Gamification in e-learning

This is a report back from my first day working at Saffron Interactive. Apologies for the short delay, but you’ll understand that I have been very busy for the last month! In an exciting start to my Saffron career I spent my first day attending the Learning and Skills Group (LSG) conference at Olympia – a great way to be introduced to the world of e-learning.

I do not come from an e-learning background but I have always had a keen interest in technology and games and one particular talk really captured my imagination. I’m sure most people are familiar in some form or another with the world of video games whether through PCs or a range of consoles covering all ages and tastes. Gaming however is now beginning to have an effect outside of our leisure time and is becoming prevalent in everyday life, for example the way we shop, network and… learn.

For those unfamiliar with Gamification – a new and growing concept in the world of e-learning – the idea is based on the use of gaming mechanics to increase user engagement whilst delivering key learning objectives. For those still somewhat mystified by the term I have included a definition below:

“Gamification works by making technology more engaging, and by encouraging desired behaviours, taking advantage of humans’ psychological predisposition to engage in gaming.”

Radoff, Jon. Game On: Energize Your Business with Social Media Games

At the LSG conference, this was explored in depth with a talk from Alicia Sanchez who has been appointed “Games Czar” at the US Defense Acquisition University (DAU).

Alicia’s talk presented some interesting examples, in this case based on military procurement, an area that apparently requires regular and incredibly stringent compliance training. By using the setting of a game, a far more positive response was generated from the workforce in digesting the necessary content for their roles. One such example was a simulation where the user would carry out compliance checks on weapons on the premise of preventing an alien invasion.

What’s more as gaming has begun to take on a social aspect, this can be incorporated into e-learning for even higher levels of engagement. For example, in the same way that Xbox players use “gamer scores” to celebrate achievements and relate to their peers, the DAU allows players to build online profiles giving added value and a social element to their learning achievements. This is also great from a learning provider’s perspective as it provides a method for demonstrating the impact that its courses have on user groups.

If you take this social aspect in combination with a Gamification style of e-learning further, it is also clear how learners working together could gain huge additional benefits in terms of organisation and teamwork given the right environment. In a previous organisation I worked at, the Sales Director actually mused, “If teenagers can work together in World of Warcraft to be organised and achieve common objectives I do not see why our sales force cannot do the same!”

It will be interesting to see if many of the positive side effects of massively multiplayer gaming would become increasingly prevalent as an additional benefit for this type of delivery. Although I would add a caveat here that had the sales force assembled itself into a 30 man raid group and stormed customers offices (a la World of Warcraft) it may not have gone down well. I do hope however you can see the point I am making In terms of cooperation between departments and employees.

Of course there are limitations to the Gamification of learning. Budgets are always under increased scrutiny and is there as one of my colleagues put it an assumption that “if its fun it can’t be good for you”? Even taking these issues into account it will be interesting to see if this is a view that shifts if Gamification style courses begin to build up a backlog of case studies with quantifiable results. The other long term factor here could be as younger generations of the workforce come into management positions with a greater familiarity with the culture of gaming there will be an increasing appetite at senior levels to champion this as a style of learning.

As a final note I would like mention one of my favourite solutions of this type currently on the market: a revision of House of the Dead which is not only guaranteed to improve users’ typing skills but also looks like great fun!

I look forward to giving some further updates on Gamification from the Saffron perspective in the coming months.