How can gamification assist with incompetence?

A few days ago I was having a discussion about incompetence. It made me think and wonder if incompetence is really something we do on purpose. For a lot of people it is also about they don’t know what they don’t know and hence calling them incompetent seems largely unfair.

In learning and in psychology, you have the description of how unconscious incompetence can be moved to competence. It starts with being in a state of oblivion and then moving on to the realisation that you are missing a skill , which makes you consciously incompetent. Then as you start learning pass through conscious competence until you have achieved mastery, where it is more a case of using your developed skill without having to stand still and think about it.

How can gamification help in this journey towards competence

In most of our learning gamification designs, I start with a knowledge test or practical test to raise either the aha-insight that the individual still has something to learn or to point out in what areas they may be missing a trick. When we are dealing with a subject, where a lot of people think they know it all such as compliance, for example, this technique can be used to have them prove they know it all so they don’t have to go through a whole course again. Either way, whether they take the course or prove themselves knowledgeable, you have achieved your compliance exercise.

In soft skills areas or other subjective fields such as design, incompetence may simply be the result of not knowing there are other ways or hitting blind spots that have never been brought to people’s attention.

If we want to stimulate a change of any kind, I find that it needs to start with awareness. Awareness through gamification can be raised through the means of self-assessments, quizzes, feedback loops, scoring, consequences for choices made, etc. When this is done at the start of a training program, I also want to make it easy to complete and thought-provoking.

If we don’t take this step, then the feeling that a person is wasting valuable time on a course they have to take may prevail and limit what is learned. The stronger the desire to learn, the easier it is to bring the individual on the journey. Knowing the reason why they want to or ought to master the skill then brings in the additional scope for gamification to be effective or not.

If someone must complete something, things like progression bars, milestone achievements and fun coaxing to get them to the finish are more helpful than a full-blown story. For someone with a deep passion to master something fully, the scope for multiple tracks to explore and discover may be the appropriate way forward. Feedback on progress and skills development are useful for both.

Creativity in gamification design is driven by the knowledge you have about your learner and their reasons for engagement. Not everyone will have to get to the point of unconscious competence, but maybe competence alone is enough.

Most learners crave the feedback on their skills competence. In traditional education, this comes through examinations and practical tests to verify that you can recall what you have learned. In a corporate setting, it comes more through putting it into practice when you are faced with a scenario that requires this skill.

For example, if I am learning about moving and handling people, my first step is to often realise what I am doing wrong, then unlearning and re-learning the correct way. Putting it into practice with patients then is your ultimate proof of skill. When you are consistently keeping yourself and your patient out of harm whilst moving them, then you know you are on the path to mastery.

Most companies would not ask people to count how many times per day you lifted somebody, but in a gamified setting, we could imagine that this is counted and works towards your ratio of mastery. The ratio would come done when an incident occurs, when either you or your patient become injured or fall, etc. An easier ratio to calculate may simply be reported incident rather than tracking every lift or move. Saying that individual personalised feedback is typically more meaningful than generalised feedback for a whole ward or team. I would expect wearable devices to soon be able to measure our movements and ask you to simply tap to acknowledge a move with an add-on question of was it successful.

For most knowledge acquisition the path to mastery or realisation of mastery sneaks up on people without any conscious prompt. If you think back to learning to drive a car, the learning process was conscious, but are you today thinking about how to drive or just doing it. The same goes for walking, cycling and many other things we now can do nearly on automatic pilot. When you have hit that state you have hit true unconscious competence or mastery.

What do you need to develop a corporate boardgames for communication and education purposes?

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Pricing new experiences

On my recent speaking schedule, I met a lot of business leaders in HR and learning. Because I spoke about the topic of gamification trends and how to implement these solutions. Invariably in conversations afterwards, you find out how people are finding gamification and what they are doing with it.

In HR circles the view of gamification was largely positive, yet in learning circles, the mix ranged from haters to lovers. What both communities had in common is that they had enquired with a variety of providers to come up with solutions, unfortunately, they where all abhorred by pricing.

Price levels in gamification vary widely. As a platform agnostic consultant, I can confirm that this is the case and that is without adding a consultant in the mix also. I ask for pricing of peers and the answers vary from tons to as much as I think the client is willing to pay.  I guess it is also not something everyone is willing to be open about and not easily verified on truth factor. As in all walks of life poker faces and bluff are just as rife in our industry as in any other.

Platforms often don’t have standard pricing or if they do you need a data science degree to make sense of it all. I like fixed fees or per user licensing. I really don’t like it when fees are based on activity, the extent of gamification or actual API calls, for most end-users that is scary information and not helping their decisions. Having to pay for additional bits also makes it hard for the client to buy. Headcount numbers are relatively predictable and a number most HR and learning people can work with, the rest is just clouding transparency.

One comment that stuck with me from a learning leader, was that they wanted gamification to be disposable. She explained this further and went on to say that she wanted it to be cost-effective, time effective and impactful, to date she had not found anything fitting those parameters.

From a strategy perspective, she raises a valid point, namely that changing it up needs to be easily done. Most people in learning have mastered authoring tools, which come at affordable pricing for most businesses. Gamification platforms are nowhere near these figures, most of them compare to ERP systems in pricing or LMS systems, which in most cases they are an add-on to.

It leaves us as gamification designers in an interesting place. Do we aim for a business model similar to elearning design and creative agencies and create disposable short-term items. As platforms, the pricing has to become way more transparent and not fluctuating based on a brand name or perceived finance a company could realistically afford.

The other point that came up frequently is impact measurement. How can we prove as part of our business case that gamification has an impact on behaviour change and other reasons for engaging in gamification? For us, a lot of our work is under non-disclose agreements, so we don’t share results. In proposals, I will share what I can and also what I find from research.

One of the other reasons why I don’t publish case studies freely is because my work get’s copied. Whilst this may be flattery in some cultures, I have to work hard enough already to gain and keep the clients I have to not feed my competitors everything on a plate.  With some of our clients, we have been actively looking to validate impact with the assistance of PhD research. So if you are a student looking to dedicate your research to the impact gamification in HR or learning, feel free to let me know if you can work on a UK based project.

There are studies and more and more research is coming out, which validates the impact and the kinds of interventions that can work. As someone that has come from the field of change management, learning and HR, I have to also keep it real and say that gamification is one tool of many that can be used. One that I personally enjoy a lot, but it is not for every single thing you do.

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Increasing recall and retention in learning gamification

When we look at the reasons for implementing gamification in learning, the most frequently quoted reasons are to increase recall and retention of the necessary knowledge about a topic.

In order to benefit best from gamification, we need to ask if a learner has enough background or base knowledge to understand how something works. If a learner doesn’t have the basics, then direct instruction may be the best option to start with. If the learner has base knowledge building in experiences and scenarios can be beneficial.

If for example, we are learning to drive for the first time, knowing the basic things that power a car is an essential basic. Learning by doing can teach you further once you have mastered that a key in the ignition and giving some gas will power the motor,  releasing the break will help the car move forward providing you have the gears in the right place to help it to stay running and to allow for different speeds.

If we link gamification to this process, then the initial learning of knowledge benefits from simple feedback to encourage further learning. Once we enter the doing phase the feedback will be received through the car in practice. Most of us don’t start driving on a busy road, but rather in an empty car park or deserted street. We then level up our scenarios to more challenging situations. The feedback loop and encouragement to see yourself progressing are really the most you need in the early stages of learning. Levelling up with an instructor or supervisor at your side is the next step.

The actual driving test is a milestone in itself and passing it another leading to certification. True mastery, however, will come well after we pass the initial test by going on more diverse journeys, maybe driving on the wrong side of the road. Your passengers will become your feedback loops and if you drive some of the feedback enabled cars, you will earn points for being careful and fuel efficient.

Dropping someone into a drive a car without basic knowledge situation will not work for the majority of people. Adding gamification here may cause an excess of inputs or cognitive overload. At a basic level, the gamification should be simple and as you develop your skill the feedback and challenges can step up, it is really on the road to mastery where most added value appears in learning related gamification. It is then the individual seeking out feedback to keep improving their skills.

Increased recall and retention of knowledge comes from practising a lot, but only after we have mastered the basics. When we design gamification and games, our initial introduction to a game needs to be simple and easy to understand, once you level up the more complex gamification and also knowledge application becomes relevant. Confidence is gained over time by finetuning and applying a skill in different situations with increasing or varying levels of difficulty. Knowing that you are doing well and improving is where gamification can add value.

Learning is physiological and what it means for gamification

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Gamification for diversity and inclusion

In the upcoming Gamification Europe conference and awards, I asked to include a category of awards to stimulate projects for the greater good of our industry and to encourage more representation of people of all ages, ability, races, gender etc.

For me, this has been the very reason why I entered the industry in 2012 because at that time there were very few women in the gamification and many designs didn’t appeal to me as a woman.  In 2015 I spoke of gender in gamification design at gamification world congress, the design suggestion for inclusion still hold true today.

This speech did conjure up a lot of talk and backlash to me personally from an industry that was obviously struggling to accept that there is a need for diversity and more inclusion. It is sad to say, that from the immediate responses of fellow judges for Gamification Europe that a lot of them are copping out of knowing anything about inclusion and diversity in gamification design. We were asked to rate our ability to judge on the variety of awards and inclusion and diversity was rated poorly by most judges.

In my opinion, you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure this out. Just look at the representation at conferences, very few coloured faces in the mix, mainly male audiences and the same 5 powerhouse ladies at every gig as a token or testimony to the other gender. Granted I may be on a hobby horse topic here and if you don’t like rants, move on to another blog.

It is 2018, we have seen Me Too and Him for her, taking knees, Black lives matters, all movements to increase awareness of what is fundamentally malfunctioning in our society where exclusion rules. And then a group of judges can’t figure out how to spot a project that encourages diversity and inclusion, seriously?

I personally believed the gamification industry was an innovative stream in technology, but maybe there are only a few of us who believe that. I also feel that if we are at the cutting edge then stepping out and making a difference should go hand in hand.

When I speak about inclusion, it is about making gamification interesting for all ages, race, ability, religion and gender. In some of our work, this has meant creating more than one experience journey to suit different levels and abilities with technology. Some groups are more present on some social media and not others, typically based on interest and ability. Young people are more adept at moving across apps, older generations won’t, the same with those less exposed to new technology in their home, which is a socio-economic value rather than anything else. Allowing everyone to feel accepted to play is what matters in inclusion and diversity.

I came across this project in Malaysia, where inclusion was in fact key to the gameplay, have a look at the video below to show how simple inclusion and diversity can be…

Other shining lights in inclusion and diversity that I have seen over the years come from ability inclusion, where the charity Special Effects adapts game consoles to allow people with handicaps to play games. Cancer research adapted a campaign to suit men entering because for them it was an underrepresented group.

I can’t believe that as an industry, there is no project worth entering that has had a notable impact on creativity and design at its core. On my travels around the world, great initiatives are often not presented for awards and yet they see the biggest impact. Maybe they lack the self-importance of a profit-seeking consultant behind them before they get promoted or entered in awards.

This year alone, I have come across projects stimulating peace through inclusion across different countries. Initiatives to help women take up male-dominated jobs such as truck driving. Many STEM examples to encourage girls, some of the organisations I support like women in games, have done tremendous work in this space. Removing bias from recruitment by matching people through ability based games and gamified challenges instead of CV with names. The above example from Malaysia, which a few of us are trying to replicate in the UK before Brexit causes even more damage to what used to be a more inclusive society.

We have worked on a project specifically aimed at students being excluded from schools and giving their parents assistance in the legalistic process. They are too shorthanded to go through the lengthy award application process and will never make a video on the fly. So maybe our inclusion process for awards is wrong too.

If this is a reflection of our industry, then I am ashamed to be associated with it and as a thought leader, I want better than this. We all have a bias, whether we like it or not and stepping out of that comes with awareness first and then the courage to do things differently. I know some of you work hard at this and are quietly at changing things for the better too, help shine the light on that work, it seems we need more examples of this kind because obviously, our industry hasn’t caught on to this yet.

Enter your diversity and inclusion project in the awards for Gamification-Europe 2018!

Inclusive by design



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How do you want to make people feel?

One of the things I have been mentioning a lot lately whilst speaking at HR and learning related conferences is that gamification and game design is as much about how you want people to feel while interacting with you as well as the process. I quote one of my inspirations Jane McGonigal in my slides, where she said: “game designers are obsessed with creating emotionally intense experiences”.

The key point for me is when I see corporates go into gamification, it is rarely about the emotions, but rather about the carrot or stick. The problem with this approach is that it tends to be void of emotions even if the original intent was possibly a good one. They are then after also surprised when it hasn’t quite worked to the extent they had hoped, yet that doesn’t surprise me.

Experience design focuses more on the emotional side, which if I explain gamification in this light, the same audiences seem to be much more open to discussing emotional connections etc. In experience design, the concept of empathy mapping alongside the journey you are creating for your employee or customer is part and parcel of the process.

How to start with empathy mapping?

The first step is to ask the question, how do you want people to feel at each step of your process, from beginning to end. Then you also want to explore what people are feeling now whilst engaging with your process. It may be vastly different or very close to what you intend it to be.

I would recommend starting with a process map of the journey people take to engage for example in recruitment or learning. When you have the process map drawn up, identify which steps are meaningful touchpoints. Meaningful touchpoints are those points where you can make an impact emotionally. Then adding empathy mapping into this mix means you look at the state of mind of your candidate at each step and you consciously choose how you want them to evolve as interactions go with your organisation and people.

For example in the search for a new job, a candidate may feel insecure or even overwhelmed with choices and questions such as will I fit in, have I got all the skills, etc. Then as they apply for a role they will want to gain an air of confidence that in fact, they are applying for a role in an organisation they want to work for. How do you want them to feel when rejected or selected? How will you keep communicating with them to have them stay involved in the process and take the job when it is offered?

I have gone through interview processes, where the process was so intense, repetitive and draining that I said at the end of the day, I am no longer interested. If the interviews are the first encounter of what work would be like inside a company, then making sure you also present yourself as real as possible is good, but know that this may turn away some of the candidates. Very likely for the right reasons. The ones that remain in the process, are a better fit in terms of culture and experience, providing you have given a true reflection of what work feels like on the inside.

Most HR and learning teams, never go through this exercise and even less so train their people to work at sharing a feeling or emotion in most work-related processes.

In gamification design, I don’t see many people talking about experience and empathy mapping. We have been using the phrase of creating meaningful touchpoints for years and worked with our clients to create experiences that are meaningful for their employees and customers.

If you do nothing else, ask yourself how do you want to make people feel and work on delivering those emotions.

Why understanding the process is key for gamification design

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