Training Reinforcement: 7 Things You Need to Know

training reinforcement

Organizations expend constant effort to deliver information employees need to know for their jobs. And oftentimes, there’s a lot at stake. You depend on training to help your employees make more sales, provide better customer service, avoid regulatory issues, and make fewer mistakes.

But training has no value if we can’t retrieve the information we’re taught. Training reinforcement is essential to ensure that knowledge and skills learned in training are applied on the job. If you are new to training reinforcement or a bit unfamiliar, here are seven key things to know. Think of these facts as tips that will help your learners recall the right information when they need it.

1. The goal of training reinforcement is to beat the forgetting curve.

There are lots of reasons why it’s difficult to overcome Herman Ebbinghaus’ forgetting curve. His original research, which has since been replicated on several occasions, shows that our brains are wired to forget things without repeated exposure and practice. Essentially, learners can forget up to 90% of what they learn without reinforcement. It’s not a pretty statistic.

The Forgetting Curve

The Forgetting Curve. Image Credit: Elearning! Magazine

Luckily, there are proven strategies that help people remember. Training reinforcement is one such strategy. It’s a critical piece of the learning and remembering equation, which brings me to my next point…

2. Training reinforcement should be designed based on the science of learning and remembering.

Below, I mention some exciting new learning tech trends you can use as part of training reinforcement. But before we get to that, we have to understand what makes these technologies useful for learning. We must consider the importance of learning science – the backbone of sound instructional design. You can invest in all the flashy new technology in the world! But if you design training reinforcement without considering the underlying science of how the human brain retains information, you put your training efforts at risk.

Spaced repetition and distributed practice, for example, are significant components to help someone actually use what you are trying to teach them. Information that is presented over spaced intervals is learned and retained more easily and effectively. Retrieval practice is another good example. The more your learners have to “retrieve” or call information to mind, the less likely they are to forget it. For this reason, it’s important for employees to experience training on the actual job site and not just in the classroom.

3. Games and gamification can make training reinforcement more motivating and engaging.

The struggle is real… we know it’s a constant battle to create solutions that actually motivate your learners to take training. But it doesn’t have to be this way. It may be time to “up your game” with games and gamification. Our 2018 Learning Trends Report revealed that more and more L&D professionals are actually including games and gamification in their training. We see game-based learning as having wide application across many delivery options—mobile, Virtual and Augmented Reality (VR and AR), eLearning, and even old-fashioned Instructor-Led Training (ILT), live and online. This could be a “game changer” for your organization.

4. Mobile is often the ideal delivery method for training reinforcement.

Once your training event is over, your learners need to be able to access information quickly and easily. What better way to do that than by making reinforcement available on mobile devices? Apps can be awesome reinforcement tools to support live or online training that is more “traditional” (e.g. take it on a laptop, click through lots of content).

5. Adaptive learning can personalize training reinforcement to learners’ individual needs.

The more personalized your training reinforcement is to each learner, the more effective your overall training initiative will be. We built our Knowledge Guru Drive app as a training reinforcement tool to help learners build both confidence and competence.


In the app, learners complete a short confidence assessment, then receive customized mini-games they play each day. Drive adapts to learners over time to help them master their weakest areas and build on their strengths. Drive’s confidence assessment allows you to accurately gauge your learners’ confidence in key areas and grow it alongside their knowledge and skills.

See Training Reinforcement in Action! Get a tour
of the Knowledge Guru Platform.

6. Conversational AI is opening up new possibilities for training reinforcement.

Artificial intelligence is here, the devices are readily available, and there are plenty of use cases where it makes sense for training reinforcement. You could consider creating an app, for example, where learners can ask questions about a particular product or process and get quick answers. Voice commands could help sales reps out in the field who need a quick answer while driving to meet a customer.

You can also create a chatbot that answers common questions via text. For example, a learner could text the bot a question and receive an answer without having to log into the LMS to look for it. You can even program the bot to forward questions it cannot answer to your training team for further support.

7. Training reinforcement needs to be carefully positioned as part of the learner’s overall experience.

When you design a training curriculum, you want to create a cohesive experience that is beneficial to your learners from start to finish. So how do we get to an optimal learning experience? How do we bring the target learner back into the design process in a way that is actually feasible for a business? A blend of traditional instructional design with design thinking tools may be part of the solution. Design thinking produces solutions through an iterative process of observation, insight, ideation, experimentation, and testing. Its goal is to create solutions that find the sweet spot between learner needs and preferences, business needs and the technology that’s most viable.

Upcoming Webinar

In our upcoming webinar, Learning Trends in 2018: Present Realities vs. Future Possibilities, we will provide an in-depth analysis and discussion of this year’s trending tech and training solutions.

Headed to DevLearn? 8 Sessions You Don’t Want to Miss

Although I won’t be making the trip to Vegas this year, Bottom-Line Performance President, Sharon Boller, and a few of my other BLP colleagues will be in attendance. They’re gearing up for another great conference and are excited to learn about the new learning strategies and technologies DevLearn has to offer.

This year, we put together a list of eight great sessions worth attending. The best part? None of them overlap – so you can attend every. single. one. Enjoy!

1. Case Study: A Game-Based Approach to Learning Without Lessons

Presented by: Chris Ang & A.J. Mazepa

Wednesday, 10/25: 10:45 – 11:45 AM

The challenge for a team at Canadian Tire was to create awareness and maximize retention of an exciting new catalog among store employees. They wanted to create an engaging and innovative solution in-house but had limited time and resources. In this session, you’ll discover how Canadian Tire developed a game-based solution using in-house resources. Through exploring their approach to solving a common L&D challenge, you’ll learn how to incorporate game mechanics using your own existing resources. You’ll also explore how to leverage tangible and intangible rewards to drive participation, increase retention, and get exceptional business results. Finally, you will be able to apply these basic principles in your own organization.

Learn more

2. Case Study: Integrating UX Design and Gamification

Presented by: Clara NG

Wednesday, 10/25: 1:15 – 2:15 PM

This is another great case study – one from Rogers Communications. In this session, you’ll learn how Rogers Communications successfully integrated UX design and gamification into an online training course. You’ll find out how to move from principles into practice with both concepts; how common UX ideas like user testing and visual design can specifically enhance gamified experiences; and how to adapt to the common challenges you might face when creating a project that blends gamification and thoughtful UX design together. You’ll also learn how to use UX as the overall framework for any engagement technique you adopt.

Learn more

3. Developing 360-Degree Learning Video Content

Presented by: Steven Skiles

Wednesday, 10/25: 3:00 – 4:00 PM

The value of virtual reality and 360-degree video content for L&D is quite promising, as the immersive nature of these technologies has the potential to make a major impact on learning and retention. However, the actual development of VR and 360-degree video content can seem daunting, complicated, costly, and even out of reach to most organizations. But it doesn’t have to be that way. In this session, you’ll learn about implementing 360-degree video content in your own organization from a company that has been using this medium for some time: Samsung Electronics America.

Learn more

4. A Look Ahead: The Now and the Next of Learning and Technology

Presented by: David Kelly

Thursday, 10/26: 10:45 – 11:45 AM

This session explores the changing face of the learning technology landscape. David will discuss the various technologies that have shifted the landscape of organizational learning. You will examine the common characteristics of these shifts so that you are better equipped to recognize which emerging technologies have the potential to disrupt organizational learning, as opposed to those that are just hype. You will leave this session better prepared to stay ahead of the evolving technology curve.

Learn more

5. The 4 Ws of Learning Campaigns

Presented by: David Swaddle

Thursday, 10/26: 1:15 – 2:15 PM

Many instructional designers and trainers are stuck in the rut of event-driven learning, whether that means eLearning courses, face-to-face sessions, or virtual training sessions. You probably know that varied, spaced learning delivers better results, but many people find it hard to put this into action. After this session, you’ll know how to use learning campaigns for your training, learning, and education programs. You’ll be introduced to the four Ws of learning campaigns, personas, and a structure for planning your campaigns.

Learn more

6. Case Study: Using Gamification for an Engaging Learning Experience

Presented by: Niyazi Arda Aygül

Thursday, 10/26: 3:00 – 4:00 PM

Internal audit reports and consumer research revealed that employees of Turkey’s largest private bank, Isbank, needed support to improve customer service for a wide range of retail banking products and services. For Isbank’s learning team, the challenge was finding an engaging, effective, and easily accessible learning solution on detailed, complicated topics for a geographically dispersed and demographically diverse workforce. In this session, you’ll find out how Isbank used gamification as an engaging strategy for learning.

This presentation will give you ideas for how to use online games for your detailed and complicated learning topics; how to improve user adoption; and how to measure a gamification project’s contribution to learning.

Learn more

7. Understanding the Virtual Reality Development Workflow

Presented by: Keith Sensing & Antonio Montano

Friday, 10/27: 8:30 – 9:30 AM

In this session, you will learn about the hardware, software, and online resources you can use to create VR environments. Learn about the workflow involved from start to final product, including creating and finding free assets, characters, and animations. You will explore 3-D modeling software, game engines, and animation websites while learning about the different file formats that will come together in a final project. You will take a look at commercial software and freeware to begin designing VR and 3-D learning environments. After this session, you will have the resources to start exploring the world of VR design.

Learn more

8. Design Thinking for Problem-Solving

Presented by: Kristin Machac & Holly Cline

Friday, 10/27: 10:00 – 11:00 AM

In today’s world, the first answer to every challenge seems to be a meeting. You hold meetings to talk about meetings, and then you schedule follow-up meetings. But how productive are you in those conversations, and are you really solving problems? Are you optimizing your time and ability to collaborate? Does everyone have a voice at the table?

This session explores the evolution of design thinking, techniques for identifying problems, and strategies for creative problem-solving. You will identify a problem and actively participate in various innovation and creative thinking exercises to address it.

Learn more

When Learning Games Go Small: The Four Principles of Design


The education game market continues to grow rapidly, and mobile games are the dominant force within this market. Newzoo provides the insights for the generic games market; the Serious Play Conference released its annual report showcasing the huge growth specific to the education and corporate training sector. The compound annual growth rate in the U.S for corporate learning games will be over 20% between 2017 – 2022 and about 35% globally with the U.S. and India being the top two markets for serious game play. Newzoo predicts the overall mobile game market across all game types will grow 40% between now and 2020, a significant growth increase.

Want to learn more about mobile learning games? Access our webinar recording of When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.

So… it makes sense for L&D personnel to consider what space mobile games (aka ones intended for play on a smartphone) might occupy in their company’s learning and development portfolio. A smartphone game is not just a shrunken version of a PC game –  just as a limo is not just a bigger mode of transport than a unicycle.

The user experience and design aspects one expects from a limo, and the intended use of the limo, differs widely from that of the unicycle – even though both are modes of transportation. So it is with learning games. The use case for a smartphone game differs from that of a PC game, and the user experience should be different, too. L&D people need to think about this. When learning games go small there are four quadrants of design skills involved.

It’s highly unlikely that a single individual will possess skills in all four quadrants. It’s also very likely that if you opt to go the route of mobile games within your organization, you will need to pull together a team to create your game. Understanding each quadrant helps you assemble the right team and do a good job evaluating the game design the team evolves.

Here’s a quick definition of each quadrant followed by a checklist of factors to consider within each quadrant:

  • User Experience (UX) Design – the framework and navigation design of your game; this framework makes it easy to learn, easy to use, and easy to add/build onto it if you need to roll out future enhancements.
  • User Interface (UI) Design – the graphical “look and feel” of the game; it provides the aesthetics and helps create a mood or “feel” to your game (light-hearted, scary, humorous, intense, etc.). Lots of people think UX and UI mean the same thing. They don’t.
  • Instructional design – the design and structure of the experience to meet specific learning needs for a specific audience or audiences.
  • Game design – the design of the play experience; it includes the core dynamics of your game, rules, and game elements that all work together to enable players to achieve a game goal and have fun doing it.

Instructional Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Have a clear learning goal and measurable learning objectives focused on a specific learner?
  • Tap into learner motivation?
  • Manage cognitive load by eliminating irrelevant or extraneous content?
  • Provide relevant practice?
  • Give specific, timely feedback?
  • Trigger emotion that can help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Provide spaced repetition to help with long-term retention of learning content?
  • Use story(ies) (again, for help with long-term retention of learning content as well as involvement during learning experience)?

Game Design Checklist

Does your game:

  • Provide players with an intriguing goal or challenge?
  • Match the interests or player types of your target players?
  • Stick with one or two core dynamics?
  • Provide clear rules?
  • Use appropriate game elements from ones such as chance, strategy, cooperation, competition, aesthetics, theme, story, resources, rewards, levels?
  • Make the scoring relevant, motivating, and understandable?
  • Balance game complexity and difficulty for your player and the time you anticipate them playing it; not too easy or too little complexity, but not too hard or too much complexity either.

UX Design Checklist

UX best practice is that you design to the smallest screen. This means that your design supports these attributes on the smallest phone size players are likely to use. We draw the line at the iPhone 5, which is 1136 x 640 pixels or 4-inches diagonally. Good UX means you:

  • Have legible text.
  • Have touchable targets that a typical adult finger can easily succeed at using.
  • Cut the clutter.
  • Focus on one key action or use per screen.
  • Make the navigation intuitive.
  • Make the experience seamless if intended for multiple devices.
  • Cater to contrast.
  • Design for how people hold/use their phone.
  • Minimize the need to type.

Attend to the small things to make a big difference.

UI Design Checklist

This checklist is the smallest, yet the aesthetics or “look/feel” of your game has a major impact on uptake and continued game play (which translates into best learning assuming you executed well on the instructional design checklist items). When creating your UI design, make sure your UI is:

  • Consistent. Treat every button of the same type in the exact same fashion. Treat all screens of a single “type” the same way, etc. Use fonts and text labels for things consistently.
  • Designed to your user – and not to your personal preferences. Example: While you may love anime art, your corporate user may find it insulting or trivial.
  • Not reinventing standards; use what’s common and comfortable. There is a thing called “heuristics” for a reason. (Note: UX/UI heuristics are often bundled into a single list.)
  • An enhancement of the focus and not the focus of your game experience.
  • Forgiving of user mistakes with lots of prompts and helpful guides.
  • Clear on giving users feedback about what to do and where to go.

Want More Information?

If you want to know more, here are some great resources:

  • Sign up for a companion webinar to this post that will occur on October 10th – When Games Go Small: Mobile Learning Game Design Do’s & Don’ts.
  • Download a handy checklist for each quadrant of design.
  • Check out my book, coauthored with Dr. Karl Kapp – Play to Learn: Everything You Need to Know About Designing Effective Learning Games, published by ATD Press 2017.
  • And/or join Karl and me in Chicago on September 20-21 for a 1.5-day workshop on learning game design or join me at DevLearn for a 1-day workshop on October 24th.

You Built a Great Learning Game… Why Aren’t You Getting Results?

You built a wonderful learning game. So why aren’t you reaping results from it? Before we dive in and diagnose why your learners didn’t learn, grab a piece of real or digital paper. I’m going to ask you to write down things and answer some questions.

Before I do, take 30 seconds and write down everything you need to get done today. Then write down everything you need to do this week. Did you have “complete an eLearning course,” or “play (insert name) learning game that my boss recommended to me” on your list? Perhaps you do – and perhaps you fully intend to do that course or play that game.


  • What barriers hinder your ability to spend time in a formal learning activity? The activity could be an online course, a learning game, or even reading blog posts on a particular topic. How many unplanned things are likely to creep in today or tomorrow that will turn good intentions into fantasy?
  • If you do complete the learning activity, how much “think time” will be available to you today or next week to reflect on what you learn?

I assume you are reading this post because you are a training manager, a sales manager, or some type of learning and development professional who produces learning games or learning solutions for others.

So the really important question is: How do you think your target learners would answer all these questions?

Everyone of us in the work world has the tsunami that we call the “work day” and our “personal life.” Most of us have days that start between 5:30 and 7 a.m. and often don’t end until 11 p.m. We spin lots of plates and our learners are no different.

However, unlike us, they may not be super excited by all things connected to learning new things. They may actually be resistant to learning new things. Resentful of learning new things. Stressed out or fearful of learning new things. Simply not interested in learning new things because their heads are so full of what needs their attention right now.

What are you going to do about it?

Creating a relevant, well-designed learning solution, unfortunately, is not even close to enough. You have to tear a page from a marketer’s book and develop a full-blown implementation plan. These are the three ingredients you need to produce broad-spectrum results from your learning game:

Most of you will create the first item (a great game), but fail to fully map out logistics or think about having to market the game. There is a fallacy that a great game sells itself, and the game itself will intrigue learners enough to motivate game play.

Think back to the start of this blog and that to-do list you wrote down as well as the “unplanned things” that derail the to-do list. Playing a learning game is not going to be high on most learners’ list without some planning on your part.

If you do things right and include all three elements of a good implementation strategy, you greatly increase the odds of people playing. Being able to put together those three elements requires you to do a bit of legwork and info gathering.

Getting Started

So before you start creating your game or crafting any strategies, make sure you ask – and get answers – to questions like these:

  1. How does the game help achieve business and learning goals?
  2. What are the learner/manager/stakeholder anticipated reactions (positive and negative)? How do these reactions influence messages you need to deliver as part of implementation?
  3. What realities exist in learner population that affect implementation? How do these influence game elements that you emphasize/leverage? How do they affect logistics/deployment?
  4. What effort, skill, time, and planning is required to design, produce? How does this impact your timeline and what you can produce?
  5. What ongoing effort and creativity are required to maintain long-term interest in ongoing game play or to keep things “fresh” over long-term?
  6. Are there constraints that limit or direct decisions on frequency?
  7. What analytics and data can the game solution provide to showcase benefits and cost-effectiveness? What metrics do we want to see? How should data be filtered for analysis? (If you can’t answer #1 in this list, you won’t be able to answer these questions.)
  8. Who needs to see this data and how will data be used?

How to create a learning game experience that gets performance results

1. Create a well-designed game. This means the game:

  • Is relevant to learners’ needs and actually has value for them. The game goal and the play experience clearly link to the skill or knowledge the player will find helpful to acquire. (Note that I said player will find it helpful. It’s not enough for someone else, such as you or a stakeholder, to believe it will be helpful. The player has to find value in it.) The design choices you’ve made have a learning purpose to them. (Example: Using chance in the game to mirror something in the real-world that learners cannot control.)
  • Has a complexity level that matches learners’ use case. (Example: Don’t create a multi-hour play experience with tons of rules for a learner who needs a game they can quickly get into/out of. Make game play extend over periods of time rather than all at once).
  • Uses game elements that appeal to the the player types you have playing your game. (Consider Amy Kim’s social action matrix to figure out your player types and what game elements might appeal to those types.)
2. Plan out the logistics required to deploy the game effectively.

This means you’ve thought about what it will take to get your game into learners’ hands – and mapped the process out step-by-step. You have a rollout schedule that includes:

  • Timeline and key activities for pre-launch, launch, and post-launch of your game.
  • Specifics of distribution/delivery. (How will they locate/download your game? On what device? With what possible browsers? Is download required or can they stream the content?)
  • Tactics for mitigating risks/barriers to play (Yes, you have to think about the fact that they have many, many distractors in their lives. You also have to decide how you intend to grab their attention despite those distractions.)
3. Develop and implement a marketing/communication plan.

Those tactics you ID’d for mitigating risks in Item #2 help shape the marketing tactics you design and deploy. You need to think and act like a marketer:

  • Brand your learning experience; use imagery and a logo to burn your game’s promotion into the minds of your learners. When I say “Coke” I suspect you all either think of the logo itself or a bottle/can of coke. You can literally see it in your minds. How do you do that for your game?
  • Consider incentives. Who pays full price for a Coke? How many of you love a coupon or a “free prize.” An incentive adds some spice and some fun. If the initiative you are working on really matters, then incent it. It doesn’t have to be a huge incentive, it just needs to grab attention.
  • Map out a communication plan for each of your targets – including the stakeholders as well as the learners. Figure out what the message(s) need to be for each target, the timing of those messages, and the distribution channel.

ExactTarget and Johnson and Johnson both had highly successful game implementations because they created strategies that used all three components outlined above. Here are a few images that represent some of what they presented to their learners. Don’t waste all the time, energy, and $$ you spent creating your amazing learning game by failing to plan out implementation. Make sure you get the return on investment your company deserves and should expect.

Exact Target embedded a game within a larger experience and promoted it on its Intranet. It regularly updated messages, brought attention to those on the leaderboards, and eventually awarded someone the title of “MobileConnect Guru.”


J&J had a focused, weekly campaign. They gave accolades to weekly winners, shining a spotlight on them. Like ExactTarget, they integrated the game within a larger curriculum.

How to Engage Learners Before, During and After Training

How many times are you distracted or interrupted during a normal work day?

What about your learners? How often are they pulled away from their planned activities?

Let’s face it: distraction often feels like the norm for many of us. Your learners are likely no different: they have a long list of things to get done each day… and the training you want them to take may not be a top priority.

Access our webinar recording on Reinforcement 101: How to Help Reps Say and Do the Right Thing to identify the best training reinforcement strategy for your organization.

And while training might not be high on the priority list for learners, it certainly is a high priority to you. How do you make sure real behavior change happens when a new product is launched, an important new procedure is rolled out or the organization must comply with a new regulation?

For starters, you must think of training as more than a one-time event. You need a strategy that engages learners before, during and after the primary training event.

Here are some tips for doing just that.

Engage Learners Before Training

1. Implement a promotional campaign

We often challenge trainers to think like marketers. What is the implementation strategy? How will you promote the training to learners? How will you show learners why the training matters and how it connects to them?

For example, if you have an upcoming product launch you could formulate a communication plan that includes at least three to five messages about the launch, using a couple different channels. Spark interest through a series of emails, promotional graphics, videos of key stakeholders talking about the initiative, etc. Get creative and plan on a series of messages across multiple mediums.

2. Incorporate story and theme

Once you have a promotional campaign in place, you want to think about how to tie the entire training experience together. One way to do this is by using a story or overarching theme. In serious games, story is a narrative that either weaves through an entire game or sets up the reason you are playing the game and elaborates on the theme.

The “Hero’s Journey” is one such theme we often use in projects for clients. It almost always leads to a powerful and inspirational story. For example, when you need a way to motivate employees to follow a process or learn about a new product, creating a Hero’s Journey for them to follow is a great place to start.

Engage Learners During Training

1. (Surprise, Surprise) Use game-based learning

Research shows games are effective for learning. One of the reasons for this is the feeling of “fun” they create for players. For foundational knowledge topics like compliance, a game engine such as Knowledge Guru works well. The game’s story, aesthetics, and mechanics are all already created and you can focus on inputting your questions and answers into the game. The immersion and engagement that game-based learning provides can make a powerful impact on how training is received.

2. Gamify your content

Gamification allows you to add simple elements like points, badges, leaderboards, and levels to static eLearning content to create a more motivating experience. Attaching external rewards to a gamification platform (or serious games) can also motivate learners to complete training they would otherwise find uninspiring.

3. Less ‘Tell’; More ‘Do’

We know that you can’t always completely eliminate lectures during your instructor-led training sessions. But that doesn’t mean you can’t cut this content down a bit. eLearning screens with static text-only content should also be kept to a minimum. You want learners to have more hands-on practice and interaction – both with the training content and other people. The key is to plan activities and interactions that link directly to each learning objective.

4. Challenge your learners

Instead of listing out learning objectives, start your next training experience with a challenge or goal. Every Knowledge Guru Legend or Quest game starts with a goal or quest of some kind. In Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, her research revealed that challenge and novelty are key elements to happiness. And happier people tend to have more energy and thus, be more engaged in activities.

“Because novelty requires more work from the brain, dealing with novel situations evokes more intense emotional responses and makes the passage of time seem slower and richer.”

The brain is stimulated by surprise, and successfully dealing with an unexpected situation gives a powerful sense of satisfaction. If you do new things – visit a museum for the first time, learn a new game, travel to a new place, meet new people – you’re more apt to feel happy than people who stick to more familiar activities.

5. Create a social learning environment

Although challenge and novelty increase happiness, the most important element to happiness is social bonds. So if you have the opportunity to get all your learners together in the same room, do it! We’ve seen it hundreds of times in Sharon Boller’s workshops. People literally light up and lean in as soon as the shift goes from a presentation to a game play situation.

Engage Learners After Training

1. Space out the learning and repeat concepts over time

Research shows that learning is seldom a one-time event, and learners begin to forget what they learned soon after training. Use the learning principles of spaced repetition to provide both micro and macro spacings of your content. Make sure concepts are reinforced over time to aid in long-term memory acquisition.

The Hero’s Journey, for example, is rarely complete in a day… let alone a 30 minute eLearning course. You want to extend the theme throughout the entire training experience. One client even broke their Knowledge Guru game into a 5-week program with short gameplay sessions and competition each week. By extending your learners’ journey, you also increase the benefits of spaced repetition: learners retain more knowledge when they have the opportunity to apply it multiple times over several days or weeks.

2. Reinforce training with microlearning and mini-games

We specifically designed the Knowledge Guru Drive app for repeat play over a period of time. Learners are given a “Daily Three” of mini-games to complete in their drive towards mastery. The content changes, and only repeat play over several days or weeks will achieve mastery.

Essentially, you can cut through all the noise and distractions with multiple touch points like those mentioned above to make training fun and engaging so people pay attention. Also remember to include practice opportunities and challenges so people become active participants in their own learning.

Gamification vs. Game-Based Learning: What’s the Difference?


Every year, the NCAA invites people from all over the world to participate in one of college sports greatest spectacles: March Madness. If you are reading this from the United States, chances are high that you have filled out a NCAA men’s basketball bracket before.

You know how it works: participants are given an online tool that lets them create bracket groups so they can compete with friends, family and colleagues. You choose which college basketball teams you think will win each round of play. For each team you get right, you earn points and for each team you get wrong, you lose the potential to earn points in the future. The goal is to earn the most points and pick the correct tournament champion.

In 2015, the American Gaming Association and GfK Custom Research of North America estimated that almost 40 million Americans filled out more than 70 million March Madness brackets. The average bet per bracket was $29, totaling over $2 billion.

So what keeps people playing year after year? The answer is simple: it’s fun! The NCAA takes the essence of what makes games so appealing (challenge, risk and reward), uncovers the mechanics that make them work (personalization, rankings and leaderboards) and applies these mechanics to the tournament.

NCAA tournament pools are a form of gamification. The game of basketball is, obviously, a game. And games that also have a learning goal are called learning games. Using games for learning is called game-based learning. If you’re a bit confused, there’s no need to worry! You can easily spot the differences between gamification and game-based learning with a little practice.

Want to design your own learning game? Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp share helpful game design tips in this recorded webinar.


The application of these game-like elements to the NCAA tournament is known as gamification. Simply put, gamification is the application of game mechanics to a non-game activity. Filling out a bracket is not a game in of itself. But when you assign points based on correct picks and add an element of competition, it becomes gamified.

Karl Kapp describes gamification as “an emergent approach to instruction which facilitates learning and encourages motivation through the use of game elements, mechanics and game-based thinking.” The purpose is to engage and motivate learners to become active participants in their own learning process.

In order to gamify something, you must first understand the various elements that make up a game. For example, a game’s mechanics are the rules and procedures that guide the player and the game response to the player’s moves or actions. Through the mechanics you create, you define how the game is going to work for the people who play it. There are also many game elements you can include to help keep people engaged. The choice of what to include should be deliberate. With learning games, you should consider how each element supports the learning process. Here are 12 elements often used to gamify content:

game elements chart

Gamification Examples

You can apply both game mechanics and game elements to a variety of contexts when you create learning solutions. Take a look at a few of these samples:

  • This curriculum included an illustrated map of the business process that was used to gamify the course. Learners journey through the business making stops along the way to identify the hazards and learn how to stay safe on their sites.
  • In this curriculum, we designed a gamified blended learning curriculum for a new product launch. The curriculum is both gamified as a whole and contains numerous competitive and collaborative games.

Game-Based Learning (also known as Learning Games and Serious Games)

Game-based learning uses learning games to achieve an instructional goal. If you hear someone discussing game-based learning, learning games or serious games, you can assume they generally mean the same thing.

What makes the game of basketball different from a pure learning game? The answer is a learning goal. Learning games have both a game goal (what players must do to win) and a learning goal (what players are to learn through playing the game). The term game-based learning describes the use of games for learning.

Oftentimes, people use gamification and game-based learning interchangeably. But when you take a closer look, the two have certain characteristics that make them unique. Unlike gamification, game-based learning involves an actual game that helps people learn. Players will either know something or be able to do something as a result of playing the game.

Game-Based Learning Examples

Below, you can see a few examples of games we’ve created.

  • We partnered with TE Connectivity to create a mobile learning game for smartphones. The app helps distributors learn about their customers, and the applicable products for each customer so they can position the right products with the right customers.
  • This organization is tasked with creating Information Asset Protection (IAP) policies and procedures to protect sensitive information, and to educate employees on how to follow them. As part of the curriculum, learners played an arcade-style game where they score points by identifying strong and weak passwords.
  • Our Knowledge Guru platform is a great example of game-based learning and why it works. Each Knowledge Guru game has its own unique combination of points, badges, leaderboards, mini-games, story, aesthetics, power-ups and more.

Access the “Play to Learn” Webinar

Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp introduced nine steps to effective learning game design in a live webinar on March 28th. Attendees heard their perspective on the three most critical and overlooked learning game design steps and had the opportunity to participate in Q&A.

Gamification and Serious Games Headed to the Mainstream


Gartner Group, which monitors trends across many industries, has labeled gamification as a trend that is sliding into the “trough of disillusionment” within the education industry. Does that mean that it—and its cousin learning games—are dying?

The short answer is no… at least not the good applications of these learning methods.

Instead, it means that we are moving gamification toward mainstream usage and beyond the early adoption stage. It also means that bad uses will become more apparent, as will effective uses. It means that companies who are more conservative—who are the “let’s wait and see how this shakes out” kind of decision-makers—will likely be ready to jump on board soon.

Products that were mediocre and not grounded in good instructional design are going to disappear. However, those with strong underpinnings will remain. Custom initiatives will also get better as people make more thoughtful choices on what type of game or gamification to implement—and when to do it.

Here’s a quick list of things to think about as you consider ways to use games and gamificaition:

  • Use a portal. A portal is a web-based access point that shows leaderboards, achievements, levels, etc. With a portal, you can gamify non-game activities and let people earn points or badges based on what they complete or how they progress.  For example, you could gamify your entire onboarding experience by letting new employees earn points for completing specific activities. Gamifying something like an onboarding program can work if the experience will be of fairly short duration (weeks, not months).  Their weakness can sometimes be that people tire of them quickly if they last for long periods of time. They also run the risk of focusing more on completion than the quality of performance.
  • Create an immersive game or simulation. Immersive games or simulations are terrific for helping people learn and practice new skills while receiving continuous feedback. These games pull people into them and even make them feel real emotions as they play. They also lay a very strong foundation for extensive post-game discussion as people evaluate the experience and share insights. Immersive games are best when they function as part of a learning experience rather than being the learning experience.
  • Produce mini-games focused on reinforcement. Mini-games that require only minutes to play can serve as strong reinforcement tools, helping people to retain what they may have learned as part of a formal training component or helping them to prepare to learn in a more formal way.

Where does Knowledge Guru fit in?

Companies have used Knowledge Guru as a way to prepare people for learning or to reinforce learning. We have some terrific success stories of companies who used Knowledge Guru to help people prepare for launch meetings, as a game activity during a live meeting, and as general training reinforcement. Learners can play it in small increments, so it has the ability to mimic the value of a mini-game while being a more robust experience overall.

Background on Gartner’s hype cycle

Gartner’s hype cycle refers to the cycle that emerging technologies go through on their way to mature usage. There are five stages in the evolution of a technology that makes it to maturity:

  1. Technology Trigger – The new technology or concept comes onto the scene. Early proof of concept stories emerge and the media grabs hold.
  2. Peak of Inflated Expectations – Early adopters start sharing success stories.
  3. Trough of Disillusionment – Interest wains if experiments fail. Producers of technology start to shake out with some providers disappearing.
  4. Slope of Enlightenment – More instances of how the technology can benefit the organization start to emerge. Conservative companies initiate pilots and the concept/technology gains broader acceptance.
  5. Plateau of Productivity – The technology finds its place and becomes mainstream. Criteria for viability are clear.

Are you a trainer or eLearning designer who wants to use games to engage your learners? Get Sharon Boller and Dr. Karl Kapp’s learning game design book, Play to Learn.

7 Steps to an Effective Serious Game or Gamification Implementation


Are you a do-it-yourselfer? When it comes to serious games, ATD says you probably are.

In an ATD survey conducted for its 2014 research report, Playing to Win: Gamification and Serious Games in Organizational Learning (link), 71% of organizations reported that they prefer to develop serious games in-house. 83% said they planned to develop gamification in-house.  I’d say that’s a confident group! In the same survey, only 20% of organizations were already using serious games for learning, while 25% were using gamification. That means most organizations have never used games for learning before and plan to do it without help from a vendor.

The challenge of in-house game design

One of the reasons serious games are hard to create successfully in-house is the lack of game design skill most organizations have on their teams. Your instructional designers may be good, but have they played lots of games? Have they designed games before? Many instructional designers continue their education and earn masters degrees in instructional design. Can you master game design by taking a one-day workshop?

Getting Around Game Design

Organizations often get around the lack of in-house game design expertise by using game templates or a full fledged gaming platform. When the platform you use already has gaming built in, all you have to do is think about your content. A platform can make life much easier for your team… but creating the game itself is less than half the battle.

You still have to implement your game. And that’s where things really get interesting.

If You Build It, They Won’t Come… Unless You Have a Plan

No matter how fun your game-based solution is supposed to be, you will still need a plan for launching it, promoting it, and measuring it. How will you communicate about the game? Will you require players to play? How will you incentivize play… or do you need to incentivize? These are all questions you must answer as you implement a serious game or gamification initiative.

In my role, I get to collect stories from organizations who wish to submit for industry awards. These are typically the “best of the best.” They planned for success, either partnered with us to build a solution or created their own game with Knowledge Guru, and drove meaningful business results from their efforts.

What’s interesting about these award-winning implementations is just how similar they are. I find that the companies that are most successful with games and gamification in their organizations take many similar approaches when it comes to implementation.

So whether you are preparing to launch your first-ever serious game, or are looking to make your next initiative more successful than your last one, consider these tips for a successful implementation:

1. “Required” works best.

Let’s face it: employee time is limited, and most of us only have the energy to focus on the activities that are truly essential to our jobs. Even if your serious game is fun, is it equal or greater than the myriad of entertainment options available to us around the clock? Our experience shows us that the organizations that are most successful with serious games require play. For example, Johnson & Johnson has integrated Knowledge Guru into employee goals & objectives for the year.

2. Blend into a curriculum: use as part of a learning solution.

You probably have lots of training initiatives happening in a calendar year. Games might be a great addition to the mix, but you should not plan to replace all of these existing training events with games. The case studies I have gathered all show organizations having the most success when games are part of a larger blended curriculum or strategy. This allows you to narrow the focus of your game to cover a specific skill or set of knowledge.

3. Use the game as a reinforcement (most of the time).

Games and gamification make great reinforcement tools. In fact, most organizations we have worked with position games as either a reinforcement, or a motivating first exposure to content that will be covered in greater detail later. It is also easier to launch a game as a reinforcement when you are attempting your first go-around with serious games.

4. Offer incentives and/or provide sufficient motivation.

No matter how you dress it up, completing a serious game is still training that is part of a job. Unless your learners are highly intrinsically motivated, we recommend providing prizes and rewards. Encouragement from senior leadership can be even more effective. The grand prize winner of a Knowledge Guru game hosted by one of our Financial Services clients specifically cited how meaningful it was to be recognized by company leaders as part of winning the game.

5. Create a communications strategy around the game.

Learning and Development leaders need to think more like marketers when implementing all types of training. Every single case study I have seen of a successful Knowledge Guru implementation incorporates some sort of multi-part communications strategy to get the word out about the game. This could include many things, from advertisements in a call center to a series of emails or even a collection of advertisements placed throughout a company intranet site.

6. Use reporting and adapt the training.

Most organizations first get interested in games because they want to motivate or engage their employees. This is only part of why games are powerful organizational learning tools, though. For example, Johnson & Johnson was able to identify a specific learning objective that learners were missing as a group, then adjust their overall training to better focus on the weak process step. The organizations that are successful with serious games and gamification take advantage of the data they gather on learners and act quickly to adapt their training and processes.

7. Gather insights via surveys.

It is not uncommon to survey learners after a training initiative is completed… especially after a pilot. Games are no different. The surveys conducted by Knowledge Guru customers have revealed many valuable insights that impact future games. In one survey, a player commented that they learned a more effective way to do their job through the game that had not been covered in company-wide training. Our client was able to take this information and launch new training to teach the effective process to the rest of the department.

See Four Case Studies In Our Recorded Webinar

Want to learn more about how to implement effective serious games? I cover these implementation tips in the recorded webinar below, adapted from my ATD International 2015 presentation. You’ll also see four case studies from organizations that have implemented a serious game that drove real results.

How Games & Gamification Can Help Align Processes & Procedures


Some people cringe when they hear the words “process” or “procedure.” Others appreciate and value them. Either way, processes and procedures are essential to a successful organization. That’s why so much of the training organizations deliver is supposed to help align employees with a process or teach them a procedure.

In an article on process training I wrote for our BLP Lessons on Learning blog, I shared that 41% of respondents to our one of our previous Learning and Remembering Surveys listed policies, process, and procedures as the primary type of knowledge employees must know on the job. This was the most mentioned training topic!

Learning and remembering survey

The challenges L&D professionals listed in their survey responses likely sound familiar to anyone involved with process training. Organizations struggle because they have too many processes, too much training for employees to consume, lack of buy-in with key middle managers and lack of real motivation to change habits in the first place. That last reason, getting employees to buy into the “why”, is especially important. It’s not so much a matter of learning as it is an issue with motivation.

Let’s assume that your employees are human beings who are intelligent and capable of following basic steps. They could learn the process and follow it if they wanted to, but they have not found a compelling reason that motivates them to do so. — excerpt from “Is Your Process Training “Nice to Know” or “Need to Know”?

Many of our customers, Johnson & Johnson and Ally Financial to name a few, use Knowledge Guru games to teach a specific process that learners need to follow. We also create many custom learning solutions that include a gaming component where the goal is process alignment. While games or gamified solutions are sometimes the answer, they can only do so much when you have a process problem instead of a learning problem.

How can games and gamification help align processes and procedures?

I mentioned above that games may not be the answer if you really have a “process” problem. We sometimes conduct a training needs analysis with clients to discover if this is the case. If the real issue is that employees either A) do not know the process or B) are not motivated to follow the process, games and/or gamification can help.

Serious games and gamification can…

1. Help employees remember how to follow the process.

We always emphasize the importance of aligning game mechanics to instructional design principles. Our Knowledge Guru platform utilizes spaced learning, repetition and feedback loops, for example. The “Quest” game type includes a Bonus Gate where questions that players missed earlier in the game are shown again. When serious games are aligned with the science of remembering, learners are more likely to retain key facts long after they play.

2. Make Middle Managers Happy… or at Least Happier.

In environments such as call centers or factory floors, managers do not want their employees to take large amounts of time away from their work. Training that is distracting or disruptive to the flow of work will often not be supported. Many of the benefits of serious games and gamification can be realized in just minutes a day. Knowledge Guru “Quest” allows administrators to set how frequently players can play and also allows them to “lock” worlds for set lengths of time. An email reminder can be enabled to invite them back. This way, employees only play in small chunks.

3. Motivate employees to learn about the process.

Most learning professionals first turn to games or gamification because they hope to engage or motivate their learners. Points, badges and leaderboards can help with this… but they are not often enough to motivate by themselves. Your solution might also incorporate story, avatars, minigames and aesthetics to create an experience employees will find interesting.

4. Help build context and relevance.

One of the best way to increase adoption of a process is to show the why. Any game-based solution should make liberal use of relevant scenarios that ask learners to correctly follow and apply the process. Custom-built games can go even further with characters, stories and gameplay that mirrors the workplace. Watch out for solutions that present scenarios “at random” or via an algorithm! There is value in controlling the order in which content is seen so that learners can build on past knowledge from previous sections of the game.

How Johnson & Johnson Uses Knowledge Guru to Drive Efficiency

“Should I use games for learning?”

 “If the answer is yes, how do I integrate them into my training program?”

 “Oh, and what about buy-in from leadership?”

While research and case studies both demonstrate how effective serious games are when integrated into a blended curriculum, organizations need concrete examples that show what “success” looks like when using serious games.

One such example comes from the Talent Acquisition Organization at Johnson & Johnson. I interviewed Kristen Pela, Manager, Training & Communications, Talent Acquisition to learn more about their use of Knowledge Guru.


Who is the Talent Guru game for?

All Johnson & Johnson US associates within the Talent Acquisition organization.

How it is part of a learning solution? What other pieces are involved in the training?

The talent GURU game was one piece of a larger training program. The training program is a 5-week series of formal and informal training that includes:

  • Outcomes of Project Camelot
  • Outcomes of Project Prism
  • TA Fundamentals Refresher
  • Technology Refresher

Each week consisted of a 20 minute online module, Talent Guru competition, and a Topic Forum.

What results do you hope to produce from Knowledge Guru? What do you want the learners to know or do after playing? 

The goal of our training program is to drive consistency and efficiencies across Talent Acquisition not only with our processes but also in our recruiter and sourcer partnerships.

What initial feedback and results have you received so far?

The feedback for Knowledge Guru has been amazing and folks have really enjoyed the fun and interactive training.

What have been the keys to successful implementation for you? (I’m guessing the weekly emails are part of it)

We’ve driven success with:

  • Clear goals & objectives
  • Leadership involvement
  • Game play tied to each person’s G&Os (Goals and Objectives)
  • Daily & weekly winners, which creates a competitive framework
  • Use of Twitter to talk about the training and create some fun banter


What advice would you give to others on creating their first Knowledge Guru game?

Don’t rush game play or development. Getting folks engaged has been the key to our success.