Monday, July 6, 2015

Gamification - We're Not Playing Here

In retrospect I'm not sure why, but I kind of expected a bit more from this article at ELearning Industry -- Gamification Benefits in Workplace Training"

The title drew me in. I was hoping that it would offer some lucid and effective arguments to the instinctive (and sometimes subconscious) resistance to gamification in corporate learning system design.

Instead, the article's primary thesis seemed to be, "people play games anyway, so just give in -- and besides, it's fun!"

This really misses the point.

The point of gamification is not to make learning fun! That's a desirable goal actually, and if you think back to the most effective and rapid learning experiences you can recall, many of them probably were fun. But reactionary managers and executives will also point to learning experiences that were difficult, tedious, and that yielded great results from a tense and difficult process.

I once asked a DoD education professional if we could make boot camp fun. He told me, "It IS fun for the NCOs who run the place." But I don't think that's what we mean, and the point is a good one. When lives are at stake, or for that matter when the stakes are significantly large, we want reliable and effective skills and knowledge transfer, not a warm fuzzy feeling.

So to the extent that we allow gamification to be cast in the role of making learning fun, we lose out at budget time, or when we must establish a broad mandate across a pool of stakeholders with varying backgrounds and attitudes toward - ummm, fun.

But there is something else. And it's much more important. How about if we started talking about making learning instinctive, inevitable, and highly effective?

Part of our mistake was to acknowledge that games had anything to do with the matter. The name of the methodology is wrong! We should have called it cattle-prod-move-your-ass-cause-I'm-gonna-give-you-such-a-jolt-ification!

It does trace its roots and some of its mechanisms to games, but gamification is about harnessing our fundamental and predictable instincts to power a nearly inevitable motion toward the knowledge we're out to acquire.

The truth is, we all play games. (Okay, except for the few of you who have no friends whatsoever, and that's why you're reading my article. And by the way, I love you and you really ARE my friend.) If we look at the predictable behaviors that humans exhibit when they play games, we can harness those behaviors in the learning process.

We all love to accumulate awards, we seek out strategies that promise to accelerate our progress, and we love to see how we're doing along the way. At a more fundamental (and instinctive) level we respond to stimuli that reinforce the desirable behaviors, and we respond to the stimuli that warn us of undesired behaviors.

Think about the reward sounds in video games, or the transition animations that play at the end of a level in an adventure game. If you've ever played the child's game of Operation or watched a TV game show, you know that buzzer sound that can resonate in the very nerves at the top of your scalp.

Gamification in corporate education design, and for that matter in workflow process design, can harness elements such as this to reward and expand desired behaviors and minimize or eliminate undesirable ones.

Let's talk about that, and see if we can get the budgets to encompass a methodology that has tremendous promise for our organizations, and for the success of our people.