In a recent overview of gamification technologies at Employee Benefit News, John Soat looked at the growing number of ways in which organizations are gamifying HR processes. Soat highlighted three areas in which gamification is most promising: pre-hire assessments for recruiting, training programs for current employees, and encouraging participation in wellbeing initiatives and other benefits programs. Game-like tools are popular and effective because they are fun and engaging, so employees are more likely to use them voluntarily, even outside working hours. This impact on engagement, Soat hears from vendors, is part of the often intangible ROI their clients see from gamification.
This is a trend we’ve been following both here at Talent Daily and in our research at CEB, now Gartner, for several years now. Looking at how various organizations have gamified their processes, we’ve discovered some surprising use cases for this approach and developed a robust understanding of what makes gamification initiatives most likely to succeed.
In the training space, it’s interesting to note that companies aren’t just using gamification for entry level or technical skills. In 2014, we profiled GE’s Experienced Leaders Challenge: a week-long, immersive development session for experienced GE leaders designed to help them develop a leadership mindset aligned to today’s inherently unpredictable business environment. A key part of the program is a simulation that lets leaders practice navigating common challenges and observe the unexpected consequences of their decisions or actions. (CEB Corporate Leadership Council members can check out the full case study here.)
Recently writing at Personnel Today, Ben Batts made the provocative argument that in the age of digital learning, corporate learning and development functions should stop creating content and start aggregating it instead:
Basing your learning strategy, digital or otherwise, on the creation and delivery of content, makes it tremendously difficult to serve your workforce in a timely, relevant and personalised manner. Creation is slow. It’s expensive. It requires an increasing level of expertise to make online learning content that looks and feels credible in a world of premium resources. …
The world is full of content. It is full of learning content. So, wouldn’t it be more efficient to procure and curate existing content, than to create it from scratch? … As learning professionals we’ve taken it upon ourselves to be the curators of this content; to take a range of sources and craft the perfect piece of learning content for our audience. I think we’re going too far and having all the fun.
The core of my thesis is this: be the aggregator of suitable resources and let your learners work out for themselves which content is appropriate, necessary and useful for their context. You can’t possibly hope to personalise things enough to make this right for every person. But people can make it right for themselves.
Designing learning content has always been at the core of L&D’s work. As Batts mentions, things are changing: Learning is moving online, it’s no longer limited to the classroom, and the amount of content available is ever-increasing. So, how does all this change L&D’s role? Batts’s answer is to turn L&D into a content aggregator, allowing employees to chart their own courses by choosing the content that is right for them.
The proliferation of online learning vendors and free products certainly creates an opportunity for corporate L&D functions to benefit from content they did not have to create themselves. The notion that L&D should stop designing learning altogether, however, misjudges how employees learn best and undervalues L&D’s expertise.
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Conventional wisdom holds that younger millennials and members of “Generation Z,” the oldest of whom are just entering the workforce, are “digital natives” who have never known a world without home computers, the Internet, and other commonplace digital technology. As such, it is often assumed that these “natives” have a different relationship to these technologies than those of us who had to learn to use them as adults (or as teenagers, in the case of “old millennials”). Digital natives expect technology to touch every aspect of their lives and to work seamlessly, the wisdom holds, and become frustrated when it doesn’t conform to their expectations. They are also understood to be more comfortable with digital multitasking.
However, a paper published recently in the journal Teaching and Teacher Education calls the entire narrative of the digital native into question, mustering “scientific evidence showing that there is no such thing as a digital native who is information-skilled simply because (s)he has never known a world that was not digital,” according to its abstract:
It then proceeds to present evidence that one of the alleged abilities of students in this generation, the ability to multitask, does not exist and that designing education that assumes the presence of this ability hinders rather than helps learning. The article concludes by elaborating on possible implications of this for education/educational policy.
The paper comes to our attention by way of an editorial at Nature, whose authors point out that educators and employers alike may be over-investing in solutions targeted to digital natives whose needs may not be all that unique after all:
In a recent interview with Mike Pokopeak of CLO, McKinsey’s Deputy CLO and COO of Learning and Development Ashley Williams discussed how the increasing digitization of companies has changed her job, and the impact it has had on L&D and the professional services sector in general:
I used to say three years ago sort of proudly, “Well, I’m not the technology person so I can’t tell you about X or Y in the learning space” and play ignorant but I said, “You know what, I can’t do that anymore.” That’s not actually kosher anymore for me being in the role and all of us in senior learning roles. It’s not kosher for me to say I don’t really understand the technology or the effect the technology is having. …
[I]t’s not acceptable anymore as a learning professional for anyone to be saying somebody else does that … because it’s just becoming so interwoven in what we do. Whether it’s mobile or any other thing, it’s just now a part of what we need to understand and build into our L&D strategies.
Another interesting point Williams makes is that diversity and inclusion are driving the digital transformation of L&D as well, because companies “can’t continue to have one journey in the firm for one type of profile of folks. We have got to diversify and do a better job of understanding all the needs of profiles in the firm.”
What Williams highlights in this interview is an important aspect of the increasingly central roles technology and digital talent are playing in all different industries. Every business function is becoming more dependent on digital technologies, and this is especially true of learning and development, which must adapt its techniques to the demands of the digital learner. As we’ve found in our research at CEB (now Gartner), today’s learners, particularly younger employees who are accustomed to having information readily available at their fingertips, demand learning tools that are easy to find when they need them and deliver relevant, applicable knowledge without wasting their time.
At Chief Learning Officer, Broadway producer, author, and learning technology expert Elliot Masie discusses the ways in which learners’ attitudes are changing. “Some of your learners,” Masie writes, “… may be showing new behaviors that look more like online dating”:
Your learners look at a learning offer and:
- Quickly give it a swipe left or a swipe right — keep it or let it go.
- Want to know, “Did other employees like this? Is it worth my time?”
- Say, “Hey, give me the good stuff; skip the fluff.”
Your learners are better guardians of your wage time than you. Set up a 75-minute webinar for every regional manager, and their attitude kicks in:
- “Is there really 75 minutes of new and valuable stuff?”
- “Could I watch the archived version, and skip to the few minutes of important info?”
- “Ah, let me order my lunch, check my emails, and have a side telephone call during this very long webinar.” …
Your learners have attitude because times are changing, and choices are getting more complex[.]
Masie’s observations align with something we at CEB found last year in our study on the Digital Learner, which CEB Learning and Development Leadership Council members can read here. Our research showed that while the making learning more fun and engaging does increase employees’ satisfaction with learning offerings, it does not always help them retain and apply what they learn. What the best L&D functions do is make the learning experience as effortless as possible: They make learning materials easy to find and readily applicable to employees’ day-to-day jobs as well as their future careers.
Bravetta Hassell at Chief Learning Officer flags a recent survey showing that relatively little of the information employees receive in corporate training is actually retained, and significant time and productivity is lost recalling forgotten learning:
According to a January 2017 survey on employee information retention by corporate learning management system provider Bridge by Instructure, 45 percent of employees spend at least 15 minutes per week looking up information that was taught in a company training session. For instance, in a company of 1,000 workers, nearly 6,000 hours are spent backtracking information.
This equals lost productivity, which Bridge attributes to infrequent training engagements and a lack of appropriate tools to help learners retain information. … When it comes to employees who want to quickly refer to information to keep them working, they go low-tech using sticky notes (46 percent) and calendar reminders (47 percent). Only 9 percent of employees search out corporate materials like an employee handbook for help, and while verbal reminders may be wildly popular they’re an inefficient way to reinforce training, yet 36 percent of companies continue to deploy them.
CEB research supports the finding that employees are retaining less of the information they are taught. Our 2016 study on developing digital learners found that employees retain and apply just over a third of what they learn at work. As learning and development functions think about how to improve that number, they must consider how learners themselves have changed. As Hassell correctly points out, “a growing number of workers seek out information at the point of need” and L&D is hardly the first place they look for that information. In fact, we know that 76 percent of employees will do what they need to do to learn effectively, taking learning into their own hands. As learners become more impatient, empowered, and networked, we must also reshape our approach in delivering learning experiences and offerings to them.