Idea Learning Group

"gamification" Posts

Learning Through Play as Adults

“You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than
in a year of conversation.” – Plato

Learning through play is a given for children. Why do we have a hard time accepting “play” as an effective means of learning as adults? It’s often dismissed as a waste of time. Research into the brains of animals with higher orders of intelligence reveals that many species continue to play beyond their youth. Play is one way to spread discoveries through social learning. In fact, some animals like rats and grizzly bears fail to properly develop socially without a healthy amount of play.

In a recent article in Chief Learning Officer, Andrea Park looks at problem solving through the lens of play, particularly gamification. She cites research by The Wharton School at the University of Philadelphia indicating there are eight steps to promote business success in workplace gamification: “Problem solving, exploration, teamwork, recognition, success, surprise and novelty, creativity and knowledge sharing.” She continues: “Interactive learning programs at millennial-friendly companies often provide examples of several, if not all, of these qualities.” Forbes has a list of helpful tips about how to use gaming at work as an effective strategy for motivating employees and changing behavior.

Play is one of nature’s resources for generating new neural networks and reconciling cognitive difficulties, according to an article in US News. It’s not only a useful way to solve problems, but it also helps us build our creativity and social relationships, according to the National Institute for Play.

Playfulness is part of our culture at Idea Learning Group. We developed Cafeteria Learning as a way to engage participants in play and interactive collaboration, while maintaining a focus on behavior change. Last year we facilitated a session called “Play to Learn: The Cafeteria Learning Model” at the North American Simulation and Gaming Association annual conference. We’ve designed programs with this method to train learners on topics such as diversity and inclusion, internal corporate processes, health and wellness, performance management, and other topics related to leadership development.

We create these programs with the belief you can add levity and fun without compromising instructional goals. In the end, people report that they love having “permission” to play at work, and that it’s an unexpected but welcome way to learn.

Playing Games at Work

Playing_Games_At_Work_090313How many new experiences have you had in the past five years that involve playing games in the workplace? When you think of games, what comes to mind? If you’re like many adults, you might think of games as child’s play. You know, Chutes & Ladders. Monopoly. Hide & Seek. Some adults think games are a waste of time. But recent studies (check here and here for some examples) reveal that playing games at work can engage employees and result in deeper learning and behavior change.

The term “serious gaming” has been around for a while. As the name implies, there’s nothing vapid about this type of gaming. In his article “Serious Games for Serious Topics,” Clark Quinn describe that a serious game “can introduce tension and crises to simulate the realistic experience of practicing a particular skill, or depict consequences, more easily than other types of learning.” It’s not a lesson wrapped in entertainment. The “serious game” turns learning objectives into essential decision points. The learner is cast as a potential hero. It involves an other-world context, consequences, and often exploratory path options. The outcome is something that the learner sincerely cares about.

In his book Game Frame, author Aaron Dignan considers the allure of games. “Unlike so many other settings where seemingly meaningless and repetitive tasks frustrate us, in games we are at one with our story….We come to desire the victory that the story presupposes, and we simply must find a way to win.”

According to the Serious Gaming Association, corporate games “demonstrate to the player how the wrong decision causes failure of task but motivates the player to try again, provides important learning, and encourages critical thinking.”

In the coming weeks, we have a few events scheduled that focus on learning through game-play. Our monthly Collaborative Learning Network session on September 11 will be on “Using Games in Workplace Learning.” It’s free, so if you’re in the Portland area you can RSVP here. And on October 24, we’re facilitating a session called “Play to Learn: Cafeteria Learning Model” at the annual North American Simulation and Gaming Association (NASAGA) conference in Sarasota, Florida.

Reflections From DevLearn: Storytelling, Gamification, & Problem-Based Learning

Ken Hubbell’s session on storytelling, gamification, and problem-based learning started with several questions: What’s problem-based learning? What’s in it for the learner? Why is storytelling important?

On Problem-Based Learning…

Problem-based learning is a great framework for helping people learn to work together in teams or work with integrated parts. It’s a concept that’s been around a long time, involving:

  • A need to know
  • A driving question
  • Learner voice/choice
  • Inquiry and innovation
  • Feedback and revisions
  • Publicly presented products

In problem-based learning, the only thing you might achieve is what not to do. Sometimes the answer to a problem-based challenge is simply “I have no idea.” Failure might inform your next set of decisions.

On Gamification and Scenario-Based Learning…

Gamification means integrating gaming dynamics into your site or business in order to drive participation. For those who aren’t very familiar with the dynamics of gaming, Ken drew some connections to learning and training:

  • Goals and incentives = levels and points
  • Projects and tasks = missions or quests
  • Managers, team leads, or SMEs = experience facilitators

On Gamification at Work…

Just like problem-based learning, gamification has been around a long time.  “Just ask the Girl Scouts,” he says. Where gamification is paving new ground is as an integral part of business and learning. It’s been historically underused by businesses. “Hire a gamer and he can teach other people. They like to share,” Ken suggests.

How many of us have thought about including points and levels to entice people to participate in work-related challenges? How many of us actually earn points for roleplaying with colleagues to accomplish something at work together? These are classic ways of driving team-based participation.

On Gamification and the Classroom…

Ken showed us a fantastic example of how gamification is used in an elementary school classroom by teacher John Hunter. The game is called World Peace, a four-foot square game board with four levels and hundreds of game pieces. Players work together through the “lens of the economic, social, and environmental crises and the imminent threat of war,” with the goal of eliminating dangerous situations for each country and achieving global prosperity using as little military intervention as possible. (Check out the film trailer here.)

On the Connection Between Story and Instruction…

According to BF Skinner, many instructional arrangements seem contrived. You can adapt story-based learning and replay it in various contexts. The story is a snapshot. A narrative continuously grows and can be dynamic.

What changes a story into drama? Plot, character, thought, diction, music, and spectacle. People think of stories as having a beginning, middle, and an end. The end is a way to let people calm down. Many companies stay in the middle, Ken says, and people burn out as a result.

The main difference between books and problem-based learning simulations: The character can change her mind in a simulation. It begins when something happens, and it may not end at a specific time. Players don’t have to agree on the story as long as they agree on the journey or problem they’re solving. If you play with someone else, you can together solve difficult problems. Only when you fail enough can you figure out the mechanism to succeed.

On the Role of the Experience Facilitator…

In the experiential learning model, understanding the decision-making process of each individual is just as important as the decisions themselves. The role of the “Experience Facilitator” is to:

  • Lead/guide/referee.
  • Recount the entire adventure through storytelling.
  • Cultivate the best user experience by making sure the quietest person in the room participates just as much as the ones who are most vocal.
  • Make all equal participants in the story.

On Additional Reading and Inspiration…

Ken recommended a great site for free roleplaying resources. He also suggested further research by reading work by “the king of narrative-centered learning,” Dr. James Lester, a professor at NC State University.

The Power of Learning Games

Playing games comes naturally to humans. From childhood through adulthood, games help us learn through exploration and experience. Although preschools and elementary schools commonly use game play, the perception that games aren’t a serious way to learn persists in the business world. However, when it comes to team building, problem solving, learning new procedures, or practicing new skills, games can provide an excellent way to absorb information through collaboration and trial and error.

Games and Problem-Solving
We’re not just talking about elearning games. (See our post on gamification for trends and research in that area). “Analog” games that involve dice, spinners, boards, cards, etc. offer a fantastic way for learners to explore and practice new ideas. By playing games together, participants can become deeply immersed in even the most complex topics and can create resolutions together while building essential communication strategies.

Games help participants talk to each other and make decisions in a safe environment. When people interact through games, many of the aspects of human behavior emerge: selfishness, generosity, conflict, confusion, and cleverness. But unlike the way reality works, games can easily be repeated. Learning through mistakes is one of the reasons why games are such powerful educational tools. If an assertive person with a bad idea wins over the crowd the first time, a shy person with a great idea could become the leader the second time.

Amir and Shannon playing an IdeaLearning Group game prototype

A great example of the power of games in learning takes place at the Pardee Center at Boston University. The small group of practitioners and scholars gathered to explore strategies and decision-making for the climate crisis. The topic was complex, but the rules were simple. For example, participants were each given some beans and had to make decisions about where they would plant the beans according to the number that came up on the die, which represented rainfall. They planned their strategies as a group, but they had to make decisions individually that could result in life-changing consequences.

Types of Learning Games
At IdeaLearning Group, we’re inspired by many of the games we played as kids: Hangman, Life, Oregon Trail, Sorry, Clue, and Monopoly…just to name a few. The most effective games have clear rules and simple mechanics that participants can learn in just a few minutes. They build an atmosphere of shared experience and allow the learners to explore possibilities and consequences.

Most types of learning games also involve life and death, discovery, puzzles or problem solving, acquisition of goods, protection of territory, power, and even some drama. Check out some free examples from Thiagi, who is one of the leaders in training game development.

Designing Effective Games
Ultimately, an effective game should have a clear, relevant purpose and should engage the learners with a meaningful experience. When designing games for the classroom, focus on creating a great flow and a high level of engagement and interaction. One way to do this is to create a flow chart outlining all the interaction points, branching possibilities, and consequences. Planning this out first will help you see all the possibilities from an aerial view before filling in the details.

Some of the best games don’t even appear to be games—they are designed so well that they naturally integrate into the curriculum. The rules shouldn’t be complex or bog down the interaction; engagement with the technique should be secondary to engagement with the actual content. Include a challenge that intrigues the audience and is something they can directly relate with. At IdeaLearning Group, we incorporate brief discussions and reflection points as we play. We also test games to work out the kinks and make improvements before using them in the classroom.

What are some of your favorite learning games? What strategies do you use to develop or play those games?

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