Reflections on Learning Solutions Conference 2014 Part 3

Theme 3 Gaming and Gamification

Gaming was everywhere this year at LSCon, fittingly located in Disney Town. There were sessions on “Serious Games” and on “Gamification” along with vendors of gaming software, and some fine examples in the Demo fest.

Games and gamification are of course not the same thing. So let’s start with Gamification. According to a recent Gartner survey 70% of organisations will use gamification by 2015. I somehow doubt that, but it certainly indicates an upsurge in interest.

Robert Gadd of OnPoint Learning led a fast paced session on this topic, starting with the Wikipedia definition “Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems.”

It helps to think of gamification as structural, adding gaming elements around the learning activities, specifically points, badges, leaderboards, awards and benchmarking. These are challenges for the learning platform more than the content instructional designer, and Robert had some good examples of successful implementation of these, with My Scorecard portlets on the LMS home page.

Another of Robert’s examples was of a large law firm who by adding gamification elements on their platform delivering standard (SkillsSoft) content, increased course usage form 19% to 100%!

Gamification principles can also be applied to the content itself without moving to full blown gaming. The eLearning Brothers were at LSCon, and they and others including the Storyline community provide simple templates to add a game element to courses. This is not gaming, and it is not new, but maybe now simpler than ever.

Serious Games

I always wonder why they have to be serious, but leaving that aside, Steve Lee of Allen Interactions had some great examples of games that teach, including the Denny’s breakfast simulation. I’ve seen this before and it is a convincing example of the power of a simulation game, and of the power of simplicity – much more difficult to create in games than complexity!

Steve explained how the essence of a game is Rules – both game rules and system rules (e.g. compliance regulations). A learning game requires context (an authentic scenario), challenge (risk based activities with dynamic branching and goal based scoring), activities that closely mirror the thought processes and actions on the job, and feedback including immediate progress and delayed summative assessment.

As a (very) long term advocate of learning games – at Unicorn we have been designing and building business games for 25 years – I am delighted to see the concepts finally becoming mainstream. They are demonstrably powerful, effective and practical.

I think we have the iPad, Angry Birds et al, to thank for this new popularity. Games have come out of the bedrooms of teenage boys. We are all game players now, and we have all experienced how much more engaging and addictive they are than even the best of traditional e-learning.

The emergence of gaming principles also fits well with the rise of performance support. Several times during the Conference, I heard speakers refer to the need to focus learning on application. Start with the scenario, and make the information/rules/regulations available as needed. Create learning paths that allow, and encourage, exploration and mistakes. These are all good gaming principles that can be applied even to the real world of tight budgets and unreasonable timescales.

A welcome spin off is that humour is also now reappearing in the armoury of the instructional designer. Long overdue in my opinion. So why call them “serious games” or for that matter the why the “serious elearning manifesto”?

Image

It’s a jungle out there.

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