Just a handful of years ago, gamification was a hot topic in the HR world, and a trend to watch in other disciplines such as education and healthcare. Heralded as a “win-win” situation by large companies like Deloitte and GE, gamification elements were integrated with enthusiasm across the business spectrum.

Coming in the form of incentivized contests for which the goal is to learn material or complete tasks, gamification usees fun exercises to create more skilled, knowledgeable employees and a healthier company.

The past years have seen an increasing recognition of gamification systems as a method to architect human behavior, and success stories like those of SAP demonstrate how the concept can induce innovation, productivity, and engagement. SAP’s Streamwork system, for instance, is a gamified collaboration platform that was deployed to its internal brainstorming sessions and helped produce 58% more new ideas.

Similarly, firms like Galderma have used gamification to train employees on their entire product line, and despite the game being voluntary, it was so fun that 92% of employees participated.

Is gamification really everything it’s made out to be?

These benefits take some of the burden off HR but are mostly hype. Trendsetters pushed gamification hard due to its unique experiential elements, but now that it’s had time to sink in, its flaws are exposed.

One of the biggest issues with gamification is that it simply takes too much time and removes employees from a productive mindset in exchange for more thorough training. Not all employees may need this training, but for the purposes of competition, there must be a variety of participants, which also makes sense if you’re trying to get as much ROI from your gamification investment as possible.

Time-Crunched Employees Exasperated by Games

Unfortunately, this is difficult when employees already lack time for new things outside of their regular scope of work, and it’s nearly impossible to design a valuable gamified business flow that is relevant to all employees’ daily tasks.

Deloitte estimates that employees can only spare 1.00% of their regular workweeks to focus on training and development outside of their normal tasks, which are already optimized to add to the bottom line. Removing them from the “assembly line”, as it were, will result in lower output and fuel a harmful notion called context switching.

Context switching is a type of project fatigue that is exhausting for workers because it forces them to interrupt what they were doing, shift gears, and absorb themselves in something else.

This is the same reason why companies are hesitant about onboarding new software, given that reports on the true cost of multitasking indicate a full context switch takes 25-30 minutes before regaining focus. Moving from one context or interface to another might not seem difficult, but now that the real cost of gamification-induced multitasking can be measured, companies have shied away from it as the end-all be-all solution.

Introducing Inter-Workflow Education

So how can HR act to better train employees, both new and tenured? The best bet is to reduce focus on the game aspect and increase attention on the material, but also to blend the material better into typical workflows. It may not be as immediately engaging for employees as a game, but firms won’t feel pressured to recapture development expenses through participation and will therefore avoid the costs of this engagement in the context of a regular workday.

The new alternative HR method for training is called “learning in the flow of work.” Learning in the flow of work involves integrating educational guides and knowledge bases into the tools that employees use for their daily job.

Also called microlearning or performance support, the idea is that instead of subjecting employees to macrolearning concepts such as a standalone training game or course, they have helpful resources built into the systems that they’ll use even after they’re trained.

It could come in the form of a question mark button in the company’s internal workflow that reminds employees of tips and the tool’s nuances. AI is also assisting microlearning platforms to recognize user behavior and prompt struggling employees to acknowledge tips and supplementary content in the form of popups before continuing with their interaction.

This type of contextual learning was described over a decade ago in a breakthrough article that should have also been evidence of gamification’s insufficiency. Entitled “Repeated Retrieval During Learning Is the Key to Long-Term Retention,” the piece published in the Journal of Memory and Language showed that learning in the flow of work does wonders for knowledge retention, reducing the need to fruitlessly disrupt people for the same purpose in a more inefficient manner.

With the fun aspect of gamification gaining attention just a year or two later, it took a while for employers to get off the wagon, but now most recognize that different solutions are needed.

In the Flow of Work, and In the Zone

LinkedIn’s 2018 Workplace Learning report came to the same conclusion, with the astonishing statistic that over 58% of employees would prefer to learn at their own pace and 49% in the flow of work, assuming that they had time for it at all. Employers in the report cited this lack of learning time as the No. 1 most common problem facing their employee training efforts.

There are already workflow learning tools being released for the most popular platforms like Salesforce, which automatically provide employees with short curated how-to videos when they log on and before they do certain tasks, depending on their past exposure to these tasks, the length of their employment, and the frequency of their time in the system.

By taking a “learning in the flow of work” approach, you can decimate the time to competency for employees, improve employee engagement, reduce frustration with unfamiliar technology, and help employees become meaningful participants faster.

As training technology continues to evolve, the most effective examples will be those that promote learning in the flow of work, not gamification or others that take the scenic path to employee competence rather than the most optimal one.

Written By
Hadas Almog is the VP of Global Human Resources at WalkMe, the Digital Adoption Platform (DAP). With two decades of experience transforming the standard for talent acquisition, retention, and digital transformation, Hadas has become a lauded force driving the future of work. A master of the intricacies of humans’ relationship with workplace tech, she offers an important perspective on digital adoption in HR.

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