As mobile communication technology continues to reshape the workforce-training landscape, some manufacturers are starting to capitalize on new developments in brain science to make training more digestible and enjoyable for their workers. In particular, methods like gamification, bite-sized learning and personalized training are enabling companies to deliver mobile training that has direct, easily measurable impacts on job performance.
A key mover in the brain-science training sphere is Axonify Inc., a software company based in Waterloo, Ontario. Axonify develops software that incorporates games and rewards into the learning process. The approach is aimed at personalizing the process and making it engaging for employees while demonstrably improving the business results for employers.
IndustryWeek recently talked with Axonify CEO Carol Leaman to learn more about the company's training method.
IW: Tell us about the research that Axonify's approach to employee learning is based on.
Carol Leaman: The first key piece of underlying research we employed as a concept was done by German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus back in the late 1800s. Over a period of years, Ebbinghaus tested himself daily on his level of retention of information of nonsensical strings of numbers and letters. The broad conclusion he came to was that we as human beings basically can't remember much of anything if we're told something once. But if, for example, we're told a piece of information six times in 30 days at spaced intervals of time, we'll retain that information long-term more than 90% of the time.
Over the last 10 to 20 years, an additional concept called retrieval practice has been overlaid onto spaced repetition. Retrieval practice is essentially asking a small series of short questions that are highly targeted to the critical learning elements that the employer needs the employee to remember. By asking them repeatedly and intelligently at predefined intervals, we create memory retention long-term.
In the Flow
IW: Does this training method require an investment in equipment?
CL: No. We deliver on any web-enabled device that is accessible to the employee. We can deliver on anything mobile: laptops, iPads, point-of-sale terminals -- it doesn't matter. As long as there's a web link, workers can access it. And because it's available to them wherever, they can decide at what point in their workflow they've got three minutes to spare. Basically you just go to whatever device you're using for the training, press an icon, log in, and pick a game to play.
We have a variety of games -- brain teasers, arcade-style games, word puzzles. Embedded within each game are points at which questions pop out. For example, we have an Angry Birds-style game that we call Monkey Business. The monkey launches a banana, and if the banana hits a particular object, a question pops out of that object. The game pauses; the employee is asked a question that is directly relevant to something they need to know to do their job; they answer the question; they get immediate feedback as to whether the answer is right or wrong; and the game starts again.
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Typically an employer will allow an employee to answer three questions a day. And the game is typically timed for about three minutes. As soon as they're done, they get points for answering questions. And the points can be redeemed for any kind of award that employer wants to offer: gift cards, days off, etc.
Also, there are lots of social elements built into the program. Employees can suggest questions; they can give feedback; they can see who's winning prizes, who's on the leaderboard, and so on.
IW: How does this training method transfer from, say, a retail or office setting to a manufacturing setting?
CL: Quite easily. Often how it works is there will be a laptop or an iPad in the break room, and the employee can do the training during their break time. It's up to the employer to decide where they want to make this training accessible to their employees. In the manufacturing environment it tends to be a central location where they know the employee is going to spend some time every shift.
We feel this type of targeted, measurable, personalized learning gives manufacturers better value for the training dollars they spend. It gives them a better understanding of what employees know and what they don't know.