How to use gamification to build learning habits on the frontline
“Gamification” is a buzzword we hear often in the technology space. Nowadays, almost every major brand uses gamification in one way or another. Starbucks uses gamification in its rewards app, where customers earn points to claim bigger and bigger prizes whenever they make a purchase. Duolingo has gamified their entire learning experience using points, badges, learning streaks, social functions and rewards. In the Nike fitness app, activities unlock new achievements and users can automatically share their results and progress with friends via social media. While gamification can be a useful tool, it has to be done right if your goal is to incentivize users to keep coming back—adding a points system and leaderboard won’t be enough. When it comes to gamified job training, you have to go beyond fun and competition to build lasting learning habits on the frontline.
Take loyalty programs as an example. How many purchasing decisions have you made based on the accumulation of achievements in a digital account? It doesn’t matter if it’s stars earned buying coffee or points from airline tickets, companies have become really good at incentivizing consumer behavior by wrapping their value proposition around habit. We get more from our investment in time and money if we do something more often. And we can apply the same ideas to help frontline employees build workplace learning habits. The more often people meaningfully engage in training, the more they learn. The more they know and the more motivated they are to do a good job, the better they perform.
This is where we can get real value from the application of game mechanics. In a recent episode of The 80 Percent Podcast, JD Dillon shares a few general principles to keep in mind when applying game mechanics to your frontline training strategy. Here are some key takeaways from what he shared:
Keep your end goal in mind
Don’t use gamification just for the sake of it. Be intentional with the types of game mechanics you include in your training strategy. Determine what you want your employees to do, what behaviors you’re trying to change and what habits you’d like them to build. Do you want them to log in and complete training every shift? If so, you might incorporate rewards for training streaks into your program.
Go beyond the basics
Points and leaderboards have their place as game mechanics but there are plenty of other powerful tactics out there, from challenges to achievements and rewards. Use a mix of game mechanics that make sense to your employees, align with your culture and minimize unnecessary effort or distraction.
Give your employees a choice
Not everyone is motivated to participate in training for the same reasons. Points and rewards work for some, while others enjoy the recognition of being at the top of the leaderboard. Provide a range of engagement options so your employees can lean into what they prefer. At the end of the day, your job is to motivate them to improve their knowledge and skills and reach their career goals. How they get there is up to them.
Prioritize relevance over gamification
Gamification is fun and it provides an extra incentive for your employees to participate in job training but it shouldn’t be your main focus. What really matters is the substance of your training materials. Your employees should feel challenged and know that the information they receive is relevant to their work when they login to train. Frontline employees don’t have a lot of extra time so if training doesn’t help them do their jobs better, they won’t want to do it.
There’s a reason gamification is so popular. Beyond our original intent as consumers, whether it’s to buy a cup of coffee or participate in job training, gamification adds an extra layer of fun and incentive that keeps us coming back. And if you can effectively harness the power of gamification, your frontline (and your bottom line) will benefit in more ways than one.