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The need for soft skills training and gamification

A look at why soft skills are more important than ever in our current world

As our lives become more unpredictable with each passing day, the professional business world will undeniably require individuals to have specific skills that help them to be more creative and innovative. The skills that I am referring to are those that fall under the collective name of Soft Skills. It is more and more important for individuals to have a strong grasp of the various soft skills that are required in the business world. And one method to aid in learning and practising these skills is through the use of gamification.

These skills are primarily those that have to do with communication, collaboration, emotional intelligence and creative intelligence. And there are various reasons as to why these skills are so important; for example, good communication skills allow for high quality discussions among team members and this, in turn, helps to improve the value of completed projects. Better collaboration among colleagues improves overall productivity, emotional intelligence fosters better understanding in work environments. And creative intelligence allows for better resilience in individuals and innovation in a volatile business world.

As the Millennial and incoming Gen Z generations are taking hold in the workplace, one of the most effective ways to train individuals is through the use of gamification and gamified design. For those still unaware of what gamification is, it is the use of game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts. (Deterding et al., 2011) And the benefit of having gamified training allows for better retention of knowledge and the ability to apply it more effectively in the workplace. (Armstrong & Landers, 2017)

Gamification can be a versatile methodology for the training of a variety of things. But I should say that when you are deciding whether to use gamification for training these skills, make sure that it is the correct tool and that it aligns with your businesses’ goals. You should do an exploration of your organisation first to determine this. Once you have done that you will know whether you need to alter or tailor the amount and intensity of the gamified design to better suit your business needs in terms of the training and development of soft skills for your colleagues.

In this piece we will look at:

  • How to go about a gamified training session for soft skills
  • Why a gamified session for soft skills is a good idea
  • The various reasons for running a gamified soft skills training session
  • And areas of application for gamified training.

What gamified training involves

When organisations consider training, they tend to follow the idea that each aspect or feature needs to be dealt with individually. And this is certainly true when it comes to soft skill training, where the HR and L&D departments differentiate between the various attributes of those skills and breakdown them down into their constituent parts. Thus, we have pieces of training, and likely online courses, that focus purely on communication, or collaboration or EQ, and so on.

The reasoning behind this is so that each aspect of the soft skills umbrella can be measure separately and see whether the course was effective in its purpose. The only problem is that these aspects cannot be separated, they need to all work together for them to be effective. And when developing a gamified training workshop that focuses on these, you will need to combine them into a single holistic experience for your participants, so that they can get the most out of the training.

Naturally, I do understand that if you are the champion in your organisation, or are trying to sell the idea to a client, you may need a simplified aspect that transfers better to the intermediary who wants a measurable outcome. If that is the case, then focusing on collaboration is the best skill to start with, as it is the descriptive process of a team working together towards a common goal. (Collins, 2010). But for this to be truly effective and possible, you will naturally need to combine effective communication skills, empathy for a team member, and creativity to solve complex problems. All of this can be incorporated into a gamified training session focused on improving collaboration between team members.

As the team collaborates and works together, they will need to share ideas, discuss them and develop problem-solving strategies. They will also need to find compromises, resolve issues, support each other and think creatively so that they can emerge successfully. The benefit, therefore, of a gamified training workshop is that it creates an intense microcosm where the various soft skills and participants are placed into a pressure cooker. The compact nature of the experience may not always be suited to ‘broad learning’ but it does offer ‘deep learning’ in a very short period, as Andrzej Marczewski (2012) has stated before.

Why a gamified training session

Training sessions and their development have traditionally been the remit of Human Resources and Learning & Development departments. But the truth is that any individual at a senior level can and should have the ability to allow for training sessions if it will aid in improving their team’s effectiveness.

The reason for bringing up this thought is because training workshops, and especially gamified workshops, require a leader who offers authority and has the power to make decisions. Outside of the facilitator that has been brought in to deliver the workshop that is.

For a gamified training workshop to be effective, there needs to be such a leader who can be the champion of the experience. They will be able to encourage and empower their team in the training, along with themselves and promote the training throughout the organisation.

And to build upon this, applicable gamified training for soft skills then is one that offers a sustained learning environment and where the content of the training is maintained over the long-term. It also needs to be a training experience where effective feedback is given initially and offered again over several occasions. This is of specific importance because it allows for participants to effectively apply their knowledge back into the workplace.

A well designed gamified training experience, therefore, involves the organisation and champion from the start, and can greatly increase the participant’s motivation and ability to retain the knowledge gained.

Reasons for a gamified training session

Why would you need to run a gamified training workshop or session for your employees, colleagues and/or team members?

It Increases Engagement

A well developed gamified experience can promote motivation and increase the overall engagement of your employees. Not only within the workshop but also beyond, they will be more engaged with their roles, their peers and the organisation.

But for this to be possible there needs to be a careful consideration of what motivators are most effective with your participants. This is key to the effectiveness of the training, as you need to make sure that these align with the overall purpose of the workshop.

Knowing which motivational levers align will be useful in developing the training workshop and in delivering it. With the development, you will be able to consider the correct success and fail conditions for the experience that your participants will engage with. This then allows you to develop the correct rule system that they will need to adhere to and what game mechanics and elements you can use in the delivery that will facilitate and promote their level of engagement and immersion.

As with any gamified experience, there will be the expectation of an outcome. You will need to offer some reward and/or consequence associated with the success/fail conditions that you have created within the experience. I would recommend that you ensure that these rewards offer intrinsic value and facilitate the motivation for continued learning within the learner. An extrinsic reward such a voucher or foodstuff will likely not allow for this.

Intrinsic rewards are those that have value to the participant over the long term. Extrinsic rewards tend to be short-term oriented. An example of an intrinsic reward when relating it to soft skill training in our current remote working world is perhaps something like the option for a participant to pick the most comfortable headset, webcam and office chair that they wish to use. This will improve their quality of life and promote them to be more collaborative online. And it has the added value of having cost them nothing, other than being good at their job and perhaps better after they receive this ‘gift’. Do remember that such a reward is a gift, and at no point should such rewards be used as a stick to enforce some abstract concept of obligation or devotion.


Knowledge retention and immediate feedback

Creating an engaging gamified experience offers benefits on two fronts, one is that participants will likely find it more enjoyable to learn through this method, and second because it is more enjoyable, they will be engaged more and retain the knowledge gained for longer.

The other advantage of a gamified experience, to return to the pressure cooker metaphor, is that participants receive immediate feedback on what they are doing. Any action they take offers a result, and a bonus of this is that the environment is essentially risk-free. Participants are therefore free to experiment, fail and learn.

For an even longer-term benefit of knowledge retention, a feedback session at the end of the workshop is required. And continued check-ins and feedback beyond the workshop, at least for a few weeks after, is also highly recommended.


Boost employee happiness and productivity

At least 80% of employees say that a gamified environment has made them feel more motivated & productive according to TalentLMS.

This number is mostly due to employees being allowed to learn and increase their knowledge and skill range. Thus allowing them to be better at their jobs and likely receive promotions and/or salary increases. Promotion and salary increases are naturally extrinsic rewards, but the accomplishment and satisfaction of being effective and good at your job is an intrinsic motivator that lasts much longer. Not to mention that the promotion is an acknowledgement of ability, worth to the organisation and value of the individual. All of which are incredibly powerful intrinsic motivators.

The added benefit of all this is that the loyalty of your employees will also increase, as your organisation will be seen as caring and one that takes an interest in their workforce. This should also be authentic because if it is just lip-service in an attempt to keep employees, this will eventually be discovered and it will likely alienate some of your most valued workers.

Areas of application for gamified training

There are a few areas where gamified training can be exceptionally effective if done correctly. Here are a few examples areas that you can consider when thinking about gamified training workshops:

  • New employee onboarding is always a difficult point and using a gamified training session to help new employees become accustomed to their team and the business is a great way to quickly and effectively get them up to speed.
  • Sales and marketing training is another great area where gamified training is very successful. Using strong narratives, themes and desirable end conditions will motivate sales and marketing participants to quickly learn the effective skills they require to be successful at their jobs.
  • Gamified training can also be easily incorporated with e-learning, and as is implied with the pressure cooker metaphor, the use of micro-learning is already hard-baked into the methodology of such workshops.

Final Thoughts

Developing and/or getting a specialist in to run a gamified workshop for you will always be a specific experience. Each workshop has a general format it will follow, but for absolute effectiveness, it will need to be tailored to the group that will take part in it.

As mentioned earlier, the goals of the participants, the champion, the organisation and the workshop itself must all align for the experience to be helpful and successful. Therefore, working well in advance with a specialist is recommended.

The results of a good gamified soft skills training session cannot be underestimated, however. Participants who engage fully with the experience will come out of it empowered and with a sense of autonomy and mastery that they probably did not have before doing the workshop. This will lead them to be more productive and happier individuals. But it is your job as the manager, CEO, organisation, in general, to continue supporting them and to ensure that the learning is maintained and sustained.

Single events don’t always lead to sweeping changes, but regular practice and application will slowly cause great change. It is akin to the small ripple that turns into a great wave.

I hope that this piece has given you some food for thought and helped improve your own methods or at least offered a different viewpoint to consider.

Do check out the other posts on æ, and do leave a comment or contact us if you have some ideas of your own that you wish to discuss or if you would like to see other topics discussed.

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