blueline simulations

Get your head in the game when it comes to L&D

Humans learn by sensing, thinking, and doing. These three stages are reflected in the building blocks of the brain: sensory neurons, interneurons, and motor neurons. Integrating elements of games with educational stimuli fits with the sensing-thinking-doing functionality of the nervous system and the natural needs of the brain, which are: 

  • To survive
  • To feel good
  • To play
  • To be rewarded
  • To save energy

Using gamification tactics in learning meets these needs by making the brain feel in control, stimulated by fun and rewards, and addressing the need to save energy by having a congruent story. But a common misconception is that successful gamification requires actually creating a game—which doesn’t work in many business contexts. We’re going to take a look at why gamification works and how it can be applied to authentic, simulated learning environments.

Which is better for business: gamification or game-based learning? 

A quick clarification on gamification vs game-based learning (GBL)

Gamification is the integration of game elements (such as point systems, leaderboards, badges, or other elements related to games) into non-game activities to increase engagement and motivation.

Game-based learning involves designing learning activities that include game characteristics and game principles within the learning activities themselves.

As you can see from these two definitions, there’s a lot of crossover between gamification and game-based learning. Gamification allows learning designers to take advantage of the benefits of game elements without the need to turn the learning itself into a game. 

In the business environment, we’ve found that games are especially good for team building and in many eLearning contexts, but they fall short when building skills. Although game-based learning can be great fun, tying the game back to the business requires an extra step and is not always immediately obvious to participants. At Blueline, we don’t use games to teach (i.e. game-based learning). We use the engaging characteristics of games to help motivate and engage our learners through realistic simulations of real-world work environments (i.e. gamification).

When it comes to work-relevant learning, gamification provides the same incredible benefits while immersing learners in real-world dilemmas. Where appropriate, gamification can be used in learning experiences to bring the dynamics of engagement, competition, and fun to learning—while presenting challenges in real-world contexts and enabling learners to acquire and practice new skills as they would on the job. Gamified learning can be serious and business-appropriate because it doesn’t require the artificial constructs (e.g. a fictional world and characters, made-up storylines, etc.) needed to create a true game.

How does gamification enhance learning objectives?

Although it is becoming increasingly sophisticated and digitalized, gamification in the realm of corporate L&D is nothing new. And for good reason. Not only do game elements meet the brain’s inherent needs, but they also increase cognitive activity by firing up different areas of the brain:

  • The visual brain: evidence supports the attentional benefits resulting from the use of gamification tactics
  • The motivated brain: winning and receiving positive feedback stimulates the reward center of the brain
  • The creative brain: creativity is stimulated by simulations, symbolic thinking, visualization, mentalizing, and curiosity
  • The social brain: cooperation and competition evoke different reactions in the brain
  • The emotional brain: games are emotionally engaging and help us remember events better
  • The cognitive brain: gamification helps with the application of knowledge, and there’s also a positive relationship between adrenaline and memory

From a neuroscientific perspective, the benefits of gamification depend on the design of the learning experience and the individual’s unique neural responses to educational stimuli. According to Jan L. Plass, Paulette Goddard Chair in Digital Media and Learning Sciences and Professor at New York University: “Good games aim for the ‘sweet spot’, where players can succeed but only with some struggle.” 

The combination of success with a side of struggle is an inherently engaging experience. And in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. If you want to drive results, you need to focus on learner engagement. Gamifying learning is a surefire way to engage learners.

Here’s how gamification brings extraordinary levels of engagement to learning

Research shows that play is a potent force in learning contexts in all spheres of life. The freedom to experiment and the joy of experience are not merely techniques to enhance the learning process—they are the learning process.

Another element of gamification comes in the form of collaborative competition, which harnesses natural group competitiveness. When it comes to immersive learning experiences, working with a team and competing against other teams takes engagement and commitment to a whole new level. It isn’t about being cutthroat, but about furthering learners’ investment in the overall outcome.

Common to most gamification techniques is the ability to access immediate and constant assessment of where one stands in the learning process. Gamification offers a number of ways this can be accomplished, such as badges, leaderboards, and other point-based mechanisms. When feedback comes from a publicly visible leaderboard, it is both engaging and motivating to the learners. As an analogy, consider your level of effort working out at home in front of a video, and then going to a class at the gym and doing the same workout with a group of people. Being in an environment with other people naturally raises the stakes, even when they’re all equal participants in a shared activity. Now turn it into a competition—say you could see who is pedaling fastest out of a group of people in a spin class. Wouldn’t you push yourself even harder to beat the other people in the room? That’s the power of a live leaderboard, and it translates extremely well from athletics to many other activities.

These elements can all be included in a complex simulation that still maintains verisimilitude with the work environment. While game-based learning is a form of escapism that takes learners out of the workplace, gamified simulations keep learners immersed in their very real daily challenges while still providing an engaging and fail-safe environment for practicing new skills.

Blueline is no stranger to the learning game

We have been perfecting the use of gamification techniques to increase learner engagement for the past two decades. Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDER™ digital design platform synthesizes the most powerful of these gamification elements in one tool. The synchronous, customized simulations designed and delivered through ExperienceBUILDER incorporate teamwork, live leaderboards, peer challenges, real-world application, and feedback mechanisms to leverage the benefits of gamification; the most important of which are learner engagement, knowledge retention, and concept application. 

At Blueline Simulations, we combine the elements of play, competition, and feedback to enrich our designs and support learners in achieving better outcomes—but no one is playing around here. We have perfected the use of immersion techniques like simulation, gamification, and storytelling to design synchronous, team-driven discovery learning that drives business transformation. We are also breaking new ground with hybrid learning designs that are just as effective as live classroom experiences. Get in touch with the Blueline Simulations team if your organization is ready for this next chapter.

Addressing Talent Challenges Through a Comprehensive Approach

Transform to Retain: Addressing today’s talent challenges through a comprehensive approach to career planning, performance management, compensation, and skill development

Over the last year, the Great Resignation has left companies reeling from talent challenges, with 4.3 million employees leaving their jobs in January of 2022. The talent market has become wildly competitive, so how do organizations of today attract, engage, and retain valuable employees? 

Employers are all too familiar with the costs of replacing an employee. Along with the cost of recruiting and training new employees, high workforce turnover also harms workforce morale, and the customer experience. On the other hand, more and more employers are realizing that an engaged, satisfied workforce presents a significant competitive advantage. Engaged and committed employers are not only less likely to leave, but they also perform better, are more satisfied in their roles, and are more productive.

The organizations currently succeeding in this area have a key common trait: an integrated, transparent approach to career planning, performance management, compensation, and skill development.  

Why are employees leaving? 

A new Pew Research Center survey identified the top reasons why Americans quit their jobs last year: 

  1. Low pay (63%)
  2. No opportunities for advancement (63%)
  3. Feeling disrespected at work (57%)

It’s interesting to note that a lack of opportunities for advancement is weighted equally with low pay. Although remuneration is important, it’s only one aspect of the employee experience. Those who quit their jobs in 2021 and are now employed elsewhere have seen some improvement in their current work situation compared with their previous jobs: 

  • Earning more money (56%)
  • More opportunities for advancement (53%)
  • An easier time balancing work and family responsibilities (53%)
  • More flexibility with regards to work hours (50%)

What these numbers show us is that employees are not assets or resources—they are human beings. They want more than a high salary. They want a company culture that supports them, and a career with purpose and prospects. That’s why the ideal employee experience focuses on the whole individual: mental and physical health, along with aspirations for professional growth and development. 

A recent Gallup study found that more than half of workers in the U.S want to upgrade their skills, and 65% of workers refer to employer-provided upskilling when evaluating a potential new job. At all levels of the organization, training and employee engagement go hand in hand, and engagement is closely linked to retention. 

Business transformation initiatives simply can’t afford to fail 

In today’s competitive talent landscape, business transformation needs to take a people-centered approach to create sustainable change, which requires buy-in from employees at all levels. Some are even referring to this time in our history as the People Revolution. Business leaders need to adopt changes that avoid employee burnout, improve employee engagement, and minimize turnover. Failure to do so could be disastrous in organizations dealing with a toxic work culture.

It’s no small task for leaders to engage their teams and gain employee buy-in to the transformation effort. Further, organizations undergoing a transformation will frequently introduce new leader attributes or behaviors, some of which require significant adjustments to past behaviors. Leaders require a clear understanding of the things they’re accountable for, as well as the skills they need to develop in themselves and their teams. Training can offer strong support and help leaders feel confident in this process, and also help to cultivate a learning culture where employees at all levels have a growth-oriented mindset.

Create growth opportunities at all levels of the organization

As studies (and our own experience) suggest, most employees want to grow and evolve along their career paths, opening opportunities to both earn more and expand their skill sets. Blueline’s training and communication tools can facilitate your organization’s transformation to an integrated, transparent approach to career planning, performance management, compensation, and skill development. We can help your organization to become a preferred employer by investing in your people, making growth part of the culture, and enhancing employee engagement. 

Contact us to schedule a consultation to learn more about our learning solutions, and ways to overcome talent challanges.

How democratizing data drives business value 

Organizations worldwide are trying to make more effective use of data, analytics, and AI, but many continue to struggle to adopt a data-driven culture. A survey of large U.S. firms conducted by NewVantage Partners found that 92.1% of companies say they are achieving returns on their data and AI investments (a marked increase from 48.1% in 2017). Yet, only 26.5% have created a data-driven organization, and only 19.3% have established a data culture. The greatest barrier to organizations becoming data-driven? Ninety-two percent of survey respondents identified cultural impediments as their most pressing challenge. 

So, how do we continue to find, capture, and analyze data while also making it accessible to the people who need it to make decisions quickly and effectively? The answer lies in data democratization

Creating an internal data-driven culture necessitates data democratization—the ongoing process of empowering all employees to have an easy way to access, understand, and apply data to expedite informed decision-making, uncover opportunities, and build customer experiences powered by that data. The ultimate goal is to allow the employees closest to the decision to use data effectively without any barriers to access or understanding. By knowing where your data is and making sure people can understand it, your organization will be better equipped to scale and deliver value through empowerment. 

Do we need a team of data scientists in order to democratize data? 

Many organizations begin their data science journeys by hiring data scientists to analyze big data sets. Naturally, a data scientist brings a wealth of specialist expertise and value (along with a hefty price tag). However, truly transformational data science is democratized data science. Restricting data science to experts only limits its potential, and does little to create a widespread data-driven culture. On the other hand, democratizing data provides significant opportunities for better insight and implementation. Not only do employees already understand the business and its challenges, but involving them in data science transformation encourages them to engage with the data and buy-in to its benefits. 

How to democratize data in your organization 

The idea of an organization-wide data science transformation may sound overwhelming, but there are some simple ways to start. One of these is using simulations to develop your employees’ comfort level with data analysis. 

The CEO of a large bio-sciences company we work with announced an initiative to make data accessible to everyone in the organization in order to improve the speed and quality of decision-making at all levels. To accomplish this, they needed to figure out how to provide usable data and meaningful analytical skills to decision-makers at all levels of the business. 

Their first steps were to begin building self-service data portals and to make basic data-literacy programs accessible to all employees. Subsequently, they partnered with our team to create a series of simulations. These were tailored to each business function to develop the skills and confidence of employees at all levels to use data to enhance decision-making. These simulations were designed and delivered through Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital design platform

These custom learning simulations created a safe space for employees to learn to apply data analytics by working through real-life scenarios. Learners were tasked with identifying the problem or question, finding the right data source, analyzing that data, and making a good data-based decision.

It’s important to acknowledge that there can be gray areas in data interpretation and decision-making. Despite having access to data sources to inform decision-making, finding the best possible solution may not be clear-cut. Access to data moves us forward in the quality of decision making, but it’s still a mix of art and science. The power of ExperienceBUILDER simulations is that they model complex challenges with multiple feasible solutions—where right and wrong are often gray. In ExperienceBUILDER’s collaborative, team-driven learning environment, selecting the best answers often requires meaningful dialog and deep dives into data interpretation best practices: 

  • Are we answering the right question?
  • Are we getting the right data source to answer that question? 
  • When we choose the right data source, are we analyzing it correctly to have the best chance of making the right business decision?
  • Are we ignoring outside influences on the datasets?

Teasing out the best possible answers helps employees develop their data-driven decision-making skills. 

Data science is for everyone 

Data science is about people. Rather than requiring highly paid data scientists to do it all, organizations that strategically and broadly bring people and data together are likely to realize better results. 

Blueline Simulations has first-hand experience designing simulations that help your employees make the most of your data. Reach out to Blueline to learn more about how we can help you develop your team’s data-driven decision-making. 

Making decisions that go beyond the black and white

From the smallest family businesses to the largest blue-chip companies, all organizations live or die based on the effectiveness and quality of daily decisions. Because decision-making and problem-solving processes are not always straightforward, it’s critical to develop employees’ capacity to maximize the impact of decisions that don’t have a single right answer. 

Employees at all levels are regularly called upon to make decisions and solve problems. This process involves identifying issues and/or evaluating situations, considering alternatives, making choices, and following up with the necessary actions. 

There’s greatness in the gray 

Sometimes, there is an obvious choice that will result in a favorable outcome; other times, when there are multiple options with a range of pros and cons, the process requires more information-gathering and mental reflection. Learning to evaluate and select from these different alternatives is a vital business skill that demands high levels of emotional intelligence. Selecting the best answers often requires meaningful dialog that incorporates feelings, ideas, and different perspectives. Successfully navigating these conversations demands empathy.

making decisions

Self-discovery opens the door to see beyond bias

Our personal experiences, the people in our lives, cultural conditioning, and the media we consume are all factors (along with many others) that affect our biases. The problem with bias is that it can negatively impact our ability to empathize. 

Effective leaders tend to be good listeners and readers of people—put another way, they are emotionally intelligent. They have empathy and the ability to hear what people actually mean, forming patterns and connections that others do not. As they process information, they draw on diverse perspectives and their own self-awareness to understand and address their own biases.

But acknowledging biases doesn’t happen without effort. Biases are often deeply rooted, which means that a process of self-discovery must take place in order to help learners overcome them. Teaching empathy in the workplace starts by encouraging robust dialog in a team environment that helps learners to see past their existing beliefs. 

Training simulations can create safe, collaborative environments that enable learners to become aware of possible biases and see situations from multiple points of view. Exploring a wide range of “gray” possibilities within a group environment encourages learners to debate, self-edit, and come up with the best possible outcome. Sometimes that outcome can have both positive and negative consequences—just as our business decisions in the real world can have wide-ranging ripple effects across the organization and its external customers.

Empowering your employees to embrace the gray

Every company has a clear need to develop their employees’ ability to make good decisions. Issues such as managing teams, balancing business goals with values, and dealing with interpersonal dilemmas rarely come with clear-cut, one-size-fits-all solutions. Traditionally, most big companies would seek to develop these skills in an in-person classroom setting. Today’s business world of remote and hybrid work arrangements has led many businesses to explore alternative delivery methods. 

Blueline’s ExperienceBUILDERTM digital learning design platform delivers training simulations in a team-driven format, without learners having to physically be in the same room to collaborate on the problems presented. But the design platform is just one piece; much of the magic is created by Blueline’s team of front-end alignment consultants, simulation designers, and digital producers.

The simulations produced in ExperienceBUILDER foster emotional intelligence and improve decision-making capabilities by presenting learners with realistic, challenging dilemmas that don’t have a single right answer. Potential solutions weave together a combination of good and bad practices. This format forces learners to engage with one another, dig into the content, chew on it, share experiences, and tease out best practices and common mistakes. Such encounters are where learning really happens and behavior change begins. 

Each simulation is scored on select meters that represent real-world metrics. For example, the metrics for a given scenario might be profitability, employee engagement, and productivity. 

Team-based decisions may have a positive impact on some meters and a negative impact on others—with very real consequences. It’s a rich instructional design approach that maximizes retention and application precisely because learners are engaging with one another other about how best to resolve these complex problems.

Organizations are a product of their people’s decisions

That’s why it’s vital to help your employees develop emotional intelligence and empower them to make better decisions when there aren’t clear “right” or “wrong” answers. Reach out to Blueline to learn more about how we can help you achieve better outcomes by developing your team’s decision-making practices. 

Don’t neglect learner engagement—engaged learners drive business results 

We’ve discussed the link between training and employee engagement, but there’s another type of learner engagement that’s a crucial success factor for learning initiatives. For a learning program to change behavior and drive business results, the learners have to be engaged in what they’re learning. Training that fails to engage learners is like attempting to drive a car without gas—it just won’t go anywhere. That said, it’s often easier to build unengaging training, particularly when the training will be delivered online. Your learners deserve better, and they’re quietly begging you to try something new. By understanding the real causes of a problem intended to be addressed by training and leveraging the latest tech, you can deliver great benefits to the business.

Get to the root of the problem

In order to see any results, the learning program needs to get to the root of the problem. Without diving into the organization’s issues, the training program will be deemed a superficial effort by the learners who know that there are unaddressed organizational problems impeding their success. Too often companies will design their training to address what they think is the issue, when in reality it stems from elsewhere. For example, a company that is receiving a substantial amount of customer service complaints decides to work on a customer service training program to help improve customer service ratings. However, the root cause of poor customer service ratings may be a faulty product that is frustrating customers. Without getting to the root cause of the customer service complaints, the issue can’t be solved.

A root-cause analysis can help an organization understand the actual problem and ensure it’s one that can be addressed by a behavior change. In our example above, there probably isn’t a training need at all for those customer service representatives. Our Voice of the Business needs assessment harnesses insights from inside the business to help identify the real problem and whether it can be addressed by training. 

By combining research, free-form interviews, focus groups, and questionnaires, the team can ensure that the root problem is identified. If a change in employee behavior is the answer, the root-cause analysis will equip the team to develop a training program designed to reach the problem at its core. Incorporating employees into the needs assessment helps us to identify critical issues and ensure the learning program will be engaging for the employees themselves—simply because the targeted learners will be able to see that we’ve taken their concerns into account when designing the training. Taking this approach helps to show empathy towards the learners; creating an empathetic learning design is an important piece of learner engagement.

Use technology to create an engaging online learning experience

Once you’ve gotten to the root of the problem, it’s time to start having some fun. It’s a well-established fact that when learners are engaged while going through training, they’re more likely to retain the information and change their behavior back on the job. Traditionally, high-stakes learning initiatives with complex requirements for outcomes (we’re looking at you, leadership development) have been delivered in a classroom setting. The parallel forces of advances in tech and the rapid rise of remote work have helped to make engaging online learning accessible for a much wider audience. 

We see 4 key factors that determine whether an online learning experience will be engaging:

  1. Stable, easy-to-use technology capable of delivering the program to team members in multiple locations
  2. Gamified or competitive elements that motivate performance
  3. Discovery-based learning (draw them in and let them figure it out, as opposed to delivering content and expecting them to memorize it)
  4. Empathetic design that demonstrates a genuine understanding of the real-life factors impacting performance on the job

In fact, these forces are exactly why we developed our ExperienceBUILDER™ platform, which delivers immersive, simulation-based training that’s equally engaging for co-located and remote teams. ExperienceBUILDER simulations present real-life business scenarios that have no clear-cut answer. Learners are faced with hard choices that drive discussion, spark debate, and open the door to developing new skills. Robust feedback ensures participants can identify the desired best practices. Every learner in an ExperienceBUILDER simulation is engaged by team-based problem solving and the competitive drive of a live leaderboard. Furthermore, these simulations drive accountability and provide team-building opportunities, which in turn serve to improve decision-making skills in the workplace. 

The business will benefit when learners are engaged in training

Numerous studies have shown that engaged learners are significantly more likely to change behavior and drive business results (provided the training is targeting the root cause of a business problem). In fact, we assert that the converse is also true: when a training program fails to engage learners, they’re highly unlikely to change behavior and drive business results (even if the training did target the root problem). 

Bringing people together in a classroom setting continues to be a challenge; technology and instructional design can work together to offer a solution that leaves no excuse for unengaging training. Organizations that haven’t solved the learner engagement problem in online training are rapidly losing ground. If you’re struggling in this area, reach out to us. You may be surprised to learn that delivering engaging training to a geographically dispersed audience is much simpler and less resource-intensive than it once was.