A resource for safe and effective troubleshooting from the leaders in simulation training.

Hello, Troubleshooters! Welcome back once again to TST. 

We’re forging ahead with our series on adaptive learning (AL). If you find yourself with a little extra time on your hands these days, you can go back and check out earlier posts:

Part 1:     Adaptive Learning Overview

Part 2:     Personalized Learning 101

Part 3:     Why Adaptive Learning and Simulation are a Winning Combination

Part 4a:     The Future of Learning

Part 4b:     The Future of Learning, continued

Today we’re looking at adaptive gamification—a growing trend in optimizing adaptive learning that will soon be making its way into training programs everywhere, so that manufacturers can also get more bang for their training buck.

Adaptive Learning, Meet Gamification

In this series, we’ve been talking about computer-based adaptive learning, and how sophisticated algorithms can detect learners’ unique abilities and needs, and then serve them up content that suits them best. Maybe they’ll vary the delivery method (e.g., video, audio) or maybe they’ll change up the lesson plan so that learners can skip ahead if they’ve already mastered the material, or repeat a lesson if they struggled the first time.

In the past, we’ve also delved into the “gamification” of learning. It’s well known that using a game format is valuable for e-learning, because it increases user engagement. It’s fun, so people want to continue playing. This is increasingly critical in the realm of business training, since Millennials now make up over 35% of the US labor force. (A fun fact about Millennials is that they spend more on voluntary donations to game creators than on game subscriptions. That’s how much they love games!) Gen Z are pretty much born gaming. So, education and training are going to be more successful for these groups if games are involved.

There are now lots of “serious games” out there, designed to teach real-world skills. One example is Underground, a game designed to help surgical students practice removing a gallbladder arthroscopically. It’s set on a fictional planet where the object is to rescue cute little aliens from a deep pit. Using game controllers, players end up using the same hand movements required in the actual operation, thereby bonding the techniques into muscle memory.

Much research has been done on adaptive learning in serious games, meaning that the content of the game is being adapted to the learner’s abilities, usually by increasing or decreasing the difficulty level.  

But that is still adaptive learning, not adaptive gamification. If adaptive learning and gamification met, fell in love, and had a baby, that baby would be adaptive gamification.

Adaptive Gamification vs. Adaptive Learning

A little background. Gamification of e-learning programs means taking a learning program and adding the kind of fun features you typically find in video or computer games: leaderboards, stars, badges, chimes, words of encouragement, etc.; features that video games use to keep players engaged. The theory is that these features will help learners stay interested and motivated—Millennials and Gen Z, yes, but other generations, too. Everyone likes a little pat on the back, right?

Well, it turns out that not everyone likes the same kind of pat on the back. Some people thrive on competition and want to see their name at the top of the leaderboard, or at least above the name of the guy in the next cubicle. But others could care less, or are even intimidated by competition. Some people love to connect socially with peers, and some don’t. Some people love to achieve a goal, and others simply remain unmoved by that thought. 

Adaptive gamification refers to adapting these kinds of rewards and challenges, that is, the gaming features rather than the lesson content, to the user’s learning style and emotional type. First, the algorithms must discover which features actually motivate and engage a particular user, and then they must adapt the game elements to appeal to that learner. The theory is that the more engaged learners are, the longer they will spend learning, and the lower the drop-out rate will be.

Does Adaptive Gamification Work?

But does it work? Apparently so! E-learning platforms can experience a high drop-out rate, but one study in this area (Hassan et al. 2019) found that adaptive gamification based on learning styles increased motivation by 25% and reduced the drop-out ratio by 26%. 

Other researchers (Lavoué et al., 2018) conducted an intriguing study in which 266 participants answered an online questionnaire (“the BrainHex questionnaire”) to find out what kind of player personality they were. This simple questionnaire asks participants about their likes and dislikes related to computer games, and then groups participants into one (or a blend) of seven categories: Seeker, Survivor, Daredevil, Mastermind, Conqueror, Socializer, or Achiever. (You can try it yourself and discover your own learning style here.)

The researchers began with an existing, ungamified e-learning platform (Project Voltaire) that teaches French spelling and grammar. Due to the repetitive nature of memorizing involved, the platform designer admitted that many learners drop out early on. To this platform, the researchers added five gamification features: 

  1. Stars (which learners could earn for mastering a grammar rule)
  2. Leaderboards (showing a user’s near neighbors rather than overall best scorer, known as a “within-reach” goal)
  3. Tips (a social connection feature where learners could offer advice to help other users)
  4. Walking landscape (players could see a depiction of themselves hiking in mountains, each correct answer earning them a step on the path to a destination)
  5. Timers (which encourage learners to repeat an exercise in a faster time than a previous attempt)

Researchers then divided the participants into three groups. The first group learned on a platform with features adapted to their learning style. The second group learned with gaming features deliberately mismatched to their style. The third was a control group with no gaming features at all.

The results? Group 1 (matched features) had much more highly engaged users, who spent an average of about 42 minutes longer per week in the learning environment than the mismatched and control groups. They also had higher levels of motivation than the other two groups.

In case you’re interested, features 2 and 5 (leaderboard and timer) were the most effective in increasing user participation in the adapted group, and features 3 and 4 (tips and walking) increased motivation the most.

So there you go, Troubleshooters! Adaptive gamification is one more way to optimize learning and squeeze the most value out of your training budget. Tune in again next week for our last post in this series, on the top adaptive learning tech companies.

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