One of the most common criticisms of gamification for learning is the belief that gamification techniques can only reinforce a simplistic, behavioural approach, when what we really need to foster is creative knowledge creation.
Increasingly, I don’t see a conflict. I believe one can lead to the other. You don’t score goals without taking shots on goal. You don’t get published without writing. The same is true of creativity. You don’t have creative thoughts without making connections.
Which is where large numbers of birds come in.
Flocking birds are one of nature’s great sights. How they co-ordinate into wonderful patterns, swooping and soaring as one, is as close to magic as you can come without an iPad.
Or is it? It might look complex, but actually it’s simple. Birds in a flock are said to follow 3 rules:
1. Generally head in the same direction as everybody else
2. Don’t hit any other bird
3. Don’t be on the outside of the flock
That’s it. That’s all there is to creating a majestic flock. There’s a bunch of variations and additions to the above rules, but that’s the fundamental principle. Simple rules can lead to complex behaviours.
We see this pattern elsewhere. Conway’s Game of Life embodies a similar principle – incredible patterns that, in some cases, seem to replicate life itself, emerge from simple rules.
Increasingly I’m applying this principle to the gamification of learning. Complex behaviours grow out of simple rules. Find out what those rules are and engage people with the principles to reap great results.
The research I’m working on right now is showing the power of this approach. In a gamified collaborative learning environment, students earn points for making comments and contributions, allowing them to level up and access new content. When we’ve analysed the output of this content, we’ve found that those who comment the most generally demonstrate more critical thought than their counterparts. And those who demonstrate critical thought the most go on to score the best marks in the class, even when that assessment is quite separate to the learning environment itself.
Getting people to comment is a simple behaviour that can be shaped. You can also start to shape the form of these comments by rewarding people for “problem-solving”, “real-world application” and any number of other useful traits that start to show critical thought emerging. Facilitators have been doing this for years.
Gamification can’t make you creative, but it can help you to trigger the connections that creativity requires. Just remember: Simple rules, complex behaviours.