A couple of years ago I went back to school to get my Masters degree. To be honest, I was a bit anxious about the rustiness of my research and writing skills. The program was in Learning Technologies at Pepperdine University. To my surprise, the first class assignment was to dive into the video game, “World of Warcraft” for the initial month’s assignment. It turns out that video games have a lot to teach us in the area of how people learn.
I took this adventure in a virtual learning lab seriously and soon discovered that there was a much deeper lesson than just how to run around and shoot things in this strange new land. The gamified learning experience is all about understanding the context in which we gather information and interact with any environment.
For the past two years, I have turned the training of my millennial aged AV support staff into a game. Like any video game worth playing, it cannot be too hard or too easy. “Players” must be able to discover useful information and act on their own or in groups to solve problems. Incentives to face game challenges need to be have value. Not just cute tokens, but something that can be used by the player who is trying to win.
In his book, “What Video Games Have to Teach us About Learning and Literacy”, James Paul Gee introduces the learning principle of “projective identity.” In any game, we take on the identity of the player. In “real”life learning, studies have shown the inherent value in assuming a role or character appropriate with the situation. In a chemistry lab for example, the successful student sees themselves as a chemist. This principle of projective identity plays right into the importance of context, one of the core characteristics of the millennial student or worker.
Millennials as a generation view discovery and collaboration to be core values. Polling data shows that up to 60% regularly play video games and credit the problem solving situations in game play with their success at work. Instead of solely telling these young workers what they need to know, I have found a way to give them the context for the information and have them go and discover it.
Here is what I did. I first set the stage by giving my student staff the narrative and context. I described that in their tech support work we would use a gamified approach. The roles they would take on would be that of "Tech Stewards", which I describe are a mix of technology detective and super hero. Our byline, “saving the world, one piece of equipment at a time” is a reminder for the context of helping faculty sort through the growing list of technology tools helping them make the best choices to support their pedagogy.
For the training, I broke all the basic information and skills into modules and attached experiences (assignments with an action item) to each module. To do the work of our department, the staff need specific keys to rooms and storage areas. Without these keys, they have to rely on others and sometimes wait a signifcant amount of time to have something unlocked. I use the keys as the incentive for the successful completion of each module. As they “level up” student staff are given a new key which in turn allows them greater access to the work we do.
In addition to the individual challenges and rewards, I break the team up into small groups with a diverse skill level. These teams then go on “missions” together solving some of the tech issues we face as a team. Together, these teams are small teaching/learning groups solidifying the important job related skills along with encouraging a stronger sense of community.
Each week, the individual and team points are posted to the team website and ranked. It may seem like a simple thing, but the friendly competition creates additional incentive for these millennial workers to excel.
Gamification is more than just fun. The emphasis on the context for the learning along with the focus on the student identifying themselves with a role in the experience helps to create a learning situation where information is owned rather than merely remembered by the student worker.
When millennial workers feel they have an ownership of at least part of the process, they pay attention. Growing up playing some level of video games in a world where they have been surrounded by the explosion of all things digital, makes this generation extremely open to new pathways to learning. For my staff, gamification has resulted in a better trained and collaborative group of workers who do in fact enjoy the process.
The next time you walk by a young person on their phone or playing a game on their computer, keep in mind that a part of what they are doing will change everything. Even though winning is still important, gamification is really still about how you play the game.
So really, this does not have to be complex. Just listen to the millennials that are around you. They will thrive in a learning environment where they can be a part of something. They will do much more than play games, they will even teach you how to re-imagine the challenges we all face. So just take a chance and gamify.