Archives for November 2011

Defending the Term ‘Gamification’ as Used by Learning Professionals

Recently, one of my blog postings Design e-Learning Like a Game Developer: Provide Incentives for Good Work, received a response related to the fact that “gamification” is an easy-way-out; that we need to be careful about extrinsic motivation, that I was not correct in my posting about the use of extrinsic motivation.

I want to respond to the comment.

As a learning and development professional, I have spent years studying how people learn and the best methods of engaging learning from multiple perspectives. I’ve found that game-based thinking and mechanics (also called “gamification”) can provide rich and impactful learning opportunities.

The Elements at Play

Some of the elements of games that can be used for learning are listed below, but the list is by no mean exhaustive (no mention of flow, curve of interest, avatars, cooperative elements, and so forth).

The list does include rewards and achievements because they do help with the entire process. These elements all contribute to an effective game. Take one element alone and it doesn’t make a great game, but combine the elements and you can have a great game. All of these elements need to be examined for their possible application to learning.


Many games are great at integrating a story into game play and research indicates that learners learn facts better when the facts are embedded in a story rather than a bulleted list. Many more learning programs should be story-based rather than bullet point-based.


The progression of learning that occurs over time during the game is similar to the educational technique of “scaffolding,” which builds on the concept of the Zone of Proximal Development introduced by Soviet psychologist and constructivist Lev Vygotsky. Vygotsky’s concept is relatively complex, but to simplify it: he was describing how children learned and discovered, something he called the “Zone of Proximal Development.”

Zone of Proximal Development is the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance, or in collaboration with more capable peers. Game-based designs can bridge that gap in pre-defined increments usually in the form of levels.


Another element that is important to facilitate learning is to provide frequent opportunities for students to respond during a lesson (Stichter et al, 2009). Games do this far more effectively and efficiently than a classroom instructor. Game-based thinking and mechanics provide continuous corrective feedback.

Freedom to fail and the element of chance

In an instructional environment, failure is not a valid option. In games it is encouraged with multiple lives and attempts. Games overcome the “sting of failure” specifically by doing things like giving multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery and through the introduction of chance or randomness (two elements schools and corporations work hard to eliminate).

In fact, a 2008 study by Howard-Jones and Demetriou indicate that gaming uncertainty can transform the emotional experience of learning improving engagement and, more importantly, improving encoding and later recall.

Reward and achievements

Research indicates that in some cases extrinsic rewards actually foster intrinsic motivation. In a 1984 study by Harackiewicz et al., it was found that performance contingent rewards (found in many games) produced greater intrinsic motivation than the same performance objective

and favorable performance feedback without reward.

Additionally, in a 1999 article in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, authors Eisenberger, Rhoades, and Cameron report that performance-contingent reward increased students’ subsequent expression of task enjoyment and free time spent performing the task as compared with the receipt of an equivalent performance standard and favorable performance feedback.

They also found that “employees with strong performance-reward expectancies showed an increased perception of self-determination concerning how they carried out their usual job activities. This relationship was found controlling for any effects of pay rate, tenure and performance feedback on perceived autonomy. Reward for high performance appears to strengthen the perception of freedom of action experienced both for college students given novel tasks and employees carrying out their usual job responsibilities.”

They also found that employees who experienced high autonomy, steaming from performance-reward expectancy, reported that they felt more active, enthusiastic and energetic on a typical day at work.

There are even a number of studies supporting the concept that making rewards explicitly dependent on creative performance increases creativity (Eisenberger and Armeli, 1997; Eisenberger, Armeli, and Pertz; 1998).

So, all extrinsic rewards are not bad, and while decades of research are available to indicate that extrinsic reward structures can be flawed, decades of research also exist to indicate that extrinsic reward can lead to intrinsic motivation and creativity and meaningful change. Even Daniel Pink in his TED Talk mentions that rewards work really well when there is a clear set of rules and a simple destination to go to.

The story of the FedEx Days Pink cites as an example of autonomy and “intrinsic motivation” in the video is impressive. Only at the company, the winning individual not only gets to feel good about him or herself, they also received a trophy (he left that part out).

The entire field needs to be examined to determine what elements work in what situations and when to apply extrinsic motivation and when not to apply it. We cannot universally claim extrinsic motivation is always bad no matter what—even Daniel Pink doesn’t make that argument.

But we need to be careful about how far we go. Deciding not to use an extrinsic reward system because in some cases they are detrimental is like deciding not to drive a car because sometimes there are fatal car accidents.

The prudent thing to do is to carefully drive the car, use caution, and obey known traffic laws. In the case of extrinsic motivation, carefully apply the motivational elements when and how the literature shows they have been effective.

Research points to effective use, we learning professionals just need to apply it properly. Just because many people are not using extrinsic rewards properly doesn’t mean they should never be used.

Who is going to educate learning and development professionals about the proper use of extrinsic motivation if not us? Our role, as I see it, is not to shy away from extrinsic motivation or to condemn it. Instead we need to become beacons of light, showing people how to do it properly. If we don’t help people properly apply motivational techniques who is going to do it, not the marketers. Not those who have absconded with the word “gamification.”

Taking back the term gamification

Using the term “gamification” should not mean that we have given up; it should not mean “the easy way out.” It should mean the intelligent application of game-based thinking and mechanics to learning (in this case). When done well, gamification is a method of enhancing relevance, application and engagement.

Learning and development professionals MUST TAKE BACK the word. We must talk about the benefit of context through stories, challenges for learning, feedback loops, curves of interest, scaffolding, and even rewards and achievements. We cannot let the marketers own the term, we cannot allow gamification to mean only rewards and badges or superficial extrinsic tokens. But people aren’t going to know the real meaning of “gamification” if we…you, me, and others…don’t teach how to properly “gamify” content.

Someone will always be standing by to “gamifiy” content. We need to equip learning professionals to ask the right questions, to demand context, story, feedback, challenge, freedom to fail, engagement, and other critical elements of game-based thinking and mechanics that will aid retention and application of learning.

The analogy I give is of Wikipedia. Teachers always tell students not to use Wikipedia, some even ban Wikipedia. However, when asked to write a report, where is the first place kids go for initial information? Wikipedia (banned or not).

Instead of banning or forbidding Wikipedia, we need to teach students when using Wikipedia is appropriate and when it is not appropriate. Educate them on the proper use of Wikipedia. Education is what is needed, not banning, boycotting, or ranting against Wikipedia—not only because the students are going to find and use Wikipedia anyway, but it does have valuable elements and is worthwhile…when used properly.

Gamification is no different. Learning and development professionals can’t stand idly by and let someone else have the term while we relegate ourselves to the small corner of the world known as “serious games.”

Learning and development professionals should own engagement, feedback, and behavior change…it’s what we do. It’s what we’ve done for decades (or should have been doing). We can have far more positive influence taking back the word and using it to mean positive change and positive motivation in the context of learning than we can trying to eliminate it.

Now is the time to define gamification the right way, the way that positively uses elements of games, that positively impact motivation and that positively helps others. If we don’t try, no one will and the cheap and “easy way out” that we fear will be realized.

About the Author:

Karl Kapp, Ed.D., CFPIM, CIRM, is a scholar, consultant, and expert on the convergence of learning, technology and business operations. His background teaching e-learning classes, knowledge of adult learning theory, and experience training CEOs and frontline staff provide him with a unique perspective on organizational learning. He is author of Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, which discusses how to use technology tools (games, simulations, mobile devices, and Web 2.0) to transfer learning from experienced, veteran employees to the new generation of employees through the effective use of technology.

Karl is currently working on his fifth book, The Gamification of Learning and Instruction, in which much of the material for this presentation is discussed in more detail.

Reprinted from Learning Circuits

Health Savings Accounts Prove Increasingly Attractive Option

Employers and employees alike have found a more affordable health care option in health savings accounts, according to two national surveys released last week.

The surveys, commissioned by ACS, an IT and BPO firm, show that 77% of employers believe that high-deductible health plans with an HSA are

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key in controlling health care costs. Additionally, more than 56% of account holders have found that their HSA-qualified plan provides an affordable health care option.

“This year’s survey results reveal an interesting phenomenon — HSAs are doing more than just saving consumers and employers money. They are prompting a shift in behavior that is helping employees make better decisions about their own health care,” says Tom Hricik, principal with ACS.

Three-quarters of respondents say the ability to control their own health costs personally is an “extremely” or “very” important benefit of HSAs. Not only are account holders setting aside more money than before they had an HSA to cover potential medical costs (54%), but they are also engaging in healthier lifestyle choices (18%), researching preventive care programs (18%), shopping for lower priced prescription drugs (28%) and planning health

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care better throughout the year (31%).

Individuals perceive that they consume medical services at approximately the same rate but are shopping for care more than before.

HDHPs are less costly to employers for both individual and family coverage. Employers report that the cost of providing HSA-qualified plans is less than the cost of providing a standard preferred provider organization. The average direct cost to provide an HDHP/HSA is $5,469 for individual coverage and $9,909 for family coverage. In comparison, the average PPO cost is $7,158 for individuals and $10,691 for family.

These positive trends in cost savings and account holder behavior make it easier for employers to continue offering competitive health care options for employees, says Hricik. Only 6% stated that they are at least very likely to discontinue offering the HSA-qualified plan in the future. And, only 7% of employers stated that they would be at least very likely to move employees to future health care exchanges.

Other significant findings include:

  • The average employer that implemented an HDHP and HSA program has 49% of eligible employees enrolled in the HDHP.
  • 69% of employer respondents contributed to their employees’ HSA accounts.
  • 72% of account holders indicated that they actively chose the HSA-qualified plan although other plan options exist for them.
  • 82% of account holders surveyed reported that the ability to save tax-free money was “extremely” or “very” important in selecting an HSA-qualified plan.

These surveys, commissioned in the fall of 2011 by ACS and conducted by Buck Consultants, both of which are Xerox companies, generated more than 14,000 existing account holder and 300 employer responses. The surveys are the largest ever conducted on the subject of HDHPs and HSAs.

Reprinted from Employee Benefit News

HR Leaders: How to Be Brilliant in Brief

Several decades ago Henry Mintzberg wrote The Nature of Managerial Work, in which he noted that managerial activity was characterized by its variety, a series of relatively brief interactions that can be incredibly fragmented. He observed that phone calls averaged less than six minutes and typical one-on-one meetings averaged approximately 12 minutes.

In the ensuing years learning and development professionals have observed that days have become even more frantic, and managers are keeping up this hectic pace during longer work days.

One thing that gets sacrificed in these work situations is the leader’s ability to provide inspiration and motivation to the work team. There is never enough time to provide adequate coaching and development to the immediate staff. When you ask today’s managers why they do not provide more development for their subordinates, invariably the answer has to do with time.

In a series of sessions Zenger Folkman has conducted with groups of managers, we asked: “Have you ever received coaching from a manager that had a marked impact on your personal development?” The majority of participants said yes. Then we asked: “How long did these coaching conversations take?”

The majority of people indicated it took less than 15 minutes.

One of the key skills for leaders in today’s world is the ability to manage brief interactions. Every leader needs to make good use of short time bursts during the day to be successful in carving out time for more meaningful discussions having to do with longer-term career issues. The keys to managing brief interactions are identified in the following six rules:

1. Pick up the pace when you are in the driver’s seat. You can dive directly to the heart of the matter. If the leader is trying to determine the heartbeat of the organization, the question may be something like: “Tell me something you think I don’t know and probably don’t want to hear.” Note that it need not take long.

2. Gently guide others when they initiate the meeting. If someone drops into your office and obviously wants to have a leisurely chat, you can hasten the pace of that dialogue. Try standing up and having the conversation near the doorway or announcing that you’re under a tight time crunch and have only a couple of minutes available now, but that you could reschedule a later time.

3. Train colleagues what to expect from you. Subordinates and colleagues may drop by your office to discuss a topic of interest to them. If they become aware that your question will always be, “What have you been thinking about regarding this topic?” it won’t take many conversations for them to realize they should come with some proposal in mind if they raise an issue.

4. Schedule shorter meetings. I worked for a number of years in an organization in which one of the key executives was essentially a part-time employee. His assistant was sometimes instructed to schedule a three-minute meeting with one of his direct reports. While some were taken aback, it forced them to come with a clearly planned agenda to make use of the short time.

5. Make staff and work team meetings more efficient. Some of the most frequent complaints in corporate America are those swirling around the variety of meetings held. Enabling such meetings to be more efficient is one of the big opportunities for leaders to create more time for themselves.

6. Schedule periodic open times for free-wheeling discussion. This recommendation may seem contrary to the earlier ones. The point is, if your colleagues know there are times set aside for open-ended discussions, your practice to speedily push through operational items will be balanced.

If leaders manage their time with greater efficiency, leaving time for more significant matters, the bonds between them and their subordinates will be strengthened, the team will put forth extra effort, the best people will stay and the organization will prosper.

About the Author:

Jack Zenger is the co-founder and CEO of Zenger Folkman, a strengths-based leadership development firm. Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

5 Lingering Myths About E-Learning

By Karl M. KappThere’s a lot we know about eLearning, much based on fact and experience, but we base some of what we believe more on wishful thinking, tradition, and legend. Separating the two can be a helpful exercise, but it can also be controversial, as people will disagree on what is true and what is myth.

This month we look at five myths related to eLearning design, development, and deployment. Next month, we’ll look at myths related to the strategic positioning of eLearning. If you have already gone beyond these myths, good for you! If not, this can be some food for thought. And what about your business leaders, your customers, your clients, your learners? What do they believe?

Myth #1: You can easily convert great classroom training to great online training.

The assumption here is that if you have a well-designed classroom course, moving it online will be a snap. After all, good instructional design works anywhere, doesn’t it? No, not really.

Designing for interactive learning through technology requires instructional design skills and capabilities that take into consideration the unique nature of the delivery medium and a strong understanding of how people learn independently. So, while good baseline instructional design processes and tools are an essential starting point and may make the overall job a little easier (and the outcome a lot better), the best online courses often look nothing like their classroom counterparts.

While it helps to have a great classroom course to start with, moving it online while keeping it great is both art and science, and always a challenge to do well. And, to be good at it, you will need more sophisticated skills and experiences. Once you try to convert a few courses, you’ll understand.

Myth #2: A great authoring tool (or suite of tools) is all you need to create great eLearning.

Okay, this seems obvious. Of course you need more than good tools (see above). But it’s surprising how many people sell (or are sold on) the idea that it’s the technology that makes the work easy and the course great; that almost anyone can build a great online course if they just have the right tools.

This is a dangerous assumption because an overreliance on technology, especially at the expense of instructional design, the right content, personal experience, and good old common sense, may doom the resulting eLearning to be worse than the classroom course it replaces. Without good tools, the task is much harder. With good tools, you’re just getting started. The ability to use a saw does not mean you can craft an exquisite piece of furniture.

Myth #3: eLearning must be fun.

No, eLearning must be valued. “Edutainment” may get someone to take an online course once, but if the value’s not there – from performance to business results – they won’t come back. Making the course enjoyable is a fine idea, but making it challenging, interesting, rewarding, authentic, worthwhile, and relevant is more important. Be careful of too much attention to fun; you could lose sight of the real goals of the program.

Myth #4: Many employees don’t finish eLearning courses; therefore the courses must be bad.

Well, this does happen. When there is a poorly designed course, or when the content is wrong, who can fault people for turning the whole thing off? While it is true that most of us would rather sit in a pot of boiling oil than sit through awful eLearning, it may also be true that people don’t finish because they don’t have to.

Sometimes learners just want to learn what they need – a lesson or two – rather than sit through an entire course that they don’t need. One of the benefits of good eLearning is that you can modularize and customize it so that people only take what they need. This is a powerful reason why overlaying a traditional, linear, start-at-the-beginning-and-don’t-stop-till-you-get-to-the-end philosophy (often encouraged by the course completion tracking requirement of a LMS) just doesn’t always work for eLearning.

Myth #5: Getting the technology to work is the hard part.

Many training organizations exhaust themselves – and their budgets – trying to get technology in place and working. They may struggle with selecting a LMS, and then with getting it to work in their environment. They invest in authoring tools, virtual classroom tools, and more. But if you don’t plan well, when it’s all in place there can be few resources – or little energy – left for content and design.

Once you get the technology to work, the real challenge – creating quality content and programs to run on that technology in ways that deliver value to the organization – is just beginning. Investing in the latest and greatest technology at the expense of investments in quality content and programming may be counterproductive; try for a better balance between the two.

So, what do you think? Myth, reality, or somewhere in between? Get your designers, your developers, your managers, and your technical people together and start the discussion. Next month we’ll look at more strategic myths about the value of eLearning.

My thanks to Lance Dublin for contributing some of these myths and debating them with me.

Reprinted from Learning Solutions Magazine

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