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It’s possible that a trip to Las Vegas may have been the inspiration for this study. Researchers around the world collaborated to answer this pressing question: if an online slot machine is incorporated into a learning management system (LMS), and learners earn “coins” for the machine each time they answer quiz questions correctly, will they be more engaged in the LMS? Researchers expected a positive association between choosing to play the slot machine and the change in the number of daily, voluntary training modules completed.

Results from the experiment were mixed. Learners who played the online slot machine initially showed an increased participation in voluntary daily training and increased performance on the related quizzes, compared to the same timeframe before introduction of the slot machine. However, this effect only lasted a few months before declining to pre-gambling levels. In addition, researchers “also observe[d] a significant decrease in training activity by employees who chose not to play the game, which in our matched samples served to offset the positive motivational effects observed for players” (Kelly, Valtchanov, & Webb, in press). In this study, some learners were so discouraged by the idea of a slot machine that they actually stopped participating in training altogether.

So, should we all incorporate gambling into our LMSs? Maybe not. These researchers do suggest, however, that employers aiming to increase participation in voluntary training should still seek out novel approaches to reward engaged learners. These approaches should have the following characteristics:

  • Simple to engage in
  • Can be done frequently
  • Generates excitement
  • Has a low ‘cost’ of play

In short, the extent to which games like these will be associated with increased engagement in the LMS, depends not only on the proportion of employees who choose to play and how much they enjoy playing, but also the reactions of learners who may object to the company’s use of such approaches (Kelly, Valtchanov, & Webb, in press).

Key Takeaway

Slot machines are great for Vegas (and for this lady), but perhaps not for your LMS. (Sorry, gambling fans.) Organizations should look for other approaches with the characteristics listed above to increase engagement.

Read More ($)

Kelly, K., Valtchanov, D., & Webb, A. (In press). Behavioral implications of using an online slot machine game to motivate employees: A cautionary tale. Accounting, Organizations and Society.

A Tip for Researchers!

Frustrated by the paywall? We get it. Potential solutions: Ask your local public librarian for access to these journals, or request the articles through your local library’s InterLibrary Loan service, “which is essential for the democratization of research” (see: InterLibrary Loan will change your life).

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