Monday, 26 November 2012

Gamification of the Workplace

Last week I talked about the gamification of classrooms.  However, gamification of work has been the focus of some attention recently.  The Economist published an article earlier this month titled: ‘More than just a game: Video games are behind the latest fad in management’ (click here for an online version).

The article talks of the general gaming trends and how people will spend a lot of time, money and real effort playing games.  At work, people are essentially bribed to do repetitive tasks, but have no trouble spending hours building up their characters in online role playing games, meticulously caring for their plants on virtual farms, chasing high scores and pursuing the tops of leader boards.  Management gurus have harnessed this power and installed some of gaming’s basic elements such as badges, levels and leader boards into workplaces.

However, the article argues several things.  Firstly, elements such as rewards (money), leader boards and employee of the month competitions have been around for a long time.  They refer to arguments that say gamification is simply a cunning way of exploiting human psychology to make a profit (akin to gambling).  Another argument against gamification is that people may soon become bored of the trivial, faddish interpretation of gamification and even see it as patronising.  Others argue that employees may become cynical of methods of boosting productivity that cost their organisation nothing and that enjoying work in itself, without the need for a reward is the best motivation.    

These arguments are completely valid.  However, they are valid for the simple, shallow form of gamification that the article is addressing.  In my previous post, I talked about how gamification can be understood in two broad ways: harnessing more games based learning and gamifying the classroom (or in this case, workplace) in a more general sense.  The general sense I am referring to is using gaming principles such as badges and levels to monitor and encourage good behaviour and attainment (productivity).

I do think that badges and competitions have their place.  They can be powerfully motivating.  However, I also see that their success could be short lived and seen as patronising, manipulative and not universally engaging.  Further than this, I think the main problem is the changes produced are short term and shallow.  By this, I mean that they may encourage competition and productivity.  But to work long term, the employees’ interest would have to be sustained.  There are some people who are just not competitive and others who would wonder why they should work harder for a badge and not a bonus or a promotion.

Gamification needs to be richer than this.  There is a lot more to World of Warcraft than simply gaining achievements.  Granted, you cannot turn work fully into a game, however, let’s just revisit the definition of gamification.  It involves taking game principles and using them in non-games.  In the workplace, this could involve making more use of games based learning.  For example, training is a great way of bringing games into the workplace.  Tailor made training games can involve complex challenges that lead to meaningful rewards: deep, long lasting learning.  These can have a real impact on the organisation and do not simply involve training vocational skills.  They can also be used to reduce silo thinking and increase collaboration, enhancing creativity, innovation and reducing wastage (and, in turn, money).  Some games can also train employees to be more environmentally friendly, which is good for both the CSR department and the Finance department.  For more information, see our previous blog articles: ‘Adult Games Based Learning and sim-uni’ and ‘Proof of the Pudding Part Three’.

Making every day working life resemble a game is also the way many offices seem to be going.  Google have slides, giant bouncy balls, scooters, foam baths, lava lamps and dogs in their offices.  They believe that this environment is perfect for generating creativity and innovation.  Some workplaces have aerobics sessions in the morning to wake people up and small logic puzzles to get the brain going.  These are already great way of getting short games and fun into the working day.  How about having Wii Sport, Just Dance or Wii Zumba breaks?  What about doing a level / mission of a game to get your brain going?  How about a game of sudoku, a crossword puzzle or an exercise on Nintendo’s Brain Training?  These could be done in groups or at a whole office level, which would integrate team building into everyday life, in a fun way.

Gamification is young; therefore it seems churlish to right it off as a fad.  I have seen many figures that suggest gamification is on the rise and will be one of the most important trends in the business world in terms of employee (and customer) engagement.  I feel that, to work, gamification needs to be given a little more credit and needs to be more rich than it is currently understood to be.  Have a look at this TemboSocial infographic for some of the statistics.  Gamification could be a powerful tool and I feel that it could be big, if properly utilised.
Follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning links.

Monday, 19 November 2012

How to Bring Gamification to the Classroom: Best Practices

Recently, I was privileged enough to be asked to guest post at  I wrote them a post about gamifying the classroom.  This phrase can be understood in several ways.  First, games based learning is a hot topic right now and teachers are wanting to bring games into their classrooms.  Secondly, teachers want to gamify the classroom in itself, in terms of monitoring progress and behaviour and so on.  I offer lots of ways that teachers might go about easily bringing gamification into the classroom; the best practices.  Click this link to read the whole post.

Please follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other games based learning insight.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Adult Games Based Learning and sim-uni

I thought I’d talk about something a little different this week.  In general, our blog posts talk about how games based learning can be used in schools to teach children a whole host of things.  However, obviously games based learning is not limited to children.  The benefits of games based learning that we have discussed in the past (motivation, meeting the needs of different types of learners, collaboration and so on) are just as true and relevant for adult learners.

According to the Entertainment Software Association: 

  • The average gamer is 37 years old and has been playing for 12 years.
  • Eighty-two percent of gamers are 18 years or older.
  • Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).
  • Twenty-nine percent of game players are over the age of 50, an increase from 9 percent in 1999.

As adults seemingly have so much experience of games and play them so frequently in their recreation time, why can they not be trained using games?  Games based learning is for everyone, not just the youngest portion of society.  People like learning through games because it is fun; you don’t stop wanting things to be fun when you reach a certain age!  Pike’s Five Laws of Adult Learning say that learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun you have.  This is partly because the more fun you’re having, the more relaxed you are and the more open you are to the learning process.  For more information, visit this website.

This blog is brought to you (as you can see on the right) by games-ED.  games-ED produces games based learning (learning simulations) specifically for the education market (from people of primary school age up to university age).  However, the parent company, pixelfountain, designs, develops and delivers learning simulations (games based learning) to adult learners.  Therefore, we have a pretty strong background in this arena.

The following table measures our pixelfountain learning simulations against Pike’s Five Laws of Adult Learning.  This also can be applied to learning simulations (and games based learning) more generally.

Pike’s Law
Learning Simulations
Law 1: Adults are babies with big bodies
Learning simulations are games that allow delegates to learn quickly, on a relevant exercise, without the pressure of the day job.
Law 2: People do not argue with their own data
Learning simulations based workshops allow delegates to construct their understanding.  The workshop is not about telling people what to do; instead it is showing them what they could do.
Law 3: Learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun you are having
Learning simulations (serious games) are fun.  We pride ourselves on the fact that people leave our workshops with a smile.  But, the real proof of the pudding is that we have  had individuals do the same simulation a number of times!
Law 4: Learning has not taken place until behaviour has changed
Learning simulations accelerate understanding and shift thinking.  Long-term evaluation of our programmes shows that learning outcomes have been sustained and changes incorporated.  Follow on work, in the organisation, enables the delegates to take the learning forward.

One journal article that I have come across gives a good summary of some of the themes that occur across the research on games based learning (Foster and Mishra, 2009).  The reported effects of games are split into several sections:

  • Physiological – such as coordination and motor skills but also aggressiveness and obesity
  • Practical skills – innovation / creativity, data handling and technical literacy etc
  • Cognitive skills – systemic thinking, critical thinking and memorising etc
  • Social skills – collaboration, interpersonal skills and informed citizenry etc
  • Motivation – confidence, immediate feedback and exploration etc

The reported positive effects of games definitely outweigh the negatives. There are many positive examples of how games can be used in training and development programmes to teach and develop specific skills and expertise. For example, IBMs Innov8 is a serious game that explains business process management to non-technical people.   However, training games also have wider benefits, which is one of the reasons they work so well.

For these reasons, we continue to be active in this market.  pixelfountain’s latest learning simulation, sim-uni, has just recently been piloted with our partners, The University of Manchester’s Staff Training and Development Unit, at their institution.  The learning simulation is used to train staff across the university, to reduce silo thinking and understand that collaborating across functions can benefit the university much more than working alone.  The pilot was a great success and a short case study of the day can be found here:

This is what Paul Dixon, head of the University’s Staff Training and Development Unit had to say: “The University of Manchester were attracted to working with pixelfountain on their particular style of business simulation as it doesn’t become an exercise in mastering the technology or reducing the learning experience to all huddling around a PC. Instead sim-uni facilitates a rich experiential learning experience and can be used flexibly to achieve a variety of learning outcomes as dictated by the user – be it planning and strategy appreciation, team work and communications or decision making. Our early experience of sim-uni suggests it can be used effectively as a learning vehicle in its own right or as an adjunct to leadership and management development programmes.”

For more information about sim-uni visit our website or download our flier.  You can also follow us on Twitter: @sim_uni.  If you want to learn more about pixelfountain and our portfolio of products, visit:

And as ever, please follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning things.

Monday, 5 November 2012

21st Century Skills and Games Based Learning

This TED talk from Dr. Richard Van Eck brings up some very interesting points.  I would greatly recommend watching the video, but as it is 20 minutes long and not everyone will have the time, I will summarise the main points here for you.  If you have watched the video, please feel free to ignore the summary, just skip to the black text later on.

  • Why raise test scores when they don’t measure what we need them to in the 21st century?
  • If we really cared about learning, we would individualise it to each student – not ready to do this.
  • There are two main modes of change / reform:
  1. Changing because if we don’t adapt, we can’t survive.
  2. Disruptive technologies – new technology that solves problems that we face but in a way that forces us to change our behaviour.
  • The Industrial Revolution changed the education system to produce workers.  Children were all taught the same things, in the same place, at the same time.  We now live in an ‘information age’ where ideas are the new commodities.  
  • Situated cognition - if you are going to teach someone something, you should teach them in the environment that they will use the knowledge – learn by doing.  This promotes faster learning, better retention of knowledge and the transference of knowledge to the real world.  Games allow this.
  • Games promote systems thinking – currently education teaches discrete facts, not connections and systems.
  • Games promote collaboration – social negotiation of skills, collective intelligence, collective problem-solving all prevalent in games.
  • Games promote problem-solving.  The problems presented require new knowledge to be generated to solve it.  There is a value for the learner in solving the problem.  Schools sometimes get the first aspect but usually try and persuade children to “just do it, trust me it will be important later.”
  • Games produce engagement (engagement is not about fun or motivation but cognitive effort).  The challenge should be optimal – too hard and they’ll quit, too easy and they won’t want to play.  Zone of proximal development: some things so easy we don’t need help to do them, some things too difficult no matter how much help, some things where the challenge is ‘just right’.  This is where all the best learning occurs as it keeps people operating at the maximum of their ability.  This is what games do – can choose difficulty at start and can’t move on until mastered initial skills.  
  • But, games are disruptive technologies and this has practical consequences.  Games will require fundamental shifts in the education system.
  • Current tests don’t measure 21st century skills and tests might not be able to ever measure these skills.
  • Collaboration vs. cheating – how will we adapt to these new ideas?
  • Individualised instruction – currently we fit education to the lowest common denominator, which means that some children are not optimally challenged.  If we individualised learning, some children would take 2 months to complete the curriculum and some, 2 years.  Practical and financial consequences.
  • If we bring in games, we will have to adopt everything that comes with them.  Disruptive technologies by definition, destroy things; revolutions are messy.  
  • Games may not save the education system, they may destroy it and this might be exactly what is needed.

Dr. Richard Van Eck makes some great points, I completely agree that our current education system is somewhat ignoring these 21st century skills.  I also agree that the education system needs a revolution.  However, I thank that games can be integrated into our current education system very easily and this could produce change for the better now.  People, on the whole, are scared of change and the idea of a revolution, whilst headline grabbing, might not be feasible.  I am not sure if he meant it to come across in this way, but it seems that Dr. Van Eck is arguing that there is an either / or choice to be made: either we stay the same or we have a revolution.  I think there could be some middle ground.

What exactly are 21st century skills?  This is another good article, which lists the essential competencies for a student in the Information Age:

  • Ways of thinking - Creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving, decision-making and learning.
  • Ways of working - Communication and collaboration.
  • Tools for working - Information and communications technology (ICT) and information literacy.
  • Skills for living in the world - Citizenship, life and career, and personal and social responsibility.

In a dynamic and competitive knowledge economy, innovation, creativity and problem solving are everything.  We exist in a world dominated by the likes of Apple and Google.  For these firms to survive, they must innovate.  They require a workforce of creative critical thinkers.  Furthermore, to survive in this economy and obtain employment, these are the skills that students need to be learning too.  Games are a great way of encouraging the development of these skills.  Succeeding in playing a game often requires problem solving, critical thinking and most definitely decision making.  These skills can be practiced in a safe environment.  For example, puzzle games such as Portal require explicit problem solving involving physics.  However, all games involve some form of thinking skills such as these.  How do I fulfil my Sim’s life ambition?  How can I make my theme park more popular?  How can I make my town more sustainable (an example of our learning simulation, Sustainaville)?

Communication and collaboration are also extremely important.  On a purely practical level, flatter organisational hierarchies require good communication skills.  This is common in a knowledge economy.  Further than this, the most successful companies have realised that their workforce are their best resources.  They have also found that collaboration can encourage innovation and so on.  For example, Google have special areas of their offices specifically designed to stimulate ‘spontaneous’ communication and collaboration with people that they wouldn’t usually come into contact with.  They also have small collaboration zones such as yurts and huddle rooms.

Image from Marcin Wichary on Flickr.

Games can encourage collaboration in different ways.  First, multiplayer games can obviously provoke communication and collaboration.  For example, players in games such as World of Warcraft, Halo, Portal and so on need to work together to succeed in their mission / level.  In our games-ED learning simulations, players make up sub-teams that need to work together to achieve the overall outcomes of the whole group.  The sub-teams are in control of one sector / building e.g. local council, health sector, private sector which must work together to improve the virtual community that they have been put in charge of.  

Single player games can also encourage communication such as “Guess what I did on Fifa last night?” or “Have you been on this quest in Skyrim?”  However, they can also encourage collaboration such as “How did you do that pass / goal celebration?” or “How did you defeat that boss / find that item?”  While talking about communication and collaboration, I’d just like to bring your attention to this Swedish classroomless school.  This innovative new school in Sweden has no classrooms, focuses on 21st century skills and children are split into grades based on their level rather than age.  One of their main priorities is the promotion of collaboration along with all the other 21st Century skills mentioned.  Is this the school of the future?  For more information on communication and collaboration see ‘The Art of Conversation’.

It goes without saying that IT skills should be encouraged through the use of IT based games.  However, what about the final bullet point above: skills for living in the world?  These benefits might not come about from all games.  However, they will in many.  For example, semi-realistic life and career skills are simulated in The Sims.  You must manage your sim’s life, made up of physical needs, social life, love life, career, family life and so on.  Other games such as Second Life and World of Warcraft have pretty strict rules about social etiquette and citizenship.

Our games-ED learning simulations are designed to educate learners about some of these areas.  For example, The Climate Game teaches students about climate change and environmental responsibility and Young People First teaches students about young people’s issues such as teen pregnancy, worklessness and anti-social behaviour.  For more information on how game-ED aims to encourage these 21st Century (or Personal Learning & Thinking) skills click here.

To conclude, these skills are needed in the 21st Century.  Needed by job seekers, employers, organisations and our future leaders.  In my experience, these are the skills that people are after (employers often just require you to have a degree, not a degree in a specific area) more than the knowledge of facts and figures.  Some specific knowledge is needed sometimes, such as medicine and law.  However, in many fields, knowledge needs to be gained on the job anyway.  Why then, is so much emphasis placed on this type of knowledge in education when it will be forgotten?  Why not put more emphasis on 21st Century skills?

Further Viewing
If you have the time, you might want to watch this video from Dr. Tony Wagner about what he calls, the ‘global achievement gap’ (the gap between what is being taught and what is needed to be taught in the 21st century).

Please follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning findings.