Games vs. Gamification (Part 2)

It is January . . . time for looking at upcoming trends for 2017. An interesting way to look at gamification trends is to contrast them with game trends. Contrasting them helps to delineate commonalities and differences while identifying opportunities and limitations for applying gaming in the world of eLearning.

JAG Global Learning

JAG Global Learning

GAMING, CONSUMERISM, AND LIFE

Gaming is a major part of U.S. and international consumer culture. Regardless of the platform—Nintendo, PC, PlayStation, Xbox, and various mobile platforms—individuals play games while waiting for their dentist or the chicken to roast while at home. Advances in the field, and this is not surprising, are driven by technology.  Moreover, gaming has become an integral part of consumerism and rewards, driven by our use of portable technology, which has become a measure of identity. Life without it, for many, seems unimaginable. In short, gaming is a central to daily living not just education. But . . . let’s close the door of dystopia and focus on a couple of gaming trends to see their powerful application for eLearning.

Two key gaming trends are the use of GPS in the field and VR in a fixed environment.  Regarding the latter, VR technology has improved greatly and is becoming more widely available and affordable to the general public. In order to appreciate advances in eLearning gamification, let’s look at two important games: Pokémon Go and Resident Evil: Biohazard.

Pokémon is a wildly popular console game created two decades ago with the goal of players collecting, training, and using fictional characters (Pokémon) in battle. This concept was franchised through trading cards, movies, and videos. The most recent incarnation is Pokémon Go, which is a free mobile app that empowers participants to travel to different physical spots using GPS to locate different types of Pokémon. The Resident Evil console game is quite different. Instead of traveling to different spots in the “actual” world, through the use of cutting edge virtual reality (VR) headsets, the VR participant is immersed in a digital world, ostensibly supplanting the “actual” world. Biohazard has been singled out for its shocking, graphic realism.

NEW GAMING TRENDS AND GAMIFICATION

1. Variations of Reality

Variations of reality? Let’s look at references in popular culture: Keanu Reeves’ Neo in the Matrix and Jessie L. Martin’s Tom Collins in Rent. Neo combats the Matrix to release humans from their unconsciousness albeit physical slavery that sustains their virtual world; alternatively, Tom Collins, from MIT, is kicked out of his doctoral program for his theory of Actual Reality, which mocks theoretical concepts of reality in favor of civic action to address inequity and injustice.

Let’s look at different types of reality, as it were represented by the extremes noted above. When thinking about alternative uses and understandings of reality, remember the context. A primary gaming goal is to entertain the participant. There are, of course, secondary benefits, but entertainment is central. This can be performed through the satisfaction of game mastery or simply emotional release. The primary goal of gamification is different: learning, or for us, eLearning, which ultimately has the associated benefit of real-world application.

Virtual Reality (VR) provides gamers with a more compelling experience by supplanting actual or visual representations of the world with a complete simulation; likewise, VR provides learners with the most tangible sense of trial and error that they would otherwise only be able to obtain by personal training. What’s the obvious challenge for developers in eLearning? Gaming is a multi-billion dollar industry that has huge capital resources for R&D. eLearning does not have that benefit. However, in as much as the government uses VR in its training and executive operation, it is possible that educational institutions might be able to draw upon that intellectual capital given that government VR applications were created using public money.

Augmented Reality (AR) is capable of adding (augmenting) digital information to live videos. This provides users with an ability to appreciate space/size ratios among other things. Imagine using an AR app to position not-yet-bought furniture around a video of your living room. While this example draws on a consumer, marketing app, there are a range of eLearning opportunities. Note field use is not restricted to eLearning outside.

Program-Based Reality creates narrative scenarios through a basic user-computer interface. The “reality” is governed by the gamer or learner’s operation of commands, which then generates programmed results. This was a precursor of VR’s trial and error. This is traditional eLearning that uses in-class or Internet based educational portals.

On-the-Job-Training (OJT) is the traditional manner through which skills and trades are transmitted to new employees or apprentices. No use of technology per se. Each perspective of reality noted above—VR, AR, PBR, and OJT—figuratively and literally position the gamer or learner in his or her use of technology.

What are some of the new applications in eLearning? Nurse training, McDonalds management training, repair/maintenance, and anatomy tutorials are the most commonly sited examples. While we all may have our favorite “reality” approach to eLearning, but who is to say that they cannot be used in combination? Imagine training individuals working in complicated and vast storage and/or archival network. Much can be accomplished through each approach used above, with OJT being the final run through before employee independence.

2. The Future of Gaming and Gamification?

While Pokémon Go and Resident Evil are taking the gaming world by storm, there is another approach, just as important, but with a different modus operandi and significant future application for eLearning and gamification. Minecraft, one of the best selling video console games of all time, has been around for a relatively short time. While similar to other gaming applications, Minecraft is distinctive for incorporating the capacity for gamers to build virtual landscapes and even change the rules of the game; participants can play in various modes: survival, creative, adventure, and spectator. The game permits individual and multiple players.  Why should this be of value to eLearning and gamification?

As noted, gamification draws upon natural human capacities in a variety of ways, for example, competition and social recognition. Many elements of gaming, though, are based on competition. Yes, there is value here, but to reach its full potential, eLearning needs a wider focus. Minecraft permits survival (competition), but it facilitates adventure and creation too. Isn’t that what education and eLearning should be about?  Instead of creating platforms for competitive games, eLearning administrators can create intellectual and visual landscapes that depict the relationship of concepts and areas of study instead of relying upon analog outlines. Here, learners can walk through and access/add content information. On a different level, learners can create their own landscapes and projects or develop discussions questioning given ideas and offering new ones. The challenge here . . . as with the facets of gaming and its application in consumer culture, one must be mindful that the means of eLearning does not override the primary goal: learning.

Next week let’s take an academic turn in our discussion and look at some seminal gamification articles as well some recent publications. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

Gamification and E-Learning (Part 1)

THE CONTEXT

When thinking of games in the context of learning, the conventional pedagogue might shutter. Games are for children! Students are learning so they might find their place in the adult world. If games were used in education at all, they were considered to be part of a “break” in learning, that is, students were given time to release excess energy and/or re-focus their thoughts for additional learning. Games were considered an external tool to facilitate learning, not a part of the learning process.

Yet gamification existed even in the traditional framework. How is that? Well let’s remember growing up . . . First, at one time during our early school days, we did a particular assignment well. Yea! We get a gold star. Second, during summer reading programs, readers would get a check next to every book read, and if enough books were read by summer’s end, he or she would get a prize. Third, in large college classes—before the era of privacy—professors would post exam grades, and students with excellent grades would be afforded social status. One can come up with other examples, but the above should serve to make the point.

Advances in technology have driven gamification, and home computing and the Internet have been the most important elements of this evolution. In addition, changes in educational philosophy, based on a large body of research, have pushed gamification into educational practice. So let’s look at the basics.

THE BASICS OF GAMIFICATION AND eLEARNING

A. Definition

While noting above that “gamification” existed in earlier eras, the term generally refers to the conscious decision to employ the concepts, motivations, and techniques of games into non-game venues. Such venues could be in employment productivity, marketing, but especially into education. In this context, gamification is not thought of as a respite from the “serious” work of education but an essential part of comprehension, retention, and application of knowledge. There have been a range of critiques on gamification, but it has generally been accepted and is increasing being employed as an important element if not the central element of most educational enterprises. (TABLE)

B. Gamification Elements

Games constitute systems that are governed the rules and tools of the game. Each system is based on a combination of chance, skill, and/or strategy with an overall goal ranging from simple completion to a competitive success. Games—and gamification—are so engaging due to various factors that can be broken down into rewards versus other elements. Regarding rewards, gamification designers will draw upon natural human tendencies toward achievement (intrinsic) or social status and/or tangible rewards (extrinsic). Related to rewards, albeit separate, are other natural human tendencies toward competition, human inquisitiveness, and socialization. Separate from notions of reward are others such as altruism, engaging narratives, and self-expression. Gamification in learning employs these elements to increase attention span and motivation toward the overall capacity for knowledge comprehension, retention, and application. (APPLE)

C. Participants

Gamification can be employed in three different contexts: solitary, competitive, and team building. Each one has it’s own value, though they can be employed separately or together depending upon the nature of the subject and organizational goals.

Lets come up with a simple educational goal: remembering an information set. This seems simple, but the challenge can come from the size of the set and whether or not set contents are ostensibly related. Gamification designers can develop tools assisting participants to do this as solitary individuals, competitively, or with a team. One can employ rewards for the individual or team or use an interesting narrative and/or mnemonics to enhance recall. (PENCIL)

Next week we will continue our discussion on gamification and will move into more subtle and cutting edge elements. I strongly encourage readers to send in memorable anecdotes about their educational experiences that relate to this subject. We will be sure to highlight them at the onset of the blog.

Oh, by the way, without looking, do you remember the three capitalized words at the end of each sub-section.  It was an attempt to draw you into a game that might pique your interest as one might in gamification. To facilitate learning such non-sequitors, one can visually situate the objects: imagine a table with a single apple and pencil on it, nothing else. Remembering that visual image is far easier than remembering three random words. See you next week!

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., JAG Learning Strategist

Gamification: A Holiday Wish

Tis the season . . . .what better way to accent the holiday season than to blog about games and toys? Well . . . at least gamification. Before getting into any deep, intense discussion about the subject, let’s begin with a few “stocking stuffers” to whet our collective appetite.

GAMIFICATION AND STOCKING STUFFERS

The inner child in me squeals: Yea!!!!! It’s time for the fun stuff. Various theorists and, yes, philosophers define games in different ways. They focus on concepts such as competition, entertainment, play, rewards, rules, and the like. Separately, while games are fun, they also meet other important needs, for example, education, understanding how to confront uncertainty, skill acquisition, and socialization.

Let’s touch upon some bite-sized thoughts to sample the world of gamification by looking at a holiday gift stocking. Instead of the incredibly big, overpriced-gift we all ask for (and may never receive), stocking stuffers frequently are items that can be broken down into a few different categories: fun food, toiletries, and the whimsical.

1. Fun Food

By fun food, think of candy canes, chocolate coins, and the like. They don’t sustain us, but whet our appetite and keep us interested. How does this relate to gamification?

Let’s remember the genesis of our blog on eLearning. This approach to education appreciates that learning is a human activity; the notion that students should sit in a formal classroom dutifully learning “dry” material is not only outdated but contrary research about how to better facilitate learning. The notion of “fun food” can be thought of in different ways. In the context of gamification, it can be thought of as a reward—a key element in games, which creates incentives. The point of the game is not candy, but to win, that is to learn. Gamification is a technique to keep the learner engaged and motivated. Why? Again, because we are humans who need incentives apart from the “dry” dictate to learn.

2. Toiletries

Ah, toiletries, not like fun food at all, LOL! Still we find stockings filled with floss, scented soaps, and toothpaste. Contrary to the notion of fun food, these stocking stuffers supply us with the necessities of our modern lives, things needed to take us through the New Year. Again, gamification?

Gamification seems to run contrary to the notion of necessities. We think of games, we think of rewards, but necessities are a part of many games (think game rule comprehension). Some game rules are simple while others are very complex. Understanding game rules grant a player strategic advantages while rule mastery grant her or him a sense of confidence. Gamification translates this dynamic into education. By understanding basic concepts, learners are better equipped to progress into more nuanced ideas that, obviously, build upon those concepts. Likewise, learners are affirmed in their progress with the appreciation their efforts have value.

3. The Whimsical

OK, we’re getting to the bottom of the stocking. What’s the whimsical? Think about fun, silly puzzles or the quirky item that we don’t need but we all want. This is similar to the notion of “fun food” but different . . .

Whimsy touches upon game elements relating to entertainment and play. Including whimsical elements peak our curiosity and arouse our desire to learn. This especially is valuable when dealing with subjects that otherwise might seem “boring” or “dry.” An interesting anecdote or an interesting factoid can offer the “hook” to draw one into the learning process. Gamification can accomplish this through the use of engaging narrative and animation that make one smile though not forget the purpose of the training.

Enjoy this holiday season and be safe and warm.

Craig Lee Keller, Ph.D., Learning Strategist