Gamification in Learning – Fostering Motivation and Cooperation

Today, I’d like to talk to some length about gamification in learning, a new and promising technique for motivation in corporate work and learning environments. As time goes by, it is getting an increasing amount of attention, to an exponential level. There’s a reason for this, which we’ll address first.

Gamification in Learning – Fostering Motivation and Cooperation

Readers who want to learn more about gamification should click here.

It bears note that our society is increasingly thirstier for engagement and stimulation. In modern society, with technology and media at the level of development it has reached, our entertainment is immensely engaging, to the point where a lack of rapid stimulation can demotivate or disinterest us. We are an interaction and stimulation-saturated civilization. This has affected the way we think collectively, and has provided tremendous challenges in keeping learning and work an engaging process rather than one of tedium and drudgery.

This is where gamification comes into play, potentially. The basic concept of gamification is to take the core aspects of a game (most notably those conveyed by video and tabletop gaming experiences), and use them as a lens to view the processes of work and learning in daily life. There are many benefits to this sort of practice in keeping people motivated at their work or when being trained in a corporate learning environment. There are also some dangers to beware of as well.

gamification in learning

Background on Gamification

Let’s take a little journey through the concept of gamification, how it may be implemented practically right now in corporate learning, and through these concepts, see the benefits to be enjoyed and the dangers to be on guard against.

The basic concept of a game is a set of structured rules presented to a player, in which he must depart from his starting scenario and achieve a defined goal by acting within these rules through the optimal strategy they can devise. Games are as old as humanity, and for a good reason. The concept of challenge and accomplishment are deeply rooted in our psyches, as we have faced adversity from nature and one another since we left the trees so many millennium ago.

In modern games, there are a few general elements that, while presented differently from one to the next, are pretty constant. These are things such as achievements, acquired skills/abilities/permissions, experience levels and of course completion of missions or quests. There are rewards for reaching certain achievements, acquiring certain levels, and for helping other players achieve these same things, for the collective good of everyone. While in games there are of course numerous exceptions, many multi-player games encourage cooperation and empathy among players for all to accomplish an ultimate goal.

These things can be harnessed in a corporate learning environment readily through some simple rethinking of one or two training aspects, and in how giving incentives to employees is handled.

Let’s take a look at a few of these

First, the way in which success or failure of a learner is handled and presented probably needs to be approached more like that of games, even if not using the gamification model. While corporate learning seldom uses scholastic grading methods (A, B, C, D and F), there is still a bit of a downward spiral model in place with this. When an employee enters training, they are often seeing themselves as successful starting out, but as they encounter failures, they feel there is no potential upward mobility possible, which will demotivate them.

Gamification can help to remedy this by providing a collective amount of experience points that a pupil can acquire through successfully completing their training. Each successful component of training, proven learned and applied, can earn them experience points, but temporary failures do not cost them any. This provides motivation and overrides fear of failure with surprising success.

Now, take this a step further, and motivate cooperation between team members, so that cooperative learning can be organically introduced. When all participants reach a certain experience level within a specific time, this can provide bonus experience for all members of the team. This will encourage them to cooperate with each other to help everyone reach a certain level of points within a certain amount of time.

One danger here, which if handled properly won’t be a concern is potential resentment or envy among employees. If experience point levels are too individually praised upon accomplishment, some envy or resent may rise from those who are a fair distance from reaching this yet, due to the material being difficult or any number of other factors. Be certain that the team’s total level accomplishments are praised above individual accomplishments, and that the experience gained by all for each individual’s accomplishments make them valued to other members, and motivate them to help one another through struggles.

Through gamification, levels can be reached in this same manner. Set milestones for specific aspects of the training being learned. Have experience points add up to certain levels that match the completion of these subjects. For each level, grant the members as a team and as individuals, new “powers” or “skills” they will value. These should be from a list of choices they may pick, and do not have to be directly related to the topic being taught at all. These are incentives looked at in a new way. These can be simple things such as granting them limited authority to lead their group in the next chapter, or something as gratuitous as an extra break in the day or a free lunch at their choice of affordable locations.

You may take this a step further, and assign a team level as well that grants the same kind of reward for all involved. This will instill team work and team value and further incentivize the individuals to help one another as team mates in a game. It also gives them drive and value for their accomplishments, and makes the learning a less stressful and tedious process.

Finally, encourage tangential learning. This is a concept where stimulation through ideas sparks further research and learning in an individual. This can be accomplished in gamification, especially in a corporate environment. You can provide optional quests or achievements to unlock by having learners, in their free time off work, finding out information loosely tied to the subject at hand, that you provide. Giving experience points to the team and individuals for all information they bring back will encourage them to do this research, and may encourage some organic learning outside the classroom that perhaps even you did not know.

Again, a caveat here is to not make this “homework”. Homework is something everyone felt was behind them after school and college. Make it an optional directive, and make the reward appealing, and they will not view it as homework. Also, be careful that rewards for individuals are not too extravagant, so to avoid any contempt among others, just as with praising experience acquisition.

Gamification may be used to drive competition, but in corporate learning, this is unwise. Abusing gamification in this manner is one of the many potential dangers of the model that naysayers use to argue against the model being viable. Encouraging team work and a value of all above self through engagement and collective reward should be the goal of gamification in the workplace and in corporate learning. While some games can be great as a competitive field, this is one place where it should not be present.

There are hundreds of other elements from gaming that may be applied via gamification to corporate learning. Unless you’re particularly senior in your career, chances are you grew up playing video games and/or tabletop games, and likely still do when you can find the time. Look at the elements for how your games are presented, and think of it in terms of your training environment. Do you see something in the game or its interface that could work well if the context were changed, to help motivate learning and provide better engagement in your pupils? Never hesitate to try it, because as games change and bring variety of engagement in our entertainment, so do they bring wonderful new ideas for engagement in our daily lives as well. More information and examples are available on  gamification examples page.

Readers who want to learn more about organizational learning and leadership should continue on here.

Jason Silberman
Jason is the former Lead Author & Editor of TrainingStation Blog
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