Thursday, December 1, 2011

Gamification, simulation, empowerment, motivation, difficulty :: Level Up!

The other day, while I was on the train and on my way home I was reading the most recent Change11 blog posts. I was going to comment on each one of these blog posts individually, but I realized that there as a thread developing in each one that made them fit together pretty nicely.

First, I read brainysmurf's "if you don't like messy learning don't play in the snow" post.  Brainysmurf comments on Jon Dron's comment that MOOCs are "not easy, this [therefore] will be demotivating and inefficient." Brainy says the following:

Wow, that scares me because I think he’s right! If learning (in a mooc or elsewhere) is not easy, it seems that a number of learners will lose motivation. What does that say about the willingness of an individual or group to risk, to fail, to learn from failure, to get up and try again? Does *everything* in our world have to be faster, more efficient and require less effort now? To what degree do we actually learn from anything that is totally streamlined and easy?

Here I think the are some caveats and addenda to the difficulty level argument.  Sure, if something is difficult, it might detract people from doing it; however it's not just about the difficulty level of the task. Other factors go into whether or not people  want to participate.  For example, it the task itself difficult, or are there ancillary tasks, pre-requisite tasks that are difficult and not the main task?  I think that MOOCs (at least from a theme/content perspective are not difficult (then again I am in the field of education so this stuff is fun for me), however I can see how blogs, twitter, commenting and RSS (and other technologies that MOOCs use) can be difficult if people haven't figured out a workflow for all this ancillary and pre-requisite knowledge that they need to have in order to participate in MOOCs. If the content is challenging but the mechanism is not then people, in my view, are more apt to participate.  After all, if things are too easy they easily become boring and people don't do those either!

This brings me to Paul's post, on bowties and MOOCs. Paul writes about learner empowerment (I read Paul's post last evening, and today on the train ride to work I was reading a journal article on learner empowerment and intrinsic motivation - serendipity) and MOOCs:

MOOCs have potential to empower and to expose participants to a relatively low structure, high volume of content and individualised learning experience. But, like bow ties – it may not be for everyone. Its potential most probably depend on the way it is structured, how that structure “fits” with the expectations of participants, the expertise of those facilitating the courses, the efficiency of technologies and links as well as whether the course theme is relevant to those who registered.

I think that MOOCs do have the potential to appeal to most learners, but unless we address those ancillary and pre-requisite skills (both technological and meta-cognitive) we can't get to the "meat" of the course. I think that low-structure, high-volume and the ILE (individualized learning experience) can work if learners are prepared for this however too little structure and the course falls apart.  My favorite "punching bag" for a MOOC of that type is eduMOOC. I was really interested in the topic, I was ready and willing to participate, but there was a clear and distinct lack of structure which made it not that interesting to participate in it; as a matter of fact it made the experience frustrating because I was interested but I was not enabled to take away something from the course since the seed-material was essentially non-existant.

This brings me to Irene and her post "who can be served by bridges no nowhere?"

About gaming and simulation. I’m interested to learn about this topic this week. I had to play in a warlike game once for a course and that was even worse than Twitter and Fb! Never again! Already taking an avatar was against me…….then the playing of the war game, disgusting……People said you could learn leadership and strategic planning and what not from it, but I found it downright sad…….What are your opinions on those war games? Do you allow your children to play them? Do you play them yourself? Why are so many people playing these games? What is the educational value, if any, of those games? I can see better results from simulation, I hope to see some examples this week…….

I do play games, and some of them are shooting games (military, tactical, espionage). Here I think my gaming experience comes in handy with motivation, difficulty, and playing games.  When I start playing a game, I tend to go for normal difficulty if I have an option.  Turning the difficulty all the way to 11 is not that much fun, you die mere seconds into the game. This is where frustration rises and the affective filter is raised*, this creates a downward spiral that is the exact opposite of the virtuous circle. It's been proven† that positive begets positive, so if you do well you tend to continue to improve.

Now, just because I do well in a normal difficulty game doesn't mean that my character doesn't die.  Quite the opposite, in the game I am playing now, Alone in the Dark, I've died countless times while attempting to stop demonic beings from taking over the earth, but I keep going back.  Why?  There are several reasons: I am interested in knowing what happens in the end of the game. Also, the game empowers me to skip a scene/stage if I so choose‡ so I can keep going on with the story.  The xbox games also have achievements (badges) that players can get for completing certain tasks in the game. Some are "simple" in that you get them for completing a stage, and some are a bit esoteric in that you get them for doing specific tasks that you may, or may not, do while playing the game (like killing a demon in a specific way with a specific weapon).

When a friend gave me his old xbox 360 and I started playing, I didn't think that achievements would be a big draw for games that I was already interested in playing. However, achievements are an additional push to get the job done and complete the game.  What I find is that if I enjoy the game, I am more apt to go after those obscure achievement badges; however if the game isn't engaging and I am not motivated, those badges will not get me to play a game. They are good for additive reasons, but they don't work by themselves in a vacuum.

* by the way, I know that I am using educational jargon.  If you don't know what I am taking about, please leave me a comment and I can point you to resources :-)

† in research that I read in the past six months but I don't have a handy citation for

‡ I can't always skip forward, I must have a minimum qualification to be able to skip forward.
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