Do you struggle to effectively train and assess your employees? Was your last corporate training session filled with engaged employees or listless drones?

The answer to increasing employee engagement doesn’t lie in the office, it lies in the arcade. Author Jason Suriano (@jasonsuriano) is here to teach us how to use gamification to more effectively train employees and gather important employee performance metrics.

In his new book, Office Arcade, Jason takes his 15 years of hands-on digital production experience and applies what he’s learnt to the world of employee training and assessment.

Whether you’re a human resource manager, a corporate trainer, an instructional designer, an eLearning specialist, a product manager, a marketer, or someone who’s simply interested in learning more about effective gamification, this episode is for you.

Listen in to Jason to learn:

  • How to engage employees even when they’re focus is on the most boring subject matter
  • Why gamification is the quickest way to identify gaps in your current training programs
  • What it takes to gamify your employee training materials

How did you first become interested in gamification?

If I was learning something at the office, or I was being trained at work, it always felt extremely tedious and even somewhat painful. In my backstory, I grew up in a family business, a family restaurant, and I did a lot of the onboarding and training for employees when I was younger.

“I found that when we made some things a lot more fun, or more game-like, it just seemed to resonate a lot with the new hires.”

Tell me about the first time you became aware of the gamification principles you talk about in Office Arcade.

In the early 2000s, getting your training materials online and into a digital format was a bit of a challenge. The first thing that I saw was that there were ways of using hyperlinks, or different web pages, that would allow you to condense the material down into smaller pieces, or what they call now “bite-sized learning chunks,” and that would allow the end-user to get through things a lot more efficiently. Even that was a massive advantage.

You could take a three-hour course with an open book exam and condense it down into an hour or less. Just by using hyperlinks, you’re already making that course way more enjoyable, and this is absent of any sort of game-based or playable elements at this point.

Also, by giving someone too much material, you’re overloading them with information.

“Only give the learner the exact pieces of information that they need to know to perform a specific task, then allow them to research or dive into the areas that they find to be more important.”

That’s the biggest shift from before to now, and it’s what led me to dive deeper into gamification.

How has technology changed the way we learn?

One of the things that I talk about a lot when I’m working with clients or when I do presentations is this idea of smartphone-based learning.

Almost every one of us has a smart device and when you go into your phone to say, check the weather, you’re going to tap that weather app and be in there for maybe 30 seconds to a minute and then you’re going to back out and tap another app and do something in that app.

A man holds a smartphone in both hands.

Well, what you’re really doing is gathering information in increments. You’re learning something piece by piece because you’re going app to app to app. That’s the same kind of philosophy that we can apply to more traditional learning environments, like corporate training programs.

You only have a minute or two per task or item before you need to move the person on to the next thing, so you almost have to interrupt that user experience to make sure that they stop focusing on one piece of information and move on to the next.

“This new way of learning is completely different than the way the old model of continuous, or full-time learning. No one wants to sit at a desk for an hour and just listen to a lecture. That just doesn’t work anymore.”

How do you get people who are used to the more traditional classroom approach to learning interested in learning by gamification?

That’s something we talk about in the book. It’s something that we call the learning pathway.

“What’s interesting about our approach is that we don’t tell the user how to use the software. There are no instructions whatsoever.”

But we do make it as simple as possible so that people don’t get frustrated early on. There’s only one item that they can click or tap on and they’re already into the experience. The software basically moves them along this learning pathway, but it was one of the first challenges that we had to overcome when we built the software.

The boomer demographic, or the older adults, that interacted with our applications would get freaked out because there wasn’t any guidance or instructions because all the instructional learning and all the pieces were already broken down into these bite-sized tasks.

Yet after going through the initial stages of the material, these boomers would perform better than some of the millennials because they had the experience.

The millennials appreciated the form factor because it’s way quicker to get through the material. It’s presented in a format that they’re already used to. It’s very much, “let’s get to the point and get going.”

How can any office adopt a gamification approach to learning?

One of the things that we always recommend is to start by really taking a look at your training materials, your training binder, training manuals, HR manuals, even go through Powerpoint slides and figure out first and foremost, what are the key bullet point items that you’re trying to get across to your students?

You need to summarize those core learning elements so that when you decide to apply some of these game design layers or storytelling to your training materials, the information that needs to get across to students isn’t lost. That makes my job or any other vendors job very easy because we can actually hit the ground running with this content that’s already been streamlined and approved.

“That baseline learning material needs to be in place before you can even start thinking about bringing game design elements to your training programs.”

Can you give us a quick summary of what readers can expect from your new book, Office Arcade?

At its basic level, Office Arcade will help readers understand what gamification really is based on my past experiences over the past 15 years. One of the main problems, and one of the reasons why I decided to write the book, is that gamification has actually gone through a number of different evolutions since the idea was first introduced to the market.

I was there when we were doing things at the time that we called edutainment. Then it shifted over to serious games and now it’s gamification. There are a lot of different buzz words that keep changing but the same game theory still applies.

The book does a really good job of explaining gamification in very plain language that anyone can pick up on. I also use key examples from the work that I’ve done to illustrate what has worked well and what hasn’t worked well for me, as well as what the reader should be looking for when they apply these tactics themselves.

Finally, we try to explain to readers what they should look for in a vendor so that they don’t get scammed by someone who is saying that they’re a gamification expert but really isn’t.

“Gamification is a lot more than just going in and adding some points and badges to your existing training materials.”

One of the main issues right now is that there aren’t that many quality examples or an understanding of what a company should expect from vendors who claim to be gamification experts.

A woman plays a game on her smartphone.

Can you share some client success stories with us?

One of the examples that I talk about in the book is with one of our nursing partners and some of the work we’re doing in the healthcare and medical space.

Nurses and physicians don’t have a lot of time. They’re extremely time-limited. Yet a lot of the regulatory bodies are asking them to sit down and write a five-hour open book exam in one sitting.

A student sits behind a pile of textbooks.

So we’ve been able to go in and allow them the freedom to access this exam at any place and because it’s now digital, they can do it at their own pace in one or multiple sittings.

They can go online and do this over a two-week period wherever and whenever they want. They could do it in the morning, after work, or on the weekend, and they still get the intended results. It’s really interesting because what we’ve found is that it takes them only a quarter of the time it traditionally did because only the key elements in that module are presented.

Here’s another example from the book.

Ready Mix drivers need to know a lot about their jobs. They drive huge concrete tucks in and out of constructions sites, yet some of them may not have the highest level of education, they may not have even graduated high school. Well, we can go in and instead of these guys having to read through pages and pages of material, we can use imagery and visuals that demonstrate safety hazards instead.

We can show them a real picture of a workplace and ask them, “Take your finger and tap on your device and point to the thing that’s going to harm you.” It’s more than just using pictures and visuals, it’s fully interactive, and anyone can get that.

But it doesn’t stop there, if they get the question right then they earn points, and those points actually tell us a story about that person. Depending on how many points they earn in any given subject or how many times they replay a module, we can actually tell those HR departments how those scores directly translate into the employee’s performance.

It’s all part of a performance metric that we have running in the background.

Like I said before, it’s way beyond just adding points and badges. Although it may feel like that to the player, in the background we actually mine that data to create an accurate profile of that employee.

How did you get good at gamification and why have you made it your mission to help others use gamification to its full potential?

Well, it took 14 years and 200 digital projects to get to this point. I’m considered to be a dinosaur in tech terms.

But I really do think that what I do is the best job in the world because it still surprises me. It changes on a day-to-day basis because of where the technology goes, but a lot of the principles that I was learning for some of our first projects are still the same.

“At its core, gamification is about making things more streamline and more fun.”

But the most fun part of the job is probably when we get to be really creative. We might pitch a client on a very dark learning module for compliance that has a more adult-type look to the graphics, and then we get to decide how that’s going to look. Those meetings are the most fun by far.

It’s also really exciting when employees start using what we’ve created. That’s pretty cool, that’s probably the best part of my job.

What kind of feedback have you gotten from the book so far?

The first reaction I get is that the book is a really simple read even though it discusses some complex digital concepts. I kept the language simple intentionally because I didn’t want this to sound like a textbook. It should be almost like you’re reading a magazine, so that’s been the most positive thing.

I’ve also had people read it who were really skeptical about gamification as a whole or even just the concept of making training resources accessible on a digital platform, but they’ve gotten to the end of the book and thought, “Wow, we could actually do this.”

Readers are also starting to understand that bringing fun to employee learning has had an actual positive return on investment or a bottom-line impact to their organization which has been great.

What would Jason Suriano’s advice be to aspiring authors?

“Focus on a subject or subject matter area that you’re really passionate about.”

I really enjoy what I do and it’s a lot of work and it’s tough at times, but if you’re passionate about what you do, it won’t seem like work.

My second piece of advice would be to create something of use to the reader. I set out to write something readers can pick up and apply almost immediately. I know that might not be the case with all subject matter, but that worked for me.

Finally, keep it simple. I wanted Office Arcade to be a really easy read because it discusses an area of technology that is full of jargon and complex terms, but if your book isn’t easy to read, it’s not going to be useful.