Sergio Galanti: Digital regulatory compliance training made fun and effective through Serious Games

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Digital regulatory compliance training made fun and effective through Serious Games

Sergio Galanti, Risk Digital Officer, Financial Services, KPMG AG

Are you familiar with the following picture? Jennifer, who works in a bank, receives once a quarter an email informing her of the new mandatory eLearning modules which are available on the bank’s intranet and that need to be completed by the end of the quarter (or other deadline).

She follows the link provided in the email and reviews the new modules. She notices that two of the new modules are repeat (refreshed) topics from the previous year; in addition, there is a ten-minute awareness module on GDPR and a training module on Operational Risk management.

If you could hear Jennifer’s thoughts, this is how they would sound like:

“OK I have to do this. If not, my line manager will start sending me reminders and any delay or non-compliance with the eLearning may even affect my performance appraisal. When to do this? Not now, I am too busy.

Let’s figure out a half day towards the end of the quarter when I can go through the modules all at once and get them out of the way….uhm, do I really need to do the one on Operational Risk? I have always worked in the second line of defense….and will ten minutes on GDPR give me more knowledge of the Do’s and Don’ts than the very good article I read last week on the “Economist” on the impact of GDPR on banks…?

Well, It is as it is. I will click through them at the speed of light and hopefully pass the quizzes at first trial.”

What is the problem with the picture described above? The problem is that it reflects the status quo of today’s regulatory compliance digital training programs: they rely on extrinsic motivation and fail to engage their audiences. They are simply a means to show the regulators evidence of the delivery of information on (new) regulatory requirements and they fail to educate, train, or raise awareness among your employees.

Enter Serious Games!


How can Serious Games turn regulatory compliance training into a fun, engaging, and effective learning experience?

Serious Games are useful tools to engage, educate, and train individuals in many areas. They are designed to leverage on specific psychological and behavioural drivers that trigger intrinsic motivation or, in other words, motivate your learner to perform an activity for its own sake and not in order to avoid an external reward of fear or punishment. Imagine a learning environment where your employees are having fun playing a game and are unaware that, at the same time, they are learning new skills and retaining new knowledge. Is this even possible, you say? Of course!

Scientific studies demonstrate the existence of the link between intrinsic motivation and learning. For example, elements such as Challenge, Control, Fantasy and Fun to name a few are often embedded within the design of Serious Games, because research has proven them to be drivers of intrinsic motivation.

Challenge, Control, Fantasy & Fun

As human beings, we have an innate desire to overcome challenges. In fact, we are motivated to overcome challenges and difficult situations as we find this activity gratifying and it strengthens our self-esteem.

A well designed game will take a player on a journey where she experiences ongoing optimal levels of difficulty i.e. the game will provide the player challenges at the appropriate pace.

Multiple goals and goal complexity, randomness and uncertain outcomes, hidden information, and time pressure are examples of design elements that can be used to create games with levels of increasing difficulty.

Take for example a game simulation designed to train ORMs; the mission given players is to identify three significant control weaknesses hidden in a single front-to-back process, within a specified time period – each one of the organisational areas involved in the process may represent a game level – (e.g. trading desk, operations, market risk control, product control, finance).

As the ORM/player moves through the different levels, in search of the control weaknesses, she faces challenges of different complexity due to one or a combination of factors such as uncooperative stakeholders, lack of process documentation and control mapping, lack of control test results, absence of three lines of defense model, a GRC poorly implemented (or, alas, a GRC simply), lack of an Operational Risk Incident Collation policy, and so forth.

As the ORM/player overcomes these challenges – making the rights decisions and learning from the wrong ones – she learns new skills and gradually takes control of the game environment. The activity of taking control of the game, also described as achieving mastery of the game – or “leveling up”: the successful completion of each level and stepping on to the next level – are incredibly strong drivers of intrinsic motivation that keep the player immersed in the game and will elicit learning.

As the ORM/player achieves mastery of her environment, she becomes conscious of her new abilities, feels gratified by her success, she feels empowered, (feedback and recognition are also powerful drivers of motivation which we will cover in a separate article) and is compelled to face new and more challenging situations (i.e. “leveling up”).

Fun and fantasy are also drivers of intrinsic motivation. A player who is having fun while playing a game will continue playing regardless of whether there are external reasons to do so. Turning regulatory compliance training into a fun activity may go a long way into motivating players intrinsically and we know that when we do something because we want to and while we are having fun it becomes much easier to learn.

A bit of fantasy is always necessary to understate or play down the seriousness of your working environment and add fun to the learning: namely the seriousness and dryness that characterises the content of new regulations, compliance and operational risk management topics. Back to the example given above, when you can play the game choosing your avatar, having been given a quest or mission to complete and playing in an environment which is a metaphor of your working environment thus knowing that failing has no consequences in the real world, all this will help you become more immersed and engaged in the game. Learning is then facilitated.

We play because we want to and we work because we have to. But how much more could we achieve if we could work while playing? Serious Games can help organisations in making more effective the learning of new regulations, compliance, and operational risk management topics. The training of these topics does not have to be a tick the box exercise for regulatory requirements anymore. In order for this to take place, a change in the mindset of those who decide the learning and development strategies is necessary.


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