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 Make Employee On-boarding Memorable… In a Good Way


New employee on-boarding is hard on both the new hire and the manager. Most companies have a metaphorical onion of jargon, policies, procedures, and culture mores, and it can take weeks or even months for new employees to feel comfortable and be productive.

Large organizations have a dedicated HR department that updates the policies and procedures these employees need to know… and there are probably quite a few of them. Small organizations may not even have an HR department, leaving it to the new employee’s manager to get them everything they need quickly.

Either way, starting a new job often means rapidly acquiring huge amounts of new knowledge and skills. Some of this learning is directly related to job performance, while the rest is based on finding the right information, following the right processes and understanding the “company vernacular.”

Even companies with a well-developed “Corporate University” or fleshed out on-boarding program run into problems when new hires fail to remember what they learned in those introductory courses and sessions. Without proper reinforcement and spacing of key concepts, new employees will quickly forget the flood of new information. Instructor-led sessions and eLearning courses, even when well designed, fall short in driving true retention.

New research has shown that Ebbinghaus’ famous Forgetting Curve, which can approach 90% in lost information, is dependent on prior skills and experience. Learners with a prior framework for the new knowledge may only forget 30% without reinforcement, for example. Since new employees are usually new to the company, they are likely to fall closer to that 90% level of forgetting. When the policies and procedures actually matter, this becomes a huge problem for organizations to solve.

How We Fixed Our On-boarding Program

Our company, Bottom-Line Performance, has experienced nearly 100% growth in the last 2.5 years. We are still a small operation (just under 30 employees), but the growth has been rapid. While managers have traditionally handled the on-boarding and created 30 and 90-day programs for their new employees, our company has struggled to help new employees “learn the lingo” and understand basic processes and procedures. In the past, most folks have learned by piecing information together from various co-workers. They learn the ropes eventually, but the feedback is often “I wish I would have felt more comfortable learning and following the processes and terminology in the first three months.”

Our solution? Use our Knowledge Guru game engine to create a “BLP Guru” game to teach process, procedures and jargon! Employee on-boarding information is well-suited for the spaced repetition-based game engine.

Basics of using Knowledge Guru for on-boarding:

  • Our game covered policies and procedures, jargon and the “BLP Toolbox.” We wove workplace scenarios into all the topics.
  • New hires review the handbook, then play the game with handbook close by. The game reinforces concepts that may have been explained by a manager and also teaches new concepts.
  • The feedback provided for incorrect responses helps employees avoid embedding incorrect information.
  • Achievements, leaderboards and the “See the Standings” page give new hires a sense of connection and camaraderie (plus some needed motivation!)
  • The iterative questions and spaced repetition reinforce key learning objectives we identified as essential for all new hires to know or do.
  • When job titles, tools and policies change, we are easily able to update the game content (or change to a new game entirely) in the admin dashboard.

Scroll through the screenshots below to see some highlights of the BLP Guru Game. You can also request a demo for a complete walkthrough of how to use Knowledge Guru in an employee on-boarding program.


Basic policies and procedures work well within Knowledge Guru games.

Basic policies and procedures work well within Knowledge Guru games.

Images can be combined with relevant questions, such as this "find and locate" question.

Images can be combined with relevant questions, such as this “find and locate” question.

Players learn from their mistakes and receive feedback when they answer questions incorrectly.

Players learn from their mistakes and receive feedback when they answer questions incorrectly.

Rewards and achievements make otherwise dry content motivating.

Rewards and achievements make otherwise dry content motivating.

Players receive badges and topic mastery achievements when they complete on-boarding topics.

Players receive badges and topic mastery achievements when they complete on-boarding topics.

The "See the Standings" page shows where all new hires have progressed in the game. The leaderboards build camaraderie, too.

The “See the Standings” page shows where all new hires have progressed in the game. The leaderboards build camaraderie, too.

When the policies and procedures inevitably change, the game content is easy to update.

When the policies and procedures inevitably change, the game content is easy to update.

Learning Research by Annie Murphy Paul: Distributed Practice, Repetition and More

Interested in spaced learning and distributed practice? Then download our free Primer on Spaced Repetition and Feedback Loops. This guide will teach you everything you need to know about these concepts so you can incorporate them in your own training.

Annie Murphy Paul header

For the past year, Knowledge Guru® creator Sharon Boller has been a recipient of Annie Murphy Paul’s Brilliant Report, a weekly newsletter on the science of learning. As a result, many an article has been forwarded around the company, and it’s always an interesting read.

Annie Murphy PaulAnnie Murphy Paul’s bio tells us she is a “book author, magazine journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better.” Most importantly for learning professionals, she has sifted through loads of research on the science of learning, synthesized it, and presented it to us in easy-to-read chunks, (usually) once a week.

I’m highlighting two specific studies found in Murphy Paul’s Brilliant Report, as they are particularly relevant to the learning principles we use in our Knowledge Guru game engine.

Distributed Practice

It turns out that the learning tactics most commonly used by both students and professionals are also the most ineffective. A 2013 report by the Association for Psychological Science examines ten learning tactics, rating their utility based on evidence gathered by five leading psychologists. The team was led by Kent State University professor John Dunlosky. Re-reading material, highlighting and underlining key points were all deemed “ineffective” learning tactics by the research, showing little value beyond simply reading the text.

Murphy Paul notes that “the learning strategies with the most evidence to support them aren’t well known outside the psych lab.” A prime example is distributed practice, or intentionally breaking learning into chunks and spacing study sessions out over time. The report shows that multiple repetitions, spaced out over time, build long-term memory better than other study methods. Murphy Paul also notes that “The longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.”

Takeaway: Instead of delivering training all at once, space it into smaller sessions. No cramming!

Practice Testing

The Association for Psychological Science report also noted Practice Testing as a highly effective learning tactic. Giving learners more evaluations, often not graded, will aid in further learning. Because learners must bring information to mind multiple times, they are more likely to remember it. Murphy Paul notes that flash cards are a familiar method to use for practice testing.

Takeaway: Have learners retrieve information multiple times in a “practice” setting.


It might seem counterintuitive, but giving learners a pretest before they have studied the material will actually enhance long-term memory. In Issue 14 of her Brilliant Report, Murphy Paul explains how completing a test on information you do not yet know, then receiving feedback afterwards, is an effective learning strategy. She cites three studies, one of them authored by Williams College psychology professor Nate Kornell and published in the Journal of Experimental Psychology. She explains:

Kornell and his coauthors theorize that searching our minds for answers (even if we come up empty) creates “fertile ground” in the brain for encoding the answer when it is eventually provided.

Takeaway: Allow learners to try, and possibly fail, before learning your content.

Learning Principles at Work in Knowledge Guru

Annie Murphy Paul’s research dovetails nicely into the work done by John Medina for his book, Brain Rules. We based the design of the Knowledge Guru game off of learning principles discussed in Medina’s book, and they are further validated through the research Annie Murphy Paul has compiled. Some examples:

  • Distributed practice sessions, accomplished via the separate Guru Grab Bag mode. Players return to the game to play the new game mode, with repeat content, after they complete the regular game.
  • “Practice Tests”, accomplished via multiple repetitions. Each learning objective in Knowledge Guru has one or more question sets, which include three iterations of the same question. Learners must successfully answer all three questions to master the topic. The multiple repetitions enhance long-term memory.
  • “Pre-Tests”, accomplished via asking questions, then providing immediate feedback. When Knowledge Guru is used as the primary learning method, learners answer questions they may not yet know the answer to. When they get the question incorrect, they receive immediate feedback and then try to answer the question again.

Read Annie Murphy Paul’s Upcoming Book

If you’re interested in learning more about, well, how we learn, then have a look at Annie Murphy Paul’s blog and keep an eye out for her upcoming bookBrilliant: The Science of How We Get Smarter. You can also subscribe to The Brilliant Report, her email series on learning science.

Game down for maintenance screen

How to Make Your Knowledge Guru Game “Live”

Once you’ve written the content for your Knowledge Guru game, you’ll need to make your game live so players can access it. It can also be useful to make a game live for testing purposes.

To do this, just follow these steps:

1. Log in to your game as an administrator: The admin login link, which you must use before you make your game live, will always be If you try going to your game’s main URL before it’s live (just, you’ll see something like this:

Game down for maintenance screen

If you hit this screen, you can also just click the link that says “please click here” to be taken to the admin login screen.

2. Make sure you have a question set for every topic: When trial users are demo’ing their game to others on their team, they sometimes forget this step. For every topic you create, you must create a complete question set to make your game live. If you don’t, you’ll get an error like this:

Game Access Error


3.  Click the “Site Access” Status Button and set it to “Online.”

Once you have question sets filled in for each topic in your game, making your game live is a snap. Just click the button (in the lower right hand corner of the screen) and set it to “Online.”

Players will then be able to access your game from You’ll also be able to log in as an administrator from this link now.

Summary:  If you log in to your game from and making sure you have a question set created for each topic, you can easily make your game live from the main menu screen.

View More Tutorials

Question Sets in Knowledge Guru - 3 iterations of the same ?

How to Write Iterative Questions in Knowledge Guru

Let’s walk through the typical flow for creating a question set in Knowledge Guru®. The game is designed to help people memorize facts… but only if the questions are created properly.

Every question in Knowledge Guru exists in a group of three, or a “Question Set.” Question Sets should be understood as one question, not three. Each question in the set is the same information, worded differently.

When people start designing their first game, they sometimes don’t notice how the questions are in groups of three. They write three different questions, instead of three iterations of the same question.

Question Sets in Knowledge Guru - 3 iterations of the same ?

The Question Set view in Knowledge Guru is where you write the same question worded three different ways.

The Question Set view in Knowledge Guru is where you write the same question worded three different ways.[/caption]

Before we get into writing questions, I want to clarify the difference between three different statements and the same statement, said a slightly different way. This may seem really obvious, but it’s worth noting.

Different statements Iterations of the same statement
Grass is green. Grass is green.
Dandelions are yellow. Blue is not the color of grass… green is.
Dandelions grow next to grass. I see a plant with small green blades. It’s grass.

Every time you want to teach someone a different fact, you need to create an all-new question set in Knowledge Guru. Let’s look at two learning objectives paired with question sets. The first is incorrect, the second is correct.

Incorrect Example

Objective: Explain BLP company history.

Question Set 1:

A: When was BLP founded?

B: Who founded BLP?

C: When was BLP incorporated?

Correct Example

Objective: Identify when Bottom-Line Performance was founded and by whom.

Question Set 1:

A: When was BLP founded?

B: True or false: BLP was founded in 1994

C: You hear a BLP team member describing how they joined BLP in 1995, the same year the company was founded. Do you believe him?

Question Set 2:

A: Who founded BLP?

B: Leanne Batchelder and Sharon Boller are having a friendly argument over who founded BLP. Which one of them is having a little fun, and which one really founded BLP?

C: True or False: Sharon Boller founded BLP


The incorrect example needs some work:

• The learning objective is too broad and difficult to measure.

• Each iteration in the question set is an entirely new fact.

Meanwhile, the correct example demonstrates good Knowledge Guru question writing:

• The learning objective is highly specific with two facts it wants to measure.

• Each fact in the learning objective has its own question set.

• Each question set has 3 iterations of the same basic question… based around a single fact learners need to remember.

Remember, each one of those iterations will be placed on one of the three mountain paths, and learners have to climb all three paths to achieve topic mastery. They will get exposed to the same information at least three times… and the repetition helps them remember.

So… make sure you use Question Sets to write three iterations of the same question, instead of three different questions.If you are on Twitter, follow the hashtag #KGuruTips for tips and ideas you can use to make your game. We also host a series of webinars on getting started with Knowledge Guru.

View More Tutorials


Get the Facts on Game-Based Learning (Infographic)

We know how effective serious games and game-based learning are. That’s why we’ve developed an entire game-based learning platform focused on making game-based learning easier to implement. But some people are still on the fence about using games for learning. Compliance training isn’t supposed to be entertaining, right?

Are you interested in learning more about this topic and want hands-on experience designing your own game? Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s new book, “Play to Learn,” is a great place to start. You can order the book on Amazon or ATD’s website.

We know that if everyone had the information we have, they’d realize the true efficacy of game-based learning. If only they could see our successful case studies and hear what those learners had to say. That’s why we created this detailed infographic to break down the facts on game-based learning and serious games, and why they should be your next learning solution.

Want more information?

We strive to educate the instructional design community on serious games and game-based learning in fun ways. If you’d like more detailed information on implementing game-based learning at your organization, please contact us. We would love to hear from you.

Introducing the Learning Game Design Blog

Introducing the Learning Game Design Blog

Ladies and gents, welcome. We’re happy you have found your way to… home of our Knowledge Guru™ suite of products.

This is the Learning Game Design Blog.

Some of you may read our weekly posts on the Lessons On Learning blog. We use that blog to discuss all things learning design, and games are a frequent topic on that blog. By adding this blog to the mix, we’ll be able to get even more hands-on with game based learning and increase the amount of content we share every week.

It’s an exciting time to be in the learning and development field. We’ve come a long way from the Click Next days of yesteryear… or so we say. Game based learning, gamification, mobile learning, and The Experience API (Tin Can) have opened the door wide open for new, innovative learning solutions… but a big chunk of the learning we see produced is still not what we all consider ideal. It’s up to those of us who truly believe learning can be fun and engaging to pave the way forward.

The body of research supporting game based learning keeps growing larger, but lots of organizations are still at the starting line, trying to chart their course. We’re here to help.

The Best Free Game Based Learning Resources Online

A Primer On Play: How to Use Games For Learning (Free Webinar)

Obviously, we will use this blog as a place to announce updates and expansions to Knowledge Guru. We’re launching the new Game Creation Wizard at ASTD ICE in just a couple of weeks… and it lowers the barrier of entry for game based learning practicioners considerably. We’ll be offering a 30 day trial of Knowledge Guru, which means you’ll have an opportunity to see how game based learning works at no cost.

But we’re also on a mission to educate the L&D community about the efficacy of game based learning and show the way forward. Our series of free webinars, white papers and low cost workshops are geared towards learning game designers of all experience levels.

Two free webinars are coming up fast:

A Primer On Play: How to Use Games for Learning 5/30 8 am EDT – Register

A Primer On Play: How to Use Games for Learning 5/30 11 am EDT – Register

Real Learning Game Design Stories

Sharon Boller - game based learning practicionerSharon Boller, President of BLP and lead designer of Knowledge Guru, will be a regular contributor on this blog. She’ll be kicking things off with a Game Based Learning blog series inspired by her experience designing digital and tabletop learning games for our clients.

We will also use this blog as a home for the game based learning content we curate from around the web. Our GBLPicks blogs will put the spotlight on a handful of articles on game based learning and gamification we’ve found valuable.

Check back often and follow The Knowledge Guru on twitter to see the latest posts. You can also subscribe to our Game Based Learning Newsletter to get the best content delivered to your inbox every month. The sign-up box is to your right.