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Can gamification fill the learning gap created by COVID-19

In South Africa, unemployment has reached record highs, especially among the youth. While many of those Coursera enrollments would have been people just studying to pass the time, digital courses provide a way for people to boost their skills to make their CVs stand out in a job market where hundreds or even thousands of people may all be vying for the same post.

It’s common cause that employees must be learning constantly if they are to keep pace with evolving ideas and technologies. However, for those who have continued working remotely through the pandemic, personal and professional development has been put on hold as they pick up more work as companies downsize their staff complement, or help their companies fight to stay afloat. Unfortunately, that means companies are losing out on the myriad benefits of corporate learning, including higher employee efficiency and engagement, better onboarding and less need for supervision – hence higher profits and less resource wastage.

Having a well trained and motivated workforce is not only important for employees’ own career progression, with many investing so much of their “free” time to learn, but is also a valuable asset for any organisation, and especially those navigating their way through a pandemic and beyond. With the possibility of further waves of COVID-19 and associated lockdowns, it’s critical for employers to revisit and update their corporate learning plans to better accommodate new ways of learning like never before.

So where is the best place to start?

With games. But not the ordinary kind; what some call serious games, or more accurately games for impact. These are games that are custom designed to drive social, learning, marketing or business goals. Whether for on-boarding teams remotely, developing essential skills (once called soft skills, but surely no longer) or deepening employee wellness, games for impact have a significant role to play. Done well, they can deliver hours of engagement, measurable results and significant cost savings.

Games can be defined in many ways; put simply, a set of rules, a goal, feedback and, critically, that they are played voluntarily. In a corporate context, truly voluntary games aren’t always possible – although the data from Coursera suggests that the appetite is there, since the vast majority of courses are paid for by the individual. And as mentioned, people don’t only learn while at “work”, whatever that means in a work-from-home context.

Gamification refers to the application of gameplay elements in non-gaming settings. Effectively, you harness the power of voluntary engagement, a balance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation – and sometimes even fun – to motivate people. With the growing power of digital media and smart devices, organisations looking to stand out should consider supplementing live virtual learning sessions and online learning with customised interactive games and properly designed gamified learning.

To gamify corporate learning, skilled game designers work with organisations to understand their desired learning outcomes. They then manage the concept development, creative and visual design of the game, also taking care of all the coding and software engineering required to convey learning messages – all in an engaging and captivating way. Narrative frameworks, level advancement, competition, quest-driven tasks and other game mechanics are used to ensure learning experiences are accessible to all employees, across cultures, languages, and in a way that is well suited to remote teams.

The mindset should always be that the user is honoured in the design, that we answer “why” someone would want to play this, and that we tap into intrinsic motivation, which is what makes games so addictive and engaging.

As an example, you wouldn’t typically think of banking or finance as the kind of industry that lends itself to exciting game play but we do a lot of work for this industry, focusing on a range of issues from investing in your retirement, to budgeting and entrepreneurship. Our work on the South African Reserve Bank currency app is an example of sharing messages in a captivating way. For this app, we combined an interactive gallery showing South African banknotes and coins, with animated videos focusing on the work the bank does, how to spot fake notes and why the value of the Rand changes. Finally, we built a game where the player runs their own business and must know the currency and how to spot fakes in order to be a success.

While this game is not a corporate learning game – the principles remain the same. The longer a person engages, the more they are likely to absorb and learn.

What games do better than any other media is allow users to apply skills instead of just recalling information. And they can be done in a way that is highly nuanced, measurable, cost-effective and engaging.

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