Monday, 30 July 2012

The Fun Theory

The Fun Theory (a Volkswagen Initiative) argues, “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better”.  They held a competition for people who had fun ways of encouraging good behaviour.  For example: a ‘bottle bank arcade’ to encourage recycling, ‘piano stairs’ to encourage exercise, ‘the world’s deepest bin’ to encourage people to properly dispose of litter and ‘The Speed Camera Lottery’ (shown below).

The theory is obviously a bit of fun and good marketing but it did have impressive results.  For example, the Speed Camera Lottery ‘game’ reduced the average speed of cars on that road by 22% and the piano stairs meant that 66% more people than normal took the stairs over the escalator.  This gamification of everyday things seems to ‘nudge’ people’s behaviour in profound and measurable ways.  This begs the question, how far can you nudge people and in what ways?

Companies such as FavorTree, Practically Green and Crowd Rise have already made use of these ideas.  They have adopted gamification to encourage generosity, sustainability and charitable donations.  

However, gamification is not just being used to encourage social good.  Gartner (the world's leading information technology research and advisory company) predicts over 70% of Global 2000 organisations will have at least one gamified application by 2014 (see source).  Gamification (as we have discussed in previous blogs) describes how game mechanics can be applied to non-game environments to motivate people and change their behaviour.  Brian Burke, research vice president at Gartner argues that "successful and sustainable gamification can convert customers into fans, turn work into fun, or make learning a joy. The potential is enormous."  Therefore, gamification seems set to be popular amongst charities, businesses, educators and so on in the future.

The reason that gamification works to steer behaviour is rooted in basic psychology.  Positive reinforcement is a form of conditioning championed by B. F. Skinner.  It is essentially where you reward a behaviour you want to be repeated.  The reward of having fun doing something seems to be enough to make people change their behaviour.  Skinner argued that positive reinforcement is superior to punishment in altering behaviour as it results in lasting behavioural change.  Punishment, on the other hand, only changes behaviour temporarily.

A New York Times article, ‘Making Good Citizenship Fun’ argues that this may be why government schemes to steer behaviour (exhortation and fines) are largely ineffective.  The article also gives many more examples of how fun has been used to steer behaviour.

Therefore, fun and gamification seem to be gaining popularity as people begin to understand their power and as psychological theories catch up with technology.  Fun can be a powerful conditioning device and is being adopted in many sectors.  The Fun Theory: that “fun is the easiest way to change people’s behaviour for the better” seems to have some solid foundations and is becoming more widely accepted and made use of.  Gamification seems set to be a common feature in our lives and one that may make our lives much more fun.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Digital Games in the Classroom

A recent study by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center has produced some interesting findings about games based learning.  The full article can be found here.  I have selected the best snippets (in black) and provided some of my thoughts (in green).

“New York, NY, May 2, 2012 - The first national survey of teachers who are using digital games as part of their students' instruction, released today by the Joan Ganz Cooney Center at Sesame Workshop, found that digital games are becoming a consistent and valuable part of classroom activities. Fifty percent of teachers of grades K-8 reported they are using digital games with their students two or more days a week, with 18 percent using them daily.” 


“Nearly 70 percent of educators reported that lower-performing students engage more with subject content with use of digital games, while three-fifths reported increased attention to specific tasks and improved collaborations among all students. Teachers said games make it easier to teach a range of learners in their classroom. Sixty percent said that using digital games helps personalize instruction and better assess student knowledge and learning.”

We have found similar benefits of games based learning in the classroom, as discussed in Proof of the Pudding parts 1, 2 and 3.  Sir. Ken Robinson argued that collaboration is increasingly important today in the world of work (see blog post) and this is one of the main focuses of games-ED products (as discussed here).


“"With over 90 percent of all school age children now playing digital games on a regular basis, and many underserved students struggling to benefit from traditional approaches, it is common sense to deploy interactive technologies to engage students in more personalized and joyful learning," said Dr. Michael Levine, Executive Director of the Cooney Center. "The survey confirms that in many classrooms teachers are asking students to put down their pencils and play."”

Again, these ideas are similar to those of Sir. Ken Robinson (see blog post); that current education systems are based on the ideas of the Industrial Revolution and are therefore, outdated.  Children are bored in lessons and given labels such as ADHD, which may simply be because they are used to being constantly stimulated by technology and their modern environments.  Education as it currently stands may in fact simply be boring and seems to definitely be stuck in the past.  As Dr. Michael Levine says, “it is common sense” to implement more interactive and engaging technologies, as that is what children are used to now.


“The number one obstacle teachers cited to integrating digital games into the classroom is cost. The second most reported obstacles cited in the survey are lack of access to technology resources and emphasis on standardized test preparation.”

Some of these obstacles are talked about in the ‘Five Things to Think About When Using Games in the Classroom’ blog article.  With games-ED software, only one computer is needed to play the games.  This avoids the cost of buying games consoles and the hassle of booking IT suites etc.  The Games Based Learning Analysis and Planning Tool by Paul Ladley also talks about initial costs, hidden costs and value for money.  The cost obstacle may be an issue for commercial entertainment games if you have to buy multiple licences.  This is often not true of purpose-built games.  For example, games-ED products only require one license which offers great value for money as they can be used across the curriculum, with different age groups and so on.


“A summary of the findings are available for download at”

Author: Sian Ladley