12 Gamification strategies to enhance cybersecurity awareness training

As automation and outsourcing take over routine tasks, employees are increasingly responsible for critical decision-making. This shift highlights the distinction between “task-based skills” and “general risk management skills.” While the former are specific to job roles, the latter often seem vague and complex, necessitating comprehensive awareness training.

For over a decade, some cybersecurity experts have argued against teaching all employees about risk management, believing that technology should handle such decisions. However, this view underestimates the challenge of staying ahead of attackers with security technology and the growing need for employees to make informed business decisions as automation increases.

Despite most organisations having some form of security awareness training, most security breaches still result from phishing or social engineering attacks. Traditional training assumes a rational, left-brained approach to learning, relying on logical thought processes to impart knowledge. However, effective learning requires more than just logical statements; it needs engagement through “unexpectedness,” “creative challenges,” and “social reflection.” Gamification plays a critical role in this engagement, as detailed below.

Compliance vs. Risk Management in Traditional Training

Today’s cybersecurity training programs often focus on compliance rather than risk management. Organisations aim to meet compliance checkboxes, but these standards rarely specify how training should be delivered or what evidence is needed to show its effectiveness. IT compliance auditors may also interpret requirements differently, potentially overlooking the effectiveness of the training.

Many organisations limit awareness training to 60 to 90 minutes per year—less than two minutes per week—due to the belief that such training has minimal impact. Managers often view compliance-focused training as a necessary cost of doing business, aiming only to provide enough evidence of due diligence to avoid negligence claims in the event of a breach. However, attackers are not deterred by compliance certifications.

With threats rising and training time decreasing, the solution lies in the delivery platform and mechanisms of training content. Effective training requires employee and managerial belief in its impact, supported by proven gamification techniques.

Research indicates that effective training needs fundamental elements, which have been eroded in favor of simplified, compliance-focused approaches. It’s time to advocate for security awareness training based on general risk management skills, motivating employees to protect their organisation and jobs.

A gamification-based delivery methodology aligns employees’ interests with organisational goals. This approach enhances engagement, knowledge retention, and immediate feedback, providing a safe environment for practicing risk decisions and offering management analytics on proficiency and vulnerability.

1. Create Engaging Learning Experiences

To enhance comprehension, employees must be engaged and active in their learning. Organising content in an engaging way from the start of the session, using interesting storylines and gamification, can capture their attention and promote active learning.

2. Use Enhanced Visuals for Engagement

Static, text-based content can quickly lose employees’ attention. A visually appealing interface, with dynamic colors and elements, can maintain engagement. Simulated environments, like email or office settings, add relevance and context to the learning process.

3. Make Learning Context Meaningful

Training must be relevant to employees. Presenting unexpected facts and realistic examples that link decisions to outcomes makes the content more meaningful and memorable. Gamification can effectively tie decisions and outcomes, enhancing motivation to learn.

4. Provide Relatable Examples

Examples should reflect employees’ daily interactions to increase relatability and retention. Using familiar characters, situations, and information helps employees recognise and remember risky scenarios, which gamification can easily incorporate.

5. Simulate the Work Environment

Training content should mirror the employee’s work environment to enhance recognition and application of learned skills. Immersive simulations of interactions, which gamified platforms can provide, help employees connect training to real-world scenarios.

6. Personalise Content

Personalised content increases relevance and engagement. Inserting employees into character roles within scenarios provides a direct, immersive experience, leading to better engagement and retention, a common feature in gamified platforms.

7. Reduce Cognitive Load

Too many inputs can overwhelm employees, hindering learning. Providing dedicated time for fundamental concepts without the pressure of testing helps absorption. Gamification can manage cognitive load by focusing on limited, interactive elements.

8. Provide Practice Opportunities

Practicing new skills is crucial for retention. Instead of a single end-of-module quiz, a virtual, gamified environment allows repeated practice with incentives, significantly improving knowledge retention.

9. Challenge Creative Thinking

Challenges that require critical and creative thinking are more memorable than simple quizzes. Gamification shifts the focus from memorization to decision-making skills, using realistic risk scenarios that emulate real-world threats.

10. Offer Feedback During Exercises

Feedback is essential during training. Gamification can deliver meaningful feedback, helping employees understand their choices without overwhelming them, enhancing future decision-making skills.

11. Introduce Practice Variability

Predictable exercises limit creativity. Randomized scenarios of equal difficulty encourage repeated practice and better decision-making skills. Unexpected rewards in gamified exercises further motivate employees to improve proficiency.

12. Conduct Comprehensive Testing

Typical quizzes don’t test real-life decision-making abilities. Aggregate tests with multiple inputs and scenarios provide a better measure of proficiency. Gamified platforms can adjust inputs and offer consistent analytics on employees’ proficiency and vulnerability.

By integrating these 12 gamification strategies, organizations can significantly enhance their cybersecurity awareness training, making it more engaging, relevant, and effective.

Provide engaging and effective cybersecurity training via gamification for your employees. Reach out to us at Realbytes today to find out how we can help.