GAMIFICATION: training and e-learning in the times of ‘digital natives’

The trend of gamification definitely characterises the times we live in and this also reflects on e-learning, a sector of lively trends. However, there are many clues that help us to understand that this is not just a passing fad but a cultural revolution destined to slowly enter our lives and remain there. What is it? Wikipedia explains it in a few words: it is the use of elements taken from games (such as points, levels, rewards, badges) in contexts outside of games. Which contexts? Training, for example. Huizinga already supported this theory in 1938 (Homo ludens): the first form of human and animal learning is playing. Nevertheless, the combination of training and playing has taken centuries to lose the label of being an oxymoron (a bit like the devil and the holy water) and to overcome the academic snobbery of those who confuse the significance of training with the seriousness. Nowadays there are many people (above all Marc Prensky) who see in the recreational dimension the key to maximising the effectiveness of and the involvement in learning. Why? Because playing is a predominantly self-directed cognitive tool and it responds to a logic in which it is the person who goes in search of knowledge, and he does it according to his own will, desire or need. And this is the factor that maximises the effectiveness of learning. The student goes from a mere push logic of the tell-test type to a pull logic in which the (non-directed) learner is the protagonist of the training activities. Let’s think, for example, about the possibility to experience real-life situations in a controlled environment. This aspect is crucial for the Defense Acquisition University (DAU) of the American Department of Defence that, through its Procurement Fraud Indicators Game, allows people to practise discovering fraud. In the game, every participant collects information about a fraud which is being investigated, then interrogates one of the suspects. At the end, the player must choose one of the three suggested theories about the fraud, earning a reward for a correct answer. Marriott International, instead, was among the first to test gamification as a way of recruiting new collaborators with a game which was also accessible through Facebook. In Marriott Hotel, players must manoeuvre between the various responsibilities of the head chef in a hotel. The aim is to attract the attention of gamers between 18 and 27 years of age and stimulate them into entering a career in the hospitality industry, by using social networks as a recruiting tool. The application models are infinite and it is important to underline that not all of them require a large investment in order to be implemented: in fact, we mustn’t confuse methodology with technology. If the mechanisms that tie playing and learning are universal, they become essential if we consider that a generation of “digital natives” is emerging in the working world or rather, people who have been immersed since birth in a world of digital technologies that have shaped their way of learning, making it extremely rapid, multitasking, and goal oriented rather than sequentially. We cannot respond to the training needs of these individuals with traditional models perhaps it is because of this that it is estimated that the gamification market will reach 5 billion dollars by 2018 (Markets and Markets) and that already by 2014, 70% of 2000 worldwide organisations will use applications based on games for evaluating the performance, well-being and training of their employees (Gartner). “When the wind of change blows, some people build walls, others windmills” (Chinese proverb). What will you do? Vincenzo Petruzzi

written by: Vincenzo Petruzzi , 6 May 2014

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