Learning can be tedious, especially if the volume of information exceeds a certain amount or is complex and too difficult to grasp just by reading, listening or filling in worksheets. Learning is an activity that needs to be done by the learner. Teachers and teaching tools can only support and assist this voluntary process happening within the learner’s head. New approaches to learning seek new forms and engaging media to tackle this problem. However, the most important aspect when it comes to learning is intrinsic motivation to stay on the topic and display enough grit to work through the material in a comprehensive and profound way.
That’s why eLearning seems to be such an appropriate approach, because it’s easily available and can offer a wide variety of sources and materials. Additionally, if you gamify eLearning by offering levels, intermittent rewards, score keeping and leaderboards, you add to the level of comparability (between approaches) and create additional learner motivation. As mentioned in an previous article, gamification is not for everyone. If you focus too much on competition or don’t make the eLearning tool interesting enough through other means like great UI and presentation you risk being too dull or intimidating.
If we consider their potential for creating motivation, games are the most successful medium of our times. The Games Industry is continually growing worldwide and games enter many different areas of communication and education. All games are learning, it is just a question of what the game makes you do and which context it is set in. Serious Games and Educational Games are on the rise and a growing number of companies aim to bring this potential to their corporate training and professional development programs.
At one end of the spectrum, you have successful games and companies like Microsoft with Minecraft or Ubisoft with their Assassin’s Creed franchise which are being used for learning. At the other end you have games exclusively built for learning or professional development and corporate training that are used by major global companies. These games are highly effective when it comes to motivation and retention of the material. But they are aimed at learning in school or are expensive to develop, so that these all-in-one solutions aren’t generally available for smaller companies.
So, there appears to be the need for a third way to enhance learning, motivation and retention. Combining existing e-Learning solutions with tried and tested game mechanics is a promising approach. The benefits of e-Learning applications have been mentioned before, combine them with engaging aspects of gaming and you get the intended result, a comprehensive application that engages learners to stay on the topic and create opportunities to experiment, reflect and develop a deeper understanding because it’s fun and motivating to do so.
The benefits of using games in learning are manifold. Games tell stories and engage us in interesting plots. They let us try and experiment and making mistakes as part of the learning process. Games…
- are a fun and motivating way to tackle a topic
- are interactive, so you take on an active (rather than passive) role in your learning
- invite you to take risks without ‘real-world’ consequences and so you can try completely different approaches
- create a feeling of agency
- create situated meaning, everything you learn is set in an appropriate context
- invite you to explore, think laterally and rethink your goals
- enable and promote the interaction of cross-functional teams and they
- put performance before competence, so that you are able to create your own learning path and focus on the aspects and actions that matter to you personally
Imagine the following, you are taking part in a program to work on your personal and social skills, to develop your character and reflect your identity (21st Century Skills like communication, cooperation and creativity are based on these personal traits). Why not make this a role playing game in which you actually create a character and go through a story line that matters to you personally together with teammates and create an experience that supports the coherence of the team and helps you reflect on who you are and who you intend to be. You could say, if you play a game like this for learning about yourself, that you start your own Hero’s Journey that offers deep insights into your personality whilst at the same time immersing you in a compelling and relevant story. That is actually what games often do. If you consider the benefits of game-based learning mentioned above, using a game like this for learning and corporate training offers exciting opportunities while at the same time creating a setting that is fun and free of real-life negative consequences.
Games can and will radically change the way we learn. Playing is our natural way of learning and at the same time can be the highest form of research. If we know, how to apply it to learning and training settings we can achieve a quantum leap in motivating learners and effectively conveying the content of what we seek to teach and learn no matter how hard this might initially seem.
About the Author: Thomas Kunze is an educator from Vienna, an academic, an avid gamer and a specialist for games and learning. He founded the Games Institute Austria, considers games the most important medium of the 21st century and his games library consists of several thousand games.