Training Games: The Best Tool to Educate and Motivate Your Employees

Originally presented by Managing Partner Richard Lowenthal at Learning Guild’s DevLearn Conference, October 2019

The Spectrum of Learning

We hate when people say “training is boring.” We don’t think that’s what they really mean. In order to unpack that comment and really understand what is going on in the training, consider where along the line on “the spectrum of learning” your team lies.  Are they emotionally disconnected? Is your training to passive? How active is your training? Some employees are impacted by the content, the performance objectives you have, as well as the corporate culture in which you need to deliver this training. You need to deliver and assess your employees’ knowledge retention to ensure that they will be effective at their jobs. This is the challenge. So how do you do that? How do you create training that is truly active and engaging? 



The Difference Between Passive and Active Learning

What is the difference between passive learning versus active learning? Training managers often put most of their effort into educational campaigns that live in passive training (lectures, PowerPoint, watching videos, etc). This leads to highly ineffective retention and learning rates. Ironically this is where we spend most of the time and effort in training. Why is so much time spent on passive training?

Active training, such as games, is where you’re going to see a far better return on investment. So why is such little effort spent at the base of the pyramid? First, let me tell you a personal story. I have two children and a few years ago, my youngest son, Jack came home from school (he was about 3 years old at the time) and I asked him, “Jack, what did you do at school today?” He said, “I just played games all day.” Then he recounted the planets in our solar system from the sun outward. He was 3 years old and he knew the planets and facts about each one because he was playing a game in his classroom about the solar system! That was about 8 years ago and we decided at The Game Agency to focus, like a laser beam, on games for education: using games as a tool to teach children. So I wonder, why did we stop playing games as adults? Why did we stop learning through play? We still learn through play but not in corporate settings. We have fun while learning. If you ask your learners if they enjoy training? The majority of them will say no because they don’t have an emotional connection with their training and hence their learning.

Training is Expensive

The Association for Talent Development (ATD) estimated through a survey that the average company spends $1296 on training, per employee each year. But, if you consider the learning curve or “forgetting curve,” which says that within 20 minutes of training, every employee will forget 40% of what is taught. In one day, they’ll forget 80%. So in dollars, that means $1037 per employee is wasted – thrown in the trash. After 30 days, 90% is forgotten. Money is “mis-deployed” in training. Games are fun but they also deliver a significant return on investment. 

There are so many tools for training: PowerPoint, Captivate, Articulate, Lectora, Vyond, Powtoon, Prezzi, Plotagon, and Moovly to name a few. PowerPoint is used over 90% of training. We use PowerPoint too but we always incorporate a game in the presentation. For instance, I like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but I don’t like just peanut butter sandwiches. So to make an effective peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I need the raspberry jelly. I’m not telling you to replace all that you are doing and only use games. I’m not saying that. I’m saying: games are a complement and you should have it in place for reinforcement. In my eyes, games are “the jelly”. Peter Brown’s book “Make It Stick” upends how you think about training and education. We’re still training and educating as if we are on the prairie. A trainer has to deliver that content successfully and find a way to live in the active learning space. Games are fun and when done right, they can deliver ROI. 

Games That You Can Build Yourself

In our 12 year history of making custom games for companies, we kept hearing at tradeshows that Instructional Designers, Training Managers, and CLOs wanted to be more empowered. They felt that the tools that are out there to create games and just not good enough. The games take too long to build and even worse they aren’t pretty and they’re not fun. Hence the development of The Training Arcade®, a DIY game-authoring tool that is meant to empower you to very quickly make games to meet your learning objectives. There are 5 game types that are wonderful for assessing, decision making, sequencing, visualization, verbalizing, and essentially covering the whole spectrum of performance that you need for your employees to make them do their jobs better. Decision making or using good judgment is probably the hardest to train. How do you help with judgment when there is grey space there? With customer service, you have to deal with a certain situation and make the best decision you can in that instance. A branching path game, like The Training Arcade’s Scenarios game type, is perfect for this type of training because it simulates those kinds of complicated decisions. 

We built a Scenarios game for CHEST (American College of Chest Physicians). They needed assistance with training doctors with their bedside manner with their patients as well as they were launching a new product for patients with COPD. How do you talk to patients about that? It’s not easy as doctors are stressed out and don’t have lots of time. How do you engage those doctors in a simulated setting? We gave them a 7-minute simulation that engaged them, made them focus, but really enabled them to go through the journey and experience. They have that difficult situation to deal with and they need to have a complicated conversation. The best way to go through that is to practice and get it wrong and think about the decisions they made and think I should’ve done that. This allows them to practice this effort safely. 

Sort It is another game in The Training Arcade®. It’s kind of a 3-dimensional multiple choice game. You have to understand the concept from several different perspectives. If a Pharmaceutical company is trying to train their sales team on a new drug, they’d want them to know the facts of the new drug but also who is allowed to use it. It requires that you have the synaptic pathways of understanding the connections correctly. In Peter Brown’s book, “Make It Stick,” he speaks about the creation of the synaptic pathways to information. Let’s call games neural pathway generators. That’s what games do; they manipulate the data and drive the information into the learner’s long term memory.  If that connection is not made, that learning material goes to the short term memory and is gone very quickly.

Our Recall game provides learners with the opportunity to watch a video or see an image and recall what they just saw. It instantly creates that bond between the visual and their brain. It is done in a competitive space where the points that they get are directly impacted by the time it takes them to remember or go back and look at the video or image again. 

Scramble is a word or sentence scramble game that really helps make that knowledge stick. It helps train and assess to ensure a deeper understanding of the content.

JEOPARDY!®, officially licensed training game by Sony Productions,  has been a great success and is being adopted and played by tens of thousands of employees. The average gameplay is 22 minutes for an employee who plays 5 x 5 game. What would you give to have an employee play, use, and learn your content for 22 minutes? 22 minutes of being engaged and absorbing your training material. The average attention span of an adult is five minutes. That number about 12 years ago was ten minutes. The reason stems from the number of distractions that are thrown at us all the time. So, how do you keep their attention? Engagement! Stretch that time by using games to engage your learners or your employees, and expand that time. 

What are the results when you use your neural pathway generators (aka games)? You engage your learners, increase their attention, and sustain their focus. When your learners practice with games, they will improve their confidence, reinforce knowledge, change behaviors, and change those employees into higher performance contributors. They will become more productive, more confident, better at their jobs, and will directly impact a company’s ROI. 

5 Key Takeaways with Creating a Game-Based Learning Strategy

  1. Start with a game everyone knows, make it fun and creative
  2. Make sure it aligns with performance objectives. What do your employees really need to know to do their job effectively? 
  3. When you are creating the games. Make them easy to get into. Once your employees are engaged and stimulated, then you can make the game harder. 
  4. Provide feedback to improve knowledge, but not too much. Provide feedback when their mind is open – when they got it right. Think, “Did you know . . .?”
  5. Encourage replayability and create competition. If they play the game multiple times, they will learn more. 

How can we help make you a training hero? Give us a shout to discuss your game-based learning strategy.

Recent Posts


Human Resources Today

Send Us A Message

    Scroll to Top