Since the early 2000s, “gamification” has been a favorite buzzword of the corporate training world.
The idea is simple: Transform unexciting, routine activities into engaging and memorable experiences by adding game elements, such as competition, points, rewards, and interactive challenges that engage learners’ problem-solving skills.
Many companies, including big names like Chrysler, Nike, and Coca-Cola adopted gamification early on to increase customer engagement, and they met with great success. People went out of their way to participate in the brand-specific games, and the spark of competition drove customer response and loyalty through the roof.
Given these early successes, it didn’t take long for the L&D community to add gamification to their own toolbox as a training strategy. They assumed that if game-based ad campaigns were so effective at energizing consumers, then they would be equally valuable tools for teaching and engaging employees—and they were right. Today, gamification has spread beyond the world of marketing and established a solid place for itself in corporate training. Research consistently shows that game-based training has great potential to increase voluntary participation rates, efficiency, and overall employee engagement, and companies such as DirectTV, Cisco, and Domino’s have gamified their training with overwhelmingly positive results.
So, we know that gamification is an effective (and fun) way to improve training and development. But, as with any technological success, many people are wondering: What’s next?
Gamification, Meet Virtual Reality
It only takes two words to make a gamer’s eyes light up with eager curiosity: Oculus Rift. It’s the most sophisticated piece of virtual reality equipment ever to hit the market, and tech experts predict that the Rift will revolutionize the entire world of media and communication. It’s not alone, either. Ever since tech designers have been able to work out the bugs involved in virtual and augmented reality devices, (in other words, they figured out how to make the virtual experience realistic without giving users serious motion sickness) the market has expanded rapidly.
Microsoft, for example, recently released a pair of augmented reality glasses called the Hololens, which allows wearers to create and manipulate holographic images. Imagine Tony Stark designing his Iron Man suit, using his hands to scroll through 2-D data sets and move 3-D holographic projections of his armor in midair: Now that we have augmented reality tools like Hololens, this advanced technology is now available for regular consumers, not just billionaire superheroes.
Virtual and augmented reality devices have huge potential in nearly every industry. Someone wearing a device like the Oculus Rift can have a fully immersive experience of a video game, a movie, or—as L&D folks have been quick to identify—a training simulation.
The New Frontier of Immersive Training
Gamification and virtual/augmented reality devices are the future of e-learning. Augmented reality tools can take everything that works so well about gamification and enhance it by making the competitive experience completely immersive and realistic. Employees will gain hands-on experience, and they’ll be excited about the opportunity to use such new and innovative pieces of technology.
The same idea that originally inspired gamification applies just as well to augmented reality devices: If the training is more engaging, then employees will be more engaged and effective.
If all of this still sounds too sci-fi, here are three scenarios in which a fusion of gamification and augmented reality technology could dramatically improve a corporate training regimen:
- Pizza making (or any restaurant work, really). We already mentioned Domino’s and their Pizza Maker course that taught employees to make all the different pizzas offered on the Domino’s menu. The program was fun and effective, but imagine that instead of clicking on pictures of ingredients on a computer screen, new employees could put on a pair of augmented reality glasses and compete in these pizza-making challenges using the exact physical motions that they would use during a real shift. While the game elements would keep them engaged (and prevent wasting any real ingredients), the virtual reality experience would give them realistic practice that would likely improve their speed, accuracy, and familiarity with their workspace.
- Store management. Customer service training only goes so far. It’s one thing to teach employees to be attentive and friendly to customers, but it’s another thing entirely to oversee a busy store full of customers who all need different kinds of help and attention. With a gamified virtual reality training program, however, potential managers could enter a simulated busy store environment and practice keeping track of customers, making sales, and maintaining a friendly atmosphere even during stressful peak times. This practice would improve an employee’s confidence and competence, all without risking bad customer experiences by throwing new employees into the deep end.
- Emergency response. Today, if you want to become an emergency responder, such as an EMT or a mountain rescuer, you will take a course that has you practice on dummies or human volunteers who pretend to be injured. While these do help with learning basic techniques, a better training program would involve an immersive virtual reality experience that would have all of the stressful and time-sensitive elements of a real-life rescue scenario. If potential emergency response personnel could acclimate themselves to this tense work environment while earning points for critical skills such as speed, accuracy, and quality of care, they would emerge from training much more prepared for their real-world responsibilities.
There are incredible opportunities in the near future for training that combines gamification with cutting-edge virtual and augmented reality technology. As always, the goals of any training are improving engagement and effectiveness, and these tools—with their competitive appeal and innovative realism—will help us take training to a whole new level.