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Gamification- Friend or Foe to Training?

Bing Gordon, an executive in the video game industry (i.e. Zynga) contends that gamification is the new normal for any customer ( I add in - learner) born after 1971, since children started to grow up with the idea of a point system (consider the inception of arcade games such as Pong, or current games such as Poke Man and NeoPets).

Gamification whittled down is increasing participation by way of integrating game dynamics. Look at Linkedin's progress bar, Nike+, social games like Farmville or loyalty programs such as American Airlines miles, Samsung Nation or Starbucks Rewards. As visit these sites you may notice the game elements being employed- points, leader boards, awards (financial or virtual), levels and so forth.

So what does these business tactic have to do with education? Well learning, true self development is not unlike a player's journey--onboarding, challenges (i.e. beating monsters or problem solving), and even to collaborating with others players to experience an epic win, which often leads to mastery and leveling up. In formal education learners begin at kindergarten and moving up to the next level requires the grades or displays of mastery. Points exist in terms of grades, which then become badges of success (if a student has done well). Diplomas are tropheys of completion.

Keeping in the mind, the three types of learners- auditory, visual and hands-on, not all respond well to the same kind of tactics. Gamification capitalizes on that feeling of fun while playing games; it is about applying the game elements and the design techniques from successful games. Not unlike a training class, a well-designed gamified system must engage principles of motivational design that draw upon some psychology theories (1. Self Determination Theory (SDT) or natural ways of drawing upon intrinsic motivation through autonomy, competence and relatedness. 2. Cognitive Evaluation theory- external effects on intrinsic motivation. 3. Behaviorism or the theory that behaviors can be measured, trained and changed).

Deep learning happens through participation and that does not just mean the raising of a hand. More participation leads to understanding, confidence in skills and eventually to mastery. As trainers and teachers, we can't ignore the fun. We should look at successful games and identify what draws billions to play and keep playing? How can we do the same when it comes to self development?

Gamification can be a useful tool if approached just as methodically as you create your lesson plan. To get started, consider the following five tips: .

  1. Reflect on a moment where time passed quickly or you were in state of flow (i.e. relaxing with friends or an activity that takes your mind off of things), you solved a problem or you felt surprised or did something spontaneously, or you earned an award or promotion. Recall that feeling and then reveiw your learning objectives to determin how you can you accomplish such by incorporating fun. Jot down any associations that come to mind. Can you recreate this feeling with an activity?

  2. Visit Nicole Lazarro's 4 Keys to Fun (

  3. Review the websites: Superbetter, Fitocracy, and Stack Overflow. Each increases participation by tugging at intrinsic motivators- 'I'm doing this to make my self better.' Identify the game elements- points, levels, epic wins, leader boards, ratings, collaboration, and so forth. Can you include any of these techniques to meet your learning objectives?

  4. Recall a class, a webinar or tutorial you've experienced and how it successfully included particpation. Can you include any of those to meet your learning objectives?

  5. Visit Coursera or to see the badges and certificates offered for course or activity completion. Consider your audience and would achievements that they could share with others- be it Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter and so forth motivate them to participate more?

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