The “Both … And” Approach
The eLearning community has long used games as part of eLearning, the question isn’t “Which is better?” The question is “How can we use both most effectively?”
The answers need all our creativity because we assess each problem that has a learning solution for the right combination of elements that make up the most effective solution. No two answers are exactly alike because no two problems are exactly alike. That’s why we love our work, right? We get to use both the analytical and creative sides of our brains.
One theory holds that intrinsically integrated serious games combined with standard classroom or e-learning are more effective than extrinsically integrated “edutainment” approaches.1 “Intrinsic integration” means that the learning content is integrated with the mechanics and “fantasy context” of the game. It makes sense that intrinsically integrated games create more direct connection with the learning content, so learners are more deeply engaged and motivated to complete the learning experience, getting the most feedback and reinforcement of correct decisions.
The study that supports this theory compared learning outcomes for specific mathematical skills learning between intrinsically and extrinsically integrated versions of a learning game, Zombie Division, in an academic educational setting. It found a marked advantage for the intrinsic version of the game, with the delayed-test results (two weeks after the learning intervention) demonstrating significantly higher scores for the group that played the intrinsically integrated version of Zombie Division. The group who played the extrinsically integrated game increased their post-test scores over their pre-test scores by about 15 percentage points more than the control group did. The group who played the intrinsically integrated game, however, increased their post-test scores over their pre-test scores by about 30 percentage points more than the control group did.
How does motivation figure into this outcome? One iteration of the study demonstrated that the participants showed a significant preference for the intrinsic version of the game when they had the option of switching between versions. It appears that intrinsic integration of content with the game translates into learners’ intrinsic motivation to achieve deeper learning, too, because such games offer motivators we’ve known about since studies in the 1980’s: clear goals, achievable challenges and immediate, accurate feedback, with both the challenges and the skills becoming more complex.2 So we might conclude that intrinsically integrated learning games work best for reinforcing specific skills introduced by standard e-learning or instructor-led training.
How can we apply these findings to our corporate learning solutions?
We have to consider the same factors we always do, with optimal engagement in mind. Now we know that optimal engagement can be achieved with game elements intrinsically tied to two other factors – the learning content and the learners’ motivations. So we can ask ourselves:
- What does our audience need to learn? (content)
- How will they be applying it on the job? (game structure)
- What do they find rewarding about using this content on the job? (competition with others, out-performing their previous personal best, accumulating points for a reward like a 100% Score certificate, praise-feedback from a mentor during the learning process itself – or a combination of several of these)
Then we can get creative in thinking about how to measure skill transfer to the job immediately and after several time intervals. And based on those results, we can creatively improve the learning experiences and subsequent reinforcements. The creative opportunities never end!
What do you think? Please share your comments.
Habgood, M.P.J., doctoral thesis: “The Effective Integration of Digital Games and Learning Content.” (http://hiddenlevel.co.uk/zd/Habgood%202007%20Compact.pdf)
Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1988). “The flow experience and human psychology.” In M. Csikszentmihalyi & I. S. Csikszentmihalyi (Eds.), Optimal Experience (pp.15-35). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.