What the Gamification of Feedback Means to Learning Design – PDOA (Public Displays of Achievement)
April 24, 2012 4 Comments
Gamification has spread from marketing to learning and development, and at PIXELearning we’re often asked to design leader boards, badges and public rewards into the feedback mechanism of our Serious Games.
I felt it might be a good time to take a moment to check out the pros and cons of gamifying feedback.
So, before I go any further, as this is a hotly debated subject, I will establish what Gamification and Serious Games mean for the purpose of this blog (advanced warning: skip this if you know it!)
Gamification “typically involves applying game design thinking to non-game applications to make them more fun and engaging”. 1
Serious Games “have an explicit and carefully thought-out educational purpose and are not intended to be played primarily for amusement, this does not mean that serious games are not, or should not be, entertaining.” 2
Who’s using Gamification for Learning and Development?
Gartner predicts that by 2014, 70% of big companies will have a gamified application3, a reason for this trend is young people or Gen Ys joining the workforce. Gabe Zimmerman, author and CEO of Gamification Co. advises that “Millenials are different from previous generations largely because of their exposure to video games. These have really changed their expectations of how work should be. They actually think work should be fun.”4 Accordingto the Entertainment Software Association’s 2011 report, adult gamers have been playing video games now for an average of 12 years.5
Some examples are as follows:
– Target retail group has encouraged their staff to compete against each other, thus speeding up checkout time
– DueProp, the mobile app, allows employees to give immediate feedback to management and co-workers
– There are a plethora of service providers that enable an organisation’s website to be given a gamification layer (Bunchball’s “Nitro” being an early example)
What’s the science behind it all?
According to Bunchball, gaming mechanics tap into our basic human needs and “These needs are universal, and span generations, demographics, cultures and genders.”6
This is about motivation- crucial for learning, so I’m going to go VERY briefly into a few theories and how they relate to this subject.
Skinnerian Conditioning and Learning
Skinner used external reinforcement to elicit behaviours from his animal subjects. He found that it was possible to condition human beings in the same way and that a variable rather than fixed reward schedule is more likely to maintain the desired behaviour, hence the addictive nature of gambling. The achievement points, badges and trophies of gamification are often compared to this model.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
See illustration below, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, stated that we must fulfil our basic needs at the bottom of the pyramid before we will get the urge to meet the higher level needs. The bottom four are deficiency needs, if they are not met we will experience anxiety. Earning badges and points and a strong position on a leader board could be said to meet our ‘Esteem’ needs, whereas creating sound opportunities for deep learning through games contributes to our Self Actualisation.
Dan Pink: Drive
Dan Pink, in his book “Drive”, goes further to say that beyond simple, algorithmic, if/ then tasks, rewards and incentives do not work but when tasks become more complicated and require conceptual thinking, true motivators are autonomy, purpose and mastery. This indicates that for marketing and customer loyalty schemes, the reward schemes of gamification have their place, but for learning which requires active cognitive engagement, good quality game design is more suited.
What’s not to like? Isn’t Gamifying Feedback Just Harmless Fun?
Perhaps it depends on how it is received. “Competitive motivation is oriented towards a goal in which the other competitors for the goal are secondary; (Desire to Win) is oriented toward another human being, whose worsting is the primary goal”7or as Gore Vidal put it “It is not enough to succeed, others must fail”.
It’s also about the difference between intrinsic motivation (comes from within, when one is driven by enjoyment of the task itself) and extrinsic motivation (externally located, when the task is performed to attain a particular outcome or reward). When too much is offered by way of a reward it reduces intrinsic motivation. A study demonstrated this effect as follows; children who expected to be rewarded for drawing pictures spent less time playing with the drawing materials in subsequent observations, than children who did not expect rewards.8
When we’re designing Serious Games, we want the games to arouse intrinsic motivation, though according to Self Determination Theory, the rewards may be used to encourage behavior initially and then gradually withdrawn as the behavior is internalized and the motivation becomes intrinsic.
This is great, but might there be people who are actually put off a task if their achievements (or lack of) are publicly displayed on a leader board? The answer to that may be ‘yes’ according to the following factors:
Sense of Self-Worth
Psychology Professor Dr. Marty Covington has been researching the effects of classroom competition on academic motivation for several decades. He has found that creating competition over a limited number of high grades is unhelpful to motivation. The root of all academic motivation is to maintain and increase a sense of ‘self-worth’, those who feel that they cannot achieve the top grades, can successfully preserve their self –worth by not trying, thereby attributing their failure to lack of effort rather than lack of intelligence.
An excerpt from The Journal of Economic Literature, 2009, explains best: “We find that women are indeed more risk averse than men. We find that the social preferences of women are more situationally specific…Finally we find that women are more averse to competition than men.”9
Extraverts are energized by other people; they are interested in the external world and therefore most likely to be motivated by rewards and achievements that compare themselves to others. The opposite is true of introverts. According to ‘gifted’ expert, Lesley Sword, “Western civilisation today is dominated by the extravert viewpoint. This is because extraverts outnumber introverts 3 to 1, are more vocal than introverts and are more understandable than introverts. However [introverts] form the majority of gifted people. Moreover, it appears that introversion increases with intelligence so that more than 75% of people with an IQ above 160 are introverted.”10
There are plenty of other personality profiles, but one that seems very relevant is the Bartle Test of Gamer Psychology. It categorizes gamers into Achievers, Explorers, Socialisers and Killers. Achievers will strive to achieve rewards for no benefit other than prestige, and Killers thrive on competition with other players. Gamified feedback is likely to be more beneficial to these types than to the Explorers and Socialisers whose titles are self-explanatory.
It is not enough to slap badges and leader boards onto a poorly designed game, and hope the fun of competition and shiny badges is going to whoop the learners into an up-skilling frenzy! We must design the game to be compelling in its own right using “mystery, mastery, mental challenge, narrative, novelty and flow.”11
When deciding whether or not to use badges, achievements and leader boards for feedback, we need to consider the complexity of the learning material, and we need to consider our audience – ensuring that by designing a feedback system that satisfies the needs of the majority we are not alienated our (possibly most talented) minority.
1 http://gamification.org/wiki/gamification , (Apr 2012)
2 Abt, Clark, (1970), Serious Games, University Press of America, p9
3 http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1844115 (March 2012)
4 Zichermann, Gabe interviewed by Graham, Fiona (Feb 2012), What if you got paid to play games at work?,, BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/business-17160118 (Feb 2012)
7 Mead, Margaret (1937) 2002. Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples. 2002 edition, Transaction Publishers, November 2002. New York and London: McGraw-Hill. Enlarged paperback edition published by Beacon in 1961.p147
8 Mark R. Lepper, David Greene and Richard Nisbet, “Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward; A Test of ‘Overjustification’ Hypothesis, ” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28, 1973, 129‐37.
9 Crozon, Rachael and Gneezy, Uri, (2009) Gender Differences in Preferences Journal of Economic Literature 2009, 47:2, 1–27, http:www.aeaweb.org/articles.php?doi=10.1257/jel.47.2.1, p1
10 Sword,K Leslie, Director, Gifted and Creative Services Australia Pty Ltd, (2000)http://www.starjump.com.au/media/Papers%20%20Articles/The%20Gifted%20Introvert%20by%20Lesley%20Sword_.pdf
11 Portnow, James (2012), The Skinner Box, Extra Credits, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWtvrPTbQ_c
Abt, Clark, (1970), Serious Games, University Press of America
Crozon, Rachael and Gneezy, Uri, (2009) Gender Differences in Preferences Journal of Economic Literature 2009
Dan pink, RSA Animate – Drive: The suprising truth aboutwhat motivates us, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u6XAPnuFjJc
Deterding, Sebastian, Pawned, (2012) http://www.slideshare.net/dings/pawned-gamification-and-its-discontents
Graham, Fiona (Feb 2012), What if you got paid to play games at work?,, BBC News, www.bbc.co.uk/news/mobile/business-17160118
http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=1844115 (March 2012)
Mark R. Lepper, David Greene and Richard Nisbet, “Undermining Children’s Intrinsic Interest with Extrinsic Reward; A Test of ‘Overjustification’ Hypothesis, ” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 28, 1973
Mead, Margaret (1937) 2002. Cooperation and Competition Among Primitive Peoples. 2002 edition, Transaction Publishers, November 2002. New York and London: McGraw-Hill. Enlarged paperback edition published by Beacon in 1961
Portnow, James (2012), Acheivements, Extra Credits,
Portnow, James (2012), The Skinner Box, Extra Credits, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tWtvrPTbQ_c
Wu, Michael, PhD, Gamification 101, The Psychology of Motivation, (Jan 2011) http://lithosphere.lithium.com/t5/Building-Community-the-Platform/Gamification-101-The-Psychology-of-Motivation/ba-p/21864
Dan Pink’s Motivation Model: http://q-ontech.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/outliers-motivation-our-kids-and-future.html