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April 4, 2022

Joking aside: an interview about gamification elements in the University's programmes

Gamification elements are actively being integrated into the sphere of business education and are often used in distance learning. The learner's involvement increases and the educational results are achieved faster thanks to game mechanics. In his interview for the magazine "Digital Transformation Bulletin" Alexander Korkin, Deputy Director of the Corporate University of Russian Railways, told about the advantages of gamification in the training of railway employees and digitalization of game-based learning methods.

– Developing game mechanics is in demand today in a variety of areas. Tell us about the essence of gamification and its use in business education.
– Gamification consists in the use of game elements in non–game activities. Gamification has really been one of the main trends in the development of education in general for many years, and business education applies it both to the activities held in classrooms and to online formats. One of the most important conditions for one to advance in his or her learning is the desire to learn and the ability to be curious about new information. From the moment of birth, a person adapts to this world precisely through games. The game is an intuitive and interesting process – this is the main advantage of gamification. What does "interesting" mean here? Our brain is made in such a way that when people receive something pleasant, useful, tasty, exciting, they try to consolidate this experience. This is due to the effects of the hormone dopamine. The next time a person faces a possibility to receive a familiar source of pleasure, his/her brain actively produces dopamine, the person feels a pleasant excitement, an influx of strength in order to get what he or she wants. That is called anticipation, interest. Games are always connected with emotions, and emotional involvement allows one to concentrate attention, it also activates memory.

The components of any game also actively used in business are: "motivation", "status" and "reward". People accumulate bonuses for future purchases, try to win raffle prizes and take part in special promotions, gain rating points to increase discounts. It is the participants' emotional involvement, their interest and motivation that arise in the process of game activity, and contribute to the developmental effect in the business education for serious adults.

 – What gamification tools does the Corporate University of Russian Railways use in learning programmes? Are there any digital game-based learning tools in the arsenal?
– Gamification elements are applied to most University programmes, both to those implemented in classrooms and in the online format. They range from small exercises and ratings to multi-day business simulations and sophisticated interactive simulators.

For instance, a special game-based learning portal has been created for the business simulation "Railway Transport Management", where participants manage virtual railway companies, competing for customer orders.

Also, our essentially serious programme named “Ensuring Functional Safety in Railway Transport” ends with a business game dedicated to the safety culture. During the programme, learners carry out an investigation and try to prevent incidents by developing their own solutions. Also, the programme allows to use audio and video materials; tasks are sent individually to each participant by the chatbot during the game. The advantage of gamification here lies in the possibility to consolidate knowledge and work out certain actions step by step in easy manner in such complex areas as the Traffic Safety Management System, Audits of the Traffic Safety Management System and the company's Safety Culture. This way learning is carried out in a simulated environment without stopping the real working processes.

Another example of digital gamification and effects of competitive approach is a quiz game where participants accumulate rating points. The online programme “Leaders of Digital Transformation” has been running for two years. Its participants answer questions that help consolidate knowledge after each learning block and they can see their rating in real time, which significantly increases their involvement in the learning process.

Gamification is a requirement of the new generation, of our time and it’s one of the key aspects of the successful work of a modern educational organization. This became particularly evident during the massive transition to the remote format due to the pandemic. Online interaction makes it harder for faculty and learners to establish and maintain constant contact, therefore gamification is a good opportunity and a necessity at the same time. The main thing is to stick accurately to the learning tasks and make sure that the game does not become just entertainment, but is aimed at achieving the development results of the educational programme.

An important aspect is that the University does not only use game-based learning tools, but also shares them with our partners – universities of railway transport, which train learners according to the programmes of the Corporate University of Russian Railways.

– How effective is gamification during electronic and distance learning for employees?
– First of all, it should be clarified that by e-learning we mean learning without the presence of the faculty, when a learner takes a course in their comfortable mode on the online platform using personal accounts or on our University's Open Educational Portal.

Dialog simulators work very well in such a format, where learners have to talk to a client or hold a meeting with employees. Scoring, emotional reactions of characters are embedded into such simulators, all this greatly brightens up the e-learning programmes. Gamification elements are used even in mandatory programmes, for example, there are exercises in the form of crosswords in the electronic course on occupational safety.

This year, the University, together with the HR Department and the IT unit of JSC "Russian Railways", have developed an open electronic course "Digital Technologies" for the portal of the Russian Railways Distance Learning System. While advancing through the course, a learner will read a comic book, take part in a quiz, go on a virtual journey, watch videos and much more.

However, gamification should be used carefully, when applied to the sphere of e-learning. Firstly, it is the social component of the game that most people like, while e–courses take the form of individual training; secondly, face-to-face training always implies an experienced moderator who can indicate the right direction of learning and help concentrate on educational goals.

– The new generations of millennials and zoomers are used to video games since childhood, therefore, methods that use contests and encouragements perfectly fit into their lives. How do senior learners perceive gamification? 

– It is a common stereotype that only young people play games. The senior generation also used to play games quite a lot, even though those were not video games. Gamification is universal. It's not just about computer games - the fundamental principles of the game are the same. When playing business games, people of the senior generation get involved even faster and feel more confident due to the fact that they are usually much more experienced.

– Do you think game-based learning is a temporary trend or a long-running story? What awaits us in the future?
– We can see that gamification is not a temporary phenomenon. Further development of game-based learning programmes is directly related to digital technologies in this area. We will experience new phenomena, such as the immersion into virtual reality, the imitation of feelings in simulators for the development of communication skills, the construction of educational content with the assistance of a neural network. Also, learning can take place simultaneously on different digital platforms with the use of devices that learners choose or in an online game that provides an open space where employees of an entire organization interact with each other. Of course, we do not expect such breakthroughs in the sphere of gamification of learning in the near future, but it is important to look 10-15 years ahead and keep up with modern digital technologies.

The interview was taken by Julia Antich

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