Gamification and Learning

I’ve been a gamer since I can remember. My parents had purchased several gaming consoles, captivating my childhood and teen years.  What was it that made my dad and I spend hours typing code to make a balloon float across the screen?  And what was it that made my mum and I stay up all night to “clock” Space Invaders?  It definitely wasn’t the graphics. Now with hardware advances and 3D computer graphics, what is it that continues to motivate me to spend 200 hours of my time in the world of Final Fantasy as an adult?

I’ve been in the “learning and teaching” space for many years, and I know what it’s like to force myself to complete compliance training and online courses for professional development targets.  But, as soon as I enter my front door, I’m compelled to turn on my console and sit for hours on the sofa, “farming” for coins so I can purchase materials to upgrade my weapon.

Online learning has been using game-design elements for many years, and we know this application as Gamification. Is there more to it than just making it ‘fun’, collecting badges, adding animations, leader boards and different game narratives? What is it about these added elements that make us engaged and more open to learning?

When I game, I’m motivated to keep going back to the end level boss that has defeated me for the umpteenth time for many reasons.  Gaming gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I feel good when I finally defeat the dragon with seven fire breathing heads. The characters I create, the NPC (non-playable characters) I meet along the way and my online friends help me engage in the fantasy world, and achieve certain tasks.  It’s relational.  I can travel to any destination on the map at any time, choose the quests I want to take part in and decide if I’m going to be an elf, orc or a human.  I have control, gaming gives me autonomy.

On reflection, it appears I am compelled to game for more than just the fun of it. Even though, the entertainment value plays a large role in gaming, playing games fulfil human needs in a number of ways. Although these needs can also be fulfilled through work, school, friends, sports, and hobbies. Sociologists are now discovering that video games are one of the most captivating of all of these activities because they fulfil our psychological needs more effectively than almost any other activity.

We intrinsically gravitate towards experiences that make us feel more competent, more autonomous, and more related because these experiences make us feel good.  When our psychological and self-fulfilment needs are met, we may also be more open to learning and working through our compliance training with enthusiasm.

So the next time I begin to design a compliance course I’ll be thinking about how my learner can feel a sense of autonomy, accomplishment and relatedness, and how elements of gamification can complement those basic human needs.


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