Game Playing #LCBQ

I’m currently in graduate school, and statistics is one of my classes this term. I took stats as an undergraduate, and kinda sorta understood it well enough to eke out a B+. But this time I really wanted to learn the material. I’ve spent quite a bit of time on Khan Academy watching the statistics videos. After a few videos, the site started giving me messages about the points and badges I was earning by watching videos. This practice is known as “gamification” – creating incentives to encourage ongoing engagement with media.

October’s “Big Question” from ASTD’s Learning Circuits blog takes on this growing trend: Does Gamification have a role in Workplace Learning?

I was bemused by the badges and points on Khan Academy. I was motivated to learn the information for my own purposes (I ❤ data). Also, the badges were awarded for simply playing the videos. I could queue it up and walk away, and would still earn badges. This kind of gamification mechanic is often derided. But creating incentives for completing certain tasks is an effective motivational tool. People (myself very much included) enjoy playing video games even though the incentives are not tangible.

Taking a look at a favorite game of mine (The Sims) demonstrates some of the key concepts that make gamification successful. First, achievements should mean something. When you earn a badge or points, it should come with a meaningful incentive. In The Sims, practicing a skill (such as cooking) earns your character the ability to cook different kinds of things and learn new recipes. This mirrors what happens with skill acquisition in real life. If I practice cooking, I get better at it and can cook more and more interesting things.

The Sims generates needs and desires for characters and the player can decide whether or not to fulfill those needs and desires (unfulfilled Sims can be pretty entertaining, so many players intentionally ignore their character’s needs and desires). In the game, increased abilities lead to increased chances to provide positive experiences for the character and craft a narrative for the character’s life. To me, this is compelling and enjoyable. To my husband, it is an electronic dollhouse (he’s more of a Halo fan).

This highlights another key with gamification: ultimately, it cannot replace intrinsic or external motivation. If I do not want to do something, no amount of electronic badges is going to make it more appealing. If I am interesting in doing something, gamification can make it more fun and help promote a sense of accomplishment. One good example of this is the Crucial Conversations training I completed earlier this year. Following the class, there was a series of online learning modules and activities to reinforce the concepts taught in class. These activities were split into three levels, and each time I completed a level I received an encouraging message and the class instructor and my supervisor were notified. The gamification techniques embedded in the modules (leveling, encouragement) helped keep me engaged, but I completed the training because I was genuinely interested in the material and because it was an expectation of my leaders.

Finally, gamification techniques must be appropriate to the culture in which they are being used. A conservative corporate culture may not welcome overt, video game style badges or learning opportunities specifically described as “games.” Describing an interactive learning experience as a simulation may be more accepted.

As learning professionals, we shouldn’t dismiss any approach or methodology that has solid potential to impact performance – even if some view it as frivolous.


Posted on October 5, 2011, in Uncategorized and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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