By Mario Herger, Senior Innovation Strategist, SAP
“Fun is just another word for learning” – Raph Koster (Game theorist)
When I see my five-year old son’s curiosity as he examines new objects and uses them in new ways, I’m always amazed by how much fun he seems to be having in those moments of wonder. Children are driven to touch and discover their worlds and make it their own. Now well into his questioning-the-world phase (“Why is the sky blue?” being just one example of many), I’m moved to wonder how we lose the elements of fun, feedback, and experience around learning throughout our lives.
Why is it that 15-year olds often sit in classrooms like wet sandbags unable to be motivated to interact with teachers and engage with the educational material? And how is it that for adults, the classroom becomes merely a welcomed excuse for not going to work but to take some days “off” from their regular routine, instead of embracing learning and having fun?
Observing my son, I can recognize the intellectual curiosity inherent in children: What happens if I drop a spoon on the floor? What’s my parents’ reaction if I yell or make a loud noise? What’s the reaction when I take a cardboard box, put it on my head, and pretend it’s a pirate hat? For him, learning and using that new knowledge to make his experience fuller at the same time are what constitutes fun. And the immediate feedback that he gets from his environment only adds to that experience.
During the course of our lives, learning becomes detached from creating experiences and getting feedback. And so it turns from fun to a dreadful exercise with often devastating results: the knowledge taught is forgotten pretty quickly, with the whole education effort becoming a waste of everyone’s time. In the corporate world this can be costly, and if you don’t know how to use the tools properly or effectively, work becomes more inefficient, expensive and possibly even dangerous.
Which leads me to the following questions:
- How can we make training more fun, add rich experience and gain feedback?
- How can we enable trainers to add these elements to their materials?
- Why is training separate from work rather than embedded into it?
Innovative Education Models
In 2007, a school in New York City called Quest 2 Learn hired several full-time game designers with the aim of making every class, every exercise, and every interaction with learning materials into a game. In the same year, a San Francisco Bay area school project called Rocketship model began giving children from lower income neighborhoods access to specifically designed computer games that provide learning material in a fun way. And the Khan-Academy, with its thousands of educational videos, has become a beacon for how classroom dynamics can change. Suddenly, what students had previously considered difficult turns out to be much easier than they thought. Not only that, the children who attended these schools or availed themselves of these videos began volunteering to do more school work and go at their own pace (and sometimes even faster) through the material.
In these scenarios, teachers turn from teaching machines into consultants, advising each child individually what they could do and where they could take their learning experiences. In the process, teachers have more quality time to give to each of their students. This model has worked for professions such as tax advisors, where manual tasks like entering tax data into forms and systems is outsourced, thereby freeing up tax advisors to focus more time on discussing the right tax strategy with their clients. Another example can be seen in the medical sphere, where doctors arrange for first raw diagnoses to be carried out by outsourced resources. When you look at the examples mentioned above, this model clearly seems equally viable for the classroom.
Teachers were among the first to realize that a playful approach works wonders when it comes to getting students to be more active in the classroom environment. And it wasn’t just teachers: parents also saw the merits of gamified learning. Embedding the material in a larger story, giving kids a mission, providing feedback by appending stars and stickers, encouraging kids to collaborate, and many more techniques that we find from game design helped to get kids going, have more fun, be more curious and make the content more memorable.