Learning through Games – From Warcraft to Workcraft?

World of Warcraft Pad
World of Warcraft images

Learning Cuppa from the UK

I recently had the pleasure of attending an eLearning Innovation Seminar organised by digital learning company Intelligo and PIXELearning – a world-leading provider of immersive learning simulations and ‘serious games’. The event involved a number of presentations, discussions and also an opportunity to try out some of the games that had been designed and developed by PIXELearning.

When the opportunity arose I was keen to attend the event, as earlier this year I’d come across an excellent TED Talk by Tom Chatfield entitled 7 Ways Games Reward the Brain. Tom talks about game mechanics and discusses the reward schedule, the timeframe and delivery mechanisms through which rewards (points, prizes, level ups) are delivered. It’s what keeps people playing games and is one of the main reasons the video games industry will be worth over $80 billion dollars globally in 2014; three times more than the music industry.

My first memories of playing computer games are as Hen-House Harry in Chuckie Egg on the Commodore 64 in 1986; a simple 8-bit platform game where the objective was to avoid big flying hens and climb ladders in the pursuit of yellow eggs.  Game play was simple, but addictive…

Image by Moochy

This game ‘addiction’ has followed me through life and I have seen games, graphics and game play evolve whilst being the proud owner of almost every major console to be released since 1986. Games have played and continue to play a large part in my and now my children’s lives.  I see my eldest son playing online with a team of his friends and my youngest son loves to play virtual bowling, tennis and boxing. Personally I like role playing games (RPGs) such as Fallout 3 where game mechanics and reward schedules mean that completing quests provide more experience points to level up and receive new skills or items.

 Image by Irrezolut

As a learning professional, I’m interested in how we can apply the reward schedule concept to learning and how this might better engage people in learning activities at work. The reward schedule and the psychology of engagement seems to be gaining ground in the e-learning industry, as Alex Webb from Saffron International writes in his blog Gamification in e-learning. After tweeting about attending the Innovation Seminar, it became clear from the replies I received from my network that whilst it’s an interesting topic, there are mixed and quite strong feelings on the latest buzzword ‘gamification’!

Arguably, the principles of using human psychology and gaming mechanics to support learning are sound, it’s just the term ‘gamification’ that doesn’t work for some. I won’t therefore dwell on the name but rather focus on one insightful reply from @NickEmmett who tweeted;

Games have always been part of learning it’s just the format that’s changing.

It’s true the use of games and simulations have been used extensively to support learning, for example in the military where serious games have been used since the 1960’s. Using games to support learning is not a new concept, simulations allow people to make mistakes and learn from them without repercussions in the real world. We’ve all seen pilots learning to fly a plane in this way, but with the potential uses and benefits of games could we start to use similar methodologies and techniques in our own workplace?

I came across a series of articles tweeted by @Dames20 on The Future of Work. All the articles make interesting reading, particularly the 2009 article When Gen X Runs the Show which states:

By 2019, Generation X — that relatively small cohort born from 1965 to 1978 — will have spent nearly two decades bumping up against a grey ceiling of boomers in senior decision-making jobs. But that will end. Janet Reid, managing partner at Global Lead, a consulting firm that advises companies like PepsiCo and Procter & Gamble, says, “In 2019, Gen X will finally be in charge. And they will make some big changes.

The article then goes on to say:

In fact, Rob Carter, chief information officer at FedEx, thinks the best training for anyone who wants to succeed in 10 years is the online game World of Warcraft. Carter says WoW, as its 10 million devotees worldwide call it, offers a peek into the workplace of the future.

In my opinion, the barriers to using simulated environments and gaming methodologies in the workplace aren’t going to come from technology or capability or even cost. The biggest barrier I see is cultural, more likely to come from organisations that can’t see HOW gaming mechanics and reward schedules can support or prepare their employees to do their jobs more effectively or keep their people engaged for longer. In essence it’s the view that playing games is something we do in our personal time and not something we do at work. I think the World of WorkCraft is a long way off being realised yet, but there’ll be some interesting developments in the future around virtual workplaces and I for one can’t wait to play along.

If you are interested in reading more you can find all the presentations from the Innovation Seminar here. If you still have doubts about whether or not games add value in the workplace, then I must draw your attention to the final presentation of the day delivered by @Helenroutledge (Instructional Design Manager) entitled Why Games Work. Not only is it great content, but it’s the best use of Prezi I’ve seen to date.

What are your thoughts on using games in the workplace?

Do you think ‘gamification’ is here to stay?

Are you currently using or thinking of using any sort of gaming methodologies to support learning activity in your own organisation?

I would be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Feature image by beketchai

Learning through Games – From Warcraft to Workcraft?

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