If you’re reading this, you probably already know that gamification is a huge buzzword in the e-learning industry right now. Applying game logic and game mechanics to e-learning solutions can be a tricky business. After all, what the aitch-ee-double-hockey-sticks constitutes a "game" in the first place? Quick! Think of a game! GO!
Okay, what game did you think of? Monopoly? World of Warcraft? That Dragon, Cancer?Chess? Apples to Apples? Angry Birds? Madden NFL ’16? The Settlers of Catan?Basketball? 5-Card Stud Poker? Werewolf? Grand Theft Auto? Katamari Damacy?Operation? Hacky Sack? Candy Crush? Braid? Go Fish?
You are probably beginning to see the crux of the problem. The word “game” invokes a myriad of different ideas–good and bad–for everyone. Therefore, stating that an experience should be “gamified” can actually be pretty vague. Look at all the variety that was included in that very short list of games. Board games, video games, mobile games, and sports. Card games, puzzle games, and resource management games. Single player, co-op, head-to-head, and massively multiplayer games. And it’s entirely possible that you came up with a game not listed here that doesn’t fit into ANY of these categories.
A ROSE BY ANY OTHER NAME...
We have always approached e-learning development as an opportunity to create engaging, interactive experiences that produce behavior-changing results. Often the path we took to achieve that goal in the past was to use principles now commonly referred to as gamification, but back in the day, we just thought of it as making stuff that wasn’t boring.
What that means is that we have years and years of implementing game elements into e-learning effectively. It also means that as gamification becomes something that more people are thinking about, they have as many different ideas about what gamified learning should look like as there are types of games. Ideas that from time to time...contradict our years and yearsof implementing game elements into e-learning effectively.
From our experience, here are some potential pitfalls. Game mechanics that you may believe that you want, but really don’t. Or possibly features that you DO want, but not in the way you originally thought. Let’s think through how the following game mechanics and features can impact your learning–for better or for worse…
WHAT (OR WHEN) GAME MECHANICS WORK (OR DON’T)
- The Trap: Creating a learning solution that is replayable or randomized means you get more bang for your buck.
- The Reality: Making a game that is truly replayable or randomized means that you have to create more content than can be accessed in a single playthrough. So, if you want your learners to see all of your content the first time through, this is probably a bad fit.
- The Solution: Randomize specific elements of an experience (a mini-game or activity) to make it replayable. This works especially great for activities that you plan to update over time (e.g., product knowledge, reinforcement of key soft skills).
2. Visual Elements/Game Pieces
- The Trap: Sometimes people want something that looks like a game. A board game with game pieces and a path like Monopoly or Life or a consumer-quality video game with fully-rendered and animated 3-D characters.
- The Reality: Elements like these can be great when they don't feel like you are putting a square peg in a round hole. Sometimes what we traditionally think of as a game just doesn't jive with our content though. Rendering and animating 3-D characters and environments can expensive and time-consuming (but we can do it.)
- The Solution: Ask yourself, "What is it that I really like about this classic game structure/the visual design?" If the answer is nothing, dump it. If it is a visual element, we can probably find a cool way to suggest it without blowing up your budget. If it is an element of the gameplay, how can we isolate an important gameplay mechanic or two and apply them to your content?
- The Trap: This is really what you may call the "fun" factor. You might not know what you want, but if you are making a game, you know it should be like totally crazy fun, right? That why you want to play it.
- The Reality: It's still learning. Unless your content is instrically fun and interesting there is only so much fun we can inject into it.*
- The Solution: Games are played for fun. Gamifying learning is a way to increaseengagement and motivate your audience to perform. Your audience may have very low expectations of what learning can be (until your continually up your game). Temper your expectations of what fun is. Think of your e-learning solution as an "experience." If we can even mildly amuse your audience and deliver your content in a way that doesn't make them want to jump off a cliff...THAT IS HUGE!
- The Trap: Games rely on winning and losing conditions to be games. Losing is the only way these people are going to learn.
- The Reality: Winning a game makes you proud, happy, and exhilarated; losing a game gives you a safe sense of loss so you may experience that emotion/sensation at a low barrier of risk. However, failing an e-learning course can feel scary or nerve wracking depending on how it is presented to the audience. Could your job actually be in jeapordy from losing a game? Yikes. Eventually someone in your organization is going to get cold feet about learners failing.
- The Solution: We have long touted the principle of "expectation failure." We want learners to have the opportunity to fail in one of our failsafe environments. Get it out of their system before they hit the ground running at work. But games have also evolved over the years and don't always have to be defined by their success or failure outcomes. The terrific games Device 6 and Her Story are sterling examples of game-like experiences that don't really rely on winnning or losing, just experiencing. But they leverage enough interactivity to still be categorized as games. The satisfaction from playing one of these games is born of the act of discovery as the experience unfolds. So, let's give your learners opportunities to fail, and if that doesn't feel right, we'll make sure they are delighted by the act of discovery.
LEARNING IS KING
Of course, there will be exceptions to all of these guidelines. You have to examine your content, your audience, and your intended learning outcomes to make decisions that make the most sense for your project. Just because you like a game doesn’t mean it’s right for your learning. Attempting to shove your content into a popular game style for no reason probably won’t work. There may be a convincing reason to use popular game mechanics with your learning, if they fit with your goals or your content. Examine both your desired outcomes and games you enjoy to figure out what elements they have in common. This will ensure you don't end up with a Frankenstein’s Monster of an e-learning solution that doesn't motivate or enage anyone.