Monday, February 28, 2011

What Can eLearning Learn from “7 Ways Video Games Reward the Brain?”

By Shelley A. Gable

I’m a big fan of TED talks.

A few weeks ago, a colleague pointed me to a recent talk, “7 Ways Video Games Reward the Brain,” presented by Tom Chatfield. It sounded like a great source of inspiration for eLearning design...so I immediately clicked the link and viewed the 17-minute video.

Chatfield spends the first few minutes establishing the motivational power of video games by citing feats of time and money invested by people for the sake of games.

Then, as the title suggests, he goes on to describe seven reasons games are so engaging. Below is a brief explanation of each, along with ideas for how those principles could apply to eLearning.

--1-- Experience bars that measure progress

What it is: Many games have an experience bar that displays a player’s progress for the duration of the game (not just for a single level), and watching that bar continuously expand creates a constant source of motivation.

How we can apply it: This might not impact a short, stand-alone eLearning course. But what about a longer course with several eLearning lessons? Or a longer course where eLearning is part of a blended approach?

An experience bar might represent lessons completed, case studies resolved, tasks done correctly...or some other countable output of the course. Making that progress bar visible to others in the class could allow learners to identify peers they can turn to with questions, or offer a facilitator a way to easily view learners’ progress in a course.

--2-- Multiple long- and short-term aims

What it is: Chatfield points out that a single, long-term aim (e.g., beat the game) might bore players early. However, a mix of long-term goals with shorter-term goals (e.g., complete a level, obtain a certain number of coins, etc.) keeps the journey interesting.

This makes me think of Super Mario Brothers (old school, I know). Though the ultimate goal is to save the princess, the player conquers several levels and worlds along the way. And every 100 coins earns a free life.

How we can apply it: A previous post on this blog suggests that several smaller lessons can motivate learners by offering a clear sense of progress through a course. So, the several levels over the duration of a game seems similar to having several lessons that make up a course.

--3-- Rewards for effort

What it is: Every bit of effort earns a game player credit, which may come in the form of coins, strength, experience, etc.

How we can apply it: This brings me back to the progress bar. Perhaps answering questions or completing tasks correctly feeds into extending the progress bar. Or, these types of accomplishments could feed into a score, with a certain score “unlocking” a different type of activity for learners. For example, passing ten system simulations might earn learners an opportunity to job shadow (i.e., meet an experienced employee and engage in some on-the-job training).

--4-- Rapid, frequent, clear feedback

What it is: It’s pretty obvious what this means, and games accomplish it easily. Every move in a game immediately results in an immediate consequence.

How we can apply it: Researchers have published volumes of studies highlighting the importance of immediate and specific feedback. Most of what I’ve seen in training does a decent job with this. Learners answer a question or engage in an activity, and they receive feedback during and/or immediately after. The challenge often comes with figuring out how to continue this type of feedback on the job.

--5-- Element of uncertainty

What it is: Chatfield explains it well. “When we don’t quite predict something perfectly, we get really excited about it. We just want to go back and find out more.” He goes on to explain how dopamine, the neurotransmitter associated with reward-seeking behavior, is linked to learning.

How we can apply it: This reminded me of a recent article by Jane Bozarth in Learning Solutions Magazine (from the eLearning Guild), “Surprise!” Bozarth explains how surprises grab our attention and make content memorable. She also offers advice for incorporating surprises into training.

--6-- Windows of enhanced attention

What it is: Chatfield and Bozarth are on the same page here. The idea is that an element of surprise or uncertainty sparks our curiosity, creating a “window of enhanced attention” in which we’re more likely to learn something and recall it later.

Chatfield also suggests that these windows make game players braver and more likely to take on difficult tasks.

How we can apply it: Take full advantage of this window by following surprise with critical information learners must recall on the job or practice of a critical task. Using this window for something that is “nice to know” would likely be a missed opportunity.

--7-- Other people!

What it is: Chatfield suggests that what really excites people is other people. Working with peers. Collaborating. This seems in sync with the increasing popularity of collaborative games like Call of Duty and World of Warcraft.

How we can apply it: Even if we didn’t design an eLearning course with an instructor-led blend, we can still work in a collaborative element. How about encouraging learners to discuss an eLearning course on an internal discussion board or other form of social media? Getting managers to discuss training with employees before, during, and/or after the event also adds this collaborative element.

Watch the video and add your comments...

I first watched the video a few weeks ago, I watched it again a few days ago, and the thoughts I’ve shared here are some of my initial reactions. I’d love for others to elaborate on the ideas here or share related experiences.

Chatfield is a talented speaker with a fascinating presentation. If you can spare 17 minutes, check out the video…and then come back here to share your reactions!

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