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Gamification in corporate training: 10 examples and techniques

Brands like BMW, Walmart, and IBM are seeing big wins from the use of gamification in corporate training. Here's how.
gamification in corporate training
Credit: Elena Poritskaya; Wokandapix / Pixabay

Using gamification in corporate training is one of the best ways to engage and develop employees. A recent survey of over 500 workers showed that 83% felt motivated by gamified training, whereas 49% reported being bored during non-gamified training. 

One well-known brand that has taken advantage of the power of gamification is IBM. In 2019, the company released the results of its digital badge pilot program which showed a 226% increase in course completions after badges were introduced. Additionally, there was a 694% increase in the number of individuals who passed their end-of-course exam.

10 examples of gamification in corporate training

Although the practice of including game-like elements in learning programs is new to some, gamification has a long history of use as an effective tool for engaging people. Gamification makes learning more exciting, interactive, and ultimately more productive. Here are 10 techniques designed to do just that, plus examples of how to put them into practice. 

Storytelling

Incorporating an underlying narrative throughout a game offers a sense of continuity that encourages further participation. Learners become curious to find out what comes next in the storyline of the game. 

Meaningful stories in game design also foster social relatedness. Stories connect us to one another and the world we live in. When leveraged properly, they can be more effective for changing behavior than facts and statistics.

An underlying narrative offers a sense of continuity that encourages further participation.

For example, Siemens created an entire storyline around a character called “Pete the Plant Manager” to train employees on best practices for plant operations. At the start of the journey, the plant is faced with a challenge. Then throughout the game, Pete – whose plant just won “Plant of the Year” – dialogues with learners and offers hints. 

Learning designers should use this technique purposefully by choosing to incorporate stories that will truly resonate with their audience. Overusing narratives without a focus on significance could sacrifice learning for the sake of entertainment.

Scenario-based games

This is one of the more common methods of gamification in corporate training. This technique places the learner in a simulated experience based on a real-life situation. The learner is presented with a problem and has to solve it based on previous knowledge and context cues in the simulation. Problem-based learning activities like these promote the development of critical thinking, communication, and problem-solving skills.

These activities promote the development of critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

As an example, Sally Beauty used scenario-based games in eLearning modules designed for the company’s beauty advisors. Because the associates lacked confidence in customer interactions regarding hair color purchases, the company created a way for them to practice providing consultations in realistic scenarios. If a learner selected the wrong hair color product, instant feedback was provided. 

To get the most out of this technique, learning designers should think about which problems their learners are most frequently challenged with. Then, they can transform those specific problems into scenarios using simulations in a digital environment. One word of caution is to avoid scenarios that are too generic or not applicable to most learners.

Scavenger hunts

Scavenger hunts are another way to include gamification in corporate training. Active learning techniques like these have been found to improve learner retention and understanding. When facilitated in groups, scavenger hunts can be highly collaborative, team-building exercises. 

Apps like Scavify take these activities to the next level by incorporating GPS, QR code, and video challenges. Scavify also allows teams to receive updates through a live photo and video stream, encouraging friendly competition.  

Scavenger hunts can be highly collaborative, team-building exercises. 

Scavenger hunts can also take place in a virtual environment, giving remote learners a chance to explore and practice problem solving without ever leaving their desks. Some learning designers are even utilizing augmented reality scavenger hunts, which allow learners to use their mobile devices to find virtual elements in the real world. 

Scoring points

As learners progress through an exercise, they can accumulate points for answering questions right or reaching key milestones (similar to the arcade classic, Pac-Man). The further a player progresses, the more points they can collect. Their score can serve as a benchmark and incentivize further development.

However, not all points are created equal. One study says games that are too easy reduce the amount of fun participants have. So learning designers should thoughtfully consider the difficulty of earning points when designing games. 

Discover how a culture of learning can prepare your workforce for the future.

Progressing through levels

As learners work their way through a gamified experience, they can mark their progress by reaching new “levels.” For example, a learner might reach a new level after completing a certain number of online classes, or a combination of various activities.

Cisco’s Social Media Training Program included such a progression through the learning journey. In the program, trainees could acquire three levels of certification: Specialist, Strategist, and finally – Master. To advance to new levels, participants had to complete a specified number of courses and demonstrate their expertise in hands-on activities. 

Leaderboards

Another popular example of gamification in training and development programs is the leaderboard. Leaderboards are cited by experts as one of the most important elements of a gamified experience, and for good reason. They’ve been found to increase time-on-task behavior and task meaningfulness.

Adult learning theory reminds us that learning is an intrinsically-motivated process. Leaderboards tap into that intrinsic motivation. By seeing how they rank amongst others, learners are incentivized to outperform their peers.

Leaderboards contributed to a 47% increase in the number of return users.

Deloitte uses leaderboards in its digital leadership academy to help participants develop soft skills. After each completed activity, participants in the program are able to view a list of the top 10 performers. The list resets each week to encourage newcomers to compete. This tactic contributed to the program seeing a 47% increase in the number of return users each week. 

While the use of leaderboards certainly increases participation, they should be used wisely. Healthy competition runs the risk of turning into cutthroat opposition without the appropriate guardrails, and this could eventually demotivate learners.

Reward systems

Neuroscience tells us that rewards are more effective than punishments when trying to encourage people to take certain actions, and this concept certainly applies when it comes to gamification in corporate training.  

Reward systems can entice learners with digital, in-game rewards (such as character outfits) or physical rewards (like gift cards and company swag) for important accomplishments. Rewards can be “purchased” with an in-game currency that is accumulated over time, or rewarded upon completion of specific tasks.

Neuroscience tells us that rewards are more effective than punishments.

One example that incorporates both concepts is EdApp’s Star Bar. EdApp uses “stars” as a currency that learners can earn by logging into the app and answering questions in activities correctly. Learners can then spend their stars to unlock new games and win prizes. Digital prizes are automatically emailed to winners or physical prizes can be distributed by the account admin. 

If using physical prizes in a reward system, ensure the rewards are items learners have expressed interest in, to increase motivation. Also, it’s important that the rewards reflect actual earned accomplishments rather than routine milestones that are typically reserved for awards (such as years of service).

Earning badges

Another way to include gamification in corporate training is through the use of badges that represent various learner achievements. Organizations often incorporate digital badges but more traditional examples include completion certificates and years-of-service plaques.

In an IBM-led study, 87% of participants said they were more engaged because of the company’s digital badge program. IBM further incentivized learners by enabling them to instantly post their badges on social media. 

87% of participants were more engaged because of the digital badge program.

It’s not surprising that badges contribute to learners feeling more competent and capable. However, learning designers should be cautious not to overuse badges – if everything a learner does earns them a badge, then they become more like participation trophies.

Virtual reality simulations

As virtual reality becomes more accessible, it’s no surprise that the technology is being used to further enhance gamification in corporate training. When used to train a large number of people over time, VR can be more cost-effective than live, in-person simulations. Plus, some studies have found it to be more effective than traditional training at helping learners develop technical and socio-emotional skills. This is likely due to the fact that VR puts the user in a close facsimile of real-world environments, leveraging a key best practice of adult learning theory. 

All Walmart stores have been equipped with VR headsets and the company has reportedly trained over a million of its associates using them. Training includes everything from a module called “The Pickup Tower” where associates learn how to operate a kiosk for picking up online orders, to modules on active shooter training. Because the technology has helped reduce training time, Walmart estimates that VR has returned “over a million full days of work.”

Walmart estimates that VR has returned “over a million full days of work.”

There are pitfalls to VR simulations, however. Wearing a VR headset for long periods of time can become uncomfortable, so learners may prefer to only use the tech in short bursts. It can also be cumbersome to set up and requires support from IT for effective deployment.

Even though VR might seem isolating to some, when learners can create their own avatar and interact with others, it gives them a sense of identity in the virtual environment and allows them to “come together” with other learners – even from afar. 

Augmented reality

Rather than entirely immersing someone in a virtual environment like VR does, augmented reality adds interactive, digital elements to the real world. This is typically done using a secondary device such as a smartphone or glasses.

14 million employees will use AR glasses for on-the-job tasks and training by 2025.

One study predicts 14 million U.S. employees will use AR glasses for on-the-job tasks and training by 2025. BMW is already deploying AR headsets in some of its factories for engine assembly training. While wearing them, employees are guided through all steps of the process and can reference visualizations to learn more about the parts they’re working with in real life.

AR training is a safe and cost-effective solution because it can help organizations mitigate the risk of damaging actual equipment and injuring personnel. Even though it comes with an initial equipment expense, it saves training designers the resources of having to create new simulations. 

Final note

The benefits of utilizing gamification in corporate training are numerous. But according to the International Journal of Training and Development, it should always be used in conjunction with instructional design principles because: “simply adding game elements to training without carefully reasoning through the psychological impacts is unlikely to lead to desirable change.”

Keeping this in mind, gamification can be used appropriately and judiciously to enhance a learner’s experience and help them reach their full potential. 

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