should do

Historically, training was seen as a way to give employees essential skills that would enable them to perform their jobs successfully. Almost all training was presumably rooted in identifiable tasks that could be replicated and measured. Computer programming, sales, manufacturing, repair and maintenance, customer service, and technical management are examples of functions that consumed much of the training resource.

All well and good, and still important, but companies today want training to go beyond task-based instruction. For example, companies are asking training to change attitudes about diversity, to shape organizational culture, and to develop leadership and innovation capabilities, all of which are harder to define or anticipate, much less train.

The problem is that training’s ability to accomplish these more elusive objectives, and demonstrate verifiable results, has lagged way behind new expectations. As those expectations rise for what training should do, the risk exposure of the training function rises as well.

When training is called upon to solve problems it is ill-prepared to solve, the results are often far less than what was expected.

Even when training is an appropriate solution to a problem, too often it takes too long to develop and deploy, costs too much, or both. Bad work settings, ineffective managers, or other priorities can undermine any benefits stemming from the acquisition of new skills.

Companies that invest millions of dollars in training increasingly find that they may not be much better off than before they started, and therefore view the effort as wasted. Executive sponsors of high-profile business initiatives, who jump to training as the single or only way to solve a business performance problem, often point to training as the single or only culprit when the initiatives fail.

2) Failure to demonstrate business value

A poor track record for training, whether perceived or real, has not been addressed very well by many training groups themselves, who have for too long measured success by how well they are doing, rather than how well the business is doing.

More tuition revenue, more student days (“butts in seats”), end-of-course test scores, and higher levels of student satisfaction are all examples of internal measures of training activity. Even as companies put more training online, some of the most popular measures of success are how many courses are on the server and how many times a particular course was “opened.”

There is value in these

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data, and they are easily collected (thanks to the LMS), but they are not nearly enough. Today, many training organizations are not adequately prepared to show how their work contributes value to individual and organizational productivity, and business success.

When asked, “How has training benefited individual performance or the company as a whole” (i.e., “What have you done for me lately?”), many training organizations are, unfortunately, ill equipped to respond.

3) Failure to recognize the changing economics of the training function

The exposure many training organizations feel today is more intense because they are spending a great deal more of what is perceived to be “real” money than ever before. In the past, when training organizations were almost entirely classroom-based, they could charge tuition to cover their costs.

This was predominately an internal transfer of budget money from one department (the participants’) to another (the training department). Thus training organizations appeared to need far less of a direct corporate investment. Certainly, business units were spending money on training, and training departments were collecting it, but because there was no real flow of cash into or out of the company, it was harder to spot and was mistakenly seen as less of a concern.

Today, with millions of dollars paid to outsource service providers, technology firms, and external courseware suppliers, along with the significant increase in infrastructure costs to deliver e-learning programs, senior leaders, especially business unit heads and CIOs, are taking notice, demanding more justification and rightly asking whether the investment might be better spent elsewhere.

Even when the expense is justified, increasing budget pressures, and what seems to be permanent uncertainty in the business cycle, is likely to continue well into the future. This puts constraints on every department, and training is no exception.

Simply asking for money for training is no longer enough to ensure that you will get what you ask for, much less what you need.

Managing expectations, demonstrating value, and justifying costs may not seem very training or instructional-design focused, or as exciting as a new technology, but these three activities may be more important for the ultimate success of any training effort than the individual learning programs themselves, however well designed.

This may not be in our sweet spot, but if we ignore or diminish these fundamental areas, getting respect may be the least of our worries.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

Reviews of 5 Lesser-Known E-Learning Tools

Here is the list of the top five lesser-known e-learning tools that readers said they wanted to know more about. For four of these tools, I’ve provided a short review of the features and a bar graph showing my rating of the tool’s power and ease of use. (Since Articulate Online is an LMS and fundamentally not the same kind of tool as the other four, rating it for power and ease of use wasn’t appropriate.)

  1. Articulate Online by Articulate
  2. e-Learning Authoring Tool by e-Learning Consulting
  3. nimbleAuthor (was eLearning Course Builder) by eLearning24/7
  4. FlexAuthoring by FlexTraining
  5. Udutu Online Course Authoring by Udutu Online Learning Solutions

1) Articulate Online

Articulate Online complements both Articulate Storyline and Articulate Studio; Studio includes Presenter, Quizmaker, and Engage. It takes the place of a learning management system and works only with Articulate tools to gather the data from learner sessions, data that you can then use to generate reports within Articulate Online.

The data you can view range from an individual’s response to a specific question up to discovering group trends for specific questions. You can give learners access to their personal histories so they can generate their own reports. You can organize learners into different groups (create your own if you like) and assign different permission levels to each group.

I find all the interfaces easy to understand and to use. All that data your learners generate need not stay trapped within Articulate Online because there are options to export to CSV (comma delimited files, easy to import into Microsoft Excel) or to XML files, and finally to PDF files as well.

Most learning management systems are very expensive, but Articulate Online ranges from $199 a month for up to 50 users, up to $499 a month for 500 users. You can cancel at any time. Learn more at

2) e-Learning Authoring Tool, from e-Learning Consulting

This tool’s name couldn’t be more generic, and the tool itself is easy to use. It does not have a ton of features. The interface uses a tree view menu to create pages and uses mostly dialog boxes for you to lay out Pages, Quizzes, and Tests. Figure 1 shows the types of pages you can create.

Figure 1:
eLearning Authoring Tool’s page choices

You can choose to have learners freely navigate to the next page or be forced to visit, complete, or pass the current page (assuming it’s a question). The learner can use the tree view to jump to any page and you can have standard Previous and Next buttons, along with options for Glossary, Resources, Help, and Close or Open Menu.

You can also provide a Progress button that will let learners pop up a window at any time to see what they have accomplished and what they have left to do.

The editor uses ribbons along the top, now familiar to anyone who has used Office applications in the last few years. It contains an HTML editor and you can create cascading style sheets as well.

The tool is installed on your hard drive and the courses you create with it will work with SCORM. It publishes to HTML/DHTML.

The regular retail price for e-Learning Authoring Tool is $799. See more at

Rating for e-Learning Authoring Tool:

3) nimbleAuthor by eLearning247

This tool was originally called eLearning Course Builder but now has the less generic (and niftier) name nimbleAuthor, probably to avoid confusion with Adobe Dreamweaver Course Builder extensions and with Google Course Builder (now called Open edX).

nimbleAuthor also uses the page metaphor—when you add a new page you are given a choice of 10 page templates, as seen in Figure 2. They include presentation, interaction, question pages, and a blank page so that you can construct your own.

Figure 2:
nimbleAuthor provides 10 page templates

When you edit a template page or start with a blank one, you have the flexibility of adding different content types by clicking an Add button and moving objects around after clicking a Drag button. There are also branding options that let you change more global aspects of your lesson. You can also add an Assessment at the end of your lesson.

The tool is cloud-based and publishes to SCORM 1.2. However it does appear that you are highly encouraged to couple nimbleAuthor with nimbleLMS. As a cloud-based tool, nimbleAuthor fits right into nimbleLMS. A library of royalty-free images is included and all courses work across desktops and mobile devices.

eLearning247 is an English vendor, so its pricing is in pounds sterling. If you wish to use nimbleAuthor separately and deploy resulting courses into your own SCORM 1.2 LMS, the cost is £850.00 a year. If you use nimbleLMS along with nimbleAuthor, the cost is a per-learner registration. Check out the tool and the payment options at

Rating for nimbleAuthor:

4) FlexAuthoring by FlexTraining

FlexAuthoring is a cloud-based tool (part of the “Total e-Learning Solution”) that lets you build lessons that contain what are called Learning Screens. Each Learning Screen is based on a template, and you can add text, audio, video, etc. In any case, you are not working in a WYSWIG environment here.

Rather, you fill in dialogs to load each screen element. Tests are set up the same way. You add questions and answers to tests through wizard-like dialogs. It works directly with the FlexTraining LMS, therefore everything is integrated and you do not use your own LMS. (People usually call this combination an LCMS.)  

You can sign up for a trial, but it will cost you $500 to do so, though it is reimbursed if you sign up for a full license. A full license starts at $495 per month using the self-service kit provided, which will let you deliver an unlimited number of courses to a maximum of 100 students. You will have to contact the company to obtain license pricing for 250, 1000, 5000, or unlimited students. See more at

Rating for FlexTraining:

5) Udutu Online Course Authoring, by Udutu Online Learning Solutions

Udutu Online Course Authoring is a completely free online authoring tool that uses a WYSIWYG environment. Udutu is a services company and so also has its own LMS (called Udutu Guru) and other services to which you can purchase licenses. The tool itself, though, is not limited to the Udutu LMS. You can export your courses and host them on your own server or in your LMS, publish to Udutu’s Facebook page at no cost, and more.

The tool itself uses a metaphor of folders and screens. Each folder is a group that is flexible in nature. You can call it a topic, module, chapter, or anything else you like. The folders can be expanded and collapsed and form a tree view on the left. A screen can be one of several basic layouts, such as text and/or image combinations, a more-info slide, or a short PDF document.

You can also create assessment screens, and these include several types: multiple choice, match labels to images, order the steps, drag and drop, what’s wrong with the picture, phrase matching, order images, and more.

There are also advanced screen types, which include slide shows, rollovers, animated lists, and others.

Most of the screen types are compatible with mobile devices, though some won’t work on iPads (you’ll be told which).

Media can include most types you need, including different image, audio, animation, and video formats.

Several scenario templates are provided, which I think is pretty cool, especially for a free tool. (Figure 3)

Figure 3: Course template categories in Udutu

In short, Udutu offers a pretty impressive cloud-based tool that is free to use. See more at

Rating for Udutu Online Course Authoring:

Reprinted from Learning Solutions magazine

Simulating Silicon Valley

If you’re a human resources manager working outside the area between San Jose and San Francisco, you may look upon Silicon Valley with a mixture of envy and suspicion.

Envy, because of the range of astronomically successful high-tech companies that dot the landscape. Suspicion, because of the sense that the region is populated by 20-somethings who make their own rules and can’t be corralled or tamed in the workplace. Talented, sure, but a headache for any HR manager to recruit and retain.

Increasingly, however, the ideal Silicon Valley employee is also the ideal employee anywhere. As the successful use of digital technologies becomes a necessity in every industry, not just the glamorous focus of consumer technology, every company will need employees who can thrive in situations where speed, experimentation and even failure are norms.

Recently, the Accenture Institute for High Performance carried out research to learn more about the attitudes that define employees in Silicon Valley. Are they really different from employees elsewhere, and if so, how? The research surveyed 600 information technology professionals, roughly half in Silicon Valley and half in other regions.

The results showed significant differences in the way the two groups approached their work.

Those differences were especially pronounced for IT professionals younger than 40. Although the survey focused on just a subset of those who work in Silicon Valley, follow-up interviews with respondents confirmed that they represent the larger culture.

They certainly supported this claim from Steven John, chief information officer of software company Workday Inc., who said as part of the post-survey interviews, “Silicon Valley is like Tasmania or Madagascar. It’s developed different life forms than anywhere else.”

Unlike the lemurs of Madagascar, however, Silicon Valley life forms are popping up in other hotbeds of technology and business. And that’s why HR managers in the rest of the country may want to consider hiring workers for three characteristics: getting things done is more important than making them perfect; loyalty is to one’s peer network, not to a particular company; and failure is not shameful, but a badge of honor.

Companies in Silicon Valley have cultures that tend to emphasize getting things done quickly (however imperfectly) versus agonizing over every flaw or kink. A sign on a wall at Facebook Inc. says: “Done is better than perfect.” According to the survey, technology workers in Silicon Valley are twice as likely as those elsewhere to agree with this approach.

But it’s a certain kind of speed that drives Silicon Valley. High value is assigned to incremental experimentation and adoption rather than figuring out everything at the outset of a project. A common mantra is “Do it. Try it. Fix it.” And companies recognize that the road will inevitably contain bumps.

Perhaps nowhere is that mentality captured better than with software. Few people expect a perfect product. Instead, most everyone assumes that major software releases will contain bugs that the manufacturers will eventually fix.

IT professionals in Silicon Valley sometimes are even encouraged to break things in order to make them better. But they are also expected to quickly repair what they break. David Henke, a senior vice president at LinkedIn Corp., said in our post-survey interviews, “The rule of thumb here is, since we’re not running a bank, it’s OK to break something; you’ve just got to fix it fast. We care deeply about MTTR — mean time to repair.”

That philosophy also extends to decision-making. Quick, agile decision-making is prized over slow, methodical consensus-building. People have little tolerance for corporate bureaucracy, government regulations or anything else that might slow them down. Almost 60 percent of the Silicon Valley respondents said they believe their company makes faster decisions than other firms. Slightly more than 33 percent of non-Silicon Valley professionals feel that way.

The high-tech industry thrives on relentless innovation. In such an environment, products quickly become obsolete as they succumb to rapid disruption. But this is also becoming true, thanks to the influence of digital technologies, of any industry.

Often, an imperfect item released in time to capture a fleeting market opportunity will trump a flawless gem launched too late.

Working Without Borders

Silicon Valley IT professionals profess allegiance to their companies. In fact, the survey shows they surpassed their counterparts elsewhere by more than 10 percentage points on this measure, 71 percent to 60 percent. But they are committed first and foremost to the overarching cause of “creating the future.”

Eben Hewitt, former CIO of O’Reilly Media and currently chief technology officer at Choice Hotels International Inc., said in his post-survey interview, “In the Valley, you have people who don’t feel beholden to a company. They’re interested in their idea; they’re interested in working on what they perceive to be an interesting project with people they like and think are smart.”

That’s why people are willing to move from one company to another, especially for an exciting project and the opportunity to work with top-notch colleagues. The fact that California employment laws make it all but impossible to enforce noncompete clauses encourages this job-hopping, as employees are not legally prevented from switching jobs within the industry.

For their part, companies have accepted — if not enthusiastically embraced — the fluid movement of labor. Firms in Silicon Valley expect that employees will continually come and go, and that the churn rate will be higher than in other regions. As such, they rightly recognize the competitive importance of their HR activities.

Some 70 percent of Silicon Valley IT professionals said that their company pays strong attention to recruiting, attracting and retaining the best talent (compared with less than half of employees outside Silicon Valley). Managers openly poach talented individuals from competitors, and there’s little stigma attached to workers who leave for greener pastures but then return to their former companies.

Within this competitive market for talent, Silicon Valley’s culture also emphasizes the importance of collaboration, and not just within individual companies. The existence of robust peer networks is one of the keys to this collaborative atmosphere. Such networks play a much larger role in people’s lives than elsewhere and create a set of unique subcultures. Each has its own value systems and priorities that might not align with the culture of a person’s employer.

As in any strong subculture, the acceptance and approval of others in a peer network can often matter more than that of a person’s boss or co-workers — or employer. More than 36 percent of the Silicon Valley professionals surveyed stated that they would be willing to help somebody in their peer network even if doing so went against their own company’s interest. Less than a quarter of IT professionals outside Silicon Valley would do the same.

For HR managers outside the Valley, the response to this fluid market for talent may need to be similar: acceptance, if not with enthusiasm. Doubling down on efforts to recruit and retain the best talent is one answer. Tapping into the power of peer networks is another.

People in Silicon Valley are pragmatic: They understand that successes are typically built on many failures. And they realize that failures, even repeated failures, are part of the process and should be viewed as opportunities to learn, grow and improve. At the annual FailCon conference in the San Francisco Bay area, hundreds of technology entrepreneurs, investors, developers and others get together to share and learn from their own and others’ mistakes.

Coupled with that realistic view of failure is an inherent optimism that any problem can eventually be solved with enough effort and the right tools and approach. This pragmatic-yet-optimistic characteristic has benefited the region in two important ways.

First, it has instilled a strong sense of resilience and reinvention. In Silicon Valley, people fail but pick themselves up and continue on. When Plan A doesn’t work, they pivot quickly to Plan B and then to C and D. That resilient mindset is coupled with a general appreciation for reinvention. The widespread belief is that everyone can (and perhaps should) reinvent everything, including themselves.

Second, this characteristic encourages a positive attitude toward risk-taking. More than half of Silicon Valley professionals who took the survey consider the company they work for to be a high risk-taker (compared with just a quarter of non-Silicon Valley professionals).

But this view of risk-taking — and the failure that is often associated with it — should not be misunderstood. It’s a calculated mindset that comes from a hard-nosed pragmatism. Call it prudent risk-taking.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained it this way in an interview at Y Combinator’s Startup School in 2011: “The biggest risk is not taking any risk. In a world that’s changing really quickly, the only strategy that is guaranteed to fail is not taking risks.”

To be clear, no one is suggesting that HR managers should be looking for devil-may-care, fall-on-your-face failures. Failure caused by stupid mistakes, poor collaboration and not staying current on skills is not tolerated in Silicon Valley any more than it is elsewhere.

But highly skilled people who take the right risks for the right reasons, even if things don’t always work out, should make any recruiter’s cut.

Replicating the Culture

At this point it may be objected that, despite the digital wave, we’re talking about very particular types of companies. In other words, “this won’t work here.” To test out this assumption, we also spoke with more than 30 technology executives in the Valley region — including organizations outside the high-tech industry. These perspectives provide insights into how companies from other industries and regions could evolve to attract and retain talent.

Is the distinctive workplace culture of Silicon Valley replicable? Not entirely, of course. It has developed over many decades and taps into elements that can’t easily be re-created. But HR leaders regardless of their location can begin to rethink what they are looking for in their hiring efforts, especially in light of the digital wave that is now transforming every industry.

About the Author:

Jeanne G. Harris is managing director of IT research at the Accenture Institute for High Performance. Parts of this article were originally published in Accenture’s June 2013 research report: “Decoding the Contradictory Culture of Silicon Valley.”

Reprinted from

Diversity Through Compliance versus Culture

There has been ongoing criticism from diversity professionals and business leaders alike that diversity is less about business and more about compliance.

I join those criticizing the state of the profession because diversity professionals have not made the case made by the chief marketing officer, chief technology officer or chief brand officer — that the functions they perform have a measurable impact on the bottom line.

Indeed, many in the C-suite have aligned themselves with the compliance movement, which suggests that diversity has minimal business impact and is thus expendable. The profession requires a shift from a compliance mindset to one where diversity is seen as an agent of cultural change powered by branding.

The compliance focus means diversity executives continue to count heads, be viewed as a cost center and are seemingly content to be without a seat at the proverbial table where decisions are made.

Because so many diversity professionals have embraced compliance and avoided diversity as a culture change agent, organizations freely hand over the keys to the compliance kingdom. For example, if you were to review a representative sample of diversity plans, you might find the emphasis is on recruiting diverse candidates — code for women, racial minorities and others traditionally protected by anti-discrimination laws.

To shift from a culture where diversity is held aloft by compliance to one where diversity informs a culture powered by business, we must look at branding our work internally and externally as a recruitment and retention tool. Internal branding will be directed at how individuals experience diversity. External branding will detail how the marketplace views an organization through a diversity lens.

Putting diversity forward as culture change agent simply means explaining the way things are made to happen in an organization. It is how people, in spite of their differences, get things done. For example, to succeed in any organization, employees need to follow the written rules and be aware that in some cases, things get done by being aware of unwritten rules.

Employees who are different are often unable to get things done because they don’t understand culture and those unwritten rules. And since so many organizations still view diversity as a primarily compliance-driven function, they are incapable of diagnosing poor employee performance as an issue related to organizational culture. Instead they conclude the issue is solely motivated by individual failure.

Diversity as compliance provides the rules. It does not provide the blueprint to get things done. But by using diversity as a key pillar in a culture framework, leaders can better realize the power of workforce differences.

Making the shift from diversity as compliance to organizational culture requires that leaders understand culture and its relationship to diversity. The disconnect is often visible in how poorly business leaders handle diversity-related recruiting efforts.

Organizations can both recruit for diversity and plan for retention by using diversity as a culture change framework. Diversity as culture framework encourages the diversity professional to use organizational tools to change the culture. It also holds managers accountable for organizational change and recruiting. In this context branding is one beneficial tool.

Organizations realize they must set themselves apart from their competitors. Branding helps. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a name, sign, symbol or design, or a combination thereof, intended to identify one seller or group of sellers’ goods and services and to differentiate them from those offered by other sellers.

Given that branding is a commonly accepted organizational strategy, a diversity-as-culture framework can be used to demonstrate the importance of different perspectives in helping an organization set itself apart from competitors. This framework will also help diversity leaders make the shift from making heads count to making ideas count. Further, culture helps to retain diverse employees because they can look at the brand and realize how it can have a direct reflection on the bottom line, which is critical for the organization.

For diversity professionals, a shift away from how many diverse people you have to how diverse ideas impact your organization works.

About the Author:

Christopher J. Metzler is senior associate dean at Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. He is the author of “The Construction and Rearticulation of Race in a ‘Post-Racial America.’“

Reprinted from Diversity Executive magazine

Gamification: Separating Fact from Fiction

There once was a myth that the world was flat, and it became a belief for many individuals. However, through research, observation and discovery, the scientific community proved the world is spherical. The focus for learning leaders is similar in that they too must be able to separate fact from myth to determine which tools are effective and which are just trendy.

Consider the concept of gamification. The idea has been held up as either the promise of gaining and forever holding learners’ attention, or as a manipulative tool to trick learners into doing something they don’t really want to do. The truth is not so dramatic.

Gamification is a tool in learning professionals’ tool kit with advantages and disadvantages in different situations and environments.

Simply, gamification is an emergent approach to instruction. It facilitates learning and encourages motivation using game elements, mechanics and game-based thinking. Thanks to the hype and misinformation swirling around this learning delivery method, four popular myths have developed. Understanding these can help to avoid pitfalls when integrating gamification into strategic learning plans.

Myth One: Gamification and Games Are the Same

Game-based learning uses an actual game to teach knowledge and skills. A learning game is a self-contained unit with a definitive start, game play and ending. Learners know they are engaged in a game activity, and at the end there is a “win state.” Games can deliver different types of learning content in different settings.

Gamification, on the other hand, only uses a few game elements. Learners don’t play an entire game from start to finish; they participate in activities that include video or mobile game elements such as earning points, overcoming a challenge or receiving badges for accomplishing tasks.

Game-based learning is often used as a one-time instructional event to provide formal learning either online or within a classroom. Learning games are best suited to teach tradeoffs, resource allocation and decision-making.

Gamification does not typically occur in a classroom; it is often delivered to a learner’s computer, tablet or smartphone in two- to five-minute increments. It is a formal structure, but learners can engage with the content when and wherever they happen to be.

The content is usually distributed over time, and is not meant to be learned in one setting. Content for gamification varies but is often focused on safety policies, product specifications, customer service, onboarding new employees and other information employees need to be reminded of regularly.

Myth Two: Gamification Alienates Older Learners

It is a myth that people of a certain age do not like games and, therefore, will not like gamification. The flip side is that anyone under age 30 likes games and, therefore, will love all gamification efforts. Neither is true.

Some employees don’t like online learning, classroom instruction or any kind of training. There is no single training approach that every employee is going to embrace.

This is part of a larger myth that older people don’t play video games. According to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2013 report “Gamers Over 50 Study: You’re Never Too Old to Play,” 48 percent of adults age 50 and older say they play video games. Some 80 percent of those play weekly, while 45 percent play daily.

The report indicated that gamers who are 50 years old preferred games that mimicked traditional forms of play such as card or tile games (56 percent), puzzle/logic games (52 percent), and trivia, word and board games (27 percent).

Companies can use gamification with employees of all ages on a range of topics including retail and health care sales, and learning about insurance products. For example, Pep Boys, an automotive retail chain, had a 95 percent employee voluntary participation rate in its gamification efforts for employees of all ages.

The average age of employees within a workforce is not an accurate barometer of whether an organization should employ

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gamification in its learning strategy. A better barometer is to look at what type of content needs to be learned and how often it needs to be reinforced and practiced to have the desired bottom-line impact.

Gamification is helpful for scenarios where leaders have to continually update workforce knowledge and it does not need to occur in a classroom. For instance, a mobile sales force selling technical products such as cellphone services and subscriptions would be an excellent target audience for gamification delivered via mobile device.

Employees who have been on the job for several years also could benefit. Often organizations have a well-designed onboarding program where new employees receive a great deal of initial training, but in the subsequent years, companies don’t offer as much. Rather than drag them back into the classroom, gamification techniques can be used to refresh their knowledge.

Gamification can also help new employees get to know one another through activities that foster collaboration and cooperation, and learn about the company’s policies, vision, mission and products. Software company SAP used gamification to keep recruited students in India interested in the onboarding process by inviting new hires to participate and win medals by answering trivia questions about the company.

Myth Three: There Is No Science Behind Gamification

The most effective gamification platforms use two learning practices — retrieval practice and spaced retrieval. Combined, these techniques provide a strong foundation to increase learning and retention.

Retrieval practice requires learners to recall information rather than re-read or re-listen to the material. Basically, it tests the learner, not for a grade or to evaluate, but to help improve content recall and retention. Research dating back as far as 1907 supports use of retrieval practice as an instructional method. Georgia Southern University professor John Dobson conducted a study in 2013 that found that using a series of very brief retrieval quizzes enhanced retention of previously tested material as much as 40 percent.

Spaced retrieval provides learners with content spaced over time rather than all at once. Researchers Shana Carpenter, Nicholas Cepeda, Doug Rohrer, Sean Kang and Harold Pashler summarized dozens of studies on the topic in their 2012 article “Using Spacing to Enhance Diverse Forms of Learning: Review of Recent Research and Implications for Instruction.” The researchers conclude: “The literature reviewed here suggests that in order to promote long-term retention of knowledge, students should receive spaced re-exposure to previously learned information … [especially] if the goal is long-term retention.”

When learners receive content on a daily or weekly basis and are quizzed on that content with some additional game elements, the effect is long-term retention and knowledge application. When considering gamification as an organizational learning approach, ensure the sound research-based methods of spaced retrieval and retrieval practice are an integral part of the solution.

Myth Four: Gamification Is About Points, Badges and Leaderboards

The least exciting element of any game is the points, badges or leaderboards. People don’t play a game just for points, they play for mastery, to overcome challenges and to socialize with others. The most effective gamification efforts include more than points and badges — they contain elements of story, challenge and continual feedback as well as a high level of interactivity. These are the most engaging elements in games, and they can have a big effect on the organization.

Mike Keeler, vice president of operations at Capital BlueCross, said a well-designed gamification effort can help motivate employees. “They want to know [their scores] versus us wanting to know it. That’s a huge change in the learning environment.”

Incorporating Gamification Into Learning Strategy

When considering whether to integrate gamification into learning and development strategy, ensure that efforts are not simply a “bolt on” of meaningless, superficial game elements. Employees need to have a structure and a framework to participate in the gamification effort.

Clearly describe the challenge before them, provide transparency into how they can be successful and provide an explanation of gamification. These steps can lead to better learning, retention and ultimately increased bottom-line results.

Debunking the common myths of gamification is a good start to intelligently incorporate this approach into a learning strategy. Gamification is best used for subjects that require reinforcement over time and that should be front of mind for employees. Its implementation should be based on the concepts of spaced retrieval and retrieval practice to ensure a solid scientific base. And the focus should be on the learning and expected outcome of the instructional event.

Gamification can provide an edge in learning delivery when it is designed, developed and deployed properly. The effort should not focus solely on points, badges and leaderboards. Learning leaders must understand desired learning outcomes, and structure gamification efforts as an integral part of a larger strategy.

About the Author:

Karl M. Kapp is a professor of instructional technology at Bloomsburg University and author of “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction” and “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook: Theory Into Practice.”

Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

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