Thursday, April 26, 2012

Games We Should Play - The Gamification of Learning

Recently, I participated in a #TrainChat on twitter on the topic: "What Angry Birds Can Teach Us About Instructional Design." The chat was interesting and insightful and some very good points were made about the impact of design elements such as simplicity, focus on skills and competencies, engagement, motivation and challenge. The chat came at a time when I was reading about 'gamification' and its impact on education and learning. Karl Kapp's book on “The Gamification of Training: Game-based Methods and Strategies for Learning and Instruction.” is out and I recently read the reviews by Clark Quinn and Jane Bozarth. I have also been visiting to study how gamification is impacting various industries and how it is quickly changing the trends in education and learning. So, it was the perfect time to reflect and blog about gamification and its role in learning.

So what is gamification?
As per Wikipedia: Gamification is the use of game design techniques[1], game thinking and game mechanics to enhance non-game contexts. But I found a better definition on Dr. Camille's blog "the gamification of education is a relatively new approach to education that employs game play mechanics to creating a more engaging and playful learning experience. It works by using ideas from game design to encourage people to learn and complete tasks with more enthusiasm. Gamification can also provide the necessary external motivators for the important learning that must occur outside the classroom (Pearce, 2011)."

Gamification is different from game-based learning. Gamification focuses on the design, techniques and the process of thinking and applying gaming principles in the design of training whereas game-based learning utilizes games to teach concepts and apply games in specific learning contexts with pre-defined outcomes.

And why does gamification of learning matter?
Games are powerful, addictive, immersive, engaging, challenging, social, competitive and fun - all the things we want learning to be. Therefore, there are many lessons to learn from games.

The truth is that we have always learnt better using games. As toddlers and young children, we participated in role-play games at home and with our friends and played games with our teachers to identify shapes, numbers and colors. However, somewhere along the line, games stopped being a part of the classroom and other training methods. Perhaps one of the reasons could be that games and having fun is considered the opposite of learning and serious work. But when work and training becomes fun, it becomes closer to how we naturally learn – using stories, play and role-play.

Gamification of learning matters and is critical to how training and education evolves in the coming years because games are:
  •  Skill and level-based
  • Social and competitive
  •  Experiential and immersive
  • Non judgemental and fearless (do not generate fear of failure)
  •  Focussed on problem-solving and application

When we play games, we are able to apply existing skills, learn new skills, get feedback, learn from our mistakes, reflect and apply new skills – all in a matter of a few minutes! All desirable factors of a perfect learning environment are therefore engrained in the design of games. 
Game environments are active, real-time, hands-on, short-bursts of learning and that’s why people must play games. The questions that remain to be answered is what kind of game designs work best and how should gamification be integrated into learning, education and training and eventually the work environment.

References and further reading
  • You can find a recap of the chat with @LnDDave on lessons for training pros from #AngryBirds here.
  • Read more about the Kapp’s book and gamification here.
  • Read more about the distinction between gamification and game-based learning in the following posts:
-  View a short interview with Brenda Enders who answers this question during the Learning Solutions Conference and Expo 2012 in Orlando, Florida.