Monday, January 9

What is Gamification? and Why it Matters to L&D Professionals

In my last posting I mentioned the idea of “Gamification” and Anna thoughtfully pointed out that we need to “ define what "gamification" means to learning development. “ I couldn’t agree more and I have spent the last year exploring that concept to see what Gamification does mean to learning and development professionals. 
For more on this, see my posting In Defense ofthe Term Gamification as used by Learning Professionals on Kapp Notes, and be sure to read the insightful and provocative comments. 

So on this posting, let’s define Gamification.
“Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”
Now, when most people think of “gamification” they think of rewards, points, and achievements and how artificially incentivizing people to do things based solely on rewards is a losing proposition (and most of the time it is), so let’s look at the characteristics of video games that are useful, exciting, and engaging in terms of learning and, it turns out, in terms of video game play.  

Here are few examples of game-based thinking we can apply to our instruction, this is an abbreviated list. I explore many more in The Gamification of Learning and Instruction which will be out in May and in my talk at TechKnowledge 2012—coming up shortly.

Games are interesting and motivating because they have a story, they provide a context in which actions need to take place. Many learning courses provide no context, no reason for actions. We need to use story elements, plot, characters, resolution, scene setting to help put learning back into context. Training, and the educational system, has removed training or learning events too far from the actual application of the knowledge. Stories bring context back. Additionally, research indicates that people remember facts better when they are in a story than when they are presented in a bulleted list.

Another element in games is immediate feedback. When you play Pac Man, you know right away how you are doing; you visually see the number of dots left to be eaten and how close the ghosts are to cornering you.  From a learning perspective, feedback is a critical element for facilitating learning. Providing frequent opportunities for students to respond during a lesson helps with learning as shown in research. Most of our learning courses do an extremely poor job of providing immediate feedback. Additionally, the feedback typically is not based on action or activity, it’s based on knowledge—how well the learner could “temporarily” remember what was covered earlier in the course. This isn’t meaningful feedback. Gamification can provide, in the form of points or “health” or “lives” feedback on progress.

Games provide meaningful and immediate feedback far more effectively and efficiently than a classroom instructor. Game-based thinking and mechanics can help learning designers think about continuous corrective feedback.

Freedom to Fail and Chance
In an instructional environment, failure is not a valid option. In games it’s encouraged with multiple lives and attempts. Games overcome the “sting of failure” specifically by doing things like giving multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery and through the introduction of chance or randomness (two elements that schools and corporations work hard to eliminate). In fact, research indicates that gaming uncertainty can transform the emotional experience of learning improving engagement and, more importantly, improving encoding and later recall.

Games do a great job of providing personalized experiences. In many games I can choose an entry point of easy, intermediate, or difficult. Most online learning experiences are developed for “one-size-fits-all” with no consideration of different skill or knowledge backgrounds. Why can’t we design learning to accommodate different skill levels just like video games?

Two things I’d like to mention before signing off for this post. First, notice I did not mention points, rewards, or achievements. We can apply game-based thinking without having the elements of points or rewards. We don’t need to use points or rewards as motivation—however, we can use points and rewards as feedback on progress. So, let’s not abandon all mention of points or rewards because we fear they may undermine intrinsic motivation, the research is not as specific on this point as many would like. In fact, some research indicates that intrinsic and extrinsic rewards exist side-by-side in classroom environments and that they are not, indeed, opposite ends of a continuum.

Second, when I mention “gamification” people often caution me that we must “get it right” or we can cause a lot of harm and that getting gamification right is tricky. I don’t disagree but designing any type of learning event effectively is tricky and, unfortunately, learning professionals often mess that up.

One example is the continued, unscientifically supported use of learning styles. So, I don’t believe the argument that we should abandon the use of gamification because it is hard to do and because we might do it wrong. If that was the case, 40% of all corporate learning could have to be thrown out because the objectives are wrong, the instructional strategies are wrong and the assessment of knowledge is wrong. You don’t throw out a method because in some cases it might be incorrectly used, instead, we need to educate people on the correct usage of the concept.

Gamification is an exciting addition to an instructional designer’s toolkit but it should not be foreign or strange to learning and development professionals we have been using many of the techniques for years (check out the last link in the resources list)..

OK, this post is already longer than I anticipated. 

Here are some resources to further your thinking on the subject and if you are going to TechKnowledge, look for my session on Wednesday, 01/25/2012 from 11:00AM -12:15PM, Room Miranda 7/8. The description title of the talk is What Research Tells Us About 3D Avatars, Storytelling and Serious Games for Learning and Behavior Change

Additional posts of interest:


Bose said...

I'm really glad that I discovered your post, Very insightful and straightforward.Training Feedback Form

Wholesale Printing said...
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Kathy Sierra said...

The fear of getting gamification "wrong" is NOT because it is tricky (though of course it is, but as you said, so is virtually any other kind of well-designed learning experience), but because of the potentially DEmotivating effect gamification can have.

Gamification, unlike actual games, is based entirely on operant conditioning, using +r in the form of rewards to reinforce behavior, especially the behavior of "engagement". The problem is that good old Skinner box positive reinforcement rewards have been shown to cause a decrease in intrinsic motivation, where it exists (or even MIGHT exist). And THAT ought to scare any learning professional.

Unlike many other forms of teaching where the worst we do is just NOT be effective, boring the learners, cognitively overloading them, etc. gamification in its current form, and even when done "right" (especially when done right using ideal reward schedules), is the first one with the potential to leave the learner even LESS motivated in the topic or the type of activity than they were before the gamification experience.

This is a tremendous risk. Alfie Kohn sounded the alarm way back with "punished by rewards", but Deci, Ryan, Amabile, etc. have all been talking about this problem for quite some time, and of course it was Dan Pink who popularized the underlying research on motivation / Self-Determination Theory.

That said, gamification in any form is quite safe on things that will NEVER be intrinsically motivating, including and especially repetitive drills, rote memorization, things you need to just practice until you have muscle memory or automatic responses, so you can get on with the more cognitively and creatively challenging things that should never EVER be gamified.

Note that this has nothing to do with actual games (including serious games) where the game mechanics are NOT what is creating the engagement. The problem with gamification is that the gamifiers are cargo-culling actual games. This is why virtually ALL game scholars, game researchers, and professional game designers are passionately against gamification (as defined and practiced by most proponents today, including both the exploiters -- marketers but also the very well-intentioned including educators).

Bartłomiej Polakowski said...

Great post and comments! I partly agree with Kathy in that gamification can decrease intristic motibation by creative jobs. However as author wrote, you don't have to include all game elements like points, rewards (these in my opinion can be demotivating) and choose only these that work more like i.e. performance management -> immediate feedback.

Karl Kapp said...

Kathy, thanks for your comment, blogger won't let me post my reply (too long) so I made another posting Broadening the Definition of Gamification for L&D Professionals

Anonymous said...

And I REALLY should have mentioned that I think you totally nailed the most crucial and useful tool from games: feedback! I keep wishing that education, training, performance support, etc. would just focus on doing that one thing really well. (in some cases, just having feedback *at all*, within a timeframe in which it is useful, would be a huge improvement). And I love the idea of levels; I just quit talking about them because they have been so overshadowed by the arbitrary levels and badges from gamification, but that does not take away from their ultimate benefit.

So, I do totally agree with you on what we CAN take from games and why we should, I just (as you know) cringe at the word "gamification" because of all it has come to represent, most of which has nothing whatsoever to do with what is good about games, but has much in common with gaming-as-in-gambling. You will continue to make thoughtful and subtle posts about it, and I will continue to make knee-jerk anti-gamification comments. :) everyone wins!

Kathy Sierra said...

Oops. Last comment about what I SHOULD have said was from me, accidentally posted as anonymous.

Karl Kapp said...

Kathy, LOL--thanks for the great post and follow up. I'll try to use the term "game-based thinking" or "gamefulness" more than gamification but then our discussions might not be so lively:)

Paul Wilkinson said...

Hi, I felt I had to respond to this blog. I find the recent developments, hype and perception around gamification very worrying and a little disappointing. I believe we are losing opportunities to exploit the enormous potential of gaming to support learning and education.
In your blog you first describe gamification:
“Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”
Then I totally agree with your next statement:
"…..Second, when I mention “gamification” people often caution me that we must “get it right” or we can cause a lot of harm and that getting gamification right is tricky...."
Then you leap into ‘the characteristics of video games……'
I didn’t see anything in the definition of gamification that mentioned computer based, digital or video games. You talked about ‘causing harm’. I do feel that this equation of gamification=computers is causing harm. Already students are entering the corporate world totally dependent upon technology, social media and are displaying difficulties in communicating, dialogue, team working. We have been using game mechanics and games in Schools and universities since 2003. These are card and paper based games, also including rewards, points, scoring, winning, fun, engagement, instant feedback, played in rounds for feedback, reflection, learning and the chance to improve……only in this type of game people have to work together, discuss, deal with conflicts, differences, negotiate…….People also learn communication skills and learn skills they will need to survive in the corporate world. Often students say the games were fun, engaging, exciting and that they learnt far more than the theory of the previous months. This type of gaming offers experiential learning, learning by doing. As far as I can see this type of gaming fits everything you describe and without a computer or video in the room.
You were talking about harm and getting it right. I think the first step in getting it right is to break ot of the narrow focus and perception that gamification=computers and video games.
I hope this isn’t seen as too negative, as I say I think the use of ‘gaming mechanics’really can revolutionize education, training and learning, but lets not make it too narrow before we even begin.
Paul Wilkinson,

Karl Kapp said...

Paul, agreed the conversation about gamification does not need to equal a discussion about computers. Many games without a computer have stories (like Clue or Monopoly), provide instant feedback on activity (like tic-tac-toe), contain elements of chance (any game with dice) and freedom to fail (any game where more than one person plays and even solitaire) and levels.

So yes, we don't need to frame gamification around video game affordances and, in fact, in my book, I end with a story of a card game and how gamification doesn't need to be computer driven.

Thanks for reminding me and everyone that game-based thinking or gamefulness or smart gamification is not about computers, its about thinking and designing with game affordances in mind.

Corporate Trainging said...

Great post and comments and very timely for me personally..!
Thanks for sharing, many of these look useful..

Maria said...

It might sound like I come from another planet since I only knew about the term 'gamification' recently. My humble question: How does it different from the 'game-based learning'? In game-based learning we still use the game features but tailored towards learning a certain content. Thanks.

Justin Brusino said...

Hi Maria,

Good question. (You don't sound like you're from another planet.) I think the term Gamification is just now becoming more and more prevelant.

To me there are difference between game-based learning and gamification. The former is using an actual game to teach something, while the latter is applying some elements of a game such as scoring, story, feedback, etc.

So, while they're certainly related, I do see some differences.