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      How to motivate employees using competitive learning

      by Kate Donnan

      Learning and development strategies , Gamification

      We are all familiar with the idea of the learning curve. It is a very personal experience that we all go through many times in our lives. Learning to drive a car; to cook a meal; to speak another language.

      The ‘learning curve’ has become a colloquialism, but there is a methodology that can be applied to measure the speed at which we pick up various tasks; as we practise and gradually improve over time. Slowly at first, before we start developing more rapidly.

      Measurable learning

      The science of this interesting, but can be dumbed down to the fact that ‘it’s easy when you know how’. I know I have felt the choking frustration of being at the steep end of the curve. Approaching a crossroads on attempt #1 or #2. Rushing through all of the different ways I could mess this up - unimaginable that a junction could ever not be a pivotal moment in my day.


      We are good at overcoming challenges, we may even be genetically programmed to do so. Learning a new skill has recently been shown to relax rats that learned to drive tiny cars.


      Tackling the curve does not need to be done solo, though. What if the many-headed monster of an organisation took on the learning curve, nudging it upwards to mastery from every angle as a group?

      Competition based learning

      Competition in the learning process can not only motivate staff, it can help to facilitate a growth mindset. Those with a growth mindset are constantly looking for new ways to improve. A bit of competition can encourage this, as our competitors can generate new benchmarks for us to meet than those we might place on ourselves day-to-day.


      A bit of competition amongst colleagues can leave us feeling motivated, and can in turn help with motivation to work. Sometimes our shared goals will only get acknowledged quarterly at company meetings, introducing competitive learning helps remind us of that team spirit at more frequent intervals.

      Competition techniques as ways to motivate employees


      It is not just learning we can use competition for. Some elements of gamification can motivate staff members to change their behaviours within their work environment. At Google, employees weren’t motivated to submit expenses promptly. When they took trips they were given an allowance to spend and expense.


      To gamify this, they implemented a system where employees could choose what happened to the amount they did not spend. They either got it in their next paycheck, saved it for another trip, or donated it to charity. Within six months compliance rates reached 100%.


      Where’s the game you ask? Gamification does not always equal ‘playtime’. For more on that, check out our recent blog. Game mechanics can rather be used to help employees feel more involved, engaged and encouraged to participate, through things like leaderboards and social learning.


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      When does it work?


      Education and competition are best married within a positive, collaborative atmosphere. There are growing pains within the learning curve and nobody wants to be seen as being at the bottom of the pack. Competition is at its most motivational when dealing with organisational change or communication training.


      More technical topics may need to be avoided, unless competitive learning has already been proven successful within the organisation. This would prevent any participants feeling overwhelmed or left behind.

      How does it work?


      The idea of leaderboards presents a different question, who should learners be competing against? Different tools and styles present different options. We can be facing the abstract ‘challenge’ - just trying to master as much as possible with an eye on the prize. Or, we can be encouraged to compete against colleagues directly.


      Competition directly between colleagues can be as simple as creating individual teams. Or, tools such as Teach on Mars can be utilised to encourage competitive collaboration and engagement. Teach on Mars gives learners the ability to send a challenge to a colleague. They’ll each then enter a game where the aim is to get the most amount of questions correct before the time runs out.


      The value of urgency that competition brings to learning cannot be overstated. When we are put under any sort of stressor, neural networks will begin firing and the brain kicks into gear. We’ll remember this when we next need to recall that information under pressure - as the input patterns have already been established.

      teach on mars

      The new way to work


      Competition in learning can not only provide results, it’s indicative of the shift in the way we treat workplace learning. Passive content is gradually dying out, we are creating exploratory experiences instead.


      Our learners are motivated, and need little encouragement to work harder when the learning makes sense to them. They just need us to provide the open door to get them to the desired learning outcomes. They want to do good work, well.


      For us to efficiently meet that need, we need to continue to provide solutions that aid unsupervised learning. Learning that can settle easily into employee’s work-life balance and that (ideally) never requires desk time. Adding competition mechanisms into your arsenal is a step forward in this journey, and the great news is there are tools available for you that make it a breeze!


      Talk to Logicearth about bring competition mechanisms into your learning and development strategies.



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