Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Achievements: what games get right and most training doesn't

I have well-defined, differing opinions on the term gamification. On the one hand, I'm a self-proclaimed games for learning advocate, I teach a graduate class on game design, and I make my living designing games. Clearly, I believe games can be an effective strategy for helping people learn and supporting the process to behavior change. On the other hand, the recent hype around gamification has caused an influx of poorly designed rewards systems to be pushed as "learning" when really they have just added an extrinsic reward layer that has been shown long-term to actually discourage the very behavior that the rewards were intended to promote. At its worst, gamification is simply a bad marketing gimmick.

As with all learning strategies, design is the key. There is well-designed classroom training, and there is bad. There is really effective e-learning, but there is also a lot of crap. And...there are good, engaging, effective and (gasp!) fun games...and lots that aren't. At its essence, the difference comes down to design.

Achievements are one of the mechanisms used in games to help players gauge their progress. Sometimes they are called badges, sometimes they are in the form of rewards in the game (access to special content, etc.). Achievements are used in games as "mini-rewards" to let players know that they are making progress towards the end goal. Maybe its simply a level up...but achievements let the players know they are making progress towards their goal, often in this context its winning the game.

Why aren't achievements used more in training? How do learners know how close they are to achieving competence in applying their knowledge toward a goal? Why don't we view the stepping stones of a learning path as a series of small wins instead of series of completions?
demotivational posters - ACHIEVEMENTS
see more Very Demotivational

Perhaps its because most training isn't provided in the context of behavioral objectives, or even business objectives. Perhaps its because training, courses and modules, and its completion, are actually viewed as the end goal. We focus very much on the battles, without communicating what constitutes winning the war.

Think about what we are rewarding when we track completion. The goal of training is to collect completion achievements. Sure, maybe you need to get 80-90% of the questions right, but then that is just some detail added to the completion goal. Our goals should not be to have people prove they sat in a class or finished an e-learning module. Our goals, the "boss level" of this game, should be performance goals, and our training opportunities simply steps along the path to support behavior change and performance improvement. If we aren't making the connections for our learners between the training they are asked to complete and how that training maps to steps of achievement as they are working towards their performance goals, how do they know what they are working towards, or how close they are to achieving it?

Have you identified performance goals for your organization's training curriculum? If not, what game are you asking your learners to play?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

We Are...Pointing Fingers

I still need to blog about DevLearn 2011, and I will, but an adorable little stomach virus is ravaging my household...and a reprehensible set of circumstances is ravaging my graduate school alma mater, Penn State University.

Bad people make decisions that hurt other people intentionally. Good people make decisions that hurt other people unintentionally.

Jerry Sandusky is a pedophile that molested boys that were already victims, abused his position of authority, and created an environment that allowed him to continue that pattern for years. He's clearly a bad guy.

Joe Paterno is a football coach to whom a really disturbing incident was reported, who in turn reported that incident, which resulted in inaction and subsequent offenses. He could have done more. But I'm not convinced that makes him a bad guy.

I've made decisions in my life that have hurt people unintentionally. I've always tried to do the best, be the best, with the information I have. Sometimes the information I have is incomplete, or flat out wrong...that has led me to make, in retrospect, some really bad choices. Some of those choices hurt people. I live with that every day.

When I was young, I knew something was wrong with my great-grandfather. If you would have asked me, I wouldn't have been able to name it. I just knew I was uncomfortable being around him and I never let myself be alone with him. I wouldn't sit on his lap; I wouldn't let him kiss me. I just knew something was wrong.

Then one day, the stories started to emerge about what my great-grandfather had been doing. In the end, I was the only one of the great-grandchildren who had escaped unscathed. When my parents and the other adults in my life started asking questions, I admitted that I knew something was wrong. Then the inevitable questions: "why didn't you say something? Why didn't you do something? If you would have said something, other peoples' pain could have been prevented." I know all of this is true. At the time, I didn't have the words to explain my feelings, I didn't have evidence to point to. I didn't want to cause a big drama focused on the patriarch of my family. And it WAS a big drama...many family members shunned him, one called the police, but many defended him...he was just a lonely old man, after all. A lonely old child molester, in fact.

Since then, I've had situations arise where I have stepped up. A friend in junior high who sent me a suicide note, which I turned in to my guidance counselors...another friend in high school who I reported to child protective services after I had to help her bandage the weeping open sores across her back from where her father had whipped her...when I became a teacher, a student in my class who showed up with one bruise one too many. Each of these incidences resulted in some tremendous backlash--I lost friendships, I was accused of lying, I took the heat for bad situations that people desperately wanted to ignore and deny. I like to think that I made the right decisions anyway.

There have been other situations in my life where I suspected something was wrong, but I didn't step up to stop it. I would tell myself its not my business; I'd think about the impact or fallout on me, or what it would say about me if my assumptions were wrong. I like to think of myself as a trusting person who sees the good in people, someone who is forgiving and gives second chances. It wasn't that I didn't want to make things right, it was just really unclear what the cost-benefit of shining the light on a situation would be. What if I was wrong? Would more people be hurt by my speaking out? What would the exposure mean to everyone involved? What if speaking my truth actually caused more harm than good? At some point you have to make a decision on what you believe, who you trust, and then prepare to live with the consequences of being wrong.

Joe Paterno will live with his decisions. It is so easy to Monday morning quarterback, to say what he should have done. There must have been a million thoughts that passed through his mind: are these accusations possible? If they are, who is responsible for addressing them? If they aren't, what are the repercussions of making false accusations? Who do I believe? Who do I trust? What do I do when I answer those questions for myself?

Maybe we don't recognize the monsters among us. Maybe we try too hard to see the good and ignore the bad. Maybe its just too hard to think "he's a pedophile." Maybe our inherent trust sometimes backfires spectacularly and then we're left to reflect on what we could have done differently to prevent the devastation.

Maybe we should cut the good guys a break for doing the best they can with the tools they have available, even when their best is an epic failure.

There is a difference between the man who chooses to betray trust intentionally, repeatedly, and only thinking of himself, and the people around him who, often unintentionally or with best intentions, allow that betrayal and abuse to continue. All have fault. All have responsibility. All have to live with the consequences of their actions, or inaction. But there are levels of responsibility, and there are intentions that drive decisions, that differentiate the good guys from the bad guys. Good guys screw up trying to do what they think is right. Bad guys don't care what is right.

The good news is there are a lot more good guys than bad guys. Let's try to keep that in mind.

**Additional thought (after original publication of this post): what Buzz said.