Talent Tips: Making Learning Fun

Gamification utilizes the experience of fun, along with intrinsic motivation and rewards, to engage and captivate individual learners.

By Roy Saunderson

Are there really benefits to using rewards and recognition through games to help individuals learn more effectively?

There is a lot of talk about gamification today and how we can use it in business—with consumers, as well as with our employees.

But what about learning?

Bill and Melinda Gates think gamification can make a difference in how children can learn. They recently opened their foundation purse strings and invested $20 million partially toward developing innovative digital and game-based learning tools for children in the U.S.

So let’s quickly get oriented to what gamification really is. A listing for gamification on Wikipedia defines it as:

“[T]he use of game play mechanics for non-game applications…particularly consumer-oriented Web and mobile sites, in order to encourage people to adopt the applications. It also strives to encourage users to engage in desired behaviors in connection with the applications. Gamification works by making technology more engaging, and by encouraging desired behaviors, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in

This means it should be possible to make learning engaging enough for people to want to learn. Gamification utilizes the experience of fun, along with intrinsic motivation and rewards, to engage and captivate individual participants. Sebastian Deterding, a researcher and designer working on user experience, persuasive design, video games, and gamification, asserts that “fun is the easiest way to change behavior.”

Dan H. Pink, in his recent business best-seller, “Drive,” focuses on the need to use intrinsic motivation by drawing on principles of autonomy, mastery, and purpose as ways to enhance learning and performance in the 21st century. Couple this intrinsic motivation with Deterding’s thoughts on “creating more motivating work and learning environments by leveraging game design,” and you have the “perfect storm” for a new way of learning.

This is probably why the Gates support Salman Khan’s Khan Academy and what it is doing to spread learning through gaming.

Salman Khan, an MIT graduate educator, started in the field of learning by tutoring his sixth grade cousin in math in New Orleans while studying in Boston. To help his cousin, he created short video tutorials for her and shared them through YouTube. The posts attracted eager students from around the world who wanted to receive more.

Today, his Internet-based www.KhanAcademy.org hosts more than 2,400 videos on a variety of subjects ranging from basic addition right up to college-level math and science courses.

The approach uses gaming design structure by following rules and allowing students to learn as they go. Perhaps we can benefit from these principles in the workplace, too.

1. Goal Focused. Students have specific, measurable targets to reach within learning. While there is always a first level within each subject, there likewise always is a final level to be conquered. This provides internal motivation to look to the long term, as well as more immediate short-term goals.

Benefit: Clear expectations with quantifiable goals.

2. Obtaining Feedback. Learners attempt tutorials and enter their answers, then receive feedback on whether they are correct or not. With this feedback, they move on, or they are provided either a cue to seek a hint on what to do and attempt again or the option for a video tutorial to lay the foundation principles and “how to” skills and tackle later on.

Benefit: Constant feedback on a student’s comprehension and application of a skill.

3. Collecting Points. Following the successful completion of a lesson, they receive points, and like most game-like frameworks, can increase in levels and difficulty and obtain badges. Once a student achieves 10 correct lessons in a row, he or she receives suggestions as to the next steps or level in the subject being pursued.

Benefit: Pride is established immediately as milestones in achievement are reached.

4. Reaching Levels. Gaming is well known for posting a leaderboard that shows the individual proficiency reached and different types of achievements. Students can achieve badges such as Apprentice Arithmetician, Journeyman Level, and so forth, as they progress through the different stages of difficulty of a subject or the speed and efficiency at each level.

Benefit: Learning is matched to the learner and not the student to the subject.

5. Own Pace. Each student takes the selected subject at his or her own pace, attempting problems, checking answers, receiving feedback, watching videos as needed, getting points, and increasing in levels. Teachers truly become more like mentors or coaches and come into the picture only when the student is shown to be stuck or having difficulty with a particular area.

Benefit: Technology becomes the source for learning more versus the teacher.

6. Learning Metrics. Students track their performance and teachers can observe behind the scenes by examining the vital statistics of each student on areas such as: time spent on exercises, time spent on videos, badges and achievement levels achieved. Measures show where a student is proficient, areas they are working on, and where they are challenged.

Benefit: Gaming produces real-time results with granular detail on learning.

Salman Khan’s mission is to help you learn whatever you want, whenever you want, at your own pace. The academy has delivered more than 70 million lessons to people of all ages from all over the world.

Roy Saunderson is author of “GIVING the Real Recognition Way” and president of the Recognition Management Institute, a consulting and training firm specializing in helping companies “get recognition right.” Its focus is on showing leaders how to give real recognition to create positive relationships, better workplaces, and real results. For more information, contact mailto:RoySaunderson@Rideau.com or visit http://www.RealRecognition.com.

Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.