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Gamification: A fad or the future?

Photo of individual participating in online game.

On the professional LinkedIn group, Learning and Development, Eng-Sing SOON from Singapore initiated a discussion by asking if Gamification was a passing fad or the future of learning.

It was not surprising that the discussion quickly jumped towards defining what gamification meant.
Kenneth Camel from New Zealand stated first with, “The process of gamification means using gaming techniques in developing learning events, not necessarily making a game out of learning. Gaming techniques use engagement, teaming and communication to reach an objective. This brings different types of learners together to solve problems (scenarios, role playing and practice). The techniques have been around for a long time. (war gaming, D&D, board games, learning maps, lean manufacturing).”

Jack A. Loganbill from the Unisys Corporation was quick to note that he found that there is a wide difference in opinion of what exactly gamification is as it applies to training. He went on to responded to the question by asking the question “Is it turning the training into a game? Or is it applying gaming attributes the principles that make games so attractive, to the training.

For those who read my recent blog, I too have noticed that when working with different organizations I realized the term gamification has very different meanings to different people. So I opted to simply used Wikipedia’s definition. “Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users' self-contributions. Gamification has been studied and applied in several domains, with some of the main purposes being to engage, teach, entertain, measure[, and to improve the perceived ease of use of information systems.”

Personally, I think Katin Imes, from Expedition 21 Media, Inc. provided one most clarifying definitions when he stated, “I want to point out a word-transformation that is happening. The term "gamification" means really different things in different domains. The current term is "on fire" in sales, media, online "customer engagement", and corporate offices but there it means:
- adding track able, effectible metrics to simple customer actions
- presenting those metrics to the public or to a subgroup in a themed, "fun" way that provides competition or rewards
- providing prizes, rewards, freebies, or recognition awards to the highest-metric participants.”

“When a learning professional hears gamification in a sense of applying it to training or learning, the term is much more to do with providing exercises ("games") that directly include the skills or knowledge being learned to be applied in a system ("rules") that provides a clear outcome ("win or lose", "measurable benefit or loss", "rank"). Quality games provide problems or resource situations that cannot be solved well without the skills or knowledge being learned, and allow participants to experiment and "tweak the dials" to experience the outcomes and effects of different strategies and factors or sequences.”

Once you settle on a definition for the term “gamification” you can go back to the question that the title asks: Gamification: A fad or the future of learning? Hopefully your interest has been peaked. There is a general consensus developing among those participating in the discussion on the LinkedIn Learning and Development Group that you can follow. I however will not provide a spoiler.

Badges, Certification, MOOC's -Oh My! Follow the Training Path

Following a Path, watercolor rendition

Emerging professionals, don’t wait; take charge of your own career learning paths now!

What’s typical of the A/E and design profession is you likely began with a BA or MA in your chosen field of study. The majority of design professionals will not add additional formal academic training to their resumes after graduation. Most interns and newly minted architects, engineers and designers hope and expect that they will start with a firm and participate in their in-house training activities. Currently, the typical training path starts with a lot of web surfing. “Structured learning” will likely be a mixture of in-house lunch sessions, on-the job training, webinars, and maybe some association conferences. Some lucky emerging professionals will connect with a mentor willing to assist them in designing a career learning path. In time, a few may be selected to participate in a specialized workshop or seminar. A small percentage of young professionals are even sponsored to receive specialized certification.

Unfortunately, results rarely match expectations. A major obstacle that is working against finding that perfect training firm is tradition. In the A/E design field only a few firms have well organized, structured learning opportunities, academies or universities. A/E firms were progressing well in developing their training centers until the Great Recession forced staff reductions. Among the first staff to be released and benefits to be cut back - anyone or anything that was not billable. Training in the A/E industry falls under that category. The industry has been slow to recover. A second obstacle to overcome is trust. That is, trust among some firm leaders about training staff and then losing them to their competition.

Would you erect a building without a foundation? Why expect that your professional education development would be any different? Consider the following:
* Few companies provide a “what you need to learn” outline for you. During your annual job performance appraisal you may be lucky enough to have a manager who is willing to take the necessary time to work with you to outline a one or two year training plan.
* If at all possible, find two, three or more trusted leaders or mentors that will advise you on the development of a career learning path. If you were making a life altering medical decision wouldn't you seek a second or third opinion?
* For established awareness, practitioner and mastery content do not overlook your professional associations. Some associations such as AIA and ACEC provide recommended curriculum that you can use as a guideline. (See my related professional curriculum blogs: Personal & Association).

Distinguish yourself at your convenience by earning:
BADGES has emerged as a recognized way to document your achievements in professional development. They can support and enhance your career portfolio and may help illuminate a learning path.
CERTIFICATION is a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task. Industry examples include ASQ, CSI, LEED, and PMI.
MOOC (Massive open online course) There is a growing list of free college and university course available. For various fees, some of the courses provide digital badges, certificates, and/or college credit. These can be a great opportunity for when it applies to your professional interest or job. These college courses do require work. The completion rate is around 5-10%, being highest in the business sector.

Gamification as a Situational Learning Tool

Photo by by azwaldo

The use of games or gamification for learning enhancement is not new in education. During the past few years however, there has been a renewed interest in gamification due largely to the new technologies that has become available. If you Google “gamification” it displays more than 700,000 results. Unfortunately too many people create educational games so that they can demonstration a technology rather than because it is the correct tool to improve or increase knowledge or a competency. Before selecting any delivery tools consider context and learning situation.

Working with several different organizations this past fall I realized the term gamification has very different meanings to different people. So for those of you reading this blog let’s establish a common definition used by Wikipedia. Gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts to engage users in solving problems and increase users' self-contributions. Gamification has been studied and applied in several domains, with some of the main purposes being to engage, teach, entertain, measure[, and to improve the perceived ease of use of information systems.”

In the January 2015 issue of Chief Learning Officer is an interview with Jake Orowitz, Head of Wikipedia Library. In the interview Orowitz explains how Wikipedia uses gamification for situational learning to onboard volunteers, sharing the process related to editing material.

There are several interesting business case studies that use Gamification to enhance learning. For Microsoft the situation was to create a bond between the consulting business’ senior managers and to use the opportunity for content delivery and learning, bringing management up to date on the vision, financial results and strategy for the year. A full gamification solution considering context and situations was designed to motivate participation in the event, measuring engagement with the content presented and creating team spirit within the ad-hoc teams formed during the process. As a part of the process the tools to deliver the content were selected using mobile phones and tablets.

Another situation called for improving a course designed for those learning how to specify building materials for the new LEED MR Credit: Building product disclosure and optimization credit, under the Health Product Declaration (HPD) option. A collaborative team between, Lowther7, LLC, and GreenCE was created to meet the challenge. It was determined by the team that a good way to increase learning and have participants better demonstrate competency was to imbed a mini-game in the course at a point after students learned how to specify building materials. To see the results for yourself play the free version of the LEED Materials Credit mini-game!

For the last three decades the popular workshop, the Accounting Game was offered by Educational Discoveries, Inc. and Professional Training International. The situation called for assisting non-CPA’s to understand basic accounting and balance sheet practices. The one day, on-site workshop used a simple lemonade stand business simulation format.

As I stated at the beginning of this blog post, the use of games or gamification for learning is not new to education. One of my first graduate courses was how to create and use games to promote learning, develop skills, and improve competencies. Kevin Werbach and Dan Hunter have written a book entitled, For the Win: How Game Thinking Can Revolutionize Your Business (Wharton Digital Press, 2012).

Through Wharton – University of Pennsylvania and Coursera, Kevin Werbach, offers the free course, Gamification. It is the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges. This course teaches the mechanisms of gamification, why it has such tremendous potential, and how to use it effectively.

Develop and Manage Your Own Personal Professional Curriculum

Graphic of a simple curriculum model

Let's start by clarifying that discussing professional curriculum here IS NOT about obtaining quick, technical skills, topic knowledge, or short term learning. Rather, when discussing professional curriculum here IT IS intended as a long term approach to obtaining knowledge and skills with expected outcomes. Usually I suggest that my clients consider at least a 3 -5 year curriculum plan that is reviewed annually.

As a professional development coach, the initial question that I ask my clients, Why do you want to do professional development? Among the more common responses I hear: "€œI need to complete my CEU requirements."€ Usually the individual is referring to a state mandatory continuing education (MCE) state license requirement. They may also need to fulfill CE requirements to earn or maintain a certification - such as LEED. Many respond that they want to stay current within their practice. The important first question of "€œwhy"€ helps the individual better understand their own motivating factors behind pursuing professional development. It also provides direction related to curriculum content and selecting the appropriate delivery methods.

The second question that I ask is "What?"€ By coming up with the answer to what and why, it will help you to create your curriculum outline. Your curriculum should be structured to include the key elements, skills and courses that you intend to pursue. Below is a sample outline of what key elements a professional curriculum might include. (Note: You can substitute by filling in any profession below where indicated)

Core Areas: The general area of focus within the practice of .

Performance Domains: The key areas of practice in the field of including the specific aspects and activities of professional practice.

Curriculum Proficiencies: The skills and abilities needed to perform professional service. What the needs to know to perform successfully within a given area of practice.

While you are considering the elements, skills and courses consider too, your competency level in each. Will the subject and content be new to you? Are you a beginner looking for introduce and awareness material? Are you a practitioner with experience but looking for something new? Maybe you are an expert and have mastered the material and now want to compare your knowledge to your peers.

Below is a sample list of skills and related subject that an A/E/C design professional curriculum might include.

Critical Thinking: Research, data analysis.
Project Management: Project operations, project controls, project delivery.
Practice Management: Business administration: Financial, legal, HR, marketing.
Communications: Written, oral, graphics.
Professional Service: Management Administration, strategic planning, ethics, values.
Technical Skills:€“ Systems technology, BIM, auxiliary/support software.

The third question that I ask is "€œHow?" How would you prefer to acquire the knowledge or skills that will provide the professional knowledge and skills that you are seeking? The answer(s) help the individual to design and shape their own curriculum plan. There are a myriad of options available. Take into consideration of your subject competency level. Then match that to the knowledge delivery methods that that you most enjoy using, that are practical for you, and/or they are affordable. An awareness level program may be as simple as watching a YouTube video or a university open source learning module. For more in-depth knowledge try working with a mentor, a tutor or on-the-job experience. You may find that taking classes on-site, online, or a blend of the two works best for you. Or you may enjoy attending special workshops, symposiums and professional conferences.

There are several methods to track your progress. You can develop a simple spreadsheet. Some of the online education providers are now providing a tracking service if you take their courses. Many firms have a tracking system as a part of their LMS for their employees. And if the record keeping becomes too complex or you just don’t have the time, there is at least one small company that provides a records tracking service for design professionals.

As a final thought, I generally have my clients develop an action plan that addresses how they will meet and manage their curriculum plan. Consider adding this feature to your performance appraisal or having a peer review if you are a single practitioner.

Professional Curriculum: A Benefit Offered by Associations

Graph of the 3 Key Curriculum Elements

I am often asked by association education leaders and executives, how can my association compete against all of the external education providers? My reply is usually the question, why are you trying to compete?€ Associations have an advantage that no commercial business, firm or university can match -MEMBERS, lots of them. The membership usually represents every aspect of the related profession, or should come close. What a wonderful talent pool to provide answers to these questions. Associations have the opportunity to be a reliable, first source for quality education related to the profession.

Where should the association start to build their education programming? The answer, associations should rely upon their members to develop a curriculum. They can effectively create guidelines that supports the entire profession. Drilled down, detailed curriculum can also be created that support niches and sub-groups if desired.

An excellent example of what can be achieved is demonstrated by what the American Institute of Architects (AIA) achieved in 2007 and 2008. Drawing upon member volunteers representing firms, universities, and industry, along with a few staff, they created the foundation of an architect’s professional development curriculum. The curriculum was built upon three key elements. (Note: You can substitute by filling in your professional association below where indicated)

Core Areas: The general area of focus within the practice of (Fill in your profession).

Performance Domains: The key areas of practice in the field of (Fill in your profession) including the specific aspects and activities of professional practice.

Curriculum Proficiencies: The skills and abilities needed to perform professional service. What the professional (Fill in your profession) needs to know to perform successfully within a given area of practice.

Building upon a foundation, the committee began to fill in the curriculum topics. The team focused on the four professional core areas of design, building performance, leadership and practice. From there, they began to build out a recommended curriculum for the practice. Here are some of the skills the team agreed needed to be included for the practice of architecture.

Critical Thinking: Research, data analysis.
Project Management: Project operations, project controls, project delivery.
Practice management: “ Business administration, financial, legal, HR, marketing.
Communications: Written, oral, graphics.
Professional Service:Management Administration, strategic planning, ethics, values.
Technical Skills: Systems technology, BIM, auxiliary/support software.

When I first started at Arup, I talked with Jeffery Beard, Ph.D. and Dee McKenna, J.D., both at the time representing the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) Education and Business Development. Jeff and Dee shared with me an engineering PD curriculum with 16 core areas for development. Like the AIA, Jeff and Dee used this curriculum as a guideline for content delivered in ACEC courses and convention programming.

I shared ACEC'€™s curriculum with my L&D team at Arup. After prioritizing and adjusting the curriculum to meet our own internal needs we began to restructure our own education content. We enhanced the process by adding three competency levels, Awareness, Practitioner, and Mastery and assigning our courses to one of these competency levels.

The AIA had a seven year head start while ACEC had five years before a large design firm took advantage of the reliable information source provided by these two associations. Most external providers in the industry are still struggling in the design structure of their course offerings. Postscript. Based in part upon the foundation provided by the recommended ACEC curriculum, Arup was recognized in March as a 2014 LearningElite company in learning and development by CLO Media. Only two design firms even made the list.

Recognition: The 2007 Curriculum Sub-Committee and the Continuing Education Quality Assurance Program participants included:

Curriculum Committee and CEQAP Participants:
Mike Rodriguez, FAIA; Amy Yurko, AIA; Mike Broshar, FAIA; Emily Grandstaff-Rice, AIA; Jonathan Fischel, FAIA; Brenda Scheer, AIA; Mark Graham, AIA; Quentin Elliott, AIA; William Seider, AIA; Ed Vidlak, AIA; Gordon, Mills, FAIA; Marvin Malecha, FAIA; James Mitnick, PE; Robert Lopez, RA.and Leslie Nathan, AIA;

AIA Staff:
C.D. Pangallo Ed.D; Patricia Lukas, M.A.; Richard Hayes Ph.D., RAIC, AIA; Theodora Campbell-Orde; Barb Sido, ABD; Thom Lowther, Ed.S. and Daniel Bauman (AIA Intern);