Have you been hearing the word “gamification” at conferences and webinars lately? Me too! And the people saying it aren’t just the ones sitting around playing Doodlejump or Words With Friends.
I often talk with course developers in the e-learning community who are asking important questions about gamification, like: Do learners really benefit from games? Can games improve my learners’ skills or recall? Or is gamification just another fad that costs money and time but doesn’t impact a course’s learning outcomes?
Karl Kapp’s new book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, unpacks those questions. He gave us a sneak-peek at the book just before it was released last month, and it’s definitely a worthy read if you’re involved in designing or building e-learning courses.
As I was noodling over the concepts Karl shares, three big things stood out to me like an Angry Bird playing Minecraft on the Wii Fit Island:
It’s not just about points, levels, and leaderboards
Most people think of games as trivial activities involving stuff like Mario badges or pesky Farmville requests. If that’s the case for you, Karl’s book will give you some great new ideas for how to effectively incorporate gaming principles into your courses.
He explains that gamification involves crafting an experience where a player engages in a challenge and uses interactivity and dynamic feedback to make decisions and work toward a specific outcome.
Sounds like a great model for interactive courseware! It’s a lot like the 3C concept we use to teach interactive e-learning—where you present a challenge, the learner makes choices, and the choices produce consequences.
Gamification is a natural progression in the evolution of learning
If you think about the evolution of learning, it makes perfect sense that gamification is the new big thing.
I’m sure some of you (I’m not naming names) were around back in the day when almost all formal learning was delivered in a classroom, lecture-style. The learning was pretty passive, right? Then things shifted: training started moving away from the “sage on a stage” model, toward more interactive, engaging classroom activities—not just because they were fun, but because they made learning stick.
When e-learning came on the scene, it evolved in kind of the same way. For most course authors, the initial goal was just to digitize a whole bunch of content and get it online. So at first, most courses were very static (and yes, boring) click-and-read type experiences. Then software like Articulate Studio started putting easier and richer authoring tools in designers’ hands, and we saw things turn more explorable and learner-driven. Tom Kuhlmann calls this progression “the Rapid E-Learning Story.”
And now we’re seeing an even deeper dive into engagement: gamified courses which allow learners to practice and problem-solve as they strive toward goals and achieve rewards based on how they perform.
Gamifying your content doesn’t mean you have to become a programmer or blow your budget
If you’re anything like me, one of your eyebrows just went up a little bit and you’re probably thinking,”Pfft! Sure, gamification sounds like a nice idea, but I have no programming skills and almost nothing left in my pint-sized budget.”
I’m right there with you! But hold on—being a non-programmer and having a small budget doesn’t disqualify you from leveraging gamification in your courses.
Granted, if you’re shooting for the e-learning equivalent of Halo or World Of Warcraft, you might need a crew of experts and a fair bit of money. In fact, Karl’s book talks of how some companies hire a small army—instructional designers, artists, programmers, animators, sound technicians, and so on—to produce gamified content. But a team like that comes with a price tag that’s pretty unrealistic for most of the learning professionals I know (many of whom have to jump through hoops just to get approval to buy 20 bucks’ worth of stock clip art).
So here’s the good news: It is within your reach to create gamified content that builds curiosity and engagement among your learners, and you don’t need a trainload of money or a multi-month production schedule to do it. All you need are the right tools and the support of a creative, imaginative community where you can learn and share ideas.
Case in point: We’re currently wrapping up beta testing of our new authoring tool, Articulate Storyline. With the help of an amazing team of beta testers from all over the world, many of whom work solo or in small-to-medium-sized learning departments, we kicked the tires on new and intuitive interactivity features, like triggers, variables, drag-and-drop interactions, slide layers, object states, simulations, hotspots, click-and-reveal effects, and more. These simple but powerful tools, created specifically for non-programmers like me, make it easier than ever for anyone to build rich, engaging interactions.
A few examples of what’s possible
This little Hangman game was one of the very first Storyline beta projects that I built soon after we began testing the product internally. It’s a simple interaction that responds to the learner based on their letter choices, and provides feedback and visual progress indicators along the way. I know, I know, games like Hangman aren’t necessarily the right fit for every e-learning course! I get that. The point is, this project was a fun and simple way to experience the power and ease of tools like variables, object states, and slide layers—and the exact same logic and tools can be used in the same way to build more complex and context-relevant games. The amazing this is, I know as much about programming as my cat knows about nuclear physics, but I was able to sit down and produce this fun little game from scratch in less than an hour. Picking the font and the artwork took longer than actually building the interaction.
Here’s another fun example, and although it’s a step up from Hangman in terms of interactivity, it was just as easy to build. And it includes similar gamified concepts: it presents learners with a challenge or task, provides feedback to guide their choices, and ultimately rewards them for completing the task or achieving the goal. My kids helped me build this one, and it made me think how powerful it would be if educators incorporated game-building as part of the learning process with their students. Trust me, my kids would never have gotten this fired up over a healthy green drink containing spinach, if I had just asked them to read some stuff or watch a video about it!
One more example for you. The Broken Co-Worker is one of my favorites from among the projects that our Storyline beta users created. You might’ve seen it recently when Tom featured it on the Rapid E-Learning Blog. What a great example of an immersive, gamified scenario! Ryan Martin and Anna Sabramowicz put a humorous twist on a serious subject, where learners are required to navigate through a series of challenging sexual-harassment situations. The result is a totally engaging, effective learning experience. It sure beats a typical information-based course where learners just read or listen to a bunch of guidelines or anti-harassment policies, don’t you think?
When Storyline launches, we’ll be showcasing even more great examples. We’re really excited about how this new tool puts gamification within easy reach of any e-learning developer. It opens up all sorts of new ways to give your learners problem-solving challenges, customized feedback based on intelligent variables, and multiple learning paths as they strive toward a goal—and these are the kinds of things that can quickly and easily take your course’s engagement level up a notch (or ten).
Ready to get your game on?
Gamification is around to stay, and it opens up powerful new opportunities to reach your learners. It’s still a new concept for most course designers, and there’s a lot to think about when you’re considering how best to apply gaming principles to a particular course. It’ll be fun to see where gamification takes the learning industry next!
Karl’s book is a great place to get acquainted with the essentials, and you can also check out what your virtual colleagues are saying about the book by checking out the other stops on his blog book tour.
When you’re ready to think about how to gamify your own courses, or if you just want to talk more about what gamification could look like in e-learning, jump into the community forums to learn and share with other e-learning designers. It’s an easy (and free) way to get friendly, constructive, meaningful feedback and inspiration.
Thanks Karl, for including us on the blog book tour—and also for raising an important topic that’ll help all of us rethink the way we engage our learners.
Game on, course developers!