Learning Visuals

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.

What is a learning simulation?

Learning simulations are a valuable tool for organizations looking to develop their teams. Simulations allow learners to advance their skills in a controlled environment with the use of fictitious scenarios. Using simulations increases the engagement of learners, and also promotes critical thinking and problem-solving capabilities. Simulations can be used in various types of industries, across all departments, in order to provide people with the opportunity to learn and practice a wide variety of skills. 

What is a simulation?

Simulations place learners in lifelike scenarios that often lack clear-cut answers and enable the opportunity to experience the outcomes of choices without invoking real-world consequences. Flight simulations are a classic example, in which pilots can react to various weather, takeoff, and landing challenges. They can discover the consequences of a broad range of actions without literally crashing a plane. The simulation is programmed to react to pilots’ mistakes, allowing them to learn the appropriate and safest solutions to challenges that they are faced with in flight. When they’re later flying real planes, they’re better equipped to make split-second decisions and arrive safely at their destinations. Flight simulations give pilots the opportunity to gain confidence, experience, and knowledge without the cost or possible negative consequences of a real flight. 

Simulations are also commonly known for being used in medical practice, as well as armed forces and police departments. However, they can be applied more broadly than these high-profile examples. The same techniques used to simulate a medical emergency or hostage crisis can also be adapted to interpersonal conflict, leadership skills, and just about any other situation that involves critical thinking and decision making. Sometimes referred to as experiential learning, simulations can take many forms, such as role-play, games, and team-based experiences. A simulation can be equally effective in an in-person learning environment or remote. 

When can a simulation be used?

Organizations have been using simulations as a part of their training programs for decades. They can be a great opportunity for team-based learning across every department. Learning organizations find simulations to be very fitting for developing interpersonal and customer-focused skills. They’re often applied to leadership development, management, sales and marketing, and customer service. While a simulation can be used to teach a consistent process, they’re commonly used for situations with a lot of gray area, lacking clear-cut answers. Simulations can also be very powerful when a decision may have both positive and negative consequences, and they can show the ways that one choice with multiple facets has a wide-ranging impact.

For example, in a customer-focused training simulation, learners can see how their body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions affect their outcomes in customer interactions. What happens when you greet a customer with a friendly smile and welcoming tone of voice, as opposed to folded arms and a negative tone of voice? Rather than telling people to smile and be welcoming, the simulation gives them the opportunity to explore the possibilities and come to the desired conclusion without any real-world consequences of alienated customers. While this example seems like a black-and-white decision, the power of the simulation is that the learners must deal with the consequences of their choices. Can they rescue the customer interaction after a rude greeting? Might there be situations where an over-the-top greeting is actually off-putting to the customer? Simulations enable explorations of many possibilities.

Why use a simulation?

Simulations are used for a variety of purposes and have many benefits. They promote the use of critical thinking and problem-solving skills, both independently and as a team. Simulations force learners to think deeper, have thoughtful conversations, and be open to listening to others’ ideas and points of view because there are often no clear answers. In many cases, learners will be faced with issues that directly concern themselves, but also involve those around them and the organization as a whole. Learners need to be able to think for themselves, but also to be open to working through issues that arise with the help of others. 

Simulations have become a popular learning tool for organizations due to the fact that they allow people to learn from experience without the risk of wasted resources or lost customers. Working through complicated scenarios reduces the need to spend time in real-life situations figuring it out on the spot and learning from (costly) mistakes. These learning experiences can be done in a controlled environment, custom-designed specifically for the organization, desired outcomes, and learning department. 

Our ExperienceBUILDER™ simulation learning platform enables an equally effective experience whether teams are co-located, remote, or both. ExperienceBUILDER sims are custom-built or tailored to suit the needs of the organization, and the platform itself meets the needs of a hybrid workforce by facilitating team collaboration from anywhere. Learners work together on teams to impact such metrics as resolving conflict, allocating resources, increasing engagement, and developing their staff. Multiple teams can go head-to-head, seeing their performance against one another on a live leaderboard.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss how simulations could benefit your organization and the way in which your learners develop their skills. Our custom-designed learning programs have been producing notable business results from some of the leading worldwide organizations for over a decade. Contact us today to schedule a meeting. 

Five classic signs your training lacks empathy

Stepping into someone else’s shoes to see things from their perspective can have maximum impact in both personal and professional situations. We have discussed empathetic learning design, and how to teach empathy, but how do you know if your learning initiatives need an empathy makeover? Below are some signs your training lacks empathy. If you’re noticing these, you may be in need of an empathetic learning approach to take your organization to the next level.

1. Your actual learner population isn’t reflected in the course visuals. 

If your staff comprises more than one gender, culture, or background, yet all of the visuals represent a single category, you may need to change things up. Corporate training frequently makes heavy use of stock photos, which isn’t necessarily a problem. It’s when those images lack diversity that the whole program can come across as generic and not applicable to individual learners. Your course visuals should represent the learner population in all its diversity. If they don’t, learners will have a harder time picturing themselves in the scenarios, and may even feel excluded and undervalued. 

Ideas for representing your learners in course visuals

There are a few ways to take a more inclusive approach with your visuals. First, if you’re going to use stock photos, choose images that represent the learner population. Sites like iStock and Shutterstock have come a long way in offering photos of people in all shapes, sizes, and colors. Even royalty-free stock photo sites offer cultural diversity that has come a long way over the past few years. Alternatively, consider using photos of actual employees in your company. Although it’ll require more effort to shoot or collect photos, the payoff of learners seeing themselves represented will make the work worthwhile.

Another work-around is to avoid using photorealistic visuals at all. There are many other visual art styles that can be effective without looking cartoonish. Sometimes it can be an effective design technique to help learners step away from interpersonal situations by representing them in an entirely different way. Even colors, animals, and textures can add visual interest while side-stepping the need for photos of people. Alternate images can also help learners through situations that have no clear answer by eliminating the bias that many images with humans can represent.

2. Difficult interpersonal situations are treated as having clear-cut answers.

When conducting training that involves challenging situations between people or teams, evaluate whether clear-cut answers are truly representative of the real-world situation. In most cases, navigating situations that require emotional intelligence can’t be boiled down to right vs. wrong. The gray area is what leads learners into thoughtful conversations, discussions of ideas, feelings, and perspectives. If you remove the gray area and limit learners to a right or wrong answer, you will have missed the opportunity to develop empathy. 

How to embrace the gray in learning simulations

It is possible to design training that encourages exploration of topics without a hard right or wrong answer. Traditionally these types of initiatives took place in classroom workshops, or may have required a high-end gamified scenario. New learning modalities adapted to the hybrid workforce are enabling companies to provide safe environments for teams to grapple with complex problems. That need is exactly what led to the development of our ExperienceBUILDER platform. In brief, we create space for learners to assess non-absolute questions by creating multiple scoring parameters for each decision. The real magic happens as teams interact to solve these problems together, competing against other teams using metrics that reflect real-world constraints.

3. You aren’t using accessible design principles.

Organizations need to understand accessible design principles, not only for their customers’ needs but also for their employees. Just like your customers, learners also need to have content that is accessible. If you’re avoiding these design principles for your learners, you could be completely excluding certain individuals or making it harder for them to learn. 

Having empathy toward learners means ensuring that everyone is equally included, regardless of any disabilities. Imagine if you were color blind, and your training was designed in colors that make it impossible for you to see. Chances are you would feel discouraged and would struggle to fully immerse yourself in the learning. Meeting learners where they are increases buy-in, leading to higher adoption and enhanced learning rates.

How to design online training with accessibility in mind

This is a huge topic of ongoing importance for all of us, and too much to address here in a brief blog post. There are many resources online that can help you navigate the basics of accessible design. Two we recommend are Sheryl Burgstahler’s 20 Tips for Teaching an Accessible Online Course and 10 Tips for Creating Accessible Course Content from Iowa State. To continue to exercise empathy in this area, evaluate the needs of the people in your learning audience. Are there specific concerns or needs that require more than the most basic accommodations? To get started exploring this area of the workforce, talk with your partners in HR.

4. People aren’t given adequate support to grapple with complex problems and implement changes back on the job

If you’ve launched a training program and expect to see results on day one, you may want to reevaluate your expectations. In order to help learners make improvements and implement desired change back into their jobs, you must give them grace, encouragement, and provide ongoing support. Learners will then feel comfortable implementing what they have learned where they see fit and when they feel it is right.

Build post-event support right into the training

What this looks like will really depend on the topic of the training itself. For example, many leadership development initiatives are now paired with ongoing coaching and mentorship programs. In other cases, a follow-up training event is appropriate. Considering what learners need after they’ve completed the initial program will go a long way toward adoption and overall impact.

5. You’ve assumed you understand what people need but have missed the mark

This is oftentimes one of the greatest challenges facing a leader. You may feel as though you know what people need, how they feel, or what will help them, but in reality you don’t see the whole picture. Lack of empathy and emotional intelligence can lead to missing the mark in all sorts of scenarios, and it’s particularly important for us to be aware of as learning leaders. We’ve all dealt with the classic challenge of being asked to build training for something that is actually a process or management problem; assuming you know exactly what learners need in a complex situation is the other side of the same coin.

How to overcome bias when assessing training need

There are many ways to get to the root of a need or problem when designing training; what they all boil down to is getting outside of your own perspective (i.e., showing empathy for the learner’s perspective). An empathy map is one helpful tool for working through the questions from the perspective of the learner. We also use a process called the Voice of the Business to bring in disparate perspectives. You may know what the organization needs as a whole, but your learners quite possibly know what is needed at their level better than you. Take the time to ask questions, offer anonymous questionnaires, and practice active listening. 

It’s important to develop empathetic learning practices, and also to help your learners develop empathy as a key skill for emotional intelligence. Nobody overtly tries to create training that lacks empathy, which is why it’s so important to look out for the signs. If you’re guilty of any of the above-mentioned items and unsure of the way forward, reach out to us. We can create a plan customized for your business needs that will help to incorporate empathy into the organization. 

Does Your Pharma Sales Model Need a Booster Shot?

The pharmaceutical marketplace is evolving in fundamental ways – perhaps at a pace more rapid than any other B2B industry. In our work with some of the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies, we’re seeing the transformation first hand.

What’s changing? Business models, decision-makers, reimbursement models, access to information, buyer profiles… the list is long. So long, in fact, that I’d venture to say it’s much simpler to list what’s NOT changing: your mission to help doctors deliver innovative solutions and better service, leading to improved patient outcomes.

You just need to go about it in a different way.

Not surprisingly, the sales model you’ve relied on in the past no longer delivers the results you need. In fact, you aren’t even sure you need sales reps anymore – but trust me, you do. The key is to reinvent the pharma sales rep role in a way that embraces obstacles as opportunities and changes as renewed chances for success.

bl-pharma-sales5

Case in Point

A major pharmaceutical company recently reached out to Blueline Simulations for help in revamping its sales model to better meet evolving market conditions and customer expectations.

Building on the company’s market research that clearly showed most customers still value pharmaceutical sales reps but don’t value the industry’s standard sales approach, we used our Voice of the Business (VoB) process to identify what was needed in a new sales model.

Using our VoB process, we culled our client’s research for insights and identified best practices in existing pockets of success. Then, drawing on our decades of sales training experience, we worked with our client to map out a new customer-focused sales model, define the core skills and competencies required to execute the new model and identify key triggers we could use to engage and inspire the sales reps.

Of course, designing a new sales model is only the beginning. The real key to results is driving adoption in the field – getting the sales reps to understand and embrace their new customer-centric roles. The company designated three states to test the new approach and partnered with Blueline to create the rollout strategy.

The training design utilized a custom Blueline Blueprint Learning Visual as the central element in a three-day meeting where sales reps were introduced to the new sales model. We used the Blueprint as a launch point for a broad range of sales manager-led practice and coaching activities – to provide practice and allow time to address questions and concerns.

The six-month test was a success. Based on learnings from the initial pilot, the sales model was further refined and then rolled out across the United States and eventually, with adjustments for local markets, applied across the world.

Pharmaceutical companies are in a position to literally redefine the sales rep role… to replace traditional sales models with models that put service and solutions at the forefront… to create models that ultimately lead to improved patient outcomes. That’s where Blueline comes in.

Contact us today! Together we can explore and implement proven solutions that will give your pharma sales model a shot in the arm and get you back on the fast track to results.

How does the optional PeopleSIM™ Supportive Selling simulation extend the learning beyond the classroom?

Using the PeopleSIMTM platform, our team of engineers has endeavored to create a sales blueline-q&a4experience that feels so real that your sales people will swear that they are interacting with a live customer via web conference technology. Imagine giving your learners the opportunity to hone their sales skills anytime, anywhere through simulation technology perfected through projects with the U.S. Military – technology that combines voice recognition and a gaming engine that distributes the equivalent of four, feature-length films.

Did you miss the previous questions? Check them now!