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Jones: It's time to get serious about gamification

Interested in accelerating workplace learning? It’s worth taking a serious look at gamification. What’s gamification? Dr. Karl Kapp, professor of Instructional technology and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations, defines gamification as, “using game-based mechanics, aesthetics, and game thinking to engage, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”

When utilized in workplace learning, gamification takes the very essence of games – attributes such as fun, play, transparency, design, and competition – and applies them to real-world processes inside an organization. Technology research firm Gartner Inc. predicts that 70 percent of Global 2000 businesses will be managing at least one “gamified” application or system by 2014. Corporate gamification is projected to be a more than $2.8 billion business by 2016, with gamification being used in 25 percent of redesigned business processes by 2015.

Still struggling to see gamification as an appropriate tool for the workplace? We expect children to use play as a vehicle for learning. By experimenting with toys, which represent reality, a child is able to experiment in a simulated (imaginary) environment without negative consequences. Similarly, we understand the value of using simulation as a teaching tool in high risk occupations. An airline pilot doesn’t learn to fly by experimenting with real plane fully loaded with passengers. They first train in a simulated environment without suffering the consequences of reality. Simulation seems quite reasonable and prudent given the risks involved. Yet when it comes to the decisions that affect the well-being of companies, employees, their families and stakeholders, simulation is dismissed as trivial.

Unlike a plane crash, the negative consequences for experimenting with reality may not be immediately apparent but can certainly be far reaching and just as devastating.

Gamification is a great way to reintroduce the value of experimentation and play to adults in the workplace. Jeanne C. Meister, co-author of “The 2020 Workplace” suggests the following guidelines for those adding gamification to their development toolkit:

• What are your business goals? Successful integration begins by defining the problem that gamification should address very clearly. Determine if a standalone solution or a supplement to existing offerings is optimal. Will gamification be used to increase participation and completion of training programs?

• Who’s your audience? Use the learner’s point of view as a guide to creating the optimal experience. Are you strengthening existing skill sets or introducing entirely new concepts? Meister cautions that the goal of gamification is not to manipulate target audiences, but rather to mesh behavioral science with social technologies in ways that increase collaboration and engagement levels among users.

• How will you track success? Develop a plan for measuring the effectiveness of your gamification efforts before you begin. What will success look like? What behaviors should change? What will provide evidence that learning transfer has taken place?

It’s high time to get in the game! Ready to give it a try? Join us at the McHenry County College Shah Center from 7:30 to 9 a.m. April 24 for The Fresh Connection Executive Briefing. This advanced web-based business simulation challenges participants to improve supply chain management, manufacturing practices, sales and operations planning. It’s about learning – and having fun doing it. Call 815-455-8593 if you’d like more information.

• Catherine Jones is executive director of workforce, community and business programs for McHenry County College’s Shah Center. She can be reached at 815-459-7752 or at

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