Computer games is the fastest growing form of media. Games have the ability to motivate, compel and engage us. There are a number of lessons learned from the gaming industry that fit perfectly with the concept of the Learning Democracy and should be applied to the learning programs we create.
"The fundamental premise behind most gaming experiences is the journey that participants are taken on - a journey through levels of increasing difficulty toward the eventual mastery of the game. During this journey, players can remain engaged for hours, days, and even weeks at a time." The previous excerpt was from an article in the May issue of Training + Development magazine by Ben Betts, CEO of HTC, titled The Path to Engagement: Lessons From Game Designers. There are some great takeaways from that article as well as a fantastic TED talk by Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain:
- "Define a starting point and objective, but not the path to be taken" Betts suggests. Give the audience choices and the ability to make decisions that will impact the path they take. We're not talking multiple choice options or the ability to continue by clicking the next button, but real choices. We are all different. We process information differently, we learn differently, we have different personality types. Then why do we have to all follow the same path in a course to achieve the learning objective? Because it is most convenient to build it that way. The reality is that it's, much more effective and efficient to simply give the learner a "starting point, an objective, and a method for assessing when they have reached that objective . . . " as Betts says. When we specify the path the audience needs to take, it makes it an unpleasant experience for many, and it's just not necessary. An unspecified path adds an element of uncertainty. According to Tom Chatfield, a known reward excites people, but what really gets them going is the uncertain reward - not knowing if or when they would get it. When we can't quite predict something with certainty we want to go back and learn more. All of this makes a great case for giving the audience autonomy (remember the Learning Democracy). Give them multiple long and short terms aims/tasks. By accomplishing these long and short term tasks, the audience makes decisions that force the story to evolve in different ways. This also builds confidence - games make players braver. The user becomes more willing to take risks, to try things. It becomes harder to discourage them. So let them make decisions and influence the direction, allowing the experience to evolve in different ways.
- "Stop measuring page numbers and start measuring experience" - Page numbers and progress indicators . . . blah. According to Betts, this only "gives the illusion of progress and is an example of measuring the wrong thing . . . the learner believes that if she clicks the next button x more times, she will have completed the learning." Games use a more valuable and realistic way of measuring progress by giving feedback, rewarding effort every time you do something and allowing the audience to reflect on the journey and compare their progress against that of their peers. It's hard to learn if you can't link consequences to actions and feedback and results do this. According to Chatfield, "games offer intense emotional rewards to users, individually and collectively." Because games can measure every single thing a user does, it allows us to determine the rate, nature, type and intensity of rewards that most effectively keep users engaged. Also, in games users get more "experience points" for digging deeper, uncovering more, spending more time perfecting a particular skill. You get more points for more important actions. As Betts says, the audience is rewarded for "learning the secrets to success and the tactics to win. They know how they did something the first time, and they adapt their strategy to do it better the next time."
- "Play with people, not computers" - Chatfield says that "collaboration really excites humans. People want to work with other people to solve problems and achieve things. "Most games, like courses, are designed for the audience to go through it once. Adding a social dimension can change that. It shifts the focus from the scripted part of the course or game and adds the element of other people and their experience into the mix. It lets them influence the content and the learning experience, again from the Learning Democracy.