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?


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