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focus_Gamification, Game-Based Learning & Rep Engagement

Gamification, Game-Based Learning & Rep Engagement

By Steven Boller

Few learning strategies have received as much hype as gamification in recent years. But despite all the talk, gamification is often a misunderstood and misused tool in the world of commercial education. When correctly applied, gamification has the potential to bring your Plan of Action (POA) meeting, national sales meeting or new product launch to life in a new way. Virtual training and blended curriculums also benefit from effective gamification.

But far too often, a shallow understanding of gamification leads to uninspired execution and low learner engagement. A learning strategy whose entire purpose is to motivate and engage learners can instead be seen as repetitive and distracting. Points, badges and leaderboards get old fast and the approach that worked at last year’s meeting might need a refresh.

To realize the potential of gamification as an instructional strategy, it is necessary to clearly distinguish it from a closely related instructional approach, game-based learning. When creatively used together in appropriate ways, these training approaches create an effective learning experience for sales reps.

Games, Gamification, Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?

Many people use the term gamification when they are referring to a broader collection of instructional approaches that involve games or game-like experiences. Nevertheless, there are big differences between games played purely for fun, gamified learning and full-fledged learning games. Note the differences between these short descriptions of a fictitious game, learning game, and gamified course:

• Game: Save the city of Normalville from a virus by clearing each building of hazards before time runs out.

• Learning Game: Save the city of Normalville from a virus by visiting each physician in your territory and correctly describing the present illness (PI) and mechanism of action (MoA) of New Treatment A before time runs out.

• Gamification: Save the city of Normalville from a virus by completing a series of four home study eLearning courses that teach the PI and MoA of New Treatment A. A post-test score of 90 percent or higher earns a badge of distinction, and top performers will receive a prize at the product launch meeting.

Notice how the learning game includes a learning goal (correctly describe the PI and MoA) that is achieved alongside the game goal (save the city of Normalville). In the gamification example, the home study eLearning courses incorporate a challenge, imaginative theme, element of competition and rewards to motivate learners. While these are all elements found in many games, the courses are not games themselves.

When to Use Gamification

If you’ve attended a national sales meeting or product launch event with an imaginative theme like “Night at the Oscars” or “Home Run Hitters,” you’ve already seen basic gamification at work. Theming a training initiative adds an element of fun and helps it stand out from business as usual. Ideally, the theme is first introduced in the online pre-work and carried through to the live training event.

Besides the use of theme, game elements such as competition, rewards, levels, and chance can make a training experience more intriguing to learners. This is especially useful with dense content that reps might be tempted to skim or even skip. It’s no secret that sales reps are a competitive bunch, so adding the game element of competition will usually be well cooperation can simulate situations where a team-based approach is required on the job.

When to Use Game-Based Learning

A well-designed learning game is ideal when reps must practice new skills and deepen their knowledge. At a live training event, learning games can take the place of traditional role play activities and provide a deep level of realism and immersion. Full-fledged learning games should be reserved for important topics that need to stand out or require extra practice and reinforcement.

Game mechanics and game elements should be carefully selected based on the cognitive tasks that reps will perform on the job. For example, since reps must be able to listen to a physician’s concerns and articulate a meaningful response quickly, a time-based game mechanic may be appropriate.

How to Combine Gamification and Game-Based Learning

Rather than choosing one learning strategy to focus on over the other, trainers sometimes opt to gamify a training curriculum as a whole and use learning games as individual activities within it. While gamification can increase learner motivation and interest in a program as a whole, individual learning games are a smart choice when you identify knowledge and skills that need practice and reinforcement. Careful upfront analysis and design will help determine the proper mix. _____________________________________________________________________________ Steven Boller is the director of marketing and product management at Bottom-Line Performance, Inc. Email Steve at

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