As the acceptance and adoption of game-based learning expands, a common question is, “When should I use it?” The simple answer is, “Always!” Game-based learning facilitates a deeper understanding than traditional eLearning courses. It is not confined by the content, audience, or delivery platform. Designers can offer gamified training and serious games anywhere for any topic!  

But while it is possible to create an incredible game for every online training event, it is not always feasible. Game development takes longer, requires greater involvement of stakeholders, and costs more than slide-based eLearning. This reality forces most learning and development teams to choose which topics or learning objectives are worth the investment in game-based training.

To start the decision-making process, compile a list of all the training your organization intends to produce. Then, measure the items on your list against these four conditions.

1. Procedures requiring practice

Game-based training allows learners to practice new skills. For instance, imagine a sales associate is required to ask customers for an email address before ringing up their order on the register. This is a relatively simple task that could be easily forgotten. Therefore, practicing the procedure in context would be valuable.

You could create a game where the learner must help a long line of customers at the register. Learners race against colleagues to see who can ring up orders the fastest, and earn points for each accurate transaction. Among the many tasks involved in the scenario, the learner must remember to ask for an email address at the appropriate time.

Not all training pertains to skills that need practice, such as the company’s dress code policy. You could develop a game where the learner puts the appropriate clothing items on an avatar, attaches their name tag in the proper place, and so on. However, investing in this game may be senseless because retail employees do not need rehearsal to get dressed

2. Knowledge learners must apply

Next, when ranking your list of learning topics, determine what the learners need to do with the knowledge received. Many instructional designers compare Bloom’s Taxonomy to the training goals. Do you want learners to remember or understand something? These are the base levels of the taxonomy, and can be achieved with traditional eLearning. A presentation approach is sufficient for topics learners need to be aware of, such as the company’s dress code. You could include a multiple-choice quiz to assess the learner’s understanding of the policy.

However, if you need learners to apply, analyze, or evaluate the content, eLearning alone cannot measure competence. Serious games can test a learner’s ability to apply knowledge in a realistic situation, challenging them to reach higher levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy. Most sales associates, when asked a multiple-choice question, could remember they needed to ask for a customer’s email address. But the serious game forces them to apply and evaluate that fact when they are under lifelike pressure.

3. Processes with serious consequences

Third, identify training for processes that could cause injuries or damage the organization’s reputation. Continuing the retail store example, forgetting to ask for an email address does not have dangerous consequences. Conversely, improperly using a forklift to move inventory may cause a serious incident. Therefore, you could create a gamified simulation that emulates the process. Learners can practice using the forklift controls and safety procedures inside the game before training on the actual machine.

Depending on the subject matter, risk management alone could be enough to justify the investment in game-based learning.

4. Skills tied to business goals

Finally, evaluate the training topics against your business goals. The training department, no matter how large or small, should support the overall goals of an organization. If there is a company-wide push toward fitness and wellness in order to reduce insurance costs, the training on the new healthcare plan may warrant a gamified approach to boost excitement. Or, if an innovative marketing campaign relies on customer email addresses, a serious game for sales associates may be necessary to ensure the campaign succeeds.

The easiest way to rank training initiatives against this condition may be to ask, “What is the business counting on our employees to do correctly?” Skills related to the company’s core values will consistently rank high for these criteria. However, other topics may fluctuate from year to year, depending on the organization’s short-term objectives.  

Ultimately, determining when to invest in game-based learning comes down to the anticipated return on investment. Use these four conditions to filter your training topics, then discuss the top contenders with stakeholders. Once a decision is made, ensure the team assigns the time, personnel, and budget needed to develop effective training games.