Ever wonder how some instructional designers seem to always build amazing game-based training programs?
Is it their years of experience? Special training? A secret ability that turns everything they touch into magic?
I’ll let you in on a secret: it’s not a magical ability.
They don’t just sit down and spew out amazing programs before breakfast (I wish).
And it isn’t the result of any special training.
I know, it’s not nearly as exciting as a magic fix-all-your-problems tip.
But it also means that you don’t need a magic ability to build amazing training programs -- you just need to put in the work.
To get you started, I’ve broken effective game-based training strategy down into 7 actionable steps.
By following these steps you too can build game-based training programs that amaze your employees and thrill your boss -- even if you’ve never designed a game-based course in your life.
Step 1: Start With Your Objectives
The first thing you need to know is what you want to achieve.
You need to know what your learning objectives are before you start designing. And you need to be able to clearly communicate those objectives to the rest of your design team.
Think about what you want your users to get out of the training program. Is it memorization of product knowledge? Awareness of policy changes? Application of training concepts to day-to-day work?
Those objectives will dictate not only your content, but how you present it. And knowing what the end goal is before you start will help ensure your program stays focussed, and doesn’t veer off into distractions that are just “fun.”
Step 2: Get to Know Your Audience
Knowing your audience is paramount to the success of your training program. After all, your employees are the end user, and the experience you create needs to be appropriate for their personalities, expectations and work environment.
For example, if you design a training program for salespeople it should look different than a program for security officers. Not just in terms of content, but in style too.
Salespeople tend to be competitive, fast-paced, and extroverted. So their training program would reflect that with leaderboards, badges for high scores, and quick paced modules.
On the other hand, security officers tend to be detail oriented, risk averse, and enjoy problem solving. Their training course would focus on modules that challenge their knowledge, puzzles they need to figure out, and module ratings to encourage them to beat their own scores.
Remember, the end goal is to make your training relatable. It should mirror your employees’ personalities, expectations and the culture of their work environment. This is will ensure your course is well received and keep users engaged with the content.
Step 3: Let the Content Dictate Your Game Structure
I touched on this earlier, but it’s worth repeating: you need to let your content and your objectives dictate the style of game.
A good rule of thumb is to evaluate whether the end user is memorizing or learning to apply the content.
Straight memorization relies on practice testing (the technique of practicing recalling information in low stakes environments) spread out over time. In a game-based training program that means you need to provide multiple opportunities for users to practice recalling specific content.
That can take the form of:
True or False Questions
Drag and Drop Games
Notice that all those games are both quick to play and have the potential for multiple questions. You want the end user to quickly recall information and have plenty of opportunities to try again within the course.
On the other hand, application of content requires users to have more time to think through scenarios. You need to build realistic situations for employees to test out the knowledge they have and practice applying it.
In a game-based training program, these kinds of courses often take the form of:
The key to these games is to make the scenario or simulation relevant to your audience. If they get to a scenario and it asks them to apply knowledge to a situation they don’t encounter in their work life, or worse, one they think is unrealistic, they won’t engage fully with the content.
Step 4: Match Game Mechanics with Workplace Environment
Effective game based training programs don’t just rely on games to teach. They use a combination of game-based learning and gamification to motivate users and teach key concepts.
Game-based learning makes your course engaging and helps users learn and retain the content. But you also need a mechanism to motivate users to take the course in the first place.
That’s where gamification comes in.
The important thing to keep in mind when you are choosing gamification elements is your users’ workplace environment. Most workplaces sway towards either collaboration or competition, depending on their day to day activities.
Although they are a common example, sales teams often exemplify a competitive work environment. That’s why many sales training programs include elements that inspire friendly competition -- like individual leaderboards.
Unfortunately, most workforces aren’t as cut and dry as your sales team. You’ll likely see a combination of competitive and collaborative natures in your target audience.
For example, here at Launchfire, our development team frequently works together on projects. So if you were building a training program for them, you’d initially think to include gamification elements that inspire collaboration -- such as a social community.
But if you got to know the team a little better, you’d discover they also enjoy friendly competition. So a better solution would be to add a team leaderboard.
This would capitalize on their competitive nature without singling any one person out. And it would inspire collaboration within smaller teams, which they are familiar with and is important to their day to day activities.
Step 5: Don’t Reward for Insignificant Achievements
Badges are one of the most common gamification elements people get wrong. They’re often just slapped onto content without any real thought to how they work.
But badges are only useful as motivators if they are are awarded for real accomplishments.
Not to mention it’s boring, and in some cases annoying, to get badges for no reason.
Badges work best when they motivate users to do things they wouldn’t typically do. For example, if your users don’t tend to finish training courses adding a badge for finishing 5 courses could be an effective motivator.
Step 6: Invest in Production Value
There’s nothing worse than putting time and effort into great content only to have the program fall flat because the visuals suck.
Whether we realize it or not, we are all used to a certain level of quality -- both in terms of images and experiences. So throwing pixelated, boring images in front of employees won’t engage your users -- regardless of how great the gameplay is.
I’m not arguing for training programs to look like cutting edge video games. But your game also shouldn’t look like programmers designed it.
Aim for Farmville, not Call of Duty.
Step 7: Design for the Device
Finally, you need to consider the device employees will use to access your program.
Different devices have different standards for user experience, and you need to account for that in your design.
For example, smartphones have smaller screens and people use them while on-the-go. That means your copy needs to be short and to the point.
Well for starters, long paragraphs are tedious to scroll through on a small screen.
And secondly, there are a ton of other apps to distract users. You need the program to be quick and engaging to ensure they don’t navigate away from the course and hop on Facebook.
Remember, It’s a Strategy Not a Miracle Fix
Game-based training, as we so often say, isn’t a miracle fix. It’s a strategy. And part of using a strategy is understanding why it works.
Start by identifying your training goals. Then take the time to understand your employees: what motivates them, what their workplace environment is like, and what style (images, copy etc) is relatable for them.
Let that information dictate which game elements you choose, and the style of course you create. Remember, every element you add to a game-based training program should have a purpose.
It motivates, it teaches, or it engages.
It’s not just “fun.”
Finally, ensure your course has sweet graphics and tailor the user experience for the device employees will access it on. Your course should look great and feel natural to play.
Follow these steps and you’ll be well on your way to building a game-based training program you can be proud of.
No magical abilities required.
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