Monday, 29 April 2013

Gamification in Education

I wanted to share this infographic with you this week, which gives a good overview of what gamification is all about.  You may have read my article in March: ‘Gamifying the Classroom: 10 Inspiring Articles’.  Well since then I have come across many more interesting pieces of reading about gamification and games based learning in education.  As gamification is such a hot topic (in colleges and universities as well as for young children), I have formed a list of ten articles, below the infographic.

Image from An Ethical Island Blog

  1. Gamification, Super Mario and STEM: Notes from the Games + Learning + Society Conference - does pretty much what it says on the tin.  The author offers insights and reports on the events of the conference.  
  2. Research shows play-based outdoor learning improves ‘school readiness’ – because not all games based learning has to revolve around a computer. 
  3. A College Professor’s Perspective of Gaming in the Classroom – including how games can allow for self-paced learning, collaboration and greater motivation 
  4. Gamification isn’t about “Slapping Badges on Everything” – while not entirely education-specific, this article offers good counter arguments to people who do think gamification is all about badges.
  5. Video Games Hit Higher Level of U.S. Education – the merits of video games at varying levels of education, including an engineering professor who teaches using video games that expose students to computational math.
  6. Apps for Computer Science – a good list of Apps (lots of which are free) for use in the ICT / Computer Science curriculum.
  7. A Paradigm Shift in Education – a good overview of gamification in education and why it is so important.  Also includes some very interesting ideas about gamification for teachers.
  8. Emotions, Feelings and Colours!  Educational Games for Kids in Preschool and Kindergarten – a review of an educational app designed to teach children about emotions. 
  9. KidDIY: 2013 National STEM Video Game Challenge Aims to Shape Future of Innovation – discusses a course for children that teaches things from game design to business sense through a project-based learning style weekend of workshops.
  10. Games Grow Up: Colleges Recognise the Power of Gamification – several case studies of how games based learning and gamification are being used with college students. 

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Monday, 15 April 2013

Mistakes and (Games Based) Learning

“In school we learn that mistakes are bad, and we are punished for making them. Yet, if you look at the way humans are designed to learn, we learn by making mistakes. We learn to walk by falling down. If we never fell down, we would never walk.” 
― Robert T. Kiyosaki, Rich Dad, Poor Dad

Learning from mistakes is an evolutionary advantage.  If we did not learn that putting our hand in fire was painful, we would burn ourselves often.  If we did not learn from poorly designed tools, we would never make improvements and reap their rewards.  Learning from mistakes is what has made humans so powerful.  We make large and small mistakes for ourselves, learn from them and pass on this knowledge.  Mistakes are a powerful learning tool.

“Mistakes are the growing pains of wisdom.” 
― William Jordan

However, not all mistakes can be learned from.  Some are just too big to recover from.  Some can also harbour too much negative emotion to be useful; people usually don’t like to make mistakes publicly.  So, can games provide a safe, secure place to learn from ones’ mistakes? The following bullets consider this question:

  1. Immediate feedback and the opportunity to change and adapt – immediate feedback allows the player to quickly learn from their mistake and adapt their strategy, change their decision etc.  For example, in a first person shooter, you may decide that the best way to go about killing all the aliens in the given area is to go in all guns blazing.  If this doesn’t work, you have the chance to try again and adapt your strategy, maybe preferring to take cover more, or to stay at a distance and use long-range weapons etc.
  2. It’s just a game – this may be a blasé thing to say when some people spend a large proportion of their time and real money on MMORPGs (Massively Multiplayer Online Role-playing Games).  However, for the vast majority of people, a game is just a game and it isn’t the end of the world.  If your city burns down in SimCity because you forget to build fire stations, you can rebuild it.  No real city is harmed, the damage is relatively easy and quick to fix and you will probably not make the same mistake again.
  3. Simulated scenarios – adding to the last point, games area safe place to make mistakes and learn from them.  These may be accidental.  However, simulations can be used to train people who could not practice their job in the real world e.g. pilots, soldiers, surgeons, town council officers.  Mistakes for a trainee pilot or surgeon could be a disaster, therefore, mistakes in training simulations offer a rich learning experience with no negative real-life implications.
  4. Social factors – many people play games alone.  This means they are able to make mistakes with no scorn or criticism.  However, if they are playing with friends, mistakes are part of the process and the fun, so they are more acceptable.  For example, whole sub-games have developed around the Fifa franchise if players suffer a particularly embarrassing defeat:
  5. Games have different difficulty levels – games, unlike the real world, can be easily tailored to the players’ abilities.  They also often change and adapt as the player becomes more skilful.  This is important as if something is too hard (and people make too many mistakes), the individual may give up.  Too easy, and too few mistakes and the task is boring.  Games enable the player to stay motivated and engaged while making a good amount of mistakes to learn optimally.
  6. Rewards – mistakes are part of the process of most games.  However, to make this bearable and to keep focus and encourage learning, rewards are offered.  These can cement the learning process and encourage players to continue developing and playing.

“Smart people learn from their mistakes. But the real sharp ones learn from the mistakes of others.” 
― Brandon Mull, Fablehaven

Learning from other people’s mistakes is also extremely valuable.  If people didn’t learn from the mistakes of others, we would not know which berries, insects and mushrooms were poisonous, how to not hunt prey and so on.  Therefore, collaborative games based learning can be extremely powerful.  Playing a game together can encourage learning in many ways.  For example, one team could learn from another team’s mistake in a team game and get the upper hand.  Forums are also a popular way that gamers learn from the mistakes and successes of others.  New social media sharing platforms within games are also becoming more popular.  For example, the new SimCity game is ‘Always Online’, allowing other players to see your work and Play Station 4 will allow players to let other gamers watch their game play in real time.

“I never made a mistake in my life; at least, never one that I couldn't explain away afterwards.” 
― Rudyard Kipling, Under The Deodars

So, whether they are your own or someone else’s, mistakes are an evolutionary advantage if they can be learned from.  Therefore, a more appropriate term for a mistake with a beneficial learning outcome might be a ‘happy accident’.  Games are a safe way to cause these happy accidents and going back to my first quote, maybe children should have this point reinforced.  After all, some of the most successful people have made the most mistakes, but they become successful because they try more things and learn from their mistakes (see this great article from ‘50 Famously Successful People Who Failed at First’).  Games are a great way for children and adults to learn for many reasons outlined all over this blog, but one of the most important ways is that they safely allow learning from mistakes.

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.” 
― Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Thursday, 4 April 2013

Part 2 - The 70/20/10 Learning Model: Lessons for Education

This blog post is the second part of a series.  To see the first part, ‘The 70/20/10 Learning Model and Games Based Learning’, click here.

Image courtesy of blogefl (Graham
Stanley) on Flickr
Given the 70/20/10 Learning Model that I discussed in part one is true of adults, might it also be true of children?  Could this model be used to inform the education system?  By definition, schooling is formal learning and you cannot really decide the destiny of a child from a young age and treat them as an apprentice.  However, elements of the model could perhaps be useful.

Currently, the education system may be more like 10/20/70.  Schools, colleges and universities provide formal learning; however, there may be ways to make this seem less formal and be more appealing.  On the job learning is difficult to achieve for children, however, on the job could be understood more as learning by doing, as this is what happens at work.  You are not formally taught skills, but must adapt and learn them on the job.  For a child, you might not formally be taught information or skills, but might have to discover them for yourself (Project Based Learning for example).  Learning from others (the 20%) could also be more important in education and could be facilitated by Flipped Learning or collaborative learning simulations for example.

Project Based Learning (PBL) is where learning is structured around a project and the children must learn what they need to complete the project.  ‘The Future of Learning, Networked Society’ video in this blog post suggests that in the 21st century, what is important is not telling children to memorise facts and answers to questions we already know the answers to, but to tell them the project and let them figure it out for themselves.  The children are allowed to learn by doing and to collaborate which can be very motivating, however, it is obviously not possible for teaching the basics.  For more information about PBL, see our article '10 Benefits of Project Based Learning’ and our ‘Learning’ Pinterest board.

Another form of ‘on the job’ learning for children could be through learning simulations.  Learning simulations are computer based serious games, which simulate a real situation or event.  They can be highly successful, safe, inexpensive learning tools and can teach a broad array of topics (for some examples, visit  The important words here are safe and simulation.  Children (and adults, see Part 1) are allowed to experience an event or situation that might be unsafe, impractical or impossible in reality.  Simulations are also more simplified versions of real-life and therefore, can act as better learning tools.  While learning simulations are formal training, they don’t seem like they are (and aren’t as ‘formal’ as most classes) and offer some of the advantages of on the job learning i.e. learning by doing.  Some simulations also help breach the 20% and encourage collaborative learning.

I am sure many of you will have heard of The Kahn Academy.  The Academy basically outsources most of what you would expect from lessons (lecturing, questions and so on) to videos which students can watch online.  This frees up lesson time for more focused and personalised help and instruction from teachers as well as demonstrations, projects, experiments and so on.  This is a form of Flipped Learning.  Please watch the video from Salman Khan on our previous blog post for a better explanation.  While the videos and class time are used for formal learning, there is more scope for hands-on, experiential and collaborative learning than traditional methods.

I think that what is important is the blend.  This is exactly Lombardo and Eichinger’s argument.  They believe that learning occurs best when there is a blend of different approaches.  Learning from experience, from others and from formal training can be extremely powerful.  I just think that education could do more to tap into the 70% and 20%.  This is especially true if they are going to be expected to learn in a completely different way as adults.

Another important aspect of the model which is worth mentioning is that learning occurs due to the realisation of a need to learn and the motivation to do something about it.  A problem with schools (which was mentioned in some of the videos in a previous blog post, ‘The Future of Learning’) is that they tell the children to learn because it will be important in the future and to trust that the teacher knows best.  The child is never fully informed of why they need to learn (and often they are learning things they will never need), so they can lack motivation.

Children are quick to ask, “when will I need / use this?” and they are often spot on.  Not many people will need to remember names and dates of historical figures and battles or be able to recite a poem or know the periodical table off by heart.  21st Century Skills such as problem-solving, collaboration and creativity are increasingly important as well as numeracy skills, literacy skills and so on.  As Mark Prensky argued, "too many teachers see education as preparing kids for the past, not the future".

Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger.

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Part 1 - The 70/20/10 Learning Model and Games Based Learning

The 70/20/10 Learning Model is based on research published by M. Lombardo and R. Eichinger in 1996.  It is a popular Learning and Development Model about how successful managers learn.  It essentially says that 70% of learning takes place on the job, informally, through experience.  20% is learnt from others through feedback, coaching, mentoring and so on and 10% is from formal learning, from courses, training and reading.

Image courtesy of blogefl (Graham
Stanley) on Flickr
Jobs in the 21st century are changing.  Employers want employees who are quick learners and who are adaptable, as the world is increasingly fast-paced and dynamic.  However, as Harold Jarche noted, work is becoming learning and learning is becoming part of work and employers appreciate this.  Many employers recognise that in a knowledge economy, their employees are their greatest resources, so learning and development is in their best interest.  Corporates are also more likely to have loyal, hardworking staff if they treat them well and allow them to grow and develop as much as possible.  But how does learning take place?

According to the theory, employees learn most on the job rather than in formal courses.  This makes sense.  In most cases, you are more likely to be able to learn about the job from being in the workplace, learning from colleagues and trying things for yourself than in a degree or other formal training.  Many degrees are centred around theories, readings and research more than practical, job-related skills (with the exception of a few, such as medicine etc.).  You are also not that likely to get a book or course that is specifically matched to your job role, as most roles and companies are different.

This begs the question that if 70% of learning at work is through experience and only 10% occurs through formal training, why (in the UK at least) are we sending so many students through university?  Why are we not instead looking more at apprenticeship schemes and the like?  But, I’m getting ahead of myself, that’s more of a point for Part 2 – The 70/20/10 Learning Model: Lessons for Education.

How else do managers learn?  The model states that 20% of learning takes place from others through coaching, mentoring, feedback, working cooperatively and so on.  The final 10% is formal training.  But what does this have to do with games based learning?

Games can be played informally for fun; however, this doesn’t mean they are void of value.  Many games develop skills that can be valuable in the workplace.  These are often softer skills, such as problem solving, cooperation, time management and multi-tasking (see our post, ‘21st Century Skills and Games Based Learning').  Other skills can be developed too though, which could be useful for jobs, such as hand eye coordination for surgeons (see the link at the bottom of our article, ‘Games are Good for You!’).

However, games can also be used as formal training.  pixelfountain (who bring you this blog) design, develop and deliver learning simulations for adult learners in the workplace.  We specialise in developing learning simulations to be used in collaborative workshops.  Our simulations typically simulate a community, university, company and so on and the group is split into teams that must collaborate and cooperate to improve the community etc and reach their goals.  While these simulations are used formally, at away days, on courses, for strategy development and so on, they also tap into the 20% and 70%.

Firstly, they are simulations, so they go some way at simulating a situation or event that is similar to the delegates’ work.  This allows them to experience these situations in a safe environment.  This is important as you can allow learning to take place in ways that you could not in real life.  For example, if the group is in charge of a town in the game and you want them to learn about what to do in the event of a flood, riot, budget cut etc., it is much easier and more ethical to do this in a game than in real life.  The armed forces, pilots and so on are trained using simulations for this very reason.  While this is still formal training, it is simulating a work environment and the delegates are learning through experience.

Our learning simulations are also designed to be used collaboratively in a workshop setting.  The facilitator is the only person who uses the computer and the delegates see the simulation on a large screen or whiteboard.  They must work within and between their groups, with the help of worksheets, to reach their goals.  The collaborative nature of our workshops mean that people can share wisdom, learn from each other, network, give each other feedback, negotiate and so on.  This is an incredibly powerful way of learning and is why our innovative take on training, learning simulations and workshops is so popular.

Working with new colleagues in an authentic yet relaxed manner is often cited by delegates at pixelfountain workshops as a key benefit of the approach.  These relationships can be built upon post workshop particularly with communications technology such as Yammer or Wiztango.  These and other corporate social media tools provide a perfect method to bridge the potential 70/20/10 gap.

Hopefully, I’ve explained the Model to you and shown its relevance to games based learning.  In Part 2, I’ll look at what we could learn from the 70/20/10 Learning Model in terms of education.

Lombardo, Michael M; Eichinger, Robert W (1996). The Career Architect Development Planner (1st ed.). Minneapolis: Lominger.

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