Training in the 21st Century

The Power of Games for Learning

An assignment (or “quest”) for a 3-week program I’m attending via Boise State University (3D GameLab1), was to watch and comment on a TED Talk2, “7 Ways to Reward the Brain.” This talk is exploring the power of games for learning and is an excellent synopsis of the elements that make games such powerful learning tools. Tom Chatfield begins by exploring the way games tap into both ambition and pleasure to engage players, then explores key elements that can be adopted to construct wonderful and effective learning programs.  Here’s an overview of these elements:

  • Ways to measure progress that encourage continual growth: Using experience bars that show incremental movement along a continuum, simultaneously indicating how far you’ve come and how much further you have to go, taps into people’s ambition to keep moving forward.
  • Including multiple long- and short-term goals/challenges/aims into a learning plan, with varied tasks along the way, keeps people from getting bored and frustrated as they work towards completion.
  • Rewarding effort, rather than punishing failure, encourages people to keep at it. This ties back to the progress continuum, where the player can see even the smallest increment of progress, and also includes the inclusion of different rewards and player levels that are built into games and can be included in curricula design.
  • Rapid and frequent feedback that tells people the positive and negative consequences of the decisions and actions taken: in other words, clear information about understanding and interpretation of what is being taught, at every step, helps people recognize quickly when they’ve made a mistake and self-correct before they’ve gotten confused and lost due to misunderstandings or errors.
  • Some element of uncertainty about the choices presented: According to the TED talk, dopamine, which is associated with reward and pleasure-seeking, is also the neurotransmitter for learning. And current research is showing that a certain level of uncertainty increases dopamine levels (though, based on other research I’ve heard about, too much uncertainty decreases learning and engagement), so for both teachers/trainers and game developers, creating the right level of uncertainty, making assignments or challenges just hard enough, is key to keeping people engaged and moving forward.
  • In the TED talk, Tom Chatfield states “the biggest neurological turn-on for people is other people.” The social aspect of learning shows up again and may be one of the reasons MMORPGs* have been so successful, just as it is a key reason group learning, whether in classrooms or at offsites, are so ubiquitous: they work in ways we’re just beginning to understand from brain research showing what happens in the human brain when people come together.

The 3D GameLab experience, and the TED Talk, are indications of the exciting changes that are occurring in our knowledge of how we learn, and how we can develop more effective learning processes. For more information, please use the links below.


2TED Talks: 7 Ways Games Reward the Brain

* MMORPG: Massively Multiplayer Online Roleplaying Game

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