When It’s a Game, But It Isn’t Fun

There is a lot of enthusiasm today for learning games. Companies think, or have proven through research, that young employees, and even some older employees, love to learn by playing games. The thought appears to be that the games are so immersive and fun that employees won’t even notice they are learning important lessons.

But have you ever considered that more employees than you think might not enjoy gaming, and would rather just be told in a straightforward manner what they need to know? I ask because I’m one of those employees who doesn’t like the idea of having to play a game to learn. I would much rather be given a book to read or an e-mail from the company explaining what I need to know, why I need to know it, and when the test will be. Worrying about playing a game—on top of learning—stresses me out. I worry I won’t understand the software or cloud-based program running the game and the thought of competing against my peers also causes me anxiety. And that’s not including the grief I’d experience if we were put into groups to participate in an online business challenge simulation. On top of navigating the “game,” I also would have to endure the discomforts and inconveniences of group work—when, as I’ve said, I’d rather read a book or listen to a lecture and then write an essay synthesizing what I learned.

Nevertheless, companies are convinced people like me are the minority. In the ASTD report, “Playing to Win: Gamification and Serious Games in Organizational Learning,” ASTD teamed with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) to explore how gaming has emerged as “an important, and viable, way to deliver training in organizations.” The research is based on surveys and interviews with 551 learning professionals who have hands-on experience with “the growing trend.”

Key findings include:

  • Despite significant interest in gamification and serious games, only 1 in 4 surveyed said their organization currently used gamification in learning; and 1 in 5 used serious games.
  • Enthusiasm is high for those using gamification and serious games: 37 percent using gamification and 51 percent using serious games rated the methods highly effective.
  • Gamification most often is used for all-employee training and for new employees’ orientation or onboarding.
  • Making learning fun and encouraging innovation and creativity are top reasons for using gamification.

I wonder if it would be possible to offer employees two choices for learning—the game or another method, such as a book or lecture. Which do you think most employees would choose? Do you think the vast majority of your employees would opt for the game over the lecture or book? You might be surprised to find out there are more employees like me than you expect.

And don’t think it has anything to do with just not being a creative or open-minded person. Most people who know me would describe me as pretty creative—I even do creative writing in the form of short stories and odd poetry, so lack of creativity can’t be the reason I don’t like games. I’m also not especially old—just 38. What do you think the culprit is?

My suggestion: Whenever possible, offer your employees a few different ways to learn whatever it is they’re tasked with mastering. I’ve heard many trainers note that people learn in a variety of ways, and no two people learn in the exact same way. If you believe that, then please save some of us from gaming we usually don’t find fun.

My suggested alternatives to games include real-world shadowing experiences in which participating employees are tested or evaluated after a week or two of shadowing a person in the company. Another possibility is to have the employee read a book written by a businessperson that exemplifies what you’d like them to understand, and then have the employee write an essay on how the lessons of this businessperson could be applied to the company and his or her specific job role in the company. Yet another thought is to assign a real-life experience to the employee such as volunteering at an animal shelter, soup kitchen, or teaching reading to disadvantaged youth. Then have the employee sit down with a supervisor or trainer and explain what he or she learned and how it can be applied to doing his or her job better.

All of those options would be more meaningful—and maybe even more fun—for me.

Do you offer alternatives to learning games? Do you have a learning solution for employees who don’t learn best via games and online simulations?