The latest ‘flavor of the month’ is so-called gamification. Without claiming to be an expert in this area (tho’ with a bit of experience in game design), I have to say that I’ve some thoughts both positive and negative on this.
So what is ‘gamification’? As far as I can tell, it’s the (and I’m greatly resisting the temptation to put the word ‘gratuitous’ in here :) addition of game mechanics to user experiences to increase their participation, loyalty, and more. Now, there are levels of game mechanics, and I can see tapping into some deeper elements, but what I see are relatively simple things like adding scoring, achievements (e.g. badges), etc. A colleague of mine who released a major learning game admitted that they added score at the end to compensate for the lack of ability to tune further and needing to release to appease investors. I get it; there are times that adding in gamification increases bottom lines in meaningful ways. But I want to suggest that we strive a little bit higher.
In Engaging Learning, I talked about the elements that synergistically lead to both better effectiveness of education practice, and more engaging experiences. These weren’t extrinsic like ‘frame games’ (tarted-up drill-and-kill), but instead focused on aligning with learner interests, intrinsic elements of the task, and more. This means finding out what drives experts to find this intriguing, a role that learners can play that’s compelling, meaningful decisions to make, appropriate level of challenges, and more. That’s what I’m shooting for.
The benefits of intrinsic motivation instead of extrinsic have been studied since the late 70’s in work by Tom Malone and Mark Lepper. In short, you get better outcomes when people are meaningfully engaged rather than trivially engaged. Dan Pink’s book Drive lays out a wealth of related research that suggests we need to avoid rewards for rote performance and instead should be focusing on helping folks do real tasks. I can’t remember where I first heard the term ‘engagification’, but that’s just what I’m thinking of.
To me, it’s the right way take gamification, focus on intrinsic motivation. If we’re gamifying, we’re covering up for some other deficiency, I reckon. Yes, there may be times that intrinsic motivation is hard to find (e.g. to get fit), but that probably means we haven’t tried hard enough yet. I recall recently hearing about gamifying kids math problems; yes, but rote problems are the wrong thing to drill. Can’t we find the intrinsic interest in math, solving real problems (like the ones they’ll see in the real world, not on tests)? I reckon we could, and should. It would take more effort initially, but the payoff ought to be better.
Perhaps gamify if you have to, but only after you’ve first tried to engagify. Please.