How to deliver business results with game-based learning

by | Feb 9, 2015 | Articles

A conversation eXchange with Mark Reilly, Head of Corporate Training at McDonald’s Restaurants Ltd.

Next time you are in McDonalds, spare a thought for the store manager, juggling his customer-facing team on the one hand with the precision factory production line operating behind the desk. Consider the implications of
building the skills in a huge workforce, half of whom are under 21 and never planning to stay in the job for more than a few months. Applaud the way in which front-line staff training has reduced the ‘90-day turnover’ by more than half.

Mark, working closely with Jo Cheesman at City & Guilds Kineo, described how McDonalds applied gaming principles to the knotty problem of introducing new tills so that staff left the evening shift on the old system, and started work the next shift on the new.

We loved the idea that Mark’s 11-year old daughter was so intrigued to see what Dad was doing that she practiced all weekend to push up his score on the till game before the training was introduced on the Monday morning. Surely having such a training game not only gaining widespread take-up but actually going viral amongst the staff is the dream of all those of us who are in L&D roles. When a member of staff absolutely knew the new till system inside out through having played and competed with colleagues for a high score was asked to give their feedback on the training, replied ‘What training’, that really is the success we all crave.

Through lively Q&A, we dug deeper into how the game had been designed, launched and delivered. McDonalds did a ‘soft’ launch before changeover and achieved 50,000 plays in the first five weeks. Although the flash-based system did not track learner scores (it is not delivered via an LMS because that simply introduces two or three more screens before the learner starts), the learners were posting their scores on paper notices in the staffroom and putting their scores on Facebook.

Managers were the incentivising their teams to play – as they could see the way how the game was driving up customer service. Challenging timelines meant that the game was introduced quickly and quietly. Learner and manager feedback was crowd-sourced through the Bar Lounge portal and focus groups. Now the managers are looking for gamification techniques in other training too.

What pointers did we discuss that might help others succeed in introducing game-based learning?

  • Games have to be challenging – and this young audience are sophisticated game-players already. Rewards, levels, bonuses, time penalties, bonuses, use of lifelines and help when learners get stuck contributed to unique scores
  • Tech-savvy learners are prepared to sit beside their older colleagues and guide them through the learning game – what potential this might offer to tap into to develop workplace learning champions
  • A short learning ‘experience’ of just 20 minutes is all that is needed
  • Learning games don’t necessarily have to be on-screen or online. A board game can help in team-building and delivery of other soft skills.
  • Gaming can help people think differently about how people like to learn
  • It isn’t always essential to track participation – measuring the outcomes and performance improvement is the important part
  • Whilst mobile apps might be appealing, they were impractical in the McDonalds context without mobile access on the shop floor and needing to show the till screen in its entirety beside the gaming elements
  • Be clear about the learning objectives and consider how to measure success


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