Raise your hand if you played a game with someone in some shape or form during the pandemic.
I know I did, and I’m betting there’s a lot of raised hands reading this right now (you can put those down by the way). Playing games is a natural part of our lives, and it’s something we use not just to entertain ourselves but also to understand the world around us. Having grown up in environments that promote games, we’re used to competing in rule structures and abstracting our goals into them. Who is the better speller and knows more words? Let’s play Scrabble to find out. Want to get better at Scrabble? Learn more words. Who can run faster? Let’s race. Who knows more fun tidbits of information? Trivia night will tell us.
In L&D, gamification is the embodiment of learning through competition. A lot of people talk about gamification as something new, when really, it’s a tool we’ve always had access to when learning and mastering skills. Fortunately, recent advancements in tech have given us software that makes gamification simpler to create efficiently and allows others to join us in those games.
Gamification and social learning are a clear merging of the traditional learning objectives of old training and the simulation of practicing and competing in real world environments. To put it simply, we naturally want to get better at things when we do them with others. The tools we have in the training world allow us to set up situations for learners to practice skills, provide a sandbox for them to explore what they know, safely ask questions about what they don’t, and try new things before they have to perform real-world tasks. These approaches allow us to change the dynamic of how learners interact with training materials. No longer are we limited to reading text, clicking next, and taking a quiz. Now learners can have a conversation with a medical patient about how they feel, they can assemble an engine and test to see if it works, or they can share clues with their peers about how to solve an escape room. In gamification, we’re asking learners to practice skills and explore options for how to complete tasks.
As time moves on, we will continue to see how socializing and communicating using different mediums will evolve. The future of office culture will be different than it was in the past, a sentiment that was true in 2019 and is certainly true in 2021. Programs like Zoom and Microsoft Teams will be more and more integrated into our day-to-day interactions. This will include training, finding ways to share our successes with others, teaming up, and reaching out for help with our day-to-day responsibilities.
Fortunately for the modern learner, online training has seen a boon of innovation lately. Instructor-led training (ILT) has been moving steadily toward online integration over the last few years, and the rapid adoption of online chat features has created interesting new ways to reach and engage larger groups of individuals. Terms like ‘breakout rooms’ have become common these days, and the idea of splitting a group up for activities, brainstorming, and challenging tasks has become comfortable and common place for many people in the workforce. We’ve all acclimated to these new tools out of some necessity, but now that we see how easily a team can work together remotely, I would be skeptical of any predictions that they will fade away.
Virtual social tools will help learners adapt to their job roles and environments while allowing them easy access to their peers and mentors. We can use these tools to create eLearning that promotes remote team communication and collaboration. Here’s an example of what that could look like with an escape room type learning program.
Imagine two separate escape rooms that are simultaneously given to different groups. In one room (we’ll call it Room A) there are clues that lead the players to a 4-digit code, and in the other room (let’s call it Room B) there is a padlock that has a 4-number sequence to unlock. Behind that padlock is a light switch, and in the other room, a blacklight that would reveal a sequence of shapes they could use to solve another puzzle. The two teams would be allowed to communicate via Zoom, chat, however they are comfortable, but would NOT be allowed in each other’s rooms. They would need to communicate with each other to solve their individual puzzles, clearly communicating the puzzles they have, and the clues they need. This exercise would require teamwork and task management across different groups to ensure the success of each, combining the social aspect of day-to-day interaction with a game that teaches management skills without using direct text and quizzes.
This example is just scratching the surface of possible social gamification interactions. We haven’t even talked about the possibilities of using an artificial intelligence (AI) chat bot as characters the players could interact with or competitors to defeat, timed sequenced events that can happen over days of real lifetime, branching narratives, and ideas we haven’t even considered yet. These tools are tapping into our natural desire to improve and share things with others, and they will continue to improve, evolve, provide better learning outcomes in the future.