Gamification is the use of game-based mechanics or game thinking to promote learning, motivate action and solve problems.
In the US, the military have used massive open online multiplayer games to define military strategy in Somalia, combatting problems with pirates. Others, like the fun theory folk, have used game mechanics to encourage people to use the stairs or recycle bottles or stop speeding. The applications are numerous. What can we do with this in learning?
According to Kapp, many of the things we do in learning do not inherently tap into the natural motivations of the user. We invite people to partake in static learning environments and hope that they will get involved and change behaviour. Sitting in a training room, experts share models and ideas, we take part in reality-based exercises and try to integrate what we are learning. It can be a struggle to learn or keep the attention and effort of participants, many of whom would sometimes rather be elsewhere. If we used some game-mechanics in the same way companies like EA or the Angry Birds people did, we could do so much better.
The first things Kapp told us is that great games are about interactivity and immersion. They are not about awesome graphics, or franchises linked to movies. In fact, some of the most expensive-to-develop games are vey disappointing for the user and do not result in much flow or satisfaction. In reality, game-based activities can be very simple. Like my experiment with gamification at the dinner table.
So: It’s not about points
Although games like Adobe’s “Level Up” up can work well, the first thing to know is that gamification is not (only) about adding points or leaderboards to show progress or reward people for their efforts. In a comedy conference moment, Kapp noted that if that was true, progress wars would be the most popular game on the planet. On a more serious note, he asked us to think about what happens at home and in schools when gold-stars are used to motivate children to behave well: It works at the start, but before you know it you are negotiating more-and-more rewards to get the same behaviour. If money, sweets, stars or points are the only tools you have to motivate people, you are doomed to fail. Gamification is much more than that. That misunderstanding is the reason why Gartner says many gamification attempts will fail.
What can you do to use gamification in learning?
The possibilities with gamification are enormous, ranging from using one or two simple game mechanics to enhance the learning experience, to creating complete games as the entire learning solution, to simply piggy-backing on a non-relevant game to pass across important messages. Regarding this let option, Kapp told about one company that asks their people to play a simple online game for 2 minutes a day and during the this seemingly random game, a mini-quiz question related to safety and security pops up to remind them of important procedures. Nobody minds this corporate intrusion, because they are still having fun for 99%.
What kinds of game-mechanics are we talking about?
Again, there are SO many options. When I spoke at the Epsilon conference on the topic of gamification, I noted 9 game-mechanics that could be interesting to integrate in learning programs. The Wikipedia entry on game mechanics offers others.
Kapp spoke about a few in detail. These are listed here… Concrete applications for your learning tracks and training are discussed later…
- Context and story is used a lot in games. Players are immersed in appealing environments that makes sense to them. You can read about my user-experience with “Zombies, Run!” in this short article on the ASTD blog page: “The Gamification Experience – What Does It Feel Like?”
- Missions and levels are used to “up” the challenge and give players something to strive for
- Open-ended problems and mystery create learner intrigue
- Fantasy is used to get learners out of their known environment. A game like “Merchants” can be used to create negotiation skills, whilst playing a venetian trader
- Immediate feedback is used in games like Pacman to let you know all the time where you are and how you are doing
- Characters and avatars can be used to improve motivation
Simple game-based ideas for trainers and instructional designers to implement today
- Don’t start training with learning objectives. It is a closed-loop that tells you what you need to know. It doesn’t intrigue. Try instead to start with an open-loop. Create a challenge that gets people involved and motivated. For example, give them a question or activity that gets them thinking immediately about a problem they have to solve.
- Give people lives to lose. This gives permission to fail. When we get 3 lives at the start of a game, we immediately understand the assumption that we are going to die and that it’s OK.
- Give feedback in different ways. This could be points and progress bars. Or it could be sound… Kapp spoke about security compliance training that used a big “boom” sound and the image of an explosion to reinforce incorrect behaviour and “scare” participants into not wanting to do it again!
- Use characters and story in exercises that take people a little bit out of their natural working context
- ..but don’t forget that those activities must be linked to the actual learning. Don’t use random challenges or ice-breakers.
- When you use a game-based exercise in training, be sure to introduce it in the same way you would do any other exercise: Introduction, play, debrief.
- Be sure to test, dry-run and retest your game efforts to get feedback on how they work and be sure you are using them to reinforce the right behaviours.
If like me, you are wondering how to actually INVENT games, Kapp gives some simple advice in this short interview I conducted for Kluwer at ASTD.
For more resources, check out:
- My Prezi on gamification
- My Twitter interview with ex-VOV MOOCer Karen Philips on how to get started with gamification
- Malone’s 4 motivational drivers
- Kapp’s awesome book: “The Gamification of Learning and Instruction”