Tips for Gamifying Your Cybersecurity Awareness Training Program

In today’s technological world, educating people about cybersecurity awareness is an absolute necessity. According to one report, 82% of data breaches involved the human element, from social attacks to misuse of technologies. These errors are not always entirely preventable, as some level of human error is inevitable, but proper training in cybersecurity awareness can greatly decrease the likelihood of human mistakes leading to data breaches.

Because of the increasing use of digital tools for business operations and reliance on employee conduct to ensure security, new solutions are required.

While cybersecurity awareness training can take many forms, most training programs are computer-based. It is important when developing and implementing these programs to be aware of what methods of education work best.

Training must reach users who may not have any background or knowledge in cybersecurity, and it must be effective enough to ensure that security is “not only top-of-mind but a fluent language.” In service of that end, gamification is a highly effective tactic.

There are many benefits to gamifying your approach to cybersecurity awareness training, all of which contribute to the goal of educating employees and decreasing risk. Gamification incentivizes and motivates employees to be more engaged, participate more actively, retain more information and implement behavioral changes moving forward.

The following provides several tips to gamify your cybersecurity awareness training as well as more general advice to successfully achieve your training goals.

Training Rewards

Offering rewards for completion or performance is an incredible motivator for adult learners. Whether the rewards are simple in-game points or real-life prizes like gift cards, the possibility of receiving something for their commitment to the process is a good incentive for employees to not only complete the training but also to pay attention and perform well. Positive reinforcement is important to ensure maximum retention and compliance.

Challenges

While gamification can be a great way to keep your learners engaged and motivated, it’s important not to overdo it. Too many rewards can make students feel like they are being bribed into doing something they may not want to do in the first place. Setting up milestones and a rewards program will encourage them to achieve their goals one step at a time. Additionally, by introducing challenges and respective rewards, students are more encouraged to learn and overcome hurdles.

Using e-learning, gamification can create a more engaging learning experience for users. Likewise, keeping up with the streaks and achieving new challenges releases dopamine—the pleasure hormone. This, in turn, improves employee engagement, while repetition increases the retention of information.

Repetition

The digital landscape is constantly changing, and cybersecurity threats are always evolving. This, combined with the human tendency to forget information or push it to the back of our minds after a short time, means that ongoing training is vital. If learners receive regular, spaced reinforcement from their training over the year, studies show that learners retain that information more easily and for longer periods of time. Regularly refreshing information that employees have previously learned and providing new information that has emerged in the intervening time helps employees to understand that cybersecurity awareness training provides relevant and up-to-date skills.

Depending on the frequency of training and the methods used, this can also allow you to track employees’ progress over shorter periods of time and for you to potentially bestow rewards for consistently good performance or for improvement. Also, adding gamified content to your overall training program will help support this effort while also breaking up the learning experience and further motivating employees.

Real-World Scenarios

Real-world scenario-based training makes use of immersive simulations to help employees apply knowledge and skills to real-life situations. Scenario-based training uses a more practical approach to learning where employees can actually explore consequences and see the impact of their decisions at work. Employees use and practice skills that they’ll need for their role in a controlled and simulated environment.

Combining these real-world scenarios and interactivities with gamification is a highly effective tactic to make sure that employees understand, relate to, and internalize important information and possibly even look forward to their training sessions. Another motivating factor you can apply is how you communicate the importance of the subject matter. Certainly, the organization and employees will benefit from security awareness training and application. However, lessons learned during a corporate training session can also easily be applied at home to ensure that employee family members are aware of the traps often laid by cybercriminals. This is a good perspective to communicate to your employees as helping to secure their loved ones is a great motivator for learners to pay attention to and engage with training.

Learn by Doing

Learning by doing is the idea that we learn more when we actually “do” the activity. Learning by doing work after you’ve already gained some familiarity with the content works because the technique calls you to actively engage with the material and generate the knowledge yourself. Putting skills into practice creates efficiency, actionable takeaways and better outcomes. When learning opportunities are put into action, the brain responds to the action by cataloging the input based on emotion and stimulus felt during the learning, further helping the student lock in and retain the information taught. If possible, try to take advantage of this approach in your gamified content. Have the learner actually perform what you’re asking them to do as best practices. For example, if you are trying to communicate the tactics to look out for in phishing emails, have them take on the role of the cybercriminal and design their own phishing emails. Through gamification, students can experience particular scenarios like this one, address the challenges and solve problems.

Microlearning

Microlearning means reducing bulky, copious or complicated information and presenting it in such a way that is less overwhelming when offered to students in bite-sized portions or modules that focus only on key elements of any subject.

Microlearning reduces “fluff” and redundancies and gets straight to the heart of the most important information presented. In so doing, lessons become more succinct for the learners, which makes it easier to retain information in their long-term memory–unlike traditional training courses that may have too much unnecessary information crammed in. Such courses can be completed in a few minutes rather than in larger blocks of time, and the information presented is more likely to stick. Studies have shown that a learner’s attention begins to drop significantly after 15-18 minutes. So, keeping your course or game within this duration will help optimize their focus on the material.

Incorporate Into Existing Training

Implementing gamification into existing training courses can be a great way to keep employees up-to-date with their learning. For example, a certification that requires yearly renewals can be hard to keep employees’ attention if they view the process as repetitive and boring. However, by incorporating gaming elements into training and breaking up the normal training experience, students are more able to keep their attention focused on the task at hand. Adding these elements can be a fun way to instill motivation and engagement that can help learners look forward to maintaining the certification.

Closing Thoughts

Gamifying your training approach can be very effective. But you have to determine first what the desired outcome of the training is. Start by identifying problems with your existing training setup, understand clearly the needs of your audience as well as the desired outcomes and match your gamified strategy to deliver the most effective way for your students to learn. If you completely disregard your students’ needs, then no training plan is ever going to be effective–gamified or not.

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John Trest

John Trest is the chief learning officer at VIPRE Security Group.

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