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Ahead of the game: L&D experts on the impact of digitisation and gamification

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Learning & development remains an essential component of an organisation’s talent development pipeline. But as learning evolves, tried and true methods are becoming old hat as innovation holds the key to employee engagement. Robert Blain reports.

The biggest single change to learning and development in recent years is digitisation. This is opening up wide new vistas for learning and development practitioners to explore as they provide more fluid, flexible and fun options for the enhancement of their organisation’s employees.

Another trend that is sweeping L&D is gamification, with inventive developers creating business strategy games catering to specific industries that are transcending the whole concept of gamification.

Sectors as diverse as food and beverage (McDonald’s is one eager participant) to big finance outfits to legal are getting involved. But more on this later.

“The speed at which digital learning has grown is exponential,” says Gill White, director of business at HR and people development body CIPD, when asked about the single biggest change in L&D programmes in recent years.

“It’s essential L&D practitioners take the time to not only understand how to create great digital assets, but that they take the time to study the neuroscience of learning as well.

“It’s vital we understand how people actually learn, in order that we can create great learning that’s ‘sticky’ and will genuinely transform skills and behaviours.

“For example, we now know that social engagement while online is imperative for the learning process, so if you have a learning management system (LMS) without social and collaborative tools, you’re hampering your people’s chance to learn effectively.”

Elliot Homan, APAC managing director for professional learning provider Avado, concurs, adding it’s essential to reinforce what is being learnt by employees so that it sticks.

“Many organisations still use traditional classroom-based learning,” he says.

“But if you’re familiar with the (Hermann) Ebbinghaus (German psychologist) ‘forgetting curve’, then you’ll understand that most people will forget 50% of what they learn if they don’t put it into practice immediately.”

“When you couple that with the 70:20:10 concept and you see that 70% of our learning comes from job-related experience, then (the best) programmes are based around real-world learnings – which are interwoven with the audience’s roles within the organisation to make sure they take away those key points from it,” he adds.

It’s vital we understand how people actually learn, in order that we can create great learning that’s ‘sticky’ and will genuinely transform skills and behaviours.

Business strategy games

One of the biggest buzzwords around learning and development in the workplace is “gamification”. Clearly, classroom learning in organisations has largely given way to more interactive and playful mediums.

Gamification is one of the ways that organisations can engage their workforces – from recruitment, to employee engagement, to talent development – but it’s important for HR practitioners to identify what gamification is. And isn’t.

According to Vince Siu, CEO and founder of business strategy games developer Press Start, there are a few misconceptions surrounding gamification.

“The traditional definition of gamification is to borrow concepts from games to spice up a product, service or campaign, which usually takes the form of leader boards, badges, points and levels,” he says.

He believes the definition is too simple and outdated, and that there is much more that can be learned from games.

“If you create a fun experience at the core, then it’s that much easier to build educational programmes around it,” he says.

“Fun and interactivity beget replayability, and if you have a game-play experience that people want to come back to – even if it’s designed around the driest theme out there – then you increase the chance of engagement and retention.”

CIPD’s White is also a passionate advocate of the crucial role gaming should play in an organisation’s L&D programme.

“The brain learns well in gaming environments,” she says.

“If the environment is stimulating, the amygdala (the part of the brain where learning is thought to happen) is stimulated and if you are enjoying the experience, dopamine is released, which is believed to encourage memory. So, gaming is a great environment for learning.

“However, the stimuli that makes games enjoyable can also often make them addictive – which we are now seeing more and more in the gaming world – so there is a note of caution here too.”

Fun and interactivity lead to replayability, and if you have a game-play experience that people want to come back to then you increase the chance of engagement and retention.

Business strategy games

The next step in the evolution of L&D could well be business strategy games. Press Start is one company already getting in on the act and develops custom-built business strategy games across a variety of sectors – from food and beverages to finance and law. Siu believes this new wave of strategic game playing is a much more effective way to engage employees.

“At their core, games are a simplified version of a complex reality, condensed into a playable experience via rules and logic. The components chosen, the mechanics used, the experience curated – these all reflect what elements are seen as important to a specific world, and how that world is perceived to work,” he explains.

By way of example, Press Start designed a card game focusing on fashion buying for PolyU (the Hong Kong Polytechnic University) to use in its fashion business programme.

“At its core, it was a simulation of the actual fashion buying industry, and from many interviews with industry experts and practitioners we were able to get a sense of how it works on the whole – inventory management, budget control, trend forecasting, VIP curation, the works – but condensing it all into simple, playable rules was the main challenge,” he says.

“We first tested it in a recruitment drive for its undergraduate programme, and it worked like a charm because it was quick to learn, fun to play, and most importantly, simple, yet reflective of reality.”

The reference to recruitment is interesting. Siu points out that this games template can also be effectively deployed when hiring employees.

Press Start also had a successful engagement with fast-food giant McDonald’s large-scale McTalent recruitment drive, by customising a game based around an “entrepreneurship game and a role-playing adventure” for candidates, with outstanding results.

EQ is the new IQ

Another way that L&D is evolving is the trend towards soft skills. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is becoming a sought-after attribute and learning skills in areas such as conflict resolution with colleagues and customers alike, is a valuable asset.

Although, according to CIPD’s White, the need to build soft skills through L&D depends on specific scenarios.

“It depends on what the learning outcomes are,” White says.

“There are compliance requirements that are quite simply ‘black and white’ in the outcomes they need from the learner. But certainly, the more engaging, social and exciting learning is, the greater the chance for it to sink in and drive genuine behavioural and skills changes.”

White cites David Rock’s, The Science of Making Learning Stick, as a great example of some of the many new theories on putting together a great learning programme.

While L&D is a standalone aspect of human resources management, it also traverses all aspects of HR – from recruitment through to diversity and conclusion.

According to Alisha Fernando, APAC head of diversity and inclusion at Bloomberg, and featured in this issue’s cover story: “Diversity and inclusion needs to be embedded into everything a business does, not just learning and development. But L&D, I think, plays a key role in shifting the dial.

“So when we talk about D&I for an organisation, we’re talking about doing things differently. We’re talking about shaping a new world where we haven’t been before and the way that we do that is to continually develop our people – and we do that through L&D.”

Whatever aspect of HR that L&D encompasses, one thing is clear: for the best outcomes, it should fire the imagination of those participating and be relevant to your workplace.

“It’s simple – who doesn’t like to have fun! in an era where experience is king, having that experience be fun, interactive and replayable makes it memorable and engaging,” concludes Siu from Press Start.



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