Let's talk about ... Gami­fi­ca­ti­on


Over the years, as in every pro­fes­sio­nal field, the area of Lear­ning & Deve­lo­p­ment has deve­lo­ped a lan­guage of its own which allows us to com­mu­ni­ca­te pre­cise­ly. But does it real­ly? We usual­ly find our­sel­ves in the typi­cal tomay­to, tomah­to” situa­ti­on. This is why we will try to shed light on a term we use fre­quent­ly. This is not a uni­ver­sal defi­ni­ti­on, just our own under­stan­ding on the topic.

Let's talk about ... January 26, 2022 Pascal Jodocy 10 min

What exact­ly is gami­fi­ca­ti­on?

Gami­fi­ca­ti­on is the app­li­ca­ti­on of game-design ele­ments and game princi­ples (dyna­mics and mecha­nics) in non-game con­texts” (Wiki­pe­dia). The idea behind it is: games are fun, work is (often) not. Bring some play­ful ele­ments into work, and it will be more fun. Or para­phra­sing Wiki­pe­dia: The inte­gra­ti­on of the­se game-design ele­ments is essen­ti­al­ly inten­ded to incre­a­se the moti­va­ti­on of peop­le who other­wi­se have to per­form tasks that are eit­her not very chal­len­ging, or too mono­to­nous or too com­plex”. App­lied to our field of Lear­ning & Deve­lo­p­ment, this means that an unat­trac­ti­ve lear­ning pro­cess can beco­me more attrac­ti­ve through gami­fi­ca­ti­on and, in the best case, even be fun.

Sounds ent­i­cing, does­n’t it? Well, in our opi­ni­on, it is not that easy. Becau­se this is not a simp­le reci­pe along the lines of if lear­ners don’t feel like lear­ning, add a few game ele­ments, then ever­yo­ne will be total­ly moti­va­ted, and lear­ning will be real­ly fun”. Howe­ver, sta­ting that gami­fi­ca­ti­on is a was­te of time is also not true. Let’s clear up two mis­con­cep­ti­ons of gami­fi­ca­ti­on to under­stand its bene­fits.

Mis­con­cep­ti­on no. 1: A reward leads to the repe­ti­ti­on of the desi­red beha­viour

The game ele­ments that are fre­quent­ly cho­sen when imple­men­ting gami­fi­ca­ti­on in trai­ning con­cepts are points, bad­ges, lea­der­boards and levels. The­se are all extrinsic moti­va­tors, name­ly: if you do A, you will get B. And tha­t’s exact­ly the pro­blem. The extrinsic moti­va­ti­on, i.e., the points, bad­ges and rank in the lea­der­board, replace the actu­al goal of the acti­vi­ty (lear­ning, in our case). What does this lead to? It may actual­ly result in peop­le (uncon­scious­ly) spen­ding more time on trai­ning con­tent, but it often does­n’t result in them lear­ning more. On the con­tra­ry, when it comes to points or even a big­ger win, peop­le are quick to focus their ener­gies on fin­ding short­cuts to get the­re. This is col­lo­quial­ly known as chea­ting. We have imple­men­ted gami­fi­ca­ti­on pro­jects in which we saw this beha­viour first hand. That is why we are now more care­ful when dealing with gami­fi­ca­ti­on’s alle­ged moti­va­ti­on boos­ter.

Mis­con­cep­ti­on no. 2: The medi­ocri­ty of the mas­ses

The theo­ry of the medi­ocri­ty of the mas­ses (Dou­glas McGre­gor: Theo­ry X and Theo­ry Y) assu­mes that the average per­son pre­fers to be gui­ded, does not want to take respon­si­bi­li­ty, has rela­tively litt­le ambi­ti­on and, abo­ve all, plays it safe. If you belie­ve in the medi­ocri­ty of the mas­ses, then tools like con­trol, inst­ruc­tion, and gami­fi­ca­ti­on make sen­se. Howe­ver, if we assu­me that the average per­son is not work-shy per se and deri­ves satis­fac­tion and moti­va­ti­on from mea­ning­ful tasks, the instru­ments men­tio­ned abo­ve beco­me super­fluous. In short: we belie­ve that peop­le are intrinsi­cal­ly moti­va­ted. We at SAPE­RED are moti­va­ted to do our job well, to learn and to beco­me bet­ter at what we do, and we are defi­ni­te­ly awe­so­me, but average peop­le. Of cour­se, the­re are also the unmo­ti­va­ted and unin­spi­red, but they cer­tain­ly can­not be saved by gami­fi­ca­ti­on.

What does this mean for gami­fi­ca­ti­on in trai­nings?

Gami­fi­ca­ti­on as a collec­tion of extrinsic moti­va­tors has no place in trai­nings sin­ce lear­ning is always intrinsi­cal­ly moti­va­ted. If intrinsic moti­va­ti­on is lacking, it must be crea­ted through appro­pria­te expe­ri­en­ces (see Nick Shackel­ton Jones, How peop­le learn”) or through a clear defi­ni­ti­on of pur­po­se that pla­ces work in a mea­ning­ful con­text.

Gami­fi­ca­ti­on can be a source of inspi­ra­ti­on to crea­te a work envi­ron­ment that pro­mo­tes intrinsic moti­va­ti­on. Here are a few examp­les to make the idea more tan­gi­ble:

Growth Mind­set:
The assump­ti­on that we can learn anything and con­stant­ly evol­ve can lead to a (lear­ning) cul­tu­re in which employees see lear­ning as part of their work and deve­lop them­sel­ves fur­ther bey­ond rea­dy-made care­er paths.

In a game, play­ers get con­stant feed­back on their per­for­mance: a foul in sports leads to a sanc­tion and a poor­ly con­trol­led Mario quick­ly loses a life in glowing lava. Employees also want to know whe­re they stand in the work envi­ron­ment. As in a game, direct feed­back pro­mo­tes con­ti­nuous deve­lo­p­ment and intrinsic moti­va­ti­on to keep going.

The bet­ter you get at a game, the more chal­len­ging it beco­mes. App­ly­ing this princip­le to work means that employees take on new tasks that allow them to grow. May­be they can even have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to devo­te them­sel­ves to com­ple­te­ly new topics?

Safe Space:
You usual­ly lose more often than you win. In a game, this has beara­ble con­se­quen­ces, in real life, not so much. Safe spaces can also be inte­gra­ted into the work envi­ron­ment, as can a posi­ti­ve view on fail­u­re. A safe space pro­mo­tes the cou­ra­ge to learn and app­ly new beha­viours and hel­ps crea­tures of habit like us to chan­ge.

As you can see, gami­fi­ca­ti­on is much more than points and bad­ges, and it’s not about clim­bing to the top of a lea­der­board eit­her. In our opi­ni­on, gami­fi­ca­ti­on in the field of Lear­ning & Deve­lo­p­ment is about crea­ting an envi­ron­ment (may­be even a cul­tu­re) in which peop­le can deve­lop in a self-moti­va­ted man­ner. Gami­fi­ca­ti­on ser­ves us as a source of inspi­ra­ti­on. We want to turn employees into play­ers, not pawns.

PS: If you want to read more about moti­va­ti­on, we recom­mend Dri­ve” by Dani­el H. Pink. If you would rather have a sum­ma­ry on the topic, you can read a blog post about it here soon.

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  1. Play­ful ele­ments can pro­mo­te lear­ners’ pro­gress if they are used cor­rect­ly. We can do this when con­tent is the focus rather than points, win­nings and lea­der­boards.

  2. Peop­le want to deve­lop and stri­ve to move for­ward. Intrinsic moti­va­ti­on is pos­si­ble and desi­ra­ble.

  3. Mis­sing or slow lear­ning pro­gress can­not usual­ly be sol­ved through gami­fi­ca­ti­on. The pro­blems start much ear­lier in the com­pa­ny.

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