Gamification vs Game-Based Training: Which is Right for You? [Part 2]


In the last post we covered when you should -- and shouldn’t -- use gamification for corporate training. Today we’re going to move on to game-based training.

Game-based training differs from gamification in that it features course content within a relevantly themed game. Users learn by playing, and their progress is directly related to their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter.

While highly effective, game-based training can also be expensive. So it’s important to consider which situations require the investment.

When To Use Game-Based Training

1. When You Need to Improve Retention Rates

Game-based training has a significant impact on knowledge retention rates. Research has shown that practice testing (the technique of practicing recalling information) can improve retention rates -- especially when those sessions are spread out over time.

Game-based training takes the concept of practice testing and turns it into mini-games.

Employees first learn about a concept in a game module, receiving the right answer through a feedback loop. Then that content is repeated throughout the course in different modules or levels.

This is especially useful for subjects where retaining the information has an impact on business results, or where not retaining the information could be costly -- such as phishing awareness.


2. When You Need to Teach Complex or Serious Subjects

Game-based training is a great strategy when you need to teach important subjects, or ensure your employees have a deep understanding of a complicated concept.

The modular structure of game-based training helps to break up complex concepts into more manageable chunks for employees to understand.

Employees can move at their own pace, and spend as long as they need to with certain aspects of the course. In fact, the use of levels in game-based training can prevent employees from moving on until they prove they understand the content.

And because the courses are fun (and include elements that encourage employees to keep playing), employees will willingly spend more time engaged with course content. This is crucial when the content itself is dry, but important (like with information security awareness or compliance training).


3. When You Need to Show the Relevance of Training to Employees’ Jobs

Game-based training also helps put training content into perspective for employees.

Some employees won’t see the relevance of training to their jobs, and just telling them why they should care won’t get them to buy in. Game-based training resolves this issue by revealing the benefits of new concepts through gameplay.

For example, in an information security awareness course you might create a scenario game that illustrates the personal and company-wide consequences of improper document handling. Through the scenario employees are shown how information security is relevant to their day to day activities and why it’s important.

This helps to increase employee buy-in because they can work out for themselves why the training is important. And it improves both retention and application of course concepts post-training.


4. If Employees Need to Practice New Skills

Game-based learning can be especially effective in situations where employees need to  practice new skills before implementing them.

Scenarios and simulations are a great way to let employees practice applying new skills without the real world consequences if they make a mistake.

For example, after a product knowledge course you could add a scenario where employees practice selling new products. This helps them apply the facts they just learned to their day to day jobs. And it lets them practice selling without the risk of angry customers or lost business if they make a mistake.

When NOT to Use Game-Based Training

1. If You Need a Solution Immediately

Because you are building new content for your training courses, game-based training is typically more time consuming than just adding gamification elements to your LMS.  

The nature of the program also requires more testing time during development, so it’s important to give yourself enough time to ensure the program works properly.


2. If You Have a Small Budget

Game-based learning programs are more expensive than gamification initiatives because they take more time and effort to create. The user experience has to be carefully designed so it supports and enforces training objectives.

Because there is more to consider -- and thus more time needed -- the cost goes up.

Tip: to secure a bigger budget for your training program, align it with a company initiative and make a solid business case to stakeholders.


3. If You’re Just Teaching Straight Memorization

Are you teaching things that employees need to remember, or things they need to understand? If employees just need to remember something, you probably don’t need a game-based training solution.

You could use game-based learning to teach straight memorization, but realistically you can supplement this kind of training with simple gamification elements instead. It would be a lot cheaper, and quicker.

The only exception would be if employees need to practice applying that memorization. This is especially critical when that memorization is tied to business outcomes or the safety of employees. In these cases then you might want to consider investing in a game-based learning solution.

For example, you wouldn’t build a game-based learning solution to teach employees about your office dress code -- but you might for WHMIS training, since employees need to apply the memorization of hazardous symbols to their day to day jobs.

The Bottom Line

Regardless of which strategy you go with, your decision needs to be based on the goals and needs of your organization and your course content.

Implementing either gamification, game-based learning or some combination of the two without careful consideration can de-motivate employees and significantly reduce the efficacy of your program.

Do it right however, and you can expect increased engagement, better retention, and happier employees.

And really, that’s a benefit for everyone.