Information technology company Hewlett-Packard (HP) develops and maintains a workforce of more than 250,000 employees. Whenever critical changes are made, such as updates to the sales process, the entire staff needs to be informed so they can do their jobs properly. The HP learning and development team is challenged to create educational opportunities that are easy to access, highly interactive and aligned to customer needs to share these changes in an efficient and cost-conscious manner.
The team had been experimenting with game-based training, but having each department independently create games from scratch every time there was something new to communicate was costly and time intensive.
In spring 2012, Carol Cohen, learning program manager at HP, partnered with viaLearning, a mobile and learning game company, to incorporate game-based learning into HP’s curriculum in a way that could be quickly and inexpensively repurposed by multiple departments, as well as rolled out globally.
“As part of a formal training program, gaming is a good way to confirm knowledge,” Cohen said. “It’s fun for the learner and easy to digest, which makes it a great way to learn about new products, reinforce key facts and explain benefits. It is also a great way to renew or update existing knowledge when there’s a change in the sales cycle or sales business process.”
Put the Fun in Functional
Starting with three computer game-based learning modules to train and test the sales force on its knowledge of HP sales enablement tools and processes, Cohen developed templates that could be repurposed by other departments. The games were designed to increase engagement, reinforce knowledge and improve problem solving and critical thinking skills necessary for selling HP products. The games’ objective was to increase understanding of HP sales strategy, as well as key competencies, such as industry knowledge, product knowledge, customer knowledge — selling to the right level — competitor knowledge and sales best practices.
HP’s learning department held several planning sessions to discuss the target audience, hone the content and the story, and determine the appropriate graphics and technology to use before beginning the learning game creation. To successfully tailor the new gaming environment, the project team asked several questions, including: What do the learners care about and value? What offends them? Do they have a sense of humor?
VIA Learning developed the technology, graphics and storyboards, and Cohen selected which content she thought would work best in each gaming scenario to support the greater sales training program. This way, the games would reinforce what she wanted employees to learn, such as a basic understanding of a specific product area.
The team reviewed several different gaming options, such as game show games, simulations and metaphor-based games to find the right balance of complexity for each game to support the learning objectives. The goal was to keep the game interesting so learners will continue to play, without making it overly difficult so they can retain the core information being taught.
While game show-style games are suitable to ensure knowledge transfer, and simulation games are good for challenging learners to practice skills in a realistic situation, the team decided to use metaphor-based games. These are effective when trying to focus on a specific aspect or behavior that requires making informed choices or integrating knowledge to certain situations, such as implementing the HP sales enablement tools and processes.
The computer games the team designed include:
“Hero of Dwarf Planet Ceres”: A low-complexity game that takes place on an alien planet where the player is asked to save the planet by answering multiple-choice questions. In the first phase the player is educated on key HP selling concepts, and his or her knowledge is tested in the second phase.
“Storm Chaser”: This medium-complexity shooting game includes mini-challenges to calm the sales customer scenario storm. In phase one the player gathers basic information about HP’s three business drivers, and then provides recommended solutions for customers in the second phase. This allows learners to put all of the industry, product and market information they learned together, and then apply the knowledge. This template can be reused by replacing the content for a different department. Multiple questions can be added or removed, and the game can be made longer or shorter depending on content.
“Cloud Olympics”: This highly complex game allows the players to learn and build HP product selling skills, which are then tested in four Olympic-style gaming situations. While learners can skip the training and jump right into the competition, they will be forced to return to the beginning to try to win the gold medal if unsuccessful. This platform can accommodate multiple events and players.
“I like metaphor-based games because they may have a little more reuse,” Cohen said. “A single gaming platform can apply to multiple content areas as long as you make sure your training content really fits with the environment you’re creating in the game. Now other learning program managers can provide these learning reinforcement games to learners across the entire company.”
Each metaphor-based game is made up of two phases containing two- to five-minute learning modules, which can be played repeatedly. The first phase provides an opportunity to learn about the HP sales process, and the second phase tests the player’s knowledge and helps assimilate the new learning on the job. The games are housed in HP’s sales fitness center, a platform accessible securely by the company’s globally dispersed sales teams wherever they are, whenever they need it.
The sales fitness center also provides content about HP sales best practices, as well as a variety of training elements including short mobile micro-lessons, an e-magazine, discussion forums, coaching and peer-to-peer collaboration. At the foundation of HP’s sales training is the global sales accreditation program that builds confidence and self-awareness through annual testing. As the salespeople become more self-reliant learners, they take advantage of the opportunities in the sales fitness center to strengthen their capabilities.
“Sales training has to be quick, impactful and engaging,” Cohen said. “Salespeople like games because they are fast and fun, and they also like rewards. A game can offer all of that. You can vary the levels of learning depending on the game design you choose, and you can align the game design directly toward those audience needs. For example, salespeople like to compete, and winning a game fits right into that mindset.”
In 2012, 1,044 HP employees played simple, pre-existing games to reinforce learning on a variety of topics such as key concepts related to new technologies and innovation. More than 2,700 learners played games in the sales fitness center. Earlier this year, 49 learning program managers — representing approximately one-third of the HP learning organization — attended a live webinar featuring the game templates. After the webinar, 12 additional learning program managers representing different departments across HP implemented the templates to create games as additions to their own curricula, and Cohen said more are considering it as a viable option.
Cut From the Same Cloth
“Infusing fun into training strengthens the culture of learning in our greater organization,” Cohen said. “Our games incorporate milestone rewards to encourage replay and reinforcement of the learning. Also, the games can be localized and translated in different languages easily and inexpensively.”
HP bore the primary costs when developing the initial game, associated content and play templates as well as all revisions of the games — including translated, localized and different subject matter versions — and it cost a fraction of what it would have had HP developed them individually.
Cohen said because of the low cost of revisions, game development is now available to all learning program managers; the cost is less than 20 percent of that needed to develop a game from scratch.
“Because games can help us maintain attention, forge linkages between knowledge and practice, and reinforce learned elements, our approach yields results,” she said. “Neuroscience teaches that solving puzzles raises the brain level of dopamine — the juice that produces motivation and the feeling of reward. Short of measuring dopamine levels, we have seen positive results in learning and motivation with games. We have also anecdotally heard from learners that the games are fun.”
From her own experience, Cohen said the terms gaming, game-based learning and gamification are vague and often disputed. When starting a game-based learning program that can be repurposed, it is essential that all key stakeholders be in agreement on the parameters, content and platform development. The project leader must confirm whether participants are really asking for simulation, badges next to employees’ names or fun-based modules that support enrichment.
Further, game-based learning should be looked at as part of a complete program. Just posting the games and expecting people to go play them is not enough. Project managers should be clear on how the game will support the program and what role it will play before embarking on development.
Chanin Ballance is CEO of mobile and learning game service company viaLearning. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.