Ready? Set. Perform. Use Learning Games to Boost Performance



Managing Partner, Stephen Baer join Chris Willis, Director of Product Content, ELB Learning in a webinar on how to use games to boost employee performance.

Stephen: We are going to talk today about mapping different types of games to different performance objectives. It’s a really important topic because often people want to use games but they ask what games make the most sense.

We polled the audience on their role and discovered that 33% are Learning Experience Designers, 37% are Learning Developers, 19% are Learning Managers and 2% are Business Managers / Consultant, the remaining 9% fall into other.

Chris: If you are a Learning Experience Designer or aspiring to become one, we hope to give you some insights here that help you break out of that tendency to say “Ok, I’m going to do a training and I’m going to add a game at the end to use as an assessment.” There’s nothing wrong with that but there is just so much more you can do and we hope we give you some insights and takeaways to help move into that direction.

We did another poll that asked the audience what they’d like to get out of this webinar. The results are as follows:

  • 82% would like to see ways to be more effectively use games
  • 72% want tips to increase learner engagement
  • 47% want deeper instructional design insights
  • 2% other for instance; how to generate games quickly when you only have limited time

Stephen: I’m excited because we can effectively cover all of these topics. First, we hear often “I want to build a game” but they also want to know how to build an effective game and fast. We are going to cover that but I think one of the other things you need to do is step back and think about why you are building a game. So we are going to talk about mapping gameplay to your performance objectives or the learning outcomes that you desire because not all games are created equal. You can use different types of games for different use cases. The last thing we are going to talk about is how can you utilize games or game-based learning to keep people engaged throughout your learning and ultimately to drive better retention and keep them coming back to “digest” your content. This is really key. We have lost of data on this that I’m excited to share.

What is a Game?

Let’s define what a game is. According to Mirriam-Webster, a game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for entertainment or fun and sometimes used as an educational tool. We often hear games and gamification used interchangeably. We should define them separately. Gamification is about using all the mechanics of gameplay such as leaderboards, points, streaks, and badges, and applying them to your everyday world. We are not going to be talking about that as much, we’ll cover it a teenie bit at the end. We are going to talk about gameplay and games overall and mapping them to what you are trying to accomplish, to what you are trying to teach, and what you want people to learn.

Game Design Considerations

Stephen: It’s always good to have a cheat sheet of sorts when creating a game. As you’re building your games, you might want to consider these elements:

Story Arc

Not all games will include a story arc (certainly a Trivia type game won’t have one) but on your soft skills games for customer service training for instance or other scenario-based games, it’s really important to identify who the character is, what the scenario or environment they are in and what choices the player has to make. It’s really important to design this early, thoughtfully, and carefully, that is what’s going to drive a really successful learning outcome. 

Relevant Choices

You want to create a game that feels like a simulation or a practice playground of real life. So you want to make sure that all the choices that you are designing feel like things that could truly happen in the environment and that it’s relatable. For a branching game or multiple choice question, it’s really important to provide realistic options from which the learners can choose. Off the wall, crazy choices are funny to put in when you’re developing a game but are a missed opportunity for a teaching moment.

Number of Choices

Too many choices become overwhelming and can lead to decision paralysis. Limit your game to a handful of choices so learners can make quick decisions and dive into the game.

Realistic Voice

As you’re writing your content, it should feel like what a learner would hear contextually or see in the real-life situation of what you’re having play out online. If you are not an expert on the subject matter, bring in an expert to help you think through the course and game.

Useful Feedback

Feedback is critical. Give contextual feedback that shows a learner why the choice they selected is right or wrong and what would have been a better choice. The more feedback you can give, the more helpful it will be for someone. 


Are you going for a minimalistic look or realistic videos and images? You may select a minimalist look if you don’t want to call out a specific demographic or culture. That may be a conscious decision. You make way to go with a more realistic approach, that uses video and images. That’s one of the things we love about working with ELB Learning, is that they have a huge asset library of stock images and videos. You might want to build out illustrations that are a lot more fun and go with a more whimsical look. There are many stylistic paths to go down and you should take the time to make considered each choice at the beginning of game development and make sure it’s deliberate.

Benefits of Learning Games

Here are some of the reasons why we think games work so well with training.

Games are engaging in a world full of distractions

Today, we are so easily distracted. We have numerous devices in our hands at all times. At any one point, you are getting a phone call, a text, a chat, an email, your child is trying to talk to you while you are on the phone with your boss. We are constantly distracted and games more than any other form of training is an immersive experience and requires a level of active participation. 

Games Increase Attention and Sustain Focus

Because they require that kind of engagement, they increase your attention and they increase your focus. When we think about how we want to train employees or anyone for that matter, we need their attention, we need their focus on the material on a much deeper level.  

Games Provide the Feedback that We Crave

We all crave feedback, especially the younger generations- feedback is high on their list of desires. Games are the perfect environment for giving your learners constant feedback so they know how they are doing and how they can improve. 


Performance Improvement

The value-add that games provide versus other forms of training is so important. According to the National Training Laboratories, traditional forms of training (reading, lectures, demos) are driving only 5-10% knowledge retention 30 days later. On the flip side, if you consider games that encourage the learner to be an active participant, and practice repeatedly, you see a much significant increase in knowledge retention (75-95%) 30 days later. 

A Study of 1000 Games

We recently did a study of 1000 games created in The Training Arcade®, a tool that we will be discussing today and we learned a few things. Games don’t need to be long to be effective. Most of our games average 6 minutes of gameplay per session. On average, people are coming back to play 2.9 times. I often say as trainers, how often do your employees come to you and say, “I really loved your course, I’d like to take it 2.9 times?” People are coming back to the gamified training because of their intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and quite honestly, they are enjoying it. Most of us on this webinar would want our learners to A. to enjoy the content that we build and B. learn from it. We are seeing success. Using the corrective feedback paradigm, we saw that there was a 64% improvement in comprehending the material. 


How Do You Align Games With Your Performance Objectives? 

Chris: First let’s start with Bloom’s Taxonomy. Bloom’s Taxonomy is defined as a classification system used to define and distinguish different levels of human cognition- thinking, learning, and understanding. It helps us figure out what our goals are for the learning. It helps us think about different actions or verbs that need to take place to get different outcomes. So when Instructional designers are writing assessments and planning curricula, we are looking at Bloom’s as kind of cheat sheet, if you will, to understand how to what kinds of things we need to teach to achieve the desired behavior. We ask ourselves what kind of thinking and what kind of actions demonstrate that learning. When are creating games, we are considering what kind of play or thinking is occurring in the game that how does that map to the outcome or the behaviors we need to change. 

We start at level 1 so we ask us ourselves before someone can understand something, they need to be able to remember it then level 2 says, before they can apply it, they need to be able to understand it and before they can analyze it they need to be able to perform an application. Level 1 gets a bad rap because it seems easy but level 1 is critical to everything else because we have to know and understand before we can apply.

Some games that are great for level 1 are Recall games such as Jeopardy!®. We offer the officially licensed game in The Training Arcade®. What we love about Jeopardy! is that it’s A. a game that everyone knows but it also allows you to really draw a dialogue to create a very concrete agenda through your training. With this game mechanic, you can use video and images that really teach your learners then you can test people with multiple choice or text input. You can follow up with concrete feedback. It allows you to teach and assess. 

There is also Jump The Training Arcade, it’s an endless jumper if you will. It’s more “gamey.” It’s more about climbing new heights, jumping as far as you can, avoiding obstacles, targeting boosts, while answering questions along the way. Here you can also do image match and polling. Once again, it’s about testing people’s recall of information. This game, by the way, is very addictive. We see people playing this one 7- 8 times which is good because it’s drilling that content in much deeper. 

The last recall type game is Trivia. Most people have built trivia type games. You can use all the different question types- multiple choice, multi-select, image match, text input, polling but you can also pepper in some gamification features such as streaks, points, and leaderboards. That’s when it starts to play on people’s intrinsic motivation and with leaderboards, extrinsic motivation as well because you can tie it to prizes.

With recall type games, yes, it’s “level 1’ on the chart that Chris showed you but it can be a fun and very engaging experience.

Chris: Stephen, can you talk to us about the Jeopardy logo and how can you use the IP and tell us about the live play feature and how that can be used in learning.

Stephen:  Jeopardy!® and The Game Agency partnered a year and a half ago to obtain exclusive rights to create a Jeopardy game for training and education. We built this game with Sony Productions and the Jeopardy team. It utilizes the voice over of Johnny Gilbert who is on the show. It has a high production value that you wouldn’t be able to get with most training games out there. We’ve taken it to new heights and created an Online Group Play™ feature where I can launch a game ane 20-200 people can log on and play the game at the same time. We’ve seen a much higher level of engagement and see the results of the game real-time to assess what people know really quickly. It can all be done virtually on any of the major web conferencing platforms. The leaderboard can show the names or initials so you can see where you rank which really pulls on people’s intrinsic motivation – they want to climb the leaderboard and be the best that they can be. From a training experience, it’s great because it really encourages the learner to want to play the game over and over again and truly digest your content. 

Chris: I think it’s really interesting. I have gotten the opportunity to participate in a few of these live sessions with my peers and besides just the recall and game element, it was a really good team-building experience. I’ve seen these types of games used in other instances to tap into the competitive nature of certain groups, especially salespeople who tend to be very competitive by nature. 

Stephen: Absolutely, these the games in the Online Group Play™ featuring (Jeopardy!® and Trivia) are also great for meeting facilitation. It can change the tone of your meeting and it can make it a lot more fun with a much higher level of engagement. They integrate into pretty much any web conferencing tool out there. 

Chris: It’s also great for the ice breakers that we used to do in the classroom, now we have to have other ways of doing that, virtually. Now we move into level 2, can you explain this knowledge, can you describe what you learn. This helps you engage with the information. Can you show us what that looks like Stephen? 

Stephen: We have two examples. The first one is a word Scramble Game. It’s about thinking about a concept and spelling it out letter by letter and word by word. This can be used for lots of different types of topics. This example is on training to prevent cybersecurity. Making someone spell out that concept or identify the right word to complete a concept really cements that information into their head. It could be about IT security or something about your product or it cloud be about your culture. The second game that falls into this group is about categorizing and ordering, called Sort-It. Sort-it is about dragging and dropping from your image word bank into the right column and into the right order. We are showing two different examples: one on burn treatment and the other on meal preparation, great for quick-service restaurants. It’s also a great game to train on the process. This game also utilizes time, streaks, points, and leaderboards. 

Chris: It’s also about practice and repetition right? If you have to do something in a particular order, you want to make sure that your learner has an opportunity to practice it. We say it takes 5 times to make a habit, whatever the number is it’s more than 1. This game gives them that practice playground where they can keep doing it multiple times so when they have to do it in real life, they don’t have to think about it, the muscle memory kicks in, the logical sequence is already cemented. 

Let’s move to level 4 which is deeper into doing and demonstrating. We are moving from learning to actual performance. We are doing this by starting to tap ito decision making, comparing, and contrasting and trying to engage the brain to do something with the knowledge you just learned.

Stephen: So we are launching a new game in The Training Arcade® called Detective. It’s great for training physicians to understand how to diagnose a disease or looking at a business school case study and understanding what’s the root cause of this particular issue. You are first given a case, it could be on a character or a business or a scenario that has happened and led up to this situation. Then you are given more information on the case, we call this the line-up to better understand the suspects. Then you are asked to create links between people or situations link linking evidence to a particular disease. You are now using deductive reasoning or detective work. Ultimately, the goal is to understand what is driving certain outcomes. This game requires identifying and serious brain work. This game can be done on your own or in a group setting. Executive training classrooms are using this game to get their management team to work together. We recently started working with a couple of business schools to have groups working together to understand case studies. It can be done virtually in a break-out room just as easily as in a physical classroom. 

Chris: This is one of these cases where we are moving from games that support learning to games where the game and the play is the learning and the learning is happening as they play. 

Stephen: All of these games that I’m showing are pretty easy to build. They are templates, so once you have your content adding it to the game itself only takes 30-60 minutes. They can be 5-minute experiences are half a day workshops. They can be used as an assessment tool or training tool. 

Chris: I’ve seen this in my past life when I did client work where there would be workshops structured around this- basic learning given to level-set everyone, then groups are formed and they work on assignments and interact with the simulation that’s presented through the game and then they have a discussion and talk about the learning afterward to close it and provide the context. It provides lots of opportunities to provide higher learning and those were 6 figure custom games. This is a great way to get everyone to be able to do something like this. 

Stephen: You can build these for low 4 figures. You can build it yourself or work on a consultant basis We’ve tried to take the tools that are out there and simplify them and make them a much quicker, user-friendly experience to build and to play.

Chris: Level about is all about justifying a stand or a decision. We are getting into critical thinking and tapping into the realm of soft skills in our application. We are getting into shaping our behavior. Here is where you need to think about those difficult decisions in a safe environment so that if you find yourself in that situation, under pressure in real life or in an emotionally charged situation that that’s not the first time you are experiencing it.

Stephen: The best example we have of this is Scenarios. People have tried to build these types of games using rapid authoring tools that have taken then 50+ hours to build. This game is great for empathizing and all soft skills in general. It could be used a sales team on how to handle objections, for doctor/patient relationships or leadership skills. It’s about looking at a particular scenario or characters and empathizing with them and navigating a conversation effectively. We have an example here where a doctor is trying to help diagnose a patient and the other example is a salesperson trying to sell a particular medicine to a doctor. These are two very different types of conversations but it’s really about ensuring the other person is hearing what you are saying and you hear what they are saying. In this game, we use points, timers, and meters and feedback so that the player can see if they are going down the wrong path. This is definitely one of the deeper types of games and requires more thought from an instructional design perspective. Once you’ve mapped it out, building it is quite easy. 

Chris: This is like the next best thing to role play, right? I can see it being used in HR with leadership development and crucial conversations. I definitely see it in those high-pressure situations where there might be some discomfort and the outcome really matters. The only way to truly understand it is to experience it over and over again. Like what you were saying in the beginning, it needs to be realistic, people need to see themselves in these characters or in the situation.

Stephen: To recap, the 3 most important things to consider when building a game is: 

  • It grabs someone’s attention, draws them in to try something in a risk-free zone and encourages them to do it over and over again
  • It should map back to your performance objective and desired to learning outcome. In my mind, games are not as effective when tagged onto the end of a training session. They are more effective when peppered throughout the training to try of what you’ve learned our the game is the training.
  • When done correctly, you are going to get a higher level of outcome than any other training method out there. 

We also want to give you a sneak peek into a new tool that we have launching in a few weeks. It’s called Arcades™. It can be played alone or head to head or team play by geography or division. You can create learning journeys to get achievements and rewards. The administrator can set challenges like Beat the Boss. There are also spin to win features that will encourage employees to come back to get more points for leaderboard status. We are really excited about this as we have been beta testing it with some larger companies and will be rolling it out very soon!

Email us at to let us know how we can help you be a training hero with games.



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