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 gamification and learning games are moving toward mainstream usage and beyond early adoption stage. It means that bad uses of them 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. 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 gamify or incorporate full-fledged games:

  • 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 such as an eLearning course, execution of a particular project, etc. Gamifying an entire experience such as 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 fairly quickly if they are intended to last for long periods of time. They also run the risk of focusing more on completion of activities than the quality of performance when doing those activities.
  • Create an immersive game or simulation. Immersive games or simulations are terrific for helping people learn and practice new skills while receiving continuous feedback. People get pulled into them and even 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 Guru to help people prepare for launch meetings, companies who have used Guru as a game activity during a live meeting and companies who use Knowledge Guru as reinforcement. It can be played in small increments, so it has the ability to mimic the value of a mini-game while also having value as a more robust experience, too.

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. While failures occur, too, these tend to get ignored… for awhile.
  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.

Serious Games + Smart Implementation = Win! (Free Webinar)


We love creating games at BLP and try to share that enthusiasm as much as we can. But we’ll also be the first to admit that designing a learning game is only the beginning. What if you design the best learning game ever, or work with a vendor who creates a great one for you, and no one plays it? Or what if the roll-out gets botched because no one can figure out how to log in? They say the devil’s in the details, and in the training world “details” often means “implementation.”

What organizations really need is guidance on how to best position and implement new learning technologies, which might be a game or some other type of new learning experience.

Learn from the Success of Others

According to Karl Kapp, games work best when embedded into a larger blended learning curriculum. This sounds logical enough, but it is much harder to decide exactly what that curriculum should look like. Fortunately, many organizations have already successfully implemented games into their training. One of the best ways to prepare for a game-based learning implementation is to learn from the success of others.

I had the chance to work with four organizations who have been using Knowledge Guru as part of their training programs. These organizations come from a variety of industries (technology, financial services, healthcare) and used the games within diverse functional areas (new hire training for sales reps, product knowledge for sales and support reps and process training for HR associates).

What’s interesting about all four implementations is just how similar they are. These organizations independently made many similar choices when implementing game-based learning. The results they achieved speak for themselves.

Read the Case Studies…

If you saw me present at DevLearn 2015 or ATD International 2015, you have already heard these case studies. Congratulations! You’re ahead of the game.

For everyone else, you’ll have another opportunity to learn about how Cisco, Johnson & Johnson, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and a Fortune 500 Financial Services company approach game based-learning in my upcoming webinar with Training Magazine. I’ll explain all four case studies in depth, then share seven implementation tips based on what these organizations’ implementations have in common.

…Or Skip to the Tips

If you’d rather skip the case studies and get to the point, you need not wait till November 17th. I share my seven implementation tips in a new white paper, 7 Steps to an Effective Game-Based Learning or Gamification Implementation.

I hope you’ll join me for the webinar, have a look at the white paper, or perhaps do both.

Featured Image, Second Language

Is Your Sales Process a Second Language Yet?


Last week, a colleague asked me what sales process I use. I was at a loss for words because the process I use has become so natural to me that it doesn’t feel like a process. My sales process feels more like a second language… though I’m still working to master it. I strongly believe that this particular process works—I’ve experienced the success it has brought me over the years. Achieving is believing.

What about your sales reps? Has your process become so embedded into their vocabulary that it is clearly driving higher revenue? Have they become believers?

No? You’re not sure? If they aren’t using a sound sales process or sales language, then they aren’t driving the revenue you could be realizing. Sandler Rule #20: The bottom line of professional selling is going to the bank. Show me the money!

Want to learn more about sales enablement? Register for our upcoming webinar: Sales Enablement & Beyond: Using Games and Smart Implementation to Drive Performance.

How do we get sales rep to know the process, use the process (or see results) and ultimately believe in the process? Many organizations I work with are turning to serious games to accomplish this… with measurable results.

  1. Know the Process
    Book Icon

Before a sales rep has their first conversation with a prospect, the process they need to follow must be known ‘cold’ from memory.   Reps generally don’t have the time to consult job aids or resources while they are in the middle of a conversation. Here’s where techniques like spacing and repetition incorporated in an effective serious game can have the greatest impact. Take Cisco for example: Their use of games drove an 86.6% knowledge transfer rate for new sales reps who played. Cisco sales associates cited the use of spaced repetition in the games as pivotal to passing the required certification tests. Spacing and repetition are keys to long-term memory retrieval so that reps can truly talk the talk.

  1. Do the process
    to do Icon

Of course, once reps know the process, we must allow them sufficient time to practice the process. This is no different than any sports team: practice and more practice make for a winning team! Games that leverage additional performance challenges within the game allow players to ‘do’ the process (and make mistakes) before they talk to clients. Performance challenges can be particularly effective as reps are able to contextualize the process into their everyday sales world and conversations. Next, back-end analytics included with many serious games allow trainers to identify any knowledge gaps for the group or spot coaching opportunities with individuals. Like getting ready for a big game, the practice will allow reps to feel comfortable with the process and have a clear pathway to success. Then it’s all touchdowns and dancing in the end zone!

  1. Believe the Process
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If reps know and do the process, will they automatically believe in it, too? We often say that a motivated and engaged learner who is rewarded for their efforts can help in this endeavor. Games inherently engage learners with competitive elements such as status on the leaderboard, badges, trophies and power-ups. These elements motivate players to keep playing… and simultaneously gain confidence with the process. Once confident, reps can sell confidently. And, once they start to see their sales grow, it won’t take a leap of faith to make them believers.

It Starts With Your Leaders

Like your sales process, game-based learning can drive measurable results when combined with support from senior leadership. Many companies I work with have large PR campaigns surrounding new game-based learning initiatives. Organizations who require game play, while still offering great prizes and incentives, are more successful than companies who leave it up to decide if they will play or not. If company leaders don’t make the game a priority, neither will your learners.

The same will happen with your sales process. If it is optional to know, do or believe in, many reps might leave it at a prospect’s door and revenues could suffer as a result. What leader would be happy about that? With well-trained and confident reps, you will see higher rep performance and increased revenues. Your CEO will be so proud.

Looking to make your sales process a second language? See how games can get your sales reps to know facts “cold” with our Serious Games Guide: Four Ways Games Link to Learning.


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.


Turn Your Product Knowledge Training into a “Hero’s Journey”


You need to deliver training to your employees and want it to be “engaging.” You’ve read articles and attended webinars that discuss making learning experiences engaging, yet most of the advice seems vague. What is an engaging learning solution? Why do some learners find a certain type of training engaging, while others do not?

The challenge you face is even more difficult when your content does not exactly jump off the page. Teaching call center employees how to follow a critical procedure or pushing product information to sales reps in an exciting way is not a simple task. And while learning solutions must include instructional design that purposely leads to retention of this type of content, retention cannot happen if learners are not motivated to learn.

…That is, unless we take a look at what truly motivates people. When we consider our learners as human beings who are influenced by culture and driven by common goals, we can begin to see what approaches, stories and themes will truly motivate them.

One such theme is The Hero’s Journey.

What is the Hero’s Journey?

Mythologists (the people who study myths across cultures) will tell you that The Hero’s Journey has been repeated over and over again throughout human history. You’ve seen it before: the hero leaves the safety of home to face great challenges and ultimately overcomes those challenges. She returns home victorious and shares this victory with her people. We see The Hero’s Journey all around us: in movies, in books, in classical myths and modern stories. It’s a classic pattern where the individual inevitably identifies herself as the hero or protagonist.

The Hero’s Journey is retold over and over again because it is meaningful to people. It almost always leads to a powerful and inspirational story. That’s why when you are looking for 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.

Here are three ways you can transform your next training initiative from required activity to heroic quest. The approaches work especially well for product knowledge training… and we have seen them used effectively with process training and customer-facing training as well.

1. Start With a Challenge

Instead of listing out learning objectives, start your next training experience with a challenge or goal. All of the Knowledge Guru themes we offer start with a goal or “Quest” of some kind. In addition, many customers create a broader theme or narrative that they use within their LMS and throughout email communications sent to players.


Every “Legend” game theme starts with a challenge of some kind. Players begin a heroic journey to become a Knowledge Guru.



In the “Quest” game type, players are on a journey to unlock knowledge. The game itself is structured as an extended quest where the learner is the hero.



In this “Hazard Communication” course we developed for a Fortune 500 client, learners are challenged to become a “Safety Sidekick.” This becomes their quest throughout the course. The course went on to win a 2014 Horizon Interactive award.


2. Make it Personal

While goals and challenges are motivating to learners, unnecessary content is the opposite. Make sure that you are presenting the right content to the right learners throughout the experience by personalizing the learning.


At the end of each world in the Knowledge Guru “Quest” game, learners play a minigame that is personalized based on their weakest content areas.



Many of the custom eLearning solutions we create allow learners to select their role and receive content tailored to their individual needs.


3. Make it Last

The Hero’s Journey is seldom complete in a day… let alone a 30 minute eLearning course. For example, Johnson & Johnson broke their “Talent Guru” game into a 5-week program with short gameplay sessions and competition each week. By extending your learner’s 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.


Knowledge Guru’s “Quest” game type allows users to lock worlds for a period of time and email players when the world is ready for play. This breaks gameplay into short, manageable chunks over an extended period of time.



5 Ways Serious Games Can “Level Up” Your Sales Reps


Sales people live in the moment. They need to hit this month’s numbers. They have a demo in 10 minutes. Their manager wants an update on their biggest account. They are paid on commission and they probably do not feel they have time to take your training! Sales people probably have the most single-minded focus of any role in your organization: activities that are directly linked to making a sale are top priority and everything else is just details.

As an L&D professional, you know that knowledge and skills are vital to building a successful sales organization. But a sales rep is not paid to worry about the entire sales organization. They are paid when, and only when, they produce results. Reps will be reluctant to invest time and energy into training if it is not directly helping them do their job better. They are eager to learn, but only when the knowledge will directly help them on their next sales call. Wouldn’t it be great if training could be a positive part of that, and not seen as a time waster?

Want to learn more about sales enablement? Access our webinar: Sales Enablement & Beyond: Using Games and Smart Implementation to Drive Performance.

Serious Games and Sales Reps: A Perfect Fit

There is a reason so many of the Bottom-Line Performance clients who ask us to design a custom serious game wish to use it with sales reps. Customers who use our Knowledge Guru platform often create their games for sales professionals, too. Our experience has shown that games are often the perfect addition to a sales training program or set of reinforcement and reference tools.

There are many ways games can be leveraged as a tool to help sales reps perform better on the job. Here are five ideas to jumpstart your thinking:

1. Games can prevent the need to “cram” new product knowledge

Product launches are stressful, complicated events for everyone involved. Sales reps are often bombarded with new product and technical knowledge they must assimilate quickly before their next customer conversation. Reps might find themselves studying PDFs, Googling information they can’t find or learning about the new product via a PowerPoint deck. Before long, learning about ACME corporation’s new product release feels like studying for a college exam. And there is a very good chance reps will forget more than they remember without proper reinforcement.

Our research and client work shows us that serious games provide a much better way to learn product and industry knowledge. With the right instructional design know-how, learning principles such as spaced repetition and feedback loops can be linked to the mechanics of a game that reps can play for just minutes a day as time allows. Games linked to learning science become real time savers for a sales rep, as the gameplay is designed to help them learn and retain the necessary knowledge. And when the product and technical knowledge is especially complex, sales associates will appreciate games that truly help them learn and remember.

Example: Cisco uses Knowledge Guru games as part of their year-long Cisco Sales Associate Training Program. Sales associates average over 3.5 hours of Knowledge Guru gameplay because the games helped them study for their Cisco Sales Certification. Cisco’s game earned a 2014 Brandon Hall gold award for best advance in sales training online application.

2. Games can create a little healthy competition… and camaraderie

Not everyone thinks that competition at work is a fun experience, but your sales team probably does. Most sales reps would probably describe themselves as “competitive.” That’s why they got into the profession in the first place. Games with leaderboards can fuel this competitive drive. They can also create a sense of competition between various locations, territories, or even individuals. Meanwhile, the scores that reps rack up can become informative to managers, showing which individuals or locations have the best grasp of key product knowledge, procedures, and selling skills.

Example: Competition through gameplay usually will not end up feeling cutthroat. After playing a Knowledge Guru game tied to a product launch, the ExactTarget (now Salesforce Marketing Cloud) employee from Australia who won “MobileConnectGuru” shared that he had never felt more a part of the team than while playing the game.


3. Games can help reps retain and apply new product info

Games can be as simple as a jeopardy clone with handheld remotes or as complex as a 3D world. Most of the time, business needs call for an experience that is somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. For sales reps, the ideal game-based solution will do more than motivate. Sales reps’ time is limited and they will likely want to limit their time spent on training as much as possible unless that training is directly helping them sell (and earn more commission). Gaming that can be done in short bursts that helps them learn, study, and retain product features and benefits is ideal.

4. Games can provide meaningful reporting and analytics

Most serious games offer far more data points than a standard eLearning course. For example, a report that shows learning objective success rate for sales reps in different territories provides far more visibility into what sales reps actually know than a raw completion percentage. This information can be used to provide additional training on the weaker topics to the regions that need it.

With relevant, accurate data in hand, you can deploy just-in-time learning bites that help sales reps shore up the key information they need to learn instead of wasting their time with a full-blown course.



5. Games can provide highly contextual scenarios to practice consultative selling

Of course, sales reps need to do more than simply memorize product information to be successful. In more complex selling situations, sales training is probably a full-fledged curriculum. Game platforms and templates will rarely be the only solution used in a curriculum like this. And they may not provide the necessary context to help sales professionals with higher-level skills. Thus, these situations are an ideal place for custom serious games.

Example: In Formulation Type Matters, a serious game we created for Dow AgroSciences, sales reps enter a fictional territory with five different unhappy customers they must try to place. Players gain and lose sales and increase or decrease customer satisfaction based on their answers to customer questions. As they play, the reps access a variety of resources and consult their manager, a learning agent in the game, for help. The resources used in the game are the same PDFs they will find and locate on the job.


Six Truths About Implementing a Learning Game that Gets Results


I love games—but that does not mean I think a game is the appropriate option for every learning situation. I do not think it will always equal the most effective or efficient means of helping people learn. In fact, I wrote a post recently clarifying how games differ from learning games because a lot of people are thinking about commercial video games when they contemplate incorporating games into their learning strategies.

If you are a chief learning officer or training manager/director who is trying to figure out whether games should be part of your learning mix—or how best to use them—here are six truths for you to consider:

1) Games and simulations require expertise to design well; you have to understand game design as well as instructional design. They require several rounds of play testing and iterative design to produce a game that fully engages your target audience AND achieves the desired learning and performance outcomes. They do not fit well into a “let’s draft it, pilot it, and finalize it,” three-step process. You may need to go through 5-8 iterations to get a custom game right. If you attempt to implement a game that you have not thoroughly tested, you are likely to be disappointed by the results you get.

2) Games are not a panacea. They do not spark crazed excitement in learners just because you say the word “game.” You have to market a game and plan its implementation just as carefully as you would any other type of learning solution. A game is not a cure-all for everything that might ail your training initiatives. Ideally, you have defined a clear purpose for the game and carefully integrated it into your learning solution—rather than inserting it as an afterthought to try to incorporate a “fun” activity in the learning experience. Make the game meaningful and tightly linked to your desired knowledge and skill outcomes. Learners are smart people. They will figure out if a game lacks relevance pretty quickly, and they will reject the experience.

3) A game is best suited as PART of a learning solution rather than as the entire learning solution. For optimal learning, games need to be set up and debriefed in some fashion. They can be a great reinforcement for learning, a great opportunity to practice a skill, or a great opportunity to create a shared experience that then transitions into something else. If your implementation does not include integration with other learning components, the game will be less effective as a learning solution than it otherwise could be.

Example 1:  Several years ago I designed a daylong workshop for a pharma company on single-payer systems (the rest of the world vs. a multi-payer system, which is the U.S. model). The day began with a 45-minute game/simulation called Access Challenge. The game objective was to get your drug onto a customer’s formulary. What made the simulation unique was that the pharma teams were selling to government agencies on different planets, who each had a different type of payer system and different population issues/concerns. The simulation was a level-setting experience for participants so everyone had a shared experience of working with single-payer systems before we got into the details of the day. After learners completed the simulation, we had an excellent foundation for the remainder of the workshop, which was not game-based.

Example 2: We recently were fortunate to earn a Brandon Hall Award in the games/simulation category, along with our client partner, ExactTarget. ExactTarget used Knowledge Guru to create a game called MobileConnect Guru, which was part of a training initiative designed to prep employees, resellers, and distributors on the launch of a new product. The game provided multiple repetitions of key content and was the last component learners completed prior to the product’s launch. ExactTarget’s results were impressive, but the game alone would not have gotten them these results. They designed a highly effective multi-method approach to helping people learn and remember. We describe this “recipe” for learning and remembering in a Bottom-Line Performance blog you can find here. 

4) Your stakeholders are often poor judges of what the target audience will like and find useful. Do not trust the stakeholder group to deem what should and should not be implemented. Your stakeholders are not your target. What they themselves are intrigued by might be deadly dull to your target learners. Conversely (in our company) what the product dev team likes might be way, way too game-y for anyone else in the company. Match the game to the audience, not the people paying for it. This is a tricky business, but it can be done.

5) Recognize the power of games in helping people learn AND remember. A well-designed game incorporates many elements that foster long-term retention. A well-designed game has high replayability, which means learners will naturally get numerous repetitions and practice sessions—which is essential to remembering. They provide frequent and voluminous feedback, which is essential to learning something correctly in the first place. They will incorporate a variety of game elements that foster a desire to play. Some games will even leverage a strong story or narrative, which has a high correlation to long-term memory. (Stories engage our entire brain; the brain literally “lights up” when a story engages it.)

Example: Cisco uses the Knowledge Guru game engine as part of its new sales association program (CSAP). Players consistently rate the games extremely high in terms of their value in learning AND remembering (4.93 on a scale of 1 to 5). A game can combine knowledge recall with scenarios that allow the player to apply the knowledge in a job context, which is a powerful memory-builder.

6) The more effort required to learn to play the game, the less cognitive space available to learn the content. If you feel strongly that you only have 30 minutes available for learners to play a game, then do not implement a game that easily requires 30 minutes just to figure out the rules of play.  Unless you are designing an immersive simulation, keep your game’s objective and rules pretty simple.  The game’s complexity needs to match the amount of time you believe learners will spend playing the game. If you are planning a complex, immersive simulation, then your implementation strategy needs to allow time for players to fully engage in (and learn from) the experience. This probably means 3 hours, not 30 minutes.

If you want a deep dive into learning game design, I wrote an entire white paper on designing learning games. You can download it here.

If you want more info on learning and remembering, check out my white paper titled When Remembering Really Matters. It talks about games and much, much more.



Safety and Compliance Training: Should it Be a Game?

safety training

Safety training is often viewed as a “check the box” activity inside organizations. Managers don’t like giving it. Employees don’t like taking it… and that’s just “the way it is.” If the only reason you are providing the training is to simply comply, is it really necessary to make it engaging? Do learners really need to know this stuff?

The problem is that safety training has a much bigger impact beyond simply “remaining in compliance.” Safety issues directly affect the well-being of your employees. This is when learning and development has a mission beyond merely doing the bare minimum and satisfying requirements. A learning solution that teaches proper safety procedures can save lives. At the very least, it can help employees follow proper procedures and avoid trouble for themselves or the organization when procedures are not followed.

Either way you look at it, preventing harm to the employee or lost dollars for the organization, safety training can have a big impact.

The problem with safety and compliance training is that it is often, by nature, rather dry material. Employees may have seen the same old policies year after year as part of a required refresher course. They probably dread taking it and also give as little brain power as possible to this exercise. If you want to capture their attention and believe your safety information is important, you need a fresh approach. It is critical that safety and compliance training both engage employees while also helping them retain the key information for application on the job.

training awards

On the custom development side of our business, we have created a wide variety of solutions to help our clients remain in compliance while protecting the wellbeing of their employees. We love working with organizations who decide the “status quo” of safety training is no longer sufficient. Gamified learning solutions such as “Avoid the BBPs” and “Slips, Trips and Falls” have won industry awards for their innovative approaches. They provide an immersive, memorable experience to learners while incorporating learning strategies that are closely tied to the learning objectives.

And while these courses do a wonderful job of engaging learners, it’s also important to mention that:

  1. Some organizations do not have the budget or staff to produce engaging, interactive eLearning for every single safety and compliance topic. Working with a vendor to create pieces like this is not always the right solution.
  2. If employees really need to know key facts, processes, and procedures, a single course is simply not enough. Learners need multiple repetitions spaced out over time and immediate feedback, to acquire knowledge and skills.

The reality is that many organizations are considering a game or gamified training approach for the first time. Others in the organization still need some convincing before buy-in is achieved in the project can move forward. While research validates the use of games for learning in a variety of scenarios, the new approach needs to make sense for the organization.

This is why, when I speak to organizations about the future of serious games and gamification of learning, I encourage them to “look beyond the game.” It’s really not just about the bells, whistles and fun. It’s about what’s needed to learn, and the strategies for helping people remember what they learned.

Spaced repetition is an excellent learning strategy to incorporate into safety training.

Spaced repetition is an excellent learning strategy to incorporate into safety training.

If you are still deciding how best to incorporate games and gamification into your safety training, I have a few tips for you…

  • Think learning science first. Decide what learners need to know or do, then think about how you can help them acquire this information over the course of a larger curriculum or experience. Spaced repetition and feedback loops are two powerful strategies you should use. These strategies are especially effective when embedded into an engaging game environment.
  • Start Small. You probably already have existing training materials. There’s no need to start from scratch and reinvent the wheel just yet. Is it possible to incorporate a game as a reinforcement or assessment tool? Consider running a pilot of the game to a small group of learners and measuring results.
  • Don’t be afraid. Your existing training may have the “corporate” feel of your organization. That doesn’t mean learners won’t appreciate a fun game thrown in the mix! You will be surprised at how employees young and old respond to a fun, fresh approach that looks different from what they are used to seeing.
  • Go beyond completion. Safety and compliance training is all about completion 90% of the time. “Who completed it and when?” is all some managers care about. Use your game to measure more: what learning objectives are employees mastering? What areas do they need more help? Knowing this could save a life, or at least someone’s job.
  • Start fast. Don’t overcomplicate things with your first attempt at a game. The agile development world is all about getting to version 1.0 quickly and building from there. Challenge your team to develop something in days or weeks, not months. You can always improve it and review it later.




Chance vs Strategy: Which Works Best in Serious Games?

Chance vs Strategy

If you are creating a serious game to help your employees improve their performance, the type of game you create depends greatly on the type of job your employees have. Are either of the following statements true?

  • Day-to-day work is highly reactive in an “anything can happen” environment. Employees complete tasks such as responding to varying customer needs or emergency situations.
  • Work is based on organization, planning and foresight. This might be the case for sales managers, executive leadership or even individual contributors who must carefully plan and execute project work.

Depending on your situation, you should include an appropriate amount of chance or strategy in your serious game that reflects the work environment. As always in game design, you’ll want to avoid game elements that are irrelevant to learners. Gadgets and gimmicks within a game serve as more of a distraction than an engagement tool.

Sharon Boller talks about this at length in her learning game design blog series. With so many different game elements and game mechanics to potentially include in a game design, instructional designers new to game design often struggle to find focus and direction. We think about the “fun” of commercial games we have all played and enjoyed and try to incorporate all of this into games for our learners.

The result? Games that are distracting, out of focus and ultimately ineffective for learning.

The two game elements most commonly misused are chance and strategy. The usual mistake? too much chance. Would-be designers add lots of “surprises” to their games thinking it will make the experience more fun. The other mistake is to include strategy or chance in a game when the real answer is to use neither. Sometimes, the best corporate learning games focus on just a few game mechanics and game elements so mastery of the content can be brought front and center.

Consider the following examples Sharon gives in her blog post on game elements:

  • Is my game unintentionally creating win states that are largely achieved by chance or a specific sequence of events? (This can happen more easily than you think. We recently played a board game where it became clear over several game plays that the person who got to go first—which was determined by age—had a much greater chance of winning than the person who went last.)
  • Do I blend strategy and chance in a way that mirrors the skill I want my player to learn, or the context in which they will have to apply the skill?
  • What control do players have  in the real world over decisions? How do I design that into the game?

Don’t forget that chance and strategy, while seemingly very important, are only two of the many game elements available to you. A game does not need chance or strategy to be fun or effective for learning.

game elements chart


Case In Point

Knowledge Guru’s game play is essentially simple and straightforward. Why? Each game is really a template of sorts for whatever content you put into it. If the game had too much chance, it would undermine scenario questions where learners must formulate a strategy. And if the game had a strategic focus, it would distract learners who need to learn how to respond to seemingly random situations in real time.

Instead, Knowledge Guru includes the following game elements:

  • Story
  • Aesthetics
  • Rewards/achievements
  • Levels
  • Theme
  • Competition

So, what about strategy and chance?

You probably already know if your learners’ jobs involve more chance or strategy. Whichever is more true for them, be sure to include the appropriate game element in the game they will play.

The bottom line: When designing a game, you should never include a game element or game mechanic if you do not understand how it is linked to the desired learning outcome.


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.