Saturday, April 21

Gamification of Learning and Instruction Blog Book Tour Week One Recap

Week One Recap

 The first week of the blog book tour has ended and it has been a fantastic week with informative blog posts, information  and opinions about gamification and even a bit of controversy.

 The week opened with a posting of the tour stops on the Learning Circuit’s Blog and the Kapp Notes blog and then introduced everyone to the Facebook page for the book and then the discussion really ramped up with Jane Bozarth talking about the how the book takes a common sense look at the subject. Next, New York Time’s bestselling author Kevin Kruse told us how articles appearing within the last year in notable publications such as BusinessWeek, Forbes, Fortune and even the Harvard Business review are talking about how gamification is impacting marketing, service and employee satisfaction (notice training seems to be absent.)

Then on Friday Judy Unrein discussed how the book can benefit instructional designers and Rich Mesch made us all hungry when he reminded us that just like Chocofication (adding chocolate to everything) is not a good idea, neither is gamification of all content a good idea. In some areas it doesn't work or even make sense to add "Gamificaton". We need to be careful how we apply "Gamification." It is not a universal cure-all.

Issues with Gamification and It’s Implications

Another guest on the tour, although not a scheduled stop, has been Kathy Sierra who is a self-confessed gamification curmudgeon and author of a widely popular series of test preparation books to help people pass Java tests to become certified and not only does she prepare people to pass those tests, she has created certification exams that are used to certify programmers. Her test preparation books are some of the best selling on the topic.

 Kathy has brought the perspective that gamification is not good--at all. She doesn’t like the word “gamification” and she had her “heart broken” because so many people that she respects are involved in this tour talking about gamification. She is worried about my insistence on using the word "gamification" (including my urging of others to "take back the word").” She states that “nearly every game scholar and professional game designer (real games, not just Zynga game-like things) is adamantly opposed to the word for many reasons including how misleading it is by including the word 'game'".

She was also “offended” that during the tour I offered a whitepaper for anyone who wanted to leave a comment on every blog entry. She felt that was a crass use of gamification and that I was clearly using an extrinsic reinforcer offering a reward in a feeble attempt to market the book. She felt that in an industry where knowledge is valued that withholding knowledge to shape behavior or action was wrong. Kathy felt that technique was “LEAVE a COMMENT for POSSIBLE WIN scheme” and that it appealed to the basest aspect of Gamification.

In Defense of the Term Gamification

Her concerns are not without merit but I think there is another perspective to consider, especially with her dislike of the term“Gamifiaction”  While “nearly” every game scholar and professional game designer is against gamification and some who initially were proponents of the term have backed off, these people are not controlling the discussion about gamification within businesses and corporations.

The CEOs, Vice Presidents, executives and managers are not tapped into the game developer industry; for the most part they don’t attend the Game Developer’s Conferences, they don't read game developer magazines or blogs.  Instead, they read reports from Gartner that indicate 70 percent of Global 2000 organizations will have at least one gamified application over the next five years. And reports that say the overall market for gamification is predicted to grow to $1.6 billion in the next ten years. (we all know Gartner analysis are fabulously optimistic in their predictions but someone is reading those reports and paying for the analysis).

Additionally, as NY Times bestselling author Kevin Kruse told us, CEOs, VP’s, executives and managers read Forbes, the Harvard Business Review, BusinessWeek and Newsweek which all within the last year have carried articles about gamification. Like it or not the “Gamification” term is out of the bag and it’s not getting back in or disappearing or falling out of favor with executives. The gamification message is targeted toward the major decision makers within organizations and is not being lead by major scholars or figures within the game industry. It's being lead by vendors, marketers and others who can, and are, getting  the word out about gamification and its working.

Learning and development professionals must now react to requests for Gamification, we are not driving the discussion--we are forced to react. And many times we are not even in the discussion at all. In fact, many proponents of gamification feel learning and development professionals have nothing to contribution to the conversation about gamification at all. Actually we have the most to contribute. We understand human motivation and how people process information and how they learn and how to shape behavior so it lasts. We should be in the conversation or it will go in unhealthy directions and have negative consequences for us.

Two Choices

Now we have two choices, one is to “Just Say NO to Gamification.” We can ignore it, we can rally against it, we can talk about how no “serious” game developer believes in gamification but, at the end of the day, business leaders are bombarded by gamification messages in magazines they read religiously by organizations that have the funds to spread the gamification message.

The “anti-gamification” tribe has little funding, organizational structure or reach into CEOs and VPs. So waging a war against the term “gamification” will, ultimately, not be productive. We will just be ignored or bypassed when “serious” gamification issues need to be discussed--you know the kind mentioned in the Harvard Business Review. We may not like it but it’s already happening.

In fact, if we learning and development professionals turn our back on gamification, refuse to take part in this narrowly defined if/then extrinsically motivated movement, then the CEOs, the business managers and executives will go somewhere else. My fear is that a CEO will walk into a training department after having read an article in the Harvard Business Review about Gamificaiton and demand that the training department create a gamification program to train sales reps. Then the training department either doesn’t know anything about gamification (because learning and develop professionals refuse to use the term and its not talked about by the major voices in the field) or they say “no” we don’t do gamification under any circumstances.

The CEO shakes her head and then goes to the marketing department and says, “Can you create a sales training program around gamification?” and they say “Of course!” Now non-learning and development professionals are using gamification, perhaps at its most extrinsic level to create training. And, if it works or even appears to work, the learning and development professionals lose credibility and relevance. We will be out of the loop and away from business discussions.

We can’t sit with the C-Suite people or in meetings uninformed about this thing called “Gamification.” Sure, we can decide to name it something else like “Gamefullness” or “Activityification” but then learning and development professionals will be speaking a different language than executives. We already have this problem by the ton. We can't decide to make it worse by creating a substitute word for “gamification."
 Learning and development professionals should have learned by now that we have to use the language of business to work with the leaders of business to obtain credibility to have influence.

Inventing another term or refusing to discuss that low-brow "gamification" concept doesn't help the profession one bit because we  appear out of touch or not in sync with the business units.

The other choice, the one I have chosen, is to educate ourselves about this thing called Gamification and to expand and broaden the definition—not so that the definition or term is meaningless—but so that when the CEO comes to us and says "can you do gamification of a sales training program", we can say “yes.” And then we intelligently add story elements, challenges and the main tenants of Self-Determination Theory autonomy, competence and relatedness to the training.. The elements of games that actually make a difference, that actually add intrinsic value instead of a crass use of points, rewards or badges. And we can still call it gamification.

We have then met the needs of the CEO and created a meaningful learning experience. Additionally with this approach, we are not left out of the loop. We can shape the gamification discussion about the sales training to be more instructionally sound than if we were not involved or left out. By learning about gamification we become part of the conversation and are not isolated on the sidelines.

 Why Respected Individuals are Talking About Gamification

The reason I enlisted so many respectable people in the learning and development field and the reason I think they agreed to participate is because we can’t hope the term gamification goes away. We need a general discussion within the field of the term, its positive and negative aspects. The term won’t go away no matter how much some of us hate it.

We must talk about Gamification and examine it and see how it can fit into what we are doing. We must be participants in the conversation about gamification and try, in some way, to shape the term. If we don’t, the entire concept and application it will go into a direction that, from an instructional standpoint, is untenable.

We have the ability to influence the application of gamification in the field of learning and instruction right now. If we wait or hesitate we will loose our opportunity. It’s not too late as some would have us believe.

Gamification Resources for L&D Professionals 

In fact, before "The Gamification of Learning and Instruction" was released, the learning and development field had no book about gamification that focused on the learning theories behind gamification or a listing of what gamification is or is not from a learning perspective.  The purpose of the book is not to “glorify” gamification or to get people to be “quotable for having said useful, positive things about gamification.” The purpose is to have a measured, civil discussion about gamification and how it applies or doesn’t apply to learning situations.

The goal is to create competence within the learning and development community to be able to speak intelligently about gamification and decide when it is appropriate and when it is being used to manipulate people and, at times, the distinction can be tricky.

For example, Kathy Sierra rightly pointed out that I was using an extrinsic motivator in terms of proposing a reward (a whitepaper) in exchange for an activity (leaving a comment). I agree that creating that type of arrangement was a crass use of extrinsic motivation. I admit my error and will make the whitepaper available freely to anyone (of course I have to write it first—it will be available end of May).

Helping me to see and correct my use of extrinsic motivation is the point of having open, civil conversations  about things like external motivators. Sometimes we need others to point out how we might unwittingly use external motivators to influence behavior and we might not even be aware of it.

Certification Exams as External Motivators

Even the most intelligent people can unwittingly fall into the "trap" of relying on extrinsic motivation to spur learning results. For example, I wonder how consciously aware Kathy is of her use of  strong external reinforcers in her creation of certification exams and in her creation and marketing of test prep materials that support those exams.

When people study for these extrinsically motivating events known as certification tests (or in gamification parlance “badges”) do these people perceive that that they've been manipulated into preparing to pass these tests? Do they realize their intrinsic motivation to learn a programming language is being systematically and methodically undermined because, as Kathy has suggested, the result of rewarding someone for something they would have done anyway is ultimately de-motivating. In fact many believe the original intrinsically motivated behavior will disappear after the extrinsic reward is removed.

To paraphrase a wise and informed person on the topic of extrinsic motivation: while the programmers Kathy urges and encourage to read her books to earn the badge/certification are all smart, savvy, brain aware people it makes no difference because that knowledge does not protect them from the damaging effects of putting such weight and value on the EXTRINSIC reward of certification. The negative, undermining effects all happen at a level of conscious processing for which Kathy’s poor readers lack the "security clearance" to access let alone override.

This If/then proposition inherent in Kathy's test prep books is the exact same offense Kathy correctly and accurately accused me of committing with my whitepaper. Kathy is extrinsically motivating people to buy her books so they obtain the reward of certification. She isn’t marketing these test prep books as a way to learn programming or as a way to develop a love of programming or as a way to build competence in programming; she is marketing them as a way to obtain an external reward--to pass a test.

So I urge Kathy to do the same thing I have done. I divorced the reward from the action; I am offering the whitepaper freely on the web for no cost. Kathy, please seriously consider offering anyone who wants certification a free copy of your book. Or consider dropping the certification. Or, only write books which tap into intrinsic motivation. I urge you to become the model for which you want others to follow—don’t use external rewards as a motivational tool. Show learning and development professionals how to use only intrinsic motivational techniques so that your readers develop a competence level in programming that is so high, no certification is needed.

Abandon your test prep books and write more books fostering the love of programming through intrinsic devices like autonomy, competence and relatedness. Stand up and no longer present the proposition to your readers that if they buy your book, they will ace the certification exam and receive the extrinsic reward of certification. Be the change you hope to see in others.


This week has certainly been a great first week for the tour and next week is a great line up as well. I have learned a great deal and hope you have too. The interest in the tour is growing and next week we’ll be announcing new tour stops, webinars and other events that have joined the tour.

This upcoming week, we have Clark Quinn who I purposefully asked to be one the stops because he doesn’t like the word “Gamfication” and I wanted everyone to know of his concerns and perspective. And, in light of this discussion it will be interesting to read what he thinks. We have the Philadelphia Chapter of ASTD with Karl Grieb making an appearance as well as Debbie Richards of Texas with her blog Take an e-learning break.

I am doing a live appearance in New York at at Special Interest Group meeting and my friend Connie Malamed of The eLearning Coach will discuss her view of the subject of gamification.

I look forward to their postings and hope that you too decide to post as well. Now that the LEAVE a COMMENT for POSSIBLE WIN scheme  has been removed (and I do apologize if that offended anyone), I urge you to freely post your ideas and thoughts.

Let the community know what you think,  Should we ignore the term "gamification"?  Should we denounce the term as crass if/then behavioral reinforcement? Should we attempt to shape the term and concept or should we find another term?

See you on the tour and if you want to learn more, pick up the book at the ASTD Book store or check out the Pinterest page for Gamification Happenings.

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