Game-Based Learning: Hype or Substance?

Our blog post this week comes from one of our founding Chat2lrn members, Judith Christian-Carter (@judithELS)

Recently, an incredibly divided discussion took place on the LinkedIn ‘Instructional Design & E-Learning Professionals’ Group’ starting with the question “Time to Stop Playing With Gaming?”.


The instigator of this discussion asked “I’m wondering if after close to 50 years of trying, is it time we quit playing around with new means to add games to training and admit there’s something fundamentally wrong with the concept?

So what do you think? Is the concept of games-based learning flawed or are there some good reasons for considering it seriously?

For starters

Here is what the instigator of the LinkedIn discussion wrote and which led to a very heated and divided debate:

“It seems that every customer these days is asking for gaming elements to be added to their training. I first started playing with the idea of adding a gaming element to my courseware back in 1995 when we looked at adding a Doom-type walk-through. The effort failed due to costs at the time, but most of the costs and technical issues have been resolved, and there are lots of examples of games and gamification being added to courseware. What’s interesting is while I can find lots of anecdotal evidence of this training being effective at increasing a learner’s attention span and willingness to learn, I can’t find any verifiable, empirical, evidence of it being more effective at conveying knowledge than more traditional methods of training delivery. The effort to add gaming elements to training has been going on since the 1960s, so you would think if anyone was having success, there would be lots of available data to prove it. But the opposite is true.

A review of the gaming industry shows that 78% of new game efforts fail. This is a very important number when you consider the conventional wisdom of many training professionals is that making training more like a game makes the training more attractive to people who play games, but when you consider actually being a game doesn’t make game play attractive 78% of the time, how can we realistically expect game play to make training more attractive? Most of the anecdotal reports of success with gaming I’ve seen involve how learners feel that game-based training teaches a job better, but is it the gaming that’s doing that or the fact that developers of game-based training tend to focus more on start-to-finish job skills to create a gaming scenario and less on tools or other non-task information that make up lots of traditional courseware? Is it the content being developed, and not the delivery method, that’s driving the improved reactions from students?”

Elevating the debate

OK, forgetting any reference to training, as it’s learning per se that we are really talking about here, the ensuing debate started by discussing the plethora of terms used, such as ‘serious games’, ‘gamification’ and ‘game-based learning’, and whether they were or should be different.

It was apparent that some people were struggling with all these definitions, ie what do they all mean, whilst others were either scornful about treating adults with such elements or saying that it was the best thing since sliced bread! Distinctions were also made between using game-based learning (gamification and serious games) with young people/students and adults, where it was felt that it was OK with the former (because they play games all the time!) but not quite OK with the latter.

Here are some significant quotes from the LinkedIn debate:

“Gamification techniques are tools used to enhance learning through e-learning or the classroom. I would like to see data about why these techniques fail with gamers. I have a hunch those designing and implementing gamification techniques pay no attention to why gamers play games.”

“I’m seeing gamification going the same was as the purple cows in (Seth) Godin’s book. There’s a lot of interest in the concept by students when it’s first introduced and new, but it doesn’t take long before boredom with the concept sets in. Our company rolled out a couple of lessons with gamification features a few months ago, and we’re already finding students thinking the medals and awards are meaningless and distracting.”

“It is an invariable principle of all play, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever must play, cannot play. If we are forced to do something, it ceases to be play.” (Carse 1986) Training at the adult level can never really be play because it is usually mandatory. K-12 students might fare better because most of them do not have a firm concept of “work” yet, but for adults this might be a major problem.”

“I think that at the end of the day, it is always content, and not delivery, that determines if training will be successful, or what student motivation will be. If a learner doesn’t feel what they are learning is relevant to their goals, then no amount of fun, innovation, or creativity in delivery is going to make them like it better.”

Where do you stand?

Are you a fan of game-based learning and if so why?  Equally, are you either wary of it or completely against it, and if so why?

If you want further thinking input then check out some or all of the following links:

Live Online Learning – are you ready for the Virtual Classroom?

This week Chat2lrn are delighted to welcome Colin Steed, Chief Executive of the Learning and Performance Institute (LPI).  Colin has a wealth of experience in delivering Live Online Learning.  Not only does he manage the LPI’s webinar programme, he is the architect and designer of the LPI’s global certification programme for live online learning facilitators (COLF) and he published a best-selling book on live online facilitation ‘Facilitating Live Online Learning‘ in 2011. You can follow Colin on Twitter @ColinSteed. 

With the majority of people now able to access Internet-enabled computers both at work and at home, the ability to learn online with a live trainer has arrived.

Today’s learners want to learn in shorter timescales, they want learning accessible at the point of need, they want shorter sessions, and they want those sessions focused on the role they perform in the workplace.

Looking for cost savings in today’s economic climate, employers are also looking seriously at live online learning. In the Learning & Performance Institute Learning Survey 2012, 46% of the institute’s members reported that they are now using live online learning and plan to increase its use over the next three years.

Contrary to popular opinion, live online training – also called virtual classroom training or synchronous training – is not new. My first experience with it was back in 1995, when I was editor of IT Training magazine and was invited to try out a new technology which “would see the end of the classroom”. How many times have we heard that old chestnut every time something new is launched?

During the past decade or so, powered by the huge and rapid advances in technology and years of research into how people learn online, things have developed and progressed considerably. Notably, the following advances have been made which has brought reliable live online learning to everyone:

  • Most people now enjoy a fast Internet connection through high-speed Broadband both at work and at home, indeed even while they are travelling, by the advances in mobile technology such as smart phones and internet-enabled tablets, such as the iPad.
  • Most knowledge workers have computer access at work and at home, as well as owning many Internet-enabled mobile wireless devices capable of receiving learning events.
  • The web conferencing software has evolved into a reliable platform, benefitting from over 15 years of development and enhancement.
  • We have been provided with evidence-based research on how people learn online and the best way to deliver online learning events.
  • The 2008 recession necessitated every organisation carrying out deep cost-cutting exercises; organisations both public and private are looking for all ways to save on non-essential costs.

And so it is, within this climate, that we have seen a dramatic rise and re-emergence of live online learning throughout the world. This time around, however, we do have a much better chance of reaping those benefits and opportunities – but only if we act on the lessons we have learnt from the past.

So what lessons have we learnt since the 1990s?

  • Firstly, and most importantly, we now understand that the face-to-face classroom trainer cannot simply transfer their classroom delivery skills or their content into the online classroom. Although much of the trainer’s skills can be utilised online, there are many new skills and techniques needed to ensure delivery of effective, learner-focused and engaging online events.
  • Secondly, we have some evidence–based research on how we learn online, from educational psychologists like Sweller, Mayer, Clark, and Medina et al. These findings prove that to enable learners to learn in the online environment we need to overhaul the traditional way trainers produce visual aids, and we must understand how not to overload our learners’ working memories if we want the learning to stick.
  • We need to produce shorter, learner-centred events that are focused on enabling learners to learn and practise skills that are aligned to what they need to do in their job. We need to stop dumping information into our learners – and that means a complete re-think of how we design our online events.

Trainers need to think beyond the physical aspects of classroom and instead create learning relationships with their learners, using the resources available to them in the online classroom. These learning relationships require the trainer to master new facilitation skills and techniques, as well as acquire mastery of different tools and resources from the ones deployed when the trainer and learners are in the same room together.

So are you ready for the Virtual Classroom?  Join us Thursday 13 June, 16.00BST/11.00EDT/08.00PDT.

Useful links:

Virtual Learning Show – Free Online Conference taking place on 20 & 27 June 2013

LIVE ONLINE LEARNING IN EUROPE 2013 SURVEY – Take part in the survey and receive a free copy of the published report.