Gamification: What E-Learning Modules Can Learn from Video Games
By Henry Kronk
September 07, 2017
When most people start a new job at a fast food restaurant, they might expect to watch a requisite – and boring – training video. But for new cooks at KFC, the initiation process is definitely weirder.
As new employees enter on their first day, they are now given an Oculus Rift VR headset to wear. The game they must play is best described as an insane VR escape room where they must correctly progress through the five steps of the KFC cooking process before they can get out. Colonel Sanders himself heckles each employee throughout the process.
The new system might sound like a quirky publicity stunt, but KFC claims that it takes players an average of 10 minutes to beat the game, while the previous teaching method took 25 minutes.
Nobody at KFC expects the game to take the place of the real thing: “The game is intended to supplement the existing Chicken Mastery program, not replace it,” said a KFC spokesperson through their press release. “This is intended to be a fun way to celebrate the work KFC’s more than 19,000 cooks do every day in every restaurant across the U.S. in an engaging way.”
KFC’s methods seem bizarre now, but they are just part of the growing trend of gamification in e-learning.
What Is Gamification?
The word refers to applying general concepts of video games, such as a role-playing scenario, earning points, showing leaderboards, problem solving incorporated into a narrative, common maps populated by avatars, and many others, applied to non-video game modules.
Gamification applies incredibly well to e-learning for several reasons. Scholar Michelle Miller identified several pros and cons of e-learning in her 2014 text Teaching Effectively with Technology. Two major downsides of e-learning include the remote, removed nature of instruction and the inability to personalize the educational process.
By applying aspects of video games, however, e-learning modules can overcome these obstacles with highly engaging gameplay along with games that take a player/student’s actions into account.
These design techniques might seem vague, but in many games, it’s a pretty natural outcome.
For example, Unit9 developed LIFESAVER, a crisis simulation for people learning first aid. The module involves a character, Jake, who suffers a heart attack. The player then administers CPR, with the game asking them new questions at each step. The whole thing is timed, and the character in the game responds to the player’s actions.
Other examples of ‘gamified’ e-learning modules include City Witness: Medieval Swansea, which teaches history; Train4TradeSkills allows young tradespeople, like plumbers, electricians, and energy infrastructure workers to train in a safe environment; and The Blood Typing Game from Nobel Media which, well, teaches you how to figure out someone’s blood type.
KFC isn’t even the only fast food chain that trains its employees with a gamified e-learning module. McDonald’s Till Training Game brings new employees through the checkout system and seems significantly less cool than KFC’s game, but it still tries to make the learning process more engaging with gamification techniques.
As boring as it sounds, the company did not make the game mandatory for new employees, and yet 85 percent of new McDonald’s employees not only played the game, but said it helped them learn the new system.
Video Games and E-Learning Try to Do the Same Thing Anyway
Professor Michele Dickey began writing about the benefits of combining video games with e-learning back in the early aughts. Dickey has discussed how massive multiple online role-playing games (MMORPs) can motivate users, how adventure scenarios can be useful learning tools, and most of all, how e-learning gamification can be highly engaging.
According to Dickey, “players may be required to analyze, synthesize, and use critical thinking skills in order to play and execute moves … Game design is at the forefront of cultivating innovative techniques for interactive design.” There’s no reason game design shouldn’t be applied to e-learning.
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