We’ve all heard people above a certain age say that young people can’t concentrate on anything other than computer games for more than two minutes.
It may sound like a truism but it’s obviously a simplification and perhaps a slur for most youngsters. What’s worse is that it’s often a cop-out that is used to excuse a lack of success with poor learning materials.
Younger people from all educational backgrounds are used to interesting and engaging digital experiences. Let’s face it, we’re not talking about just ‘young people’ anymore. Video gaming has been around for a long time. Additionally, many of us parents have enjoyed playing video games with our children and have got used to the same content and productions standards as they have.
The difference between learning games and gamification
Let’s draw a distinction between a learning game and a piece of learning that embodies gaming elements. The two are very different both in theory and in output.
A learning game
A learning game is one that seeks to incorporate valid learning objectives into the gameplay. It will use interesting, engaging, challenging and often repetitive gameplay to encourage the learner/player to absorb and practice a combination of knowledge, behaviours, skills and understanding.
Gamification refers to the process of putting the same techniques and mechanics that make games enjoyable to good use in the production of eLearning courses.
Let’s look at a few examples of projects I’ve been involved with to illustrate the concept.
Discovery and exploration
Seeking out and exploring new worlds is an active ingredient of many games. It’s a gamification principle that plays to our desire to find what is around the next corner and satisfy our innate curiosity. An example I have worked on is an induction programme at Qatar National Bank (QNB).
Here we constructed a 360 degree photographic representation of the bank’s head office around which new starters could move to discover and complete a range of learning assets (such as eLearning courses, PDFs and videos). The point here is that we extrapolated a gaming principle and applied it to create a new and innovative learning experience.
The competitive element
Let’s take another example. Game players like to compete, either with themselves, their peers or just against the computer. We can take this competitive element from games, understand how it is used and introduce selected elements of it into learning programmes.
A good example of this is a project we undertook for one of the world’s largest software companies. The project was to provide a wide variety of training and support materials in different digital forms to new managers, joining them across the world as part of their extended induction program. Points, trophies and prizes were used to reward success with competitive leaderboards showing results. This particular project was delivered from Agylia Learning Management System (LMS) to the new starters using their Windows 8 phones and tablets.
The solution made use of an Experience API Learning Record Store (LRS). We used this to track activity within the App and to record details of the rewards allocated. This particular programme tapped into social learning elements as well as our urge-to-collect, desire for personal achievement and peer recognition and, yes, pure competitive drive.
People love stories and using character, or plot-driven scenarios to engage learner interest and curiosity is a potent way of attracting and maintaining a learner’s attention. Contrast two approaches to anti-fraud training. The first is a fairly traditional eLearning presentation of the legal framework – a list of things to be alert for, what constitutes fraud, how to spot irregularities and so on. The second delivers the same learning objectives, but does it via a linked scenario called ‘a day in the life of a fraud’. This approach might follow a character with whom the audience can identify as he or she progresses through a day seizing (or missing) multiple opportunities to spot and prevent a fraud occurring and minimising any possible adverse impact. Elements of suspense, uncertainty-of-outcome, identifying with the lead character and pressure can all add to the level of engagement.
These can be complex, realistic and believable. They will range from computer software application demonstrations and simulations to much more expensive and specialised immersive simulations. The downside of these is that they can be expensive to produce, and contain a limited number of learning points. However they are invaluable where repetition is used for skill consolidation or where there is a high cost of failure. Done well, these can provide very powerful up front courseware as well as just–in-time training aids.
Where should you consider using games or gamification?
The aim is always to deliver educationally effective learning to your audience that is engaging, fun, interesting and memorable. Gamified learning tends to be more expensive and time consuming to produce as it often requires more Instructional Design effort and higher media production values. Such solutions can be more technically advanced, which limits the numbers of suppliers able to offer them. This often means that they are more suited to larger learner numbers or situations where increased training impact is required.
In addition to providing greater impact, elements of gamification can also be effective at increasing learner engagement and helping drive learner adoption – particularly useful for long running training initiatives. The combined elements of discovery, surprise, and competition can help to stimulate interest and help ensure learners are keen to come back for more. That said, the associated content must also be informative and, at its most fundamental, valuable to the learner’s job role.
I’ve focused so far on various types of eLearning, but of course these gamification elements can be just as valuable in other training medium formats and can be incorporated into wider blended learning programmes, making a real contribution to learning impact and adding significant interest to the training content. Gamification principles are fairly universal and an understanding of them means that Instructional Designers can introduce more interesting and compelling elements into even their standard eLearning courses.
I think gamification can help to make learning more engaging and memorable. It won’t be right for every situation, but it provides a valuable way to enrich learning resources and give them more impact. It will demand good teamwork between the Instructional Designer and the technical team and will inevitably need more Instructional Design effort to make it work. However, if it’s done well, it provides a powerful and effective way to make a real difference to your learners.
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