4 - Using Gamification to Develop Skills

Learning is an innate human behavior. Born without instincts to guide us, our means of survival is to apply reasoning to make sense of the world, and memory to store and retrieve information about the success or failure of previous choices.

We can learn simple tasks (how to use a screwdriver) in short order, but take years of training to learn more complex tasks (how to repair a car). But aside of the complexity of the task, there is also the matter of motivation: when we get something from learning a task, we are highly motivated to learn it.

But in many instances, we are required to learn something that does nothing to help us accomplish our personal goals, and it can be hard to remain motivated. Corporate training, for example, teaches us procedures that serve someone else's interests rather than our own. University education teaches young people skills they will not benefit from until later in life.

In these instances, gamification can be used to add motivation to learning activities.

Fear of Learning

The author tells a case-study of a student with psychological difficulties related to self-esteem and feelings of inadequacy, for whom traditional education was impossible - given she was terrified of being in a room with other people, and would be devastated by negative feedback.

Instead, she used a correspondence school, Khan Academy, which enabled her to learn without having to be in a room with other people, and whose method of reaching was to avoid giving students negative feedback, but instead emphasizing their gradual success. While she feels she has learned much, the author dopes concede that she is still unemployed, and attempting to find a job where she can work remotely and avoid getting any negative feedback.

Most people have some level of disability when it comes to learning new things - while they are not as severely impaired as the student in this example, the prospect of learning is a little intimidating: it requires a great deal of effort and can be detrimental to self-esteem, so most people simply avoid it altogether and attempt to muddle through based on what they already know rather than undertake the effort to learn and the risk of feeling foolish.

Mastery for the Masses

The author considers Khan Academy, a project that proposes to provide education to the masses through providing tutorials and videos online. Its primary focus is providing basic education (K-12) to the public at no cost. Naturally, this has been attempted before, without much success - information is available online that covers a vast array of subjects, but is largely ignored.

The way in which Khan Academy attempts to remedy the problem is to make learning into a game-like activity that tracks users through various activities, awarding them points and badges for viewing videos and completing online activities.

Burke mentions the large and growing number of lectures and exercises, and that the academy has received numerous grants, but says nothing about whether the program is being widely adopted by students.

He also mentions various other "make learning fun" activities - operated by government, educational, and corporate sponsors.

Energizing Employee Training

The author mentions NTT Data's "Ignite Leadership" campaign, which focused on sharpening employee skills in areas necessary to matriculate into management positions: communication, negotiating, time management, change management, and problem solving.

The training was designed as modules which presented "real world" scenarios and asked employees to make choices for actions in the game scenario. The unstructured and open nature of the training, as opposed to formal courses on a fixed schedule, made the training seem very accessible to busy employees who could not spare time and attention to take formal courses.

The scenarios were clustered by topic and presented as levels, so employees could navigate through the training scenarios openly, working on the topics that interested them most. Badges and levels encouraged employees to branch out, take training in the various areas. Employees could share these emblems on the company's internal network.

There were progress reports sent to mangers who could coach players through areas where they were struggling. Another feature enabled senior leaders to participate, ask "pop questions" of participants, and engage with individuals, giving participants further exposure within the firm.

The results of this interactive learning and networking are that fifty employees who participated had matriculated into leadership roles - which is a 50% better rate than for employees who did not participate in the program.

Educating the Customer

(EN: I'm dropping this entire section because it's coaching to the wrong behaviors. Companies that want to "educate" the customer are callus to the customer and refuse to change their ways. They refuse speak the customer's language and insist the customer learn to speak theirs. They refuse to learn about the customer's needs and insist the customer learn about their products. This is a very bad practice that is doomed to failure - and rather than being more effective at "educating" customers, such firms should educate themselves about their customers and learn to serve them better.)

Skills Development

Gamification and skills development are a natural fit - as developing skills is a common part of most games: whether it's golf or chess, the player seeks to win (or perform better) by developing physical and mental skills - and his progress in the game serves as both feedback and reward for the progression of his skills.

And so, Burke suggests people have a natural desire to learn and grow - though the challenge is helping them to find the path to do so. If they sense they are making progress toward a goal, they will remain on the path. If they don't know what to do, then they lose interest very quickly. If they know what to do but cannot seem to do it, they go frustrated and steam away.

The solution to these issues is straightforward: break the journey into small steps, and make sure that the student has a map to success - so that he knows where he is and what the next step should be.

Badges and leveling serve as rewards for achieving milestones - but at the same time they suggest that there is more to be done. A player who achieves "level five" expects that there is a "level six" to be earned. A player who earns one badge expects that there are others.

(EN: There is also some value in Easter eggs - or achievements people earn without knowing in advance what to do to earn them. It occurs to me that people who encounter one will expect there to be others, and even hunt for them, but this likely has less motivational value than a goal that they are aware of.)

Random tips follow.

Burke delves a bit more into the notion of badges, as online badges are often difficult to verify: anyone can copy a graphic and paste it onto their page or profile. There are a few attempts in place to create a badge "infrastructure" that validates the achievement to a specific learner. (EN: protecting a graphic is likely impossible, but coordinating a click-through to verify is rather simple.)