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Jan 16, 2018 Phylise Banner

The Power of Play

Incorporating play into corporate learning When we talk about game-based learning and gamification, we’re always throwing in the notion of learner engagement. We’re immersing our learners through…what? Fun? Games?

Play. It’s all about the power of play, and how humans naturally learn in playful states.

Play takes on many shapes, sizes, and definitions. According to Jeff Everhart, Instructional Technology Trainer and English instructor, when defining play within a learning perspective we should focus on activities that contain, possess, or exhibit some or all of the following characteristics:

• An aspect of fun or novelty
• Immediate or timely feedback
• Unpredictable rewards (that are not necessarily tied to objectives)

The Notion of Novelty

I think we all understand what fun is, but novelty is an interesting subject to think about within a modern blended learning framework. According to Liz Wiseman, a prominent author and executive leadership coach:

“We find that when we’re new, a learner’s advantage kicks in. And in the process of asking, wondering, discovering, we tend to do our best thinking, often outperforming people with experience.”

The concept of a “learner’s advantage” is extremely powerful, and really showcases those “aha” moments that we want our learners to have. Novelty comes to light in game-based learning and gamification through avenues of discovery and imagination. Something as simple as a scenario-based exercise can boost our learners to spark the playful side of their imaginations and discover a novel solution.

Keeping Playful Learning on Track

We know that feedback is a critical component of modern blended learning. We keep our learners engaged, motivated, and on track when we continually tell them how they are progressing along their learning pathways. Inviting components of play into our blended learning, through game-based learning and gamification, brings more feedback possibilities into the mix – including peer feedback.

When we are playing, we are most likely receiving continuous feedback – either from other players, or from the games we are playing. Within a game-based learning situation, the act of play itself provides that continuous feedback. Even in a self-paced game designed to orient new hires to compliance practices, our learners are continuously assessing their own progress against set goals or objectives as well as continuously making choices about the next move to make or strategy to follow.

And, within a gamified learning situation, a simple leaderboard can let learners know how they are progressing compared to others. Let’s imagine that learners earn points for completing eLearning modules and participating in online workshops and discussions within a blended learning scenario. As learners progress, they get immediate feedback by seeing who is leading in points and are motivated to earn more points in order to move up the leaderboard within the community.

Unpredictable Rewards

Again, Jeff Everhart offers great insight here:

“In ‘play,’ as in other games, rewards are not always distributed on a quid pro quo basis, as they often are in educational contexts. Rather, rewards are distributed at uneven intervals, which facilitates two main reactions from players. First, it motivates participants to try new things since the relationship between rewards and actions is not clearly demarcated. Second, unexpected rewards are psychologically more motivating than expected rewards, which then urge players to play for a longer length of time.”

Trying new things? What a novel idea!

When we design, develop, and deliver modern blended learning, we want our learners to be moving towards a goal. We often only “reward” our learners at the end of a learning campaign – when they have achieved a set goal.

Weaving game-based learning and gamification elements into our modern blends enables us to distribute feedback, recognitions, rewards, and the like at uneven intervals. For example, we can include a feature within a self-paced learning game that rewards learners with a bonus coupon for a free treat in the company cafeteria when they get three correct answers.

What Our Learners Might Want to Do

You know that moment when you’re supposed to be learning and your mind is drifting off somewhere? We all have those moments, but we can introduce play into our blended learning campaigns to lessen how often they happen for our learners.

Play does not always equal accomplishment, but done well, play can always motivate our learners and facilitate learning. Dr. Peter Gray, author of Freedom to Learn, writes:

“Play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as opposed to what one is obliged to do. The joy of play is the ecstatic feeling of liberty. Play is not always accompanied by smiles and laughter, nor are smiles and laughter always signs of play; but play is always accompanied by a feeling of ‘Yes, this is what I want to do right now.’”

Imagine if our learners felt that way while progressing along their learning journeys within our blended learning campaigns! They’d be motivated, engaged, inspired, and playful.


Published by Phylise Banner January 16, 2018
Phylise Banner