How Cisco Uses Knowledge Guru to Teach Product and Technical Knowledge (Interview)

I interviewed Paula Rossini, Global Program Manager at Cisco, to learn more about how Cisco uses Knowledge Guru games to teach its sales associates. Cisco’s sales associate training program (CSAP) has won multiple Brandon Hall awards for its innovative approaches, including a 2014 “Gold” award won in partnership with BLP.

Can you describe your role at Cisco? 

I’m a Global Program Manager. I focus mostly on content development and delivery of different programs within our worldwide sales and partner enablement organization. I focus mostly on new hires and early-in-career employees.

The Cisco Sales Associate Training Program (CSAP) is our keystone program along with the Partner Sales Academy (PSA). We also have a new hire acceleration program (SNAP) and a new internship program for university students.

What learners do you use Knowledge Guru games with?

We first introduced Sales Guru (the name we gave our Knowledge Guru games) games for sales associates and engineers in the CSAP program. It’s used as a reinforcement tool.

We now have Sales Guru games for the SNAP new hire acceleration program. While the games are a reinforcement tool in the CSAP program, for SNAP we use it as an assessment tool. You’d think it was daunting to use it as an assessment tool… but SNAP associates already have experience selling, so it’s a more mature audience. They can play the game as often as they want until they pass.

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

In CSAP, the associate goes through synchronous classroom training. This training is taught by a virtual facilitator. The facilitator uses Cisco Telepresence to give the virtual instructor-led training. For example, associates take Data Center as a six-day module. Every day they have 3.5 hours of training, and at the end of Day one the facilitator tells them to play the Sales Guru game in preparation for the next day. There is a schedule posted on the LMS where associates can see exactly when they need to play each game.

During each module, associates play part of the game at the end of day one, three and five. There is a frequency by which they are expected to play the game before they do the next one… which is part of how we use the repetition. 

At the end of every technical module, we have “technical office hours” where the trainer goes through the entire module in summary format. The Sales Guru prepares associates for the assessment they take at the end of the module.

SNAP is an asynchronous virtual program. People go through a series of eLearning modules. For most of the technical eLearning modules, they have a Sales Guru game attached to each of them as a final assessment.

Was there a challenge you hoped to address by implementing Knowledge Guru games into the curriculum? 

There are lots of highly technical concepts in the solutions we offer that are difficult to assimilate. Associates struggled a lot to understand these concepts. We felt that, through Knowledge Guru’s use of spaced repetition, we could teach the associates and engineers better.

We first launched the game with our toughest topic of all: “Data center.” Little by little, we rolled it out to other technologies. Knowledge Guru is a reinforcement tool for all of the technologies in the program.

What do you want the learners to know or do after playing?  

We want them to be able to assimilate the technical content they learned in the module and pass their technical exam.

You mentioned to me that many of your learners are virtual. How have you worked to engage and connect learners with technology throughout the program, and how does Knowledge Guru fit into that effort?

We use Cisco TelePresence and Cisco WebEx to virtually facilitate the CSAP training. The Knowledge Guru games are launched from the LMS along with the rest of the program materials. We teach the learners virtually so that multiple locations throughout Europe can all be taught by the same facilitator.

What did you do to encourage adoption with players?

The success of the game really depends on the involvement of the facilitator who leads the session and the “producer”. The facilitator teaches the learners while the producer makes sure they are paying attention and completing pre and post work. The producer supports the facilitator on WebEx. The producer encourages learners to play the Sales Guru games throughout the module.

The really good producers have some best practices like leaving the leaderboard up, showing the associates who’s winning, and encouraging gameplay.

How did players access the games? 

Players launch the games from the LMS. During the pre-work, they see what day they need to launch the game.

How did Cisco communicate about the games to learners? 

All communication happens through the LMS. Associates can see all materials available in a single location. Both the facilitator and the producer encourage gameplay during the session. The games are also integrated into the slide deck of the facilitator… and the producer reminds them, too. Sometimes, the facilitators reward learners with some candy or some other small “prize.”

What results have you produced from the program with the help of Knowledge Guru? 

We received very positive learner feedback from the Data Center game, so we expanded into other modules. After this expansion, we surveyed associates and found that they rated the game 4.93 out of 5 in terms of its value as a learning experience. They rated the repetition in the game a 4.93 out of 5 and said it was highly effective in helping them retain the content.

We receive continuous anecdotal feedback that associates really enjoy the game and that it helps them to understand the content better. They say that it really does help them to pass the exam. While not a direct correlation, we do have a 98% pass rate on the technical exam.

What have been the keys to successful implementation for you?  

Collaborating with Bottom-Line Performance was very important. We had an honest partnership where Sharon (Boller) would tell us up front if she had concerns with how we planned to use the game. That honest collaboration led to success for us.

Project management was also important. As soon as we had the green light to proceed, BLP guided us through the process of creating our games. The BLP team helped us hit milestones every step of the way, and it made a really big difference. Now, we are at the point where the games have really become a part of our process, and it’s much easier to create and modify games.

The Brandon Hall “gold” award that Cisco won for its use of Knowledge Guru was the second in just a few years for the CSAP program. What do you think sets the program apart?

I like to say that, at Cisco, “we drink our own champagne.” Cutting edge technology is really important for us. When we have made mistakes along the way, we have taken those and turned them into lessons learned. We reflect on how we’ve done and take feedback very seriously.  Associates and stakeholders in general provide feedback and we take that feedback, change, and go with what makes sense. We continuously evolve, and that is a big part of why we are doing really well. 

In short, our keys to success are feedback, technology, not being afraid of change, and learning from mistakes.

What advice would you give to others on creating their first Knowledge Guru game, or bringing a serious game into their organization for the first time?

Start with the end in mind. Understand or identify what they want to accomplish. Based on those learning objectives, you can find out the best way to implement the game.

It’s also important to look around and do your due diligence for looking for the right learning partner. It doesn’t need to be a big one. Pick one that fits your needs the best and with whom you can have an honest conversation where the learning partner genuinely wants you to succeed. Don’t just pick biggest partner out there because they are big and reviews are good. Go with one that will meet your requirements.

How Protect-A-Bed Uses Knowledge Guru for Better Product Training

Our customers frequently use Knowledge Guru to train sales reps and other employees on product knowledge. The spaced repetition, feedback loops, and detailed reporting all contribute to a more effective solution when it comes to getting your employees to learn and remember facts about your product.


I recently interviewed Miguel Marrero, the National Training Manager for Protect-A-Bed, about his product training and how he used Knowledge Guru to help “train and motivate” salespeople. Read on to see his comments and insights.

Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and the work you do at Protect-A-Bed?

My name is Miguel Marrero, and I am the National Training Manager for Protect-A-Bed. Protect-A-Bed is the worldwide leader in mattress protection and innovation. I work with members of our Training & Development Team to develop and distribute our training materials as well as performing presentations and training sessions.

Who are your Knowledge Guru games for?

We have used Knowledge Guru to help our accounts learn the differences in our products and to help train and motivate salespeople to learn more about our products. We have also used it internally to help our Training Team learn about new training techniques and procedures.

How does Knowledge Guru fit into the overall training? What are you using Knowledge Guru to teach?

The Guru is great because it can compliment our existing training. In one case, we expanded our product line for an account and wanted to make sure each salesperson knew the differences in the product range. We designed a Guru game that highlighted the differences and used it as a ‘recap’ to our training sessions.

What results are you seeing from use of Knowledge Guru? Any specific stories to share?

One thing that we really like are the reports. There was a specific question that was getting answered incorrectly more than others. Using that information we were able to tweak our presentations to make sure we highlighted the information that was getting missed. Future results showed that people were more likely to get the question right, so by changing our presentations based on the feedback from the the reports made our presentations more effective.

What have been the keys to successful implementation for you?

The two things that we have discovered will make people want to play a game are the relevance to what they are learning and the ease of use. If the information is of value, we get more people participating – whereas if the ‘players’ feel like it is too simple or too much of a review, we get less ‘buy in’. Additionally, making it easy to sign up (which the Guru does) makes participation much more likely. The fact that people can play from an iPad or Mac or PC or whatever makes it very easy for anyone to participate.

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

Use a spreadsheet! When we design games, we put all of the questions together up front (along with all of the answers and images) so we know that we have all the questions we need and that we have asked them the right way. It also makes it fast to cut and paste the info and quickly post the quiz. Also, make use of the feature that lets you add feedback to an incorrect answer. This can be a great opportunity to reinforce the information you want the learners to grasp.

Anything else you’d like to say about Knowledge Guru and your experience using it?

Knowledge Guru is super easy to use and has been a great tool for both internal and external training. We are happy to partner with them to supplement our training methods and tools.

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.

How FrieslandCampina Uses Knowledge Guru to Increase Engagement (Interview)

I’m convinced that Knowledge Guru customers are a highly creative bunch. Why? They found the game because they were looking to deliver training differently. They wanted a bold, new approach to corporate learning. It comes as no surprise that these same people find creative ways to implement Knowledge Guru in their organization, extending the value of the game beyond what’s included in the subscription.

28d8de279fe9a2a244ad27061a249a4cOne such individual is Mathias Vermeulen, an L&D professional at FrieslandCampina in Belgium. Mathias learned about Knowledge Guru when we launched the Game Creation Wizard at ASTD International, and he was an early adopter of the tool.

Before I share Mathias’ interview, I want to spare you the suspense and reveal one of the secrets to Mathias’ successful implementation of Guru: story outside the story.

We published a post last week about promoting a serious game to learners, where we revealed how ExactTarget used a multi-faceted internal marketing campaign to remind learners to play their Knowledge Guru game. Mathias is also reminding players to play, but with a low-tech approach that is high on creativity.

Each week, Mathias sends an email like this to players (translated from Dutch):

Every week, new players enter the Guru’s arena. This week’s top 3 remains the same, but Knori, Streefje and Katleen amongst others still have some levels to go. They can still beat the mysterious Royvalle. And where is the Sales Retail team, as the Out-of-home team takes the charge in this battle. Are they afraid? Who can beat them? Register now and play!




Mathias is seeing high levels of engagement from players by combining his creative approach to story (including the use of a “mystery player”) with the Knowledge Guru game engine. Learn more about how Mathias is using Knowledge Guru at FrieslandCampina in the interview below:

Who is the game for?

We currently have two Guru games, one Safety Guru (is being tested by a selected panel) and one Dairy Guru. The Safety Guru’s target group is everybody working in our production facility (appr. 250 employees). The Diary Guru has been rolled out in our Sales & Marketing office (appr. 40 employees), and in our production plant for appr. 100 employees.

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

Since we’re working in a dairy industry, knowledge of dairy and its nutritional values, treatments (UHT, AA, …) are very important. So with Dairy Guru, we try to get people more engaged concerning dairy, our basic product. We used to organize formal trainings on this matter, but retention of knowledge, engagement and motivation were rather poor. This game is a standalone learning solution, but it’s embedded  in our ‘Ambassadorship’ program we rolled out this year.

Safety Guru is built to get people more insights on safety procedures and is part of our e-learning on this topic. People will have to do the e-learning and one of the main modules is the Safety Guru. Reason here is that we listed more than 50 safety rules and instead of using plain text and images and bullet points, we are convinced that the Guru game will be more effective. Also with the tracking in the back end of which questions were answered wrong, we are able to work harder on these questions in future learning activities.

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

First of all, I want people to have fun learning about rather ‘boring’ topics. We’ve put a lot of effort in the past on these topics but until now we hadn’t found a good balance. We hope that the Guru can break through this barrier. I’m already convinced, and the people who played it also share that thought! For example, yesterday, our production manager tested Safety Guru and he is – let’s say – a traditional learner. But he came into my office and said he had a great time and he saw lots of added value in this approach.

And we hope that in the future, we will have less safety incidents and that people realize how important safety is for themselves and for their colleagues. Regarding the Dairy Guru, we hope that people will see that dairy has a lot of nutritional value and is a key element in our daily life and in our business.

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

The key is communication, because playing games and learning are for a lot of people two different things. So we still have to encourage people to try it out; we have to ‘fight’ against the disbelief and the objections. Patience is also needed, because you can’t really force people. Sometimes, It’s taking one step back, and then two steps forwards. The weekly emails make sure you create a buzz around the game, people wonder who player X or player Y is.

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

Like any other learning solution, you have to think about what your objectives are. Then, you start creating and creating, before you test it. Testing is crucial, because you get more insights on what could go wrong and what learners need and don’t need. Think, create and test and then test again.

Do you have a story if a successful implementation of Knowledge Guru in your organization? Want to be featured? Get in touch.