Can Your People Learn Better If They Have More Fun?

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Denise Martin, Director of Training, 8x8, Inc.

You’re trudging off to what you expect will be a boring training, mind-numbing meeting or stupefying staff event. You’re late. You expect the obligatory PowerPoint presentation, the kind that turned the word “multitasking” into a euphemism for not paying attention.

Then you open the door. You see people racing to answer questions by holding up different colored paddles. Others are playing a board game that actually fulfills all of the meeting objectives, and there’s a raffle jar to win prizes or gift cards if you earn enough points to get a ticket.

Which meeting would you rather go to? And which one would help you learn more? Companies like 8x8 are betting that fun techniques like these will improve employee learning, creativity and morale—and make their companies more fun, profitable places to work.

At 8x8, Learning is Entertaining AND Effective

Everyone knows that learning usually takes effort, but why can’t it be entertaining? A technique called gamification attempts to tackle this problem by mixing work and play. And the results indicate that bringing fun into the workplace makes everyone a winner.

8x8 managers think about these issues, in part because their company offers Virtual Meeting, a Web conferencing service designed to work with its cloud-based global phone service, Virtual Office. Designing a service that offers collaboration features has made us ultra-aware of the way people interact in meetings, trainings and workplace events. 8x8’s training team has been experimenting with gamification to get even better results.

No Longer Child’s Play

We are accustomed to associating memory games and puzzles with children’s toys. There is a stigma about combining work and play, and many of us think we are “too old” to be playing games—or that it’s not appropriate in the workplace.

But we also know that brain app games like Lumosity have been proven to increase adult brain functions, including memory, attention and problem solving—so why not apply these techniques at work? If done thoughtfully, gamifying at work can only lead to employees working together, thinking creatively to solve problems, improving their abilities and becoming more engaged by having fun!

8x8’s Director of Training and Development (and in-house gamification expert) Denise Martin, suggests looking at it from your audience’s perspective to see how they want to learn.

“If you give people a PowerPoint deck with information, you’re doing it from your own perspective—‘Here’s the stuff I think you need to know’—it’s not about what people need. If departments look at their customers and employees’ needs, then they can make it more fun and effective,” she says.

Don’t Just Educate, Change Behavior

One thing that might be holding back the effectiveness of your meetings or events is trying to educate when you really should be training. While educating people provides knowledge—in the sense of “Oh, that’s what that is. Good to know!”—training is focused on changing a behavior or capability. Employees should be trained on your products, so they can provide better results and excellent customer service.

That’s where gamification comes into play, by emphasizing what’s important in a game format and making the information stick. Denise comments that gamification has gained popularity because the way people want to learn has shifted.

“The way that we consume media today is completely changing how we do training as well. A traditional classroom is not as effective, especially with adults, because nobody can make them sit in there. It’s got to be compelling, and it’s got to be worth their time,” says Martin.

It’s All in the Details

Gamification might look like all fun and games, but a lot of details and consulting go into making an event a success. The best gamified events result in a company’s learning objectives and values tied together seamlessly, so that some of what employees absorb is subconscious. This kind of learning takes more effort and energy than prepping for a “traditional” meeting or training event, but the results have lasting effects like motivation.

For example, at a recent product training, Denise and the training team embedded 8x8’s core values (product knowledge, customers, teamwork and passion) into the event, even if they weren’t all consciously focal points.

We incorporated giant, inflatable obstacle courses and worked in teams to answer questions about our Virtual Contact Center products. Not only was this a fun way to learn, but it’s a great example of how stepping outside of the box (or the office) can really be a success with your employees!

Take the Risk—It’s Worth It!

Gamification is a relatively new technique in the workplace. So people are still hesitant to take the risk and try it out. But businesses that take the risk will reap the rewards, even if they start out small by introducing games into what they’re already doing.

Remember that gamifying doesn’t have to be all-out or expensive. Something as simple as introducing fidget toys during meetings so people aren’t on their phones, or handing out dollar store prizes, can increase employee engagement.

Adding fun to events can actually make people more passionate about their jobs, and that passion impacts the whole workplace. When people link passion and purpose with what they do, they are happier employees, the customers experience better service, and the company as a whole is better off.

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Claire Noack

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Claire is a marketing intern at 8x8. She is an English major at University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. She is also a regular columnist at TommieMedia. Read More >

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