How to link performance and learning, using gamification and microlearning

In the podcast you will hear about how GamEffective has linked workplace performance with learning, using microlearning and gamification. 

Roni Floman talks about how GamEffective started as a gamification of performance platform, then developed ways to help people improve performance with segments of microlearning.    

Gamification is typically about scores, levels and leaderboards. Roni talks about employees being able to ‘bet on themselves’ to set personal goals around metrics. Adaptive and personalised learning is often only based on employee performance in a learning scenario. The approach Roni discusses is centred on on-the-job performance first.     

One of the highlights of this interview is where Roni refers to ‘engagement automation’. Marketing automation is fed by triggers. For example, visiting a certain page on a website triggers a series of follow-up messages. When applied to learning, the messages will be tailored and triggered by performance. If an employee’s performance drops in an area, they will be sent (via email or mobile notifications) a series of microlearning messages that are tailored for them.      

Near the end of the podcast, Roni provides some worthwhile advice for getting started with these approaches: split your learning content into smaller chunks and map these workplace behaviours. That way, if someone needs to improve in an area, you will have the right learning experience ready for them.


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Transcript - How to link performance and learning, using gamification and microlearning, with Roni Floman

Welcome to the Learning While Working Podcast, Roni.

Thank you very much for having me.

What is GamEffective?

GamEffective is an interesting company that has gone from being focused on gamification into being a learning platform. How did that move come about? 

The move came about, in probably the best way for a company, which is market demand. We were always very big on learning.

We started as, and we still are, a digital motivation platform for employees. Think of a call centre or a sales situation or a back office situation where you constantly show performance KPIs to employees. We added gamification elements, like employees betting on themselves, collecting raffles, so that there's a game narrative. Really it works like a FitBit for work, to help people do better.

The whole idea about giving constant feedback is also letting people course-correct. As soon as we understood that, we understood that course-correction involves microlearning. So if I am supposed to sell product A, B, and C and I'm not managing to sell C, the best thing to do would be to immediately prompt me with microlearning about product C.

It was a very slippery hill towards more and more work with learning, where we had - people in call centres use us for instructor led training, for onboarding, for self service. In the meantime, it seems that learning was always interested with this push approach of pushing learning out with microlearning and with gamification, so we started getting a lot of requests there, and took the product there as well.

Feedback's really interesting. There was a summer we rented a Prius. It's interesting to see what happened to the energy use and how that changed depending on how I was driving.

The battery thing!

Yes, quite often when I drive down the street now, I still drive in the same way that I learned to drive in the Prius.

It was about conserving the energy, rather than starting off quickly. Gamification is normally about competing, and that's the way you're talking about it in this first instance, it is actually making performance visible.

Constant feedback

If you think of the classic performance review, then there are some general goals given to an employee annually. This doesn’t give a employee a good way to measure themselves through the year. Actually, goals that are given more often and are more personalised to you would probably work out better.

Feedback is like a fitness tracker, think about it. Imagine you are very sedentary, you don't walk much, if you get a fitness tracker and you have a 10,000 step goal for a day, you'll start looking at it. The feedback, from the fitness tracker isn't that you're bad: you just walked 3,000 steps today. You're actually monitoring yourself throughout the day, and then you may go for a short walk to complete that 10,000 steps. So the mere fact that you have feedback and a goal that you've chosen, would make you walk more.
And I think the same applies at work.

One of the partners in LearnD talks about how he uses a fitness tracker, and how it gives him feedback, but at work we don't have those.

This is what's interesting about your platform. You've got this feedback but then you've got diagnostic systems as well, to provide microlearning. This is one of those things that's always puzzled me in terms of instructional design. Figuring out if someone's got this performance deficit, what's the right bit of learning? How did you guys find that sort of experience to try and sort of - I think microlearning is the key to this, is breaking it up. But it's also about figuring out: someone’s got this performance deficit, what’s right for them?

The platform does this by using all kinds of technical elements. But the core thing is, if you think about it - if you think about a core performance play, when we're brought in and the KPIs for the employees are performance based, then it makes a lot of sense, but people have to get accustomed to it. Because most people don't tie learning and performance together, they keep them separately. I think the really interesting part is looking at learning, because assuming you have a limited time into which you can engage somebody with learning, you want to get the most of it. To get the most of it you have to choose what you are serving to them. Probably the best way to do that is to tie it to performance.

Yes. This is also really interesting because essentially, in a lot of the podcasts last year on xAPI people talked about learning being tied to performance, but it's almost a secondary thing. That performance was the outcome and measuring the outcome of learning, whereas you're measuring performance first, then giving microlearning as the prescription for the performance problem.

Linking learning and performance

Yes. I think looking at the outcome is a way for learning development professionals to prove the value of what they've done. I know that it's very important in modern corporate life, to show that whatever program you had, had a business impact.

But I think in many senses if you use performance as your assessment tool then you can see a lot of interesting things. Think of maybe looking at how many errors somebody makes. Let's say somebody's processing insurance claims. Somebody with a high error rate - first of all we can show that to that person. I think that would be beneficial and fair to them, and then that probably gives you a lot of insight about what they're missing.

Roni, this also, and essentially because of the platform, integrates into a lot of other places where people do work, like Salesforce.

The performance data is a primary thing and the learning is at the side of the platform and then wraps around the edge of it, rather than being a separate platform as well?

To be truthful, learning and performance work really on the same platform. The KPIs are different, you can have learning KPIs and performance KPIs and of course you have much more content when you're using this for learning alone.

I dare say, that learning is never marginal. So even in a performance game, a lot of the engagement comes from the learning itself. People are engaged not because they got points but because they're coming in to this fitness tracker thing, figuring out where they are and then immediately consuming a piece of microlearning.

Then on the peer learning side, we would have the learning KPIs, and we'd usually work in a certain course or set of courses. So for the person deploying us, we’re doing learning only. It's actually tricky. When I talk to customers I have to figure out whether measuring performance is something that they even feel authorised to do or think of, because sometimes they don't and then their eyes might gloss over when I talk about that.

But sometimes you do see receptiveness on the learning side to do something courageous and look at continuous measurement of both learning and performance.

Yes, I was actually even thinking of a L&D person: he's in a this spot where he didn't feel like he could actually get a hold of the organisation's performance data. It was interesting, because he was actually getting pushback on it. He actually moved to a different part of the organisation that was a lot more performance focused, and is a lot more sales focused, so he could get hold of what he needed to be able to do his job. 

Engagement automation

In the beginning you also talked quickly about learning automation. There's a lot of work happening around marketing automation and figuring out triggers that then send particular personalised email messages to people based on what they see or what they open, or pages they visit on a website. It's not really a common frame of mind in learning. What is GamEffective doing in this area?

Yes. Kind of going back to marketing automation, the idea has a lot of components. Some if it can be just personalisation, so, one of those nagging emails where it has your first name in the title, to get you to open. “Robin, why don't you check out this offer?”-type. I think the heyday of that is almost over. 

Same applies for putting your company's name in the title. It's almost like clickbait. The smarter things getting done in marketing automation are, as you've mentioned, looking; segmenting audiences, figuring out that people that look at a certain webpage are different from people that look at another one, and then targeting the content to them.

We have something like that, that's called engagement automation. But it actually takes it a little further. I think learning is going from waiting there passively to be consumed by the learner which will be coaxed somehow into doing that, and then dealing with poor engagement figures, to doing push engagement. So just saying something like, "Hey, in the five minutes you're going to learn this day, do this. Not because it has your name on it, but because we know it's what you need to learn based on a host of factors."

Maybe your compliance requirements, your course requirements, your career path requirements and your performance. Then targeting the right message at you. So, think about somebody who did not get good results on a compliance test, and somebody who did. You may want to direct different messages to them.

The idea is really to have what we call engagement automation. Engagement isn't done manually by learning managers saying, "Hey, Robin as the person in the top quartile of the compliance test, I suggest you do this," because it doesn't work - but doing it automatically.

And when you do it automatically, you have these templates. We usually advise people on best practises for doing that, and then you can get really high engagement rates.

I think, good microlearning players, not just us, are talking about 90% engagement, and you can even get to 90% engagement on a weekly basis.

Microlearning and gamification

Wow. That's actually a pretty amazing figure, Roni. Because essentially so much of corporate learning, people are just disengaged with. Is that because of the personalisation? What people need when they need it, in terms of the scale of it?

I think the scalability brought in through engagement automation is a big thing. Gamification is big. We don't emphasis it as much, but the mere gamification of looking at what goals you have, and then reflecting them back to you, asking you to bet on yourself.

We always see that a certain portion of the people we address are very turned on by the ability to bet on themselves, or by short term campaigns, and then they really try hard to consume a lot of learning and getting virtual rewards. People get into the habit of this daily mobile consumption of microlearning.

I think all of that together works very well. Another thing, which I think is very interesting is that if you take this approach, you start using at some point a lot of quizzes to both tell how people are doing, and then it's also a good hack to create content. So, think about a big question bag where you get several questions a day. I know how you're doing, and I can better trigger my engagement automation messages, because I know what the subject of each question was, but for you it's not such a bad experience too.

That gives that whole thing of giving of practise and feedback like what Patti Shanks talked about in her podcast.

Some of these examples you've used, Roni, are really measured environments. Call centres, processing insurance claims, they're sort of, I don't say it’s just process work, because they're still smart, complicated work, and difficult work, but they're measured environments. A lot of digital workers don't work in those same measurements. The work’s more unknown. It's about innovation and creativity, and solving problems. Can this sort of approach you're talking about work in those sort of more nebulous workplaces?

First of all, the answer is yes, but you have to understand what's measured and what's not, and then figure out what you want to do about it.

Even if you think about a call centre, which is a highly measured environment, oftentimes you discover that the measurements get only to the manager and not to the employee. So what gamification would really do would be to democratise that, and show employees in real time how they're doing.

So if you're looking at maybe innovation, software development, the digital world, I suppose managers are measuring things and you have to think about how to communicate that measurement. In Silicon Valley, you see this whole doctrine of objectives and key results being communicated to employees, and they're used in semi-gamified systems, in terms of the continuous feedback piece. Other things that are very, very important sometimes are manager observations and feedback. They're also highly applicable in the measured environment.

Think about pulling in all the performance data for a call centre employee, but also adding in manager feedback, as one of the KPIs coming in. That usually gives people a nuance, or something about the quality that's maybe not measured by a system. When we do learning with instructors, we have instructors also do some feedback on the system.

So, I think maybe in a knowledge worker scenario, you'd use a combination of objectives and key results, learning goals, which are as measurable as in a measured environment, and then manager feedback. That would probably give you a real time picture of performance for the employee, and would create a different culture around performance. When you start talking about measuring performance continuously you do create a slight or larger move in how culture works in an organisation.

Yes. There’s another interesting thing around performance being measured; self assessment as well.

Self assessment is very big too because it makes you reflect. Some of it is used in our ‘bet on yourself game’ mechanics. 

If I ask you to bet on how well you’re performing, I'm actually kind of turning on your self reflection, and that would probably cause you to have better results.

Cool. That's actually a really nice example of it, that ‘betting on yourself’, thinking through what your performance is going to be, building in your own continuous feedback loop.

Yes, it's like having somebody to count how many red cars they're going to see, or bet on how many red cars they're going to see coming in to work, that would actually make them more alert when they're driving.

Advice on getting started with linking performance and learning, using gamification microlearning

Yes. If someone was thinking about getting started with the personalisation of learning based on performance, where do you think is a good spot to start, Roni?

They can go to our website. That's fairly obvious.

I think the real question would be to look at their catalogue. Their mental catalogue of what they're teaching people, and have another mental catalogue of what behaviours they expect them to do. Then start tying them in together, see what works with what, and that really creates a map of what people should know. This map often doesn't look like the ordinary content map they would be thinking of.

Yes, so actually a re-thinking of your map sometimes away from sequences of learning, down to behaviours, and thinking about sort of splitting it up into smaller bits, and tagging it and thinking about what might be the triggers for each one of those components.

Yes. Exactly.

I’ll include the link to your website as well as the Next Generation Learning Delivery ebook - which is how I found you to start with - on the blog post as well.

Yes. There are actually two. One has more performance examples and one has more learning examples.

Ok. Thank you so much for joining me on the Learning While Working Podcast today. 

Thank you, Robin. It was a pleasure.