From applications to help people learn new languages to online training portals for bankers to learn new office processes, “gamification” is in fashion. Some critics ask whether it’s as effective a model for learning as its pundits claim, but one South African company believes the results speak for themselves.
Gamification refers to making tasks more like games, the idea being that this makes the assimilation of mundane information or tasks more pleasant and that competition and rewards help motivate people.
Johnathan Brandt is the technical development manager at Training Room Online, a South African company that builds games for companies looking to train staff using means other than the traditional tools of workshops, videos and corporate training.
Brandt says the fact that “gamified learning” is inherently quantifiable means it’s easy to contrast and compare it with the results from other methods of training. In tests conducted by his company, people who learn using gamified learning take in much more than they do when they watch a video or sit through a workshop. Depending on the content, it can be as much as twice as effective, he claims.
The Training Room Online creates games from the ground up for financial institutions, the mining sector, further education and training institutions, and anyone else who wants them.
“We take the content companies provide us and put it into e-learning content,” Brandt explains. “The aim is to get people to learn without knowing they’re learning.”
The company recently built a game for Standard Bank, which needed to teach employees about a new process they had to follow.
“Users direct a character around a map and encounter puzzles,” Brandt explains. “These puzzles match real-world problems.”
Users accrue points that open up new sections of the game and the reporting functionality makes it easy to see how well different users have done.
The company is also busy with a game aimed at high school maths pupils. “We’re building a virtual city in which players are given a patch of ground and have to work out areas of the building they want to build, along with other calculations,” Brandt says. If the player gets the calculations wrong, it shows on the building.
“Rewards make people want to play more. They will redo a formula time and time again until they get it right. By the end they’ve learnt it, even if they didn’t mean to.”
Brandt says a private company is paying for and deploying the maths game to try and make maths a “sexy subject choice”. He says the game is aimed at all grades and that the complexity and puzzles change depending on the grade. Moreover, the game encourages students to go beyond their skill levels, too.
“A basic run-through gives you the basic elements, but repeat play refines the city and offers more rewards.” Brandt says rewards are “critical to the process” and having enough variety is important in games where repetition is important for retention of the information being conveyed.
Companies are billed according to how long a game takes to make, along with other variables such as its complexity, whether it’s a 2D or 3D game, and what sort of animation is required. Brandt says the average game costs between R30 000 and R200 000 and that games can be built for a wide range of platforms, from 3D-animated virtual worlds to sprite-based games for mobile phones.
More often than not, games are built to work in a Web interface with a responsive design because this makes them easiest to distribute and allows them to be played on the widest range of devices.
“The challenge is getting the concept across in a fun game,” he says. “It can’t be a game no one wants to play.”
Another challenge is working out how much game play is necessary, and how much time the company can allow, for a user to pick up a particular concept or lesson.
Brandt says another obvious advantage of game-based training is that it brings printing costs down and results in fewer training manuals in bins and landfills.
But the potential pitfalls of gamification are, as a report on TechCrunch puts it, that companies and developers get “fixated on bells and whistles like points and badges, while not creating meaningful enough motivations and objectives. Without the latter, the former become meaningless.”
The Training Room Online has the advantage of having very clear objectives laid out by its clients, but for app designers or retailers, this may be a valid criticism. Another risk from an apps perspective is user fatigue — if too many apps are gamified the novelty of the form will wear off. — (c) 2013 NewsCentral Media