I started a course on Gamification offered by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania at Coursera.org in mid-November and managed to complete it around Christmas. Gamification is, in short, using game elements and game design techniques in non-game contexts – non-game contexts being anything from business to learning, social impact and personal development.
I am practically a non-gamer, but have naturally been aware of the immense power games have for closing the engagement gap and helping new habit formation. So what did I learn in the course that I can apply to modern workplace learning?
- Don’t forget the fun. You can and should design fun in your learning. That said, fun here needs to be understood in the broadest possible sense. It covers easy fun (e.g. you win easily), hard fun (you need win over difficult challenges), people fun (you get to interact with others) and serious fun (you find your tasks meaningful). Before you try to “put lipstick on a pig”, i.e. draw fancy but irrelevant cartoon figures etc, ask yourself: “what’s fun?” It may be that for your training, fun means treating the users as smart adults, creating content that’s relevant and spiced with surprising facts, and developing realistic scenarios and other interactions.
- Consider how you use external rewards. Points, badges and leaderboards, i.e. PBL, are general elements of games and therefore a common element in all sorts of gamified systems. These can be incorporated in learning too. However, consider what your audience is like and what motivates them. Whilst you can use PBL for increasing motivation among people who enjoy and are used to competition, it may not work in all target groups. Also, be aware that especially for top performers, external rewards may decrease intrinsic motivation – these people may feel that whilst they would complete the tasks for pure enjoyment, having extrinsic rewards makes these tasks less interesting.
- Design with business goal in mind. This is essential in many ways but not least because it requires that you define a proper business goal for your training. Once that is defined, you can and should reflect any ideas that come up during the project to this goal: Does the idea support the business goal? If so, consider including it. If not, drop it.
Finally, about the learning experience itself – what was the course like?
The course was by no means an easy one! It contained a series of video lectures (most of which I managed to watch while commuting), written assignments and tests. The course also had a discussion board and this upped the experience to a great extent – I found myself totally mesmerized just by reading the professional stories of people in the discussion where the participants introduced themselves. One nice addition to the video lectures was the fact that they were interrupted every now and then with small sets of questions that you needed to answer before you could continue the video – these were good for reflecting what had just been covered and how that could be applied to other topics presented in the course.