5 ways gamification sucked me in and smartened me up!

When the industry first started toying with gamification as a means of encouraging more engaged learning, I was at best pessimistic, and at worst, convinced it was a fad.  Sure – I could see teens and uni students lapping up the chance to “win” in the educational stakes, and with minimal responsibilities and ample time on their hands, I could absolutely understand why they’d take the time to play games (even if it was in an educational context).  But for me?  Na!  I’m neither cool enough nor have the time to gamify any task in life – except perhaps when I’m trying to get the kids to clean up their toys.

I was so wrong.

As it turns out, I just needed the right context and gamified educational platform to get me hooked.  Now I’m carving out time in my calendar to earn my next badge and build on my Ranger status, and as a result, making the continual development and broadening of my skillset a priority.

For the uninitiated, gamification is the application of game-design elements and game principles in non-game contexts.  It is based on the concept that you can create a mental state of operation in which the person performing the activity is completely immersed in a feeling of energised focus and enjoyment, in the process of doing that activity.  Gamification commonly employs game design elements to improve user engagement, organisational productivity, learning, crowdsourcing, employee recruitment and more.  Bottom line – gamification seeks to make learning fun, even when the learning content itself may not be.

In my experience, there are five critical success factors that determine whether gamification will be successful or not:

1.  There must be a need or desire to learn.

For me, this came in the form of starting a new job at Salesforce.  The reality is, if you are an expert in your field, there is very little value in completing training modules simply to earn a badge and remind you of what you already know.  In fact, it can lead to a lot of employee resentment when organisations try to force gamification onto them in areas they are already experts – why do I need a badge to prove what I already know?  But when there is a need to develop your skillset for a new job, a new role, or a new area of technical focus, gamification presents as a good opportunity to rapidly ramp up your skills.  In my first three months at Salesforce, our gamification platform Trailhead helped me learn about our culture and values, about our teams and internal processes, about our technology across the entire platform, and about our customers’ success – all within the comfort of my desk.

2.  The platform must be easy-to-use and frictionless.

There is nothing worse than prioritising an hour in your calendar to develop your skills, then spend the first 15 minutes configuring a browser or waiting for a video to load, unless of course the skills you are trying to develop relate to patience and PC troubleshooting!  Gamification platforms must be as easy to use as they are fun to use.  Like all digital-first technology today, they need to work seamlessly across laptops, smartphones and tablets – so we can learn when it suits us, at home, in the office, or on the road.  The user experience must match the same level of experience we have with our favourite social platforms – so we are encouraged to immerse ourselves in the learning and share it with our networks.

3.  There must be an end state or intermediary goals.

One of the greatest challenges is that people always want to finish the game – it gives a sense of achievement.  And yet in reality, we never stop learning.  So it’s important to create milestones along the way that give us goals we can set ourselves.  It’s equality important to break down extensive learning programs into manageable chunks so we feel empowered as we learn.  For example, in Trailhead, you can set yourself the target of completing a module, which is made up of a number of badges.  You can earn Superbadges, which are a culmination of learning from a number of modules.  But the badges you earn also count towards increasing your status from Scout to Explorer, and ultimately to Trailhead Ranger – where you get a brown bear sponsored in your honour and a Ranger hat, flag and coveted hoodie to match.  How awesome is that?!?!  By the time you achieve Ranger status, gamified learning has become such a regular part of your working week that you continue to learn and earn badges simply through good habit.

4.  The tone must match the setting.

This one actually cracks me up every time.  Imagine you’ve just received a really cool invite to a new learning platform.  It looks awesome.  The prizes are pretty neat.  The characters are fun.  All your friends/colleagues are keen to join as well.  So you sign up and start your first module, only to be greeted with the most corporate, personality-free, professionally-written content that even the authors of the Oxford Dictionary would have a hard time reading without falling asleep.  *Yawn*  Gamification content needs to be fun, outrageous, colourful, steeped in personality, and dare I say it, written with humour!  Some of my favourite quotes from recent modules I’ve completed on Trailhead:  “MacGyver never used the toothpick in his Swiss Army Knife, & you may never use our entire suite of products.” and “…but you’d have more luck finding a vegetarian at a pig roast.”  Language like this makes it personable, fun and so engaging you want to keep playing (ahem, learning) – it actually makes you want to keep reading!  Plus a good LOL in the office has your colleagues asking “What’s so funny?” and suddenly you’re sharing newly found knowledge with them as well.

5.  There must be value in the learning.

This one seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised the number of times I’ve been asked to complete a learning module simply to make a traffic light go green in an education status report.  Most people today lead pretty hectic lives, so any demands on our time requires there to be a benefit that is greater than the investment being asked.  We intuitively ask ourselves “Will this help me do my job better?”, “Will this help me get my next job?”, “Will this improve my quality of life?” – if the answer is no, there is no amount of badges, status points or levels that will entice a working professional to give up their time for it.  The quality of the learning modules is far more important than the quantity – so make each and every badge count.

Gamification played a critical role in helping me get skilled up on Salesforce and becoming productive in this next chapter of my new career – but it’s not just for Salesforce employees.  Trailhead is free for anyone to use – including our customers, our business partners, and people wanting to start a new career in tech.  We even have a Lemonade Stand badge designed specifically for kids so they can learn how to build their own app for taking and fulfilling lemonade orders!  Next on my list of projects is teaching my kids how to connect our fridge temperature to the Salesforce platform using IoT – a fun activity for the school holidays 🙂

I’d love to learn from your experience too – what’s your favourite gamification platform and what makes it so successful?