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What's happening in the world of digital learning?

  • Ashleigh Hull

Giving Learners Superpowers

Updated: Dec 16, 2022

I have been asking a lot of questions, and not offering any answers. This seems unfair of me.

'Where are the games?' I asked.

Your response may have been, 'We're developing learning; why would we need games?'

Hopefully it wasn't. Hopefully, by now, people have caught onto the fact that games are engaging and absorbing and that people learn more when they're having fun. I'm not going to try to convince you of that; I trust that the elearning community has already done that job. Games - good.

What you may find interesting is how far some people take this.

I recently watched the TED talks of a woman called Jane McGonigal, a game developer and the Director of Games Research & Development at the Institute for the Future (now there's a job that sounds like fun!) In her 2010 talk, she argues that in order to solve the world's most urgent problems, we need to play more games.

That's taking it pretty far.

In that talk, she draws out four 'superpowers' that people develop through gameplay; and what she and I both hope you'll see is that if we could harness these superpowers, draw them out of the virtual world into the real one, we could be seeing changes in behaviour and perception; we could be seeing people solve real-world problems with the tenacity and ingenuity with which they solve the problems in our games.

The four superpowers gamers are developing:

  • Urgent optimism. The desire to act immediately to tackle an obstacle, combined with the belief that we have a reasonable hope of success.

  • Social fabric. Research shows we like people better after we play a game with them, even if they've beaten us! Playing a game together builds bonds of trust and co-operation. We actually build stronger social relationships as a result of playing games.

  • Blissful productivity. We know we're happier working hard than just relaxing or hanging out. We know we're optimised as human beings to do hard, meaningful work. Gamers never just sit around; they're always engaged in something.

  • Epic meaning. Gamers love to be attached to awe-inspiring missions, to planetary scale, saving-the-human-race stories.

All of this adds up to 'super-empowered hopeful individuals'. These are people who believe they are individually capable of changing the world.

Gameworld, that is. So the question now is, how do we drag these skills, feelings and behaviours over into the real world?

We've built some elearning recently for the Red Cross. It's a course that trains newbie Event Officers in how to run a Red Cross event. At random intervals throughout the course, we have these things called 'interjects'. A ringing telephone appears on your screen, and once you hit answer, you have 30 seconds and a problem to solve.

Want to see what I'm talking about?

I think that this is using gameplay to solve real world problems. Maybe not a problem as massive as climate change or global conflict, but real world problems nonetheless! As an Event Officer, you're going to be presented with sudden issues that need a quick, decisive response. This course is teaching our learners, in a gamified setting, how to handle those real world situations and think through real world problems. It's associating the gameworld feelings of urgent optimism to a real world scenario; so that when you hit the real world, it's just another of the same situations to you; it's something you've already faced and conquered; it's something you already feel positive about. We're carrying those gameplay feelings into the real world by mirroring the real world in our gameplay.

And I don't see why we couldn't do that for social fabric, blissful productivity, epic meaning. We can associate these products of gameworld with real world scenarios, intertwining the two for the learner so that when they come across the real world situation, they have all of that gameworld experience and emotion supporting them.

This is just one way to go about enabling super-empowered hopeful individuals. Have you got any others?

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