In our recent webinar, Play to Learn by Learning to Play, we had a good discussion on ways to use 'play' in elearning to encourage learners to think creatively and foster a culture of curiosity.
There are a few key points I want to pull out of the hour, the kind that are so good you'll want to print it out in big letters and hang on your wall as a reminder and inspiration.
1. Creativity is fundamental to living in the conceptual age
In this day of freely available information, how-to videos, and more opinions than original thoughts, creativity is a sought-after skill. Ubiquitous in applicability means almost any role can benefit from employees that can solve problems. As a soft skill, it can neatly underlie training on other content by being the method of the training. Creativity is a skill that grows with use so use it!
Open-ended and long-form questions, experimenting with systems and rewarding learners for novel use of content are general ways to encourage creativity. The key word here is experimentation.
2. Learning through experimentation should be done in a risk-free environment
Prototypes will fail - that's the point. You want learners that aren't afraid their job or certification is at risk with every question or scenario. Let them poke around, test the systems in play and see how they react to input. Cause and effect is a powerful tool.
Electrocity, by New Zealand's Genesis Energy, is a literal example of a game-system (similar to SimCity or the Sims) that encourages learners to play with their options. Players learn how a new coal plant changes the environment, how much power it generates per dollar spent, and how happy the populace (don't) become when their countryside is thick with black smoke.
3. Have learners go through the design process to come to answers
You do it to find a learning solution, so why can't learners go through some form of this to solve problems? Treat the content like a toolkit and raw materials, and set them at a problem that needs solving. This approach may take longer, and benefits greatly from pairing with a mentor, but the payoffs can be great.
Imagine a health and safety training programme where an outcome is to describe the most effective ways to reduce workplace accidents. Pretty standard, right? Probably uses a work-place accident scenario to get buy-in and tells the learner about accident prevention in some "Show, Try, Do" cycle. Yup, pretty standard.
Now imagine a SimCity-like game with the same safety-related outcome. Give the learner an imaginary workplace with a budget, various types of prevention techniques to choose from, and a series of scales that adjust based on how and where the learner uses their safety techniques. The learner will experiment, form some hypotheses, run some tests and adjust their approach. Eventually they will settle on a solution of which there are many "right" answers, so long as the health and safety guidelines are abided.
This is the experimental design process - and it is a form of play.
4. Explorers form communities
Not thinking of the lone arctic explorer here - this is when they get back to the Explorer's Club lounge to share their findings! Discoveries and ideas love to be spread around - just look at all the cat pictures and funny videos your friends "discovered" on the internet and shared with you.
Allowing learners to experiment leads to personal discoveries that they're more likely to share. People like to be the expert! Use sites like Genius.com to become an annotation expert, gaining "IQ points" with every annotation. Add in "thumbs" from others in the community that approve of your annotation and you get a taste of gamification as well. Recognise achievements for sharing discoveries, curating existing content, and participating in the culture.
5. Play is more than gamification
All of these points can be done without bells, glitzy leaderboards, and badges. Use those in moderation to subtly encourage specific behaviours - like Genius.com does with annotating. Just as some people will "play the game" just because it's a game (and likely not get much out of the content), some will be put-off if they get a whiff of "gamification." Be careful it doesn't feel like manipulation through flashing-lights and buzzers. It's disrespectful to the learner. Think you may be doing gamification wrong? Take the health test by reading my article, What's Killing Your Gamification and How to Heal It.
Playful learning works best when it appeals to the learners natural desires. For this I'll refer to Andrzej Marczewski's version of RAMP. Relatedness, Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose. Appropriately these factors are also key to providing a creative culture - creative because they're willingly engaged.
End Note - With One Last Piece of Advice
And that's your goal - engage learners with an openness to play and creativity. A final word of advice, just as creativity is a thing to encourage, people are also scared of change. Comfortability in the known, as boring as it may be, is your foe. Be mindful of this when implementing playful approaches in your learning, gently nudging the boundary of what learners are comfortable doing. Eventually they'll be playing, and won't remember having done it any other way.
Want to add some 'play' in your elearning? Contact us today to see how we can help.