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How to design a gamified training system for the construction industry?

BearBuild Industries hires 50 campus recruits from the current class. After four days of onboarding, the new recruits, all millennials obviously, had the following reactions:

“Did I make the right choice joining BearBuild?” 

“I thought the work would be exciting. But if the training itself was going to be this boring, I dread to think how the actual work is going to be.”

“Should I start dusting out my CV?”

“What good are these safety rules to our daily work life? Why spook us in the first week itself?”

Within a month, ten of them suffered minor injuries, and two of them had near fatal accidents. 

The reason our training programs turn out ineffective is because there is a huge gap between what the expected work is and what we train them on. Especially in an industry like construction, where health and safety are of utmost importance, the traditional classroom-based training approach is bound to have its limitations because they do not replicate the dangers and risks involved in the work. 

Moving digital is not the full answer. Self-paced online courses have their inadequacies too. An online video or an e-learning course on health and safety is often designed at a “recall” level, when, the workers should be trained on how to apply the learning. Simply put, in a world of on-the-job training, where learning by doing is the key to experiencing the work, the construction industry is still focused on old training methods where a trainer unleashes all the information on the workers and expects them to understand every bit of it in the first week itself.

Therefore, as learning professionals, the question we must ask ourselves is:

Why can’t we make learning interesting and relevant for the learners, so that they look forward to applying those learned elements at work?

The most effective trainings are those where you don’t even realize you were being trained. And when you get on the shop-floor, you can apply each method described in the training. What better example than games?

In 2007, a North Carolina resident named Paxton Galvanek claimed that playing the video game “America’s Army” helped him provide critical medical aid to the injured victims of a car accident. One of the people he helped had lost his fingers. 

“I have received no prior medical training and can honestly say that because of the training and presentations within [the game], I was able to help and possibly save the injured men,” Galvanek said at the time, according to Wired.com.

It isn’t difficult to bring this sense of clarity to the training of construction industry. We just need be committed to creating engaging, informative and immersive safety training. Developing such a training may push up the cost a little bit, but if you look at injury- and attrition-related costs, you may realize that we are indeed saving money when striving to add such game elements in the training. Here’s how:

Make it fun – no strike that – Make it challenging

Often corporate training programs are aimed at engagement and fun, and so are kept at a level where learners find it palatable. After all, one shouldn’t be demotivated and leave the training in the middle or, worse, fail the assessments. Reality check: the more challenging a training is, the more invested the learners would be.

Gamification and Gaming can help bridge this gap. Consider the following elements to make your training challenging:

  • Mission

Setting a target for the learners makes them willing to go the extra mile to complete the training. Build your training around a realistic mission, like you have 20 seconds to save your fellow workers from this huge boulder that is about to crush them. 

  • Competition

A healthy competition always keeps the learners hooked to the training. Add elements such as leaderboards, and the ability for learners to challenge their colleagues. Introduce battles that they can throw at one another. If the corporate world is full of competition, why can’t corporate training have some of it?

  • Extrinsic motivation

Extrinsic motivation refers to making the learners stay with the training by giving them external awards. You can “bribe” your learners with these little incentives. Some examples are shown below.

1) Coins


Offer coins for completing missions, challenging and winning against their friends, or even for logging in every day. Let them know they are gaining some incentives from taking the training. You can also make the coins redeemable as vouchers. (Redeeming them as real money may attract income tax in many countries, so be careful.)

2) XPs


Video Games often use Experience Points (XPs) to determine how experienced a player is. Your training too can host this element by showing how many missions a learner has completed, or how many times a learner has passed a test within the first attempt. You can also give them certificates based on these XPs they have acquired, like university credits.

3) Make them learn collaboratively


Workers in the construction industry have two safety objectives: ensure their own safety and the safety of their fellow workers. To enable this, create group training by including group missions where the learners help each other in completing the training and even if one learner fails, the entire group pays for it by losing coins or collectively attempting the mission again.

Explore and experience the world

Gamification is not just limited to sitting at one’s desk and undertaking a course that has game mechanics. It also means exploring the real world in the virtual context.

1) Augmented Reality (AR)


Remember the game PokemonGo? AR works exactly like that. This technology can be employed in construction training programs too: you can make the learners experience how to determine a crack, or a loose rod. 

Augmented reality (AR) is usually defined as “an enhanced version of reality created by the use of technology to add digital information on an image of something.”

When you use an AR app on your smartphone, it uses your phone’s camera to first show you a view of the real world in front of you, and then put a layer of information (text and/or images) on top of that view.

These days a lot of people are using the words AR and VR interchangeably, but they are not similar. Let us clear the confusion once again. While Virtual Reality creates a totally virtual world, Augmented Reality is a mix of the real world and the virtual world. So in AR, you may be watching a construction training equipment (in real world view) and then you point to a certain tool and pop comes a labelled information about what exactly that tool does with possible instructions or a sample walkthrough.

2) Virtual Reality (VR)


Virtual Reality uses an artificial environment that is presented to the user in such a way that the user suspends disbelief and accepts it as a real environment. VR can be very useful in training the construction workers about the impact of a mistake. Once they put on their VR headsets, they get immersed into their construction site and experience it and, consequently, recognize its loopholes and potential accident spots.

3) Mixed Reality


You may have heard about Microsoft’s HoloLens which has taken the tech world by storm. It uses an experience called Mixed Reality (MR) — a sort of “hybrid” environment, where interactive virtual objects can be mapped to the physical environment, blending the real and the virtual.

MR goes a step beyond AR because users can interact in real-time with virtual objects that are placed within the real world. These virtual items will respond and react to users as if they were actual objects. So if I am training the frontline staff how to make coffee at their store, using MR I can create a virtual Coffee Maker in which the staff can put the coffee beans (with MR headsets on) as if they were for real. This is an interesting concept, touted as the future of hands-on training.

To conclude..

Adding gaming elements in training programs can motivate the workers to diligently complete the training and understand how to avoid critical mistakes. It is important to make them feel intrinsically motivated to learn the safety measures and use them diligently. Coins, rewards, and challenges can only be considered as aids to their learning, but what could help them is knowing what can go wrong and how to avoid it. Your training should not undermine the consequences of a mistake, but it should give them an experience where they learn from their failures. Your training needs to be the safe zone where they can make as many mistakes as they can, because once they go out in the real site, there aren’t any safe zones!

(This article was originally published in Training Industry)

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