10 July 2018

Gamification:The Key to Learner Engagement?

Gamification / Learner Engagement
learner engagement


Declan Mulkeen

From an early age we are taught to learn through play. Why should this stop when we reach adulthood? Gamification is the exciting trend that for some time now has been breathing new life into corporate learning. This technique can help organizations confront serious corporate challenges including how to enhance learner engagement and make learning part of the flow of work (in the words of Josh Bersin).

A simple approach to a complicated problem

Take yourself back to the days when you “played out” in the street with childhood friends. Each game you played presented a challenge but you were driven by the promise of reward and perhaps a little gentle fear. The reward meant everything to you and in spite of the challenge and fear, you felt compelled to win.

But what about the risk?

As adults we are constantly measuring risk and altering our actions based upon that analysis. There’s a big creative meeting at work and we have some bold ideas to contribute, but the risk of embarrassment or failure stops us from sharing them with our colleagues.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

What do we or others learn?

Nothing if the idea we have harbored, nurtured and believed in, is stifled by fear.

Let’s go back to that childhood street and the game where winning was everything.

Did we even consider the risk of failure? It’s unlikely that we did and that bold, risk free approach to challenge is what helped us to learn through play

Take a risk…you might learn something

We’re all expected to learn, develop, and grow in our professional roles. But the world has taught us to be careful, to avoid risk, and there’s a chance that this is stopping us from allowing ourselves out of our comfort zones and into the realm where learning actually takes place.

Where is this place?

When we’re a little uncomfortable, when we’re challenged, and when our instinct to “do better” kicks in.

We learn so well in the games arena, especially when we forget about the risk.

Where is this most likely to happen?

In computer games, where we can invade Europe, fight Aliens, be a masked superhero or play world class soccer teams, all apparently risk free.

Making learning fun is key to learner engagement and it is shown to increase employee’s ability to retain skills by 40%.

Learning…It’s more than just a game

The Association for UK Interactive Entertainment (UKIE) estimates the global games audience to be between 2.2 and 2.6 billion people and the global software market is expected to grow from $137.9 billion in 2018 to an estimated $180.1 billion by the end of 2021.

These numbers tell us with some certainty that playing games is more popular than ever.

So how does playtime become a place to learn?

Further reading

Perhaps it always has been a learning space because when we play we can afford to take risks thanks to the simulated nature of the created gaming environment.

If the computer gaming industry is so successful, let’s use it as a basis for analyzing why gamification of learning is so effective at enhancing learner engagement.

We’ll break this down into three simple questions:

1.  What is a game?

According to Mayer & Johnson, a game is a “rule-based environment that is responsive to the player’s actions, offers an appropriate challenge to the player, and keeps a cumulative record of the player’s actions”.

The human condition goes hand in hand with the competitive spirit so in offering us the opportunity to seize victory, a game becomes a compelling and attractive environment and an ideal opportunity for learning to take place.

Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning
Demystifying the Modern Learner
How technology and new learning preferences are shaping modern-day learning

2.  What is an educational game?

An educational computer game is defined as “a technology-supported game that is intended to result in a desirable change in the player’s knowledge.” (Mayer & Johnson)

While we might not always be as attracted to an educational game as we are to a good old-fashioned shoot ‘em up, educational computer games are still a lot more appealing to learners than traditional didactic learning.

Games can make even the most mundane tasks seem fun which can improve knowledge retention and increase learner engagement.

3.  Why are games rewarding?

Games have clear goals or objectives which are divided into “short-term achievable goals that give a seamless progression to players by providing frequent rewards that act as external motivators”.

People like to be rewarded for what they do.

A pat on the back for a job well done, a certificate, a plaque on the wall, or even a simple thank you are always appreciated.  We’re hard wired to enjoy reward, and this, in turn, motivates us and engages us with the task at hand.

This increased willingness to participate and engage in a game, or in dynamic training content comes from a little thing called dopamine, a chemical released by our brain to stimulate our reward-satisfaction feelings.

Further reading

Game over for dull training content

So, playing is fun, goal oriented, incentive based, rewarding, challenging, compelling, and to many it is naturally and healthily addictive. Games are hugely engaging.

Engagement isn’t a new problem. It’s just an increasingly important one – especially for HR and Learning professionals.

For decades, employees have complained about lack of feedback, lack of transparency, unclear goals—all things that destroy learner commitment.

Gamification rather cleverly exploits the design elements and benefits of games and puts them into the often game-free context of training.

We can all agree that we need to move away from training environments that are; “stale, bland, and almost entirely stuff from the past” (Prensky 2005).

It’s also true that to learn we need to take some risks. What better place to take them than within a game?

Learners want to know how they are progressing but learning content should also have a spark, an edge, a reason to engage. Enter gamification which promises to breathe new life into professional learning.

It’s a real team engagement tool and an organization’s use of it will determine whether they achieve learner engagement amongst their employees or not.

Playtime that you get paid for and that actually helps you to be better at your job? Not a bad way to learn.

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