All Fun and Games ?

While Gamification became a buzzword and an over-hyped usage across the e-Learning world, I silently wondered how much one could learn from games. Sure, there are games that invoke curiosity, there are some that evoke and provoke and make the grey-cells tickle.

Experiential Learning aside, the various levels of games within the course really engages the learner at various levels. There are Memory Recall games, Cause and Result judgement games, Strategy games, Simulation games/worlds.

But do games teach by themselves? Is there a solid pedagogy that drives the games. Not long ago, we were talking to a Gaming company that developed games first and force-fitted the Learning component onto the Game itself. Creating the icing on top of Game module were the standard dashboards, Leader boards – to evoke competitive spirit among employees and all the bells and whistles of an exciting game. The game itself was based on a Vegas-gambling game and was well done – and this company also boasted about how the number of employees that played it and the leader board scores and the medals each player got etc. OK? So, where is the learning? What critical skills did it inculcate that can be extrapolated to a real-life Work Scenario? The meeting started getting uncomfortable.

According to game-based learning experts, learners tend to be highly motivated by in-game feedback such as scores and evaluations. For example, many learners using play again and again until they achieve a perfect score. In the process (and sometimes without consciously realizing it), they learn how to operate within the game environment; actively think, experiment and learn how to safely accomplish their work; and practice their “lessons learned” to develop consistent and productive thought processes.

Learning becomes INCIDENTAL to the game as opposed to being the objective of the game. And therein lies the problem. One can argue that an Angry Bird or a Temple Run develops great reflexes and motor skills – but is that the objective?

So Let us look at Game-based Learning. Mapping in-game experience of real-world job performance is one way to leverage games.

James Paul Gee, author of What Video Games Have to Teach Us about Learning and Literacy, describes 36 learning principles that well-designed games embody. Following are four (there is a loading dock game description):

Subset Principle: Learning, even at its start, takes place in a (simplified) subset of the real domain. For example, the setting for the loading dock game should represent an actual loading dock, so that players can easily map their in-game behavior to on-the-job performance. However, it must be a simplified version that omits unimportant details, so that players can focus on aspects of the simulation that are relevant to the learning objective—things like crosswalks and pedestrians.

Active, Critical Learning Principle: The learning environment must encourage active and critical, not passive, learning. In a loading dock example, this means players do not merely watch correct and incorrect examples of loading dock behavior, followed by a quiz—they actually think, act, experience consequences and pursue goals in a variable game environment.

Probing Principle: Learning is a cycle of probing the world (doing something); reflecting on this action and, on this basis, forming a hypothesis; re-probing the world to test the hypothesis; and then accepting or rethinking the hypothesis. For example, an effective loading dock game must present a functional environment in which players may choose from and evaluate many different actions. The goal is to find the right course of action via experimentation—making choices and experiencing the consequences.

Practice Principle: Learners get lots of practice in a context where the practice is not boring (i.e. in a virtual world that is compelling to learners on their own terms and where the learners experience ongoing success). For example, to encourage practice—and thus, the development of good habits—the loading dock game must gradually increase the difficulty level of the in-game challenges. This keeps players engaged and encourages them to continually hone their skills.

But in this example above – the learners were exposed to the same virtual environment as they face in real life ie the loading dock. The capacity to understand and appreciate the content and context is a very high degree. The problem happens when the trainer tries to explain the same environment.. sat through a card-game.

Without getting into semantics of a Custom course Creation or Game creation – if the game acts an engagement hook or an adjunct to the pedagogical Learning Objective, there is a greater chance of attaining the learning objective.

Let us look at the current environ:
Awesome Tech processing power to create games, toolkits, Game Engines
Awesome Access devices – mobile and otherwise, and a fast internet
Smart Developers that know how to create great games..
An audience that seeks instant gratification and plagued by short-attention spans

And what is the missing link in all this? – Pedagogy!

So, sure games can teach. But Let us be clear about the methodology we use to engage the target use that in turn will achieve the end objective.

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