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A Bad Tart

Good learning requires a basis for intrinsic interest. The topic should be of interest to the learner, a priori or after the introduction. If the learner doesn’t ‘get’ why this learning is relevant to them, it doesn’t stick as well. And this isn’t what gamification does. So tarting up content is counter-productive. It’s a bad (s)tart!

Ok, to be clear, there’re two types of gamification. The first, important, and relevant type of gamification is using game design techniques to embed learning topic into meaningful series of decisions, where the context and actions taken affect the outcomes in important ways, and the challenge is appropriate.  However, that’s not the one that’s getting all the hype.

Instead, the hype is around PBL (which, sadly isn’t Problem-Based Learning but instead is Points, Badges, & Leaderboards).  If we wrap this stuff around our learning, we’ll make it more engaging.  And, at least initially, we’ll see that. At least in enthusiasm. But how about retention and transfer?  And will there be a drop-off when the novelty wears off?

Yes, we can tart up drill-and-kill, and should, if that’s what’s called for (e.g. accurate retention of information). But that’s not what works for skills. And the times it’s actually relevant are scarce. For skills, we want appropriate retrieval.  And that means something else.

Retention and transfer of new skills requires contextualized retrieval and application to decisions that learners need to be able to make. And that’s scenarios (or, at least, mini-scenarios).  We need to put learners into situations requiring applying the knowledge to make decisions. Then the consequences play out.

If you’re putting your energy into finding gratuitous themes to wrap around knowledge recitation instead of making intrinsically meaningful contexts for knowledge application, you’re wasting time and money.  You’re not going to develop skills.

I actually don’t mind if you want to tart up after you’ve done the work of making the skill practice meaningful. But only after!  If you’re skipping the important practice design, you’re letting down your learners. As well as the organization.  And typically we don’t need to spend unnecessary time.

Please, for your learners’ sake, find out about both sorts of gamification, distinguish between them, and then use them appropriately. PBL is ok when rote knowledge has to be drilled, or after you’ve done good practice design.

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