Employee training is expensive and, unfortunately, the return on investment (ROI) doesn’t often exist. In 2016, the Association for Talent Development (ATD) estimated that companies spent an average of $1,273 per employee on training. However, Eduardo Salas, a professor of organizational psychology at the University of Central Florida, has found that without “practical follow-up or meaningful assessments,” learners lose 90% of the skills they learn in those training programs. That’s a lot of money to throw out the window.
If you’re going to spend all that time and money on creating great training programs, it’s imperative that you make the training stick. The learning pyramid, developed by the National Teaching Laboratory, estimates the following learning retention rates of the most popular methods for teaching and training:
- Lectures: 5%
- Reading: 10%
- Audio/visual: 20%
- Demonstration: 30%
- Discussion: 50%
- Practice by doing: 75%
- Teaching others: 90%
Active learning, such as discussion, practice by doing and teaching others, are tactics that can help ensure knowledge retention. Games fall into the “practice by doing” category. Gamified training engages learners, increases attention, improves confidence and, ultimately, drives success.
Here are five ways incorporating employee training games into your learning and development strategy can save you money and increase your ROI.
1. Games Improve Engagement and Retention
Games are more fun and engaging than other forms of training. They motivate learners and encourage both competition and collaboration. Since training games are “practice by doing,” learners retain up to 75% of what they learn, a 25% to 70% increase over other forms of training. When employees retain more, they perform better.
2. Games Provide Feedback and Rewards
Charles Duhigg, author of “The Power of Habit,” explains that in order to change a habit, we must first set a goal and then reward ourselves for accomplishing it. Training games provide a playground for employees to practice predefined goals and earn rewards. They also give trainers an opportunity to provide feedback and encourage repeat plays, improving performance and increasing knowledge retention along the way.
3. Learners Can Play Games Anywhere
Mercer’s 2018 global talent trends survey found that “most employees want their company to offer more flexible work options.” With the increase in flexible work, employees will also need more flexible learning. Organizations can deploy training games on phones, tablets, computers and kiosks, enabling employees to play and learn when and where they want.
Flexibility is key to a successful training program, especially for millennials and Gen Z. “The traditional 9-to-5 office job doesn’t adequately support the lives millennials and Gen Zs want to live,” Upwork CEO Stephane Kasriel told CNBC. “They are flexible-work natives, raised during and after the dotcom bubble, where the acceleration of technology has sped up exponentially over time. As they ascend into managerial positions, they’re ditching traditional, archaic models of work in favor of a flexible, remote workforce.”
4. Games Are Perfect for Microlearning
As humans, we tend to have short attention spans. Creating games is the best way to provide quick yet effective training. Three- to five-minute games can drive home the key points of a training program. For example, Walmart created a simulation game called Spark City, which consists of short modules that allow players to understand a “day in the life of an hourly supervisor. Players design an avatar and then use that avatar to run a dry grocery department,” according to the game’s creator, an associate named Daniel Shepherd.
5. Games Provide Data
Simply checking a box or using a five-question assessment at the end of a course isn’t effective in measuring learning. Games can unveil patterns of individual and group engagement and improve training ROI by revealing knowledge gaps, individual behaviors and group comparisons. It’s simply impossible to obtain this same kind of analysis in an instructor-led or classroom method. A game authoring tool with robust analytics can show behavioral trends by seeing which paths players going take, how they engage with different characters and how they approach different situations.
The more you can learn about employees, the more you can identify where they need additional help and how can your organization can leverage their skills more effectively. The more effective you can help your employees become in the game environment, the more productive and profitable they will be for the company.
In order to improve the ROI of your learning and development strategies, it’s important to increase knowledge retention and employee engagement. You can accomplish both with games. When executed well, game-based training will improve employees’ confidence and work performance and, ultimately, ensure that your training budget is well spent.
Stephen Baer is co-founder and managing partner of The Game Agency, an Inc. Best Workplaces Company, and the co-creator of The Training Arcade®, a DIY game-authoring tool. He is a monthly contributor to Forbes.com and a regular speaker at edtech conferences.