Gamification, Experiential Learning and the Challenge of Virtual Learning

Education has always been a fertile space for the creation of new terminology and models. Applied in the right spaces these concepts and semantics help us to more-accurately define what we do, but applied more casually they obscure real and important differences in approach. The pandemic has driven a great deal of learning on-line, and created the perfect storm of misinformation and misunderstanding around the terminologies used in describing how learning is designed and delivered remotely. In this short article we’re going to attempt to tease apart one part of this confusing field – the place where Gamification, Experiential Learning, Hands-on Learning and Virtual Learning meet.

Let’s start with Gamification.

The simplest, and perhaps most useful, definition of Gamification I’ve seen is this:

“Gamification is the addition of game-elements into non-game activities”

Other than its simplicity the thing I like about this definition is that it is clear about what Gamification is not – Gamification isn’t games!

This is really important to us as designers of Learning Games – it keeps us honest about Gamification being the stuff we design that links our games in an effective learning environment. So a typical programme that we design for a client might have gamification elements that create engagement and interest for learners as they move through a curriculum that has a number of learning games built into it. 

Blowing our own trumpet – we’re good at Gamification – in the US Training Magazine Network Choice Awards we’ve just taken the 2020 award in the Gamification Category!

Experiential Learning / Hands-on Learning?

Experiential Learning is the term that best defines the approach to learning that we have advocated, and been engaged in, for decades. It’s a process of learning from experience, with the crucial additional process step of structured reflection, (hands-on learning places less emphasis on this reflection so it’s not a term that accurately describes what we do). Having celebrated how useful to us a simple definition of Gamification is, we find that the simplicity of this definition of Experiential Learning isn’t actually very valuable to us as designers. The ‘experience’ in ‘Learning from experience’  should, for us, be a structured experience, designed within a programme of learning in order to address specific learning outcomes.
This increased definition is enshrined in our in-house design approach – REALs.

REAL’s – Rich Environments for Active Learning

RSVP Design’s core business is in building Learning Environments, (and the games that go in them), that maximise the opportunities for students to build their learning towards defined goals using participatory experiences. In order for one of our designs to be considered to meet the REALs definition it needs to answer positively to the following questions:

  • Is it Generative – does it allow learners to integrate new learning with what they already know?
  • Is it Co-operative – are learners encouraged to learn with and from each other?
  • Is it Learner-Centered – are the needs of the individual learner acknowledged? 
  • Is it Problem-Based – does it realistically represent the learning that is needed to be effective in modern organisations and communities?  

This is a pretty stringent design brief, and we often need to convince clients that it’s worth going the extra mile to develop a well-considered outcome. In our minds, the adage “If you think that learning is expensive, look at the cost of not learning” is as profound a truism as it’s possible to get.

Which brings us to the question that seems to be vexing a large part of the L+D Industry: 

Can we still have Experiential Learning and effective Gamification if we’re delivering learning virtually?

Six months ago we were starting to have serious doubts about this – a combination of platforms that didn’t do what we needed them to do, and corporate fire-walls that restricted what we could use to distribute content, was giving us a real challenge. We explored innumerable solutions but none of them was satisfactory in allowing us to create REALs – and, for us, anything else was sub-standard.

We recognised that building our own platform, specifically designed to facilitate the delivery of learning that was truly Experiential, was our only recourse, and that’s what we’ve been working on ever since.

We succeeded, our best selling activity Colourblind® (online version) is up there and working well for increasing numbers of clients. Simbols (online version) – another very successful activity in the hands-on world, has just been added and is working well in live trials, and is due for commercial release this month.

Over the coming months we’ll be working through the process of rapid-prototyping, live-testing and releasing our tools on this new platform, always listening to the feedback we get from users, and always ready to improve the user- and facilitator- experience. It’s been a massive learning-experience for RSVP Design, but we wouldn’t be in this business if we didn’t know a thing or two about learning…

If you’d like to experience our learning tools, either in the physical or digital world, then please get in touch as we have regular online demonstrations scheduled, or can create an in-house session for your team. Contact [email protected] 

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