Part 1: How to Space Out Your Use of Games for Training. Part 1: Before The Training

by Carrie Wiser, Senior Learning Experience Designer, The Game Agency, a division of ELB Learning 

Did you ever pull an “all-nighter” cram session before a test? What did you remember a few days later? Probably not much, because our brains aren’t designed to work that way. Hermann Ebbinghaus (1885) first identified the Forgetting Curve: after we learn something, we immediately start forgetting some of it. The good news is that we can improve our recall if we revisit (repeat) new information in multiple, spread-out sessions.

Using repetition to minimize the impact of the forgetting curve is the heart of the spaced learning approach. Woźniak (1994) and Thalheimer (2006) found that well-designed, spaced repetitions support learning and minimize forgetting. Material is learned and then repeated over longer and longer gaps of time. The repetitions need not be verbatim. In fact, it is more effective to use a variety of instructional strategies (e.g., presentation, interactions, stories, games) and media. Not only does variety pique interest, but learners can benefit from seeing how information and skills can be applied in different contexts.

At The Game Agency, our easy-to-use online training software, The Training Arcade® focuses on increasing knowledge retention. Game-based learning supports meaningful, self-motivated, repeated engagement with your content via game replay.  We recommend that you use training games before, during, and after the learning session.  

  • Before to introduce concepts and get people into the mindset to learn.
  • During to keep everyone deeply engaged and learning.
  • After to reinforce learning and support transfer into long-term memory.

Single-player (asynchronous) games are often the best delivery method for this approach because they allow employees to play at their convenience. A multiplayer (synchronous) game may also be helpful Before and After—especially if you are running an ILT or VILT course—but those can be more difficult to arrange due to scheduling conflicts.

What is the “Before” Stage of Learning?

This is when you plant the seed and get people ready to learn. At the most basic level, you spread the word and get learners excited about the training. You can “hook” learners in by relating the information to them in a personal or fun way. For example, by showing how the training will boost their ability to succeed, or setting up challenges that the training can help them meet. This generates interest and improves motivation by giving learners a sense of purpose and direction.

Once you’ve hooked learners, you can take things one step further by getting them to start thinking about the knowledge they will acquire or the skills they will develop. The right mix of “pre-activities” not only helps establish the right mindset for learning—it can also give learners a head start on the first repetition. For example, you can preview terminology, ask thought-provoking questions, or introduce problems that the training will help solve. These types of activities set learner expectations, pique interest, and give them a foundation to start building upon. 

You can also use pre-course activities before your training program to gauge what your audience already knows. The results can give you insight on how to adjust the curriculum, perhaps by covering certain topics in more or less depth. They can also help you personalize the training when needed. For example, you may decide that learners who achieve a certain score can “test out” of more basic-level training. Or, you may recommend additional pre-course materials for learners who have some gaps to fill.

How Games Can Help

It is already a challenge to convince busy, distracted learners that they have time for training workshops. So how can you motivate them to engage in pre-course activities too? 

This is where gamification in training can help. If someone emailed you a 5-minute document to read and a 5-minute training game to play, which would you do first? A fun game is much more likely to gain pre-course interest and traction than a handout or a PowerPoint presentation. This type of “active learning” pulls people into the experience and gives them a reason to think about the content. 

You can use a Wheel of Fortune® game to introduce terminology, a JEOPARDY!® game to stir thought-provoking questions, or a scenario game to introduce a relatable problem the training can help solve. Worried how people will react if they don’t know the answer right away? Gamifying your classroom, whether it’s live or virtual can help there, too. When learners have the freedom to make mistakes and receive helpful corrective feedback, failure can be a great teacher. Answering a question wrong fosters an emotional connection that makes the “right” answer more memorable.

One of the risks of pre-course activities is that some people will complete them before the training, while others may not—so the class starts out on an uneven playing field. But gamification of training can help boost engagement. For example, a quick live online training game can bring the group together so that you can start building a sense of community before the training officially begins. Achievements (such as badges) or rewards (both point-based and tangible rewards) can motivate people to complete pre-course training games on their own. Social gamification elements (like challenges and leaderboards) can motivate more competitive learners to come online and see how they stack up against others.

Using Game Metrics to Improve the Learning Experience

Game-based learning gives you access to metrics and data that can help you better tailor the learning experience. Scores will not be “100%” at this stage, but they can help you determine how to meet learners where they are. For example, consistent scores may indicate that learners are starting at approximately the same baseline. But if the scores are all over the map, you may need to adjust your approach to teach to different levels of knowledge and experience.

Completion rates and individual question data can help you assess the effectiveness of the pre-course activities themselves. The questions that people miss can help you tailor your talking points and activities accordingly. For example, JEOPARDY! clues to which no one correctly responds could give you insight into knowledge gaps that you’ll need to address during the training workshop. Or, maybe the clue itself isn’t clear; consider if there is a way to better frame it next time.

As your pre-course curriculum grows, you can offer a few different training games with the same basic content and see which games learners played the most. Or, look at the number of repeat plays to see if your learners are driven to increase their score and climb the leaderboard. This insight into the types of experiences your learners engage in most can help you tailor both current and future training strategies to increase motivation and attention. 

In our next post, we’ll look at the benefits of adding games during your training workshops. We’ll also review some examples and tips for adding online training games and corporate training gamification to your instructional design approach.


Murre JMJ, Dros J. (2015). Replication and Analysis of Ebbinghaus’ Forgetting Curve. PLOS ONE 10(7): e0120644. 

Thalheimer, W. (2006, February). Spacing Learning Events Over Time: What the Research Says. Retrieved March 30, 2021, from 

Woźniak, P. & Gorzelańczyk, E. (1994). Optimization of repetition spacing in the practice of learning. Acta neurobiologiae experimentalis. 54. 59-62.


Recent Posts


Human Resources Today

Send Us A Message

    Scroll to Top