Learning through play... a story as old as learning itself, and one that has taken on a new dimension in recent decades, making its mark in fields as varied as marketing, communications and, of course, vocational training. Gamification has become an increasingly popular way of developing both soft and hard skills. But what's the best way to use this approach and for what kinds of training? What are the best practices and new uses? Gilles Basset, Director of Customized Program Development at emlyon business school, explains what an edutainment approach can bring to professional training.

First developed in the United States in the 1950s as so-called “business games” that challenged teams to tackle the issues involved in building a company, gamification has gradually grown in scope and complexity. However, the approach remains based on a simple idea – adding the characteristics of games to a business challenge, such as giving a score or status, using quizzes and reward systems, and creating interactions between players. Its success has led to new educational products based on gamification principles and more complex scenarios, known as “serious games”. Structured in the form of games and intended to be immersive, their sole purpose is to promote learning and develop skills. Used by training organizations and companies alike, gamification has proved its worth and now has its place in development strategies for specific skills.

Gaming: A powerful driver of engagement

« Gamification is an educational approach based on a learning experience that aims to be effective and to focus very heavily on engaging its participants", explains Gilles Basset. "In fact, the very principle of gamification relies on having a controlled environment with a series of scenarios, challenges and rewards. These are all ways of activating powerful mechanisms such as the competitive spirit, the will to succeed, and the taste for a challenge. In short, there are very few people who don't want to play. »

This positive effect, which has often been observed by organizers of such games, has now been confirmed by neuroscience. Research into the functioning of the brain is beginning to reveal the positive effects of gamification on learning processes - detecting an increased stimulation of reward mechanisms and emotional engagement. Specifically, gamification leads to the secretion of neurotransmitters such as endorphins, oxytocin, and dopamine, which promote well-being, limit stress, and encourage empathy.

Gamification : a learning experience at emlyon business school

After the game, the analysis

Aside from the positive effects on engagement and learning, the real benefit of gamification comes after the game itself – with the analysis of behaviors, reflexes, or decision-making in the face of pre-determined situations. For example, a course based on a collaborative game can help participants to cooperate more effectively, improve their communications skills, and strengthen their sense of team spirit.

"The game is basically just a way of getting people to embrace the reflexes we want to promote, but it means we can identify certain behaviors and mechanisms of interest among participants," says Gilles Basset. By taking time after the game to analyze how it went, participants and organizers can highlight the skills being deployed or strengthened, and then link them to the training objectives. By doing so, everyone can optimize their experience of the game and then learn from it.

Targeting the right skills

Business game at emlyon business school

The effectiveness of this approach has made gamification a major tool for learning. Today, the development of digital technology means that the experience can be offered to an even wider audience, as participants can take part in face-to-face, online or hybrid courses.

Gamification is not an absolute necessity," says Gilles Basset, "but it is often useful. At emlyon, we firmly believe that gamification lends itself particularly well to developing certain skills, such as cooperation and decision-making in situations that are not fully controlled. That's why we've been using it for two decades.”

emlyon's courses include a range of gamification experiences designed for corporate performance management, leadership, or cooperation. These experiences range from highlighting the value of coordination within a group by using simple means such as a rope, to implementing a management game at a winery to test and highlight the importance of listening and collective analysis. The latter was used in a talent program for high-potential employees in the logistics sector.

A game for every need

Gamification experiences can be created using a wide variety of approaches and resources. "One of the most obvious uses is to combine it with finance, for example, by creating business games to raise awareness among divisional heads about the company's return on capital employed and its profitability. The nature of the game soon makes them realize the impact of their decisions on these two key aspects of business performance," says Gilles Basset.

emlyon also offers games that plunge participants into a completely different world to their own, yet provide a learning experience that will make a real difference in their day-to-day work. For example, participants can be tasked with managing a hospital accident and emergency facility at night - a game experience that highlights the importance of service levels.

"We can also develop completely immersive experiences for clients,” explains Gilles Basset. “For example, we created an escape game featuring a mission to save the planet." While the subject might seem more about entertainment or fantasy, the objective is highly practical. "It's all about highlighting people's skills and their ability to collaborate and take decisions under stress - and observing their behavior," he points out.

Bringing gamification closer to reality

Having proved itself over several decades with its positive results, the time has now come for gamification to expand its horizons and include more technology, and to highlight the transformations that organizations need to undertake (particularly involving CSR).

One of the first development areas is to optimize the user or participant experience, drawing on lessons learned from the gaming industry, and especially video games. The significant technological advances in recent years in terms of graphics and game scenarios are obvious sources of inspiration for gamification.

But although graphics obviously play a part in the user experience, gamification needs to reflect the everyday business realities faced by companies in order to make a real impact. "We believe in gamification based on situations or scenarios that are as close as possible to what companies actually experience - it's a scenario-based learning approach. The other main application area is games that focus on the key issues that companies need to address collectively, such as decarbonization or inclusion," says emlyon's expert. Clearly, the key to gamification's success lies in adapting to the needs and expectations of the target audience. Such is the value of all tailor-made training courses when it comes to providing long-term impacts and driving the necessary changes.

"At the same time, we firmly believe that proposing a game to our clients should always be accompanied by transparency and communications about its objectives,” sums up Gilles Basset. “That way, participants can get the most out of the game, and then put what they have learned into practice ."

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