ATD Middle East conference: Gamification of learning and development yet to take off in Middle East

Author: Criselda Diala-McBride | Date: 7 Jun 2016

Making lessons fun and interactive increases information retention, says Proviti’s managing director

HR departments worldwide are recognising that the application of gaming principles, such as competitive, fun and addictive tasking, can be highly motivational learning tools for employees.

But the use of gamification strategies in learning and development programmes remains extremely low in the Middle East – despite many organisations expressing interest in exploring its potential.

That is the view of Shatha Al Maskiry, managing director at business consulting firm Protiviti, who told delegates at the ATD Middle East conference in Dubai that gamification is yet to take off in the region.

“Among the clients we work with, the adoption rate currently stands at just one per cent, but the consideration is there. Many are [keen], but don’t know where to start,” says Al Maskiry.

She attributes the issue to organisations’ failure to understand how digital technology has changed employees’ mindsets. “Neuroscientific research suggests that the average person is capable of total concentration for a mere 20 minutes. This means that if a [learning module] is less than five minutes long, the retention of information is much higher. This says a lot about the digital mindset, where an abundance of information has led people to become easily distracted and restless.”

In the Middle East, even e-learning has failed tremendously for many companies, Al Maskiry points out, with some organisations spending hefty sums on learning and development initiatives only to have less than one per cent ROI. “The modules that have been successful are those [used by the regional] branches of international organisations, because they have been tried and tested. Developing [modules] from scratch or in-house can also be an issue for some organisations.”

Based on Protiviti’s experience, gamification in learning is at least 5,000% more effective – both in terms of cost and learning retention – compared with instruction-led training, since it is more scalable, has a wider reach and can promote employee engagement.

Gamifying learning through the use of avatars or the awarding of trophies, badges or stars for every training session completed, and being able to share this achievement socially, makes learning more enjoyable for employees.

“If the learning is simple and concise, and if employees are able to relate it to their job, they are more engaged,” she says. “Anything that boosts a person’s confidence increases their level of engagement. Employees need to feel competitive, social and part of something, so they can be motivated.”

Al Maskiry believes that the lack of interest from leaders is another reason why gamified learning has been stifled. “[Modules] may be available, but they’re not really mandated. Some rules need to be applied, [and the benefits of] training must be communicated to employees. For example, leaders can create KPIs, where employees can earn credits for completing courses that are relevant to their job. And if the learning experience is good, employees will want to take additional courses.”