Going for the Epic Win in learning

or, lessons the world of learning can learn from the world of gaming

I am loving watching talks from TED.com at the moment. I would really recommend setting aside 20 minutes a week to watch a talk from that website to keep yourself inspired and motivated!

In the last week I have watched two fascinating talks on gaming and what we can learn from the way online games, in particular, work.

These are:

Jane McGonigal: Gaming can make a better world and

Tom Chatfield: 7 ways games reward the brain

There are a lot of very interesting points in these talks which are very pertinent to the world of learning. I have grouped these into the following 5 areas:

  1. Belief, trust and optimism

    Image used by Jane McGonigal in her presentation - a picture of a gamer making an Epic Win

    People who play computer games, when they are in the computer game world, always believe that a win or to use gaming parlance an EPIC WIN is possible. They have what Jane McGonigal calls ‘Urgent Optimism’.

    This is combined with a trust in their fellow gamers that they can achieve as well, as Jane says:
    “Whenever you show up in one of these online games…there are lots and lots of different characters who are willing to trust you…They never give you a challenge that you can’t achieve. But it’s on the verge of what you’re capable of.”
    How can this be applied to learning?

    – Do your learners believe they can achieve?
    – Where does this belief come from?
    – Do your learners or groups of learners trust each other?
    – Do you trust them?
    – Do they believe that by taking part in learning that they might have an EPIC WIN?!
  2. Feedback

    Image from Super Mario Brothers that appears when you win an extra life - called a 1-up.

    “You guys have heard of levelling up and plus-one strength…We don’t get that kind of constant feedback in real life” – Jane McGonigal

    For the non-gamers among you, levelling up and plus-one strength is a description of how you get immediate feedback on achieving small progress in a game. So you might find a small item which will give you a free life – a plus-one, or more strength/power. There is constant positive reinforcement in games. One of the things about gaming that Tom Chatfield refers to is the tremendous importance of rapid, frequent, clear feedback.
    A great example of this I saw recently, was the ‘Alex’s Class’ blog where the children in Alex’s class share how feedback on their blog made them feel. This is really moving and is a great reminder of the power of positive feedback: http://www.alexsclass.com/2010/10/19/comments/

    How can this be applied to learning?

    – Do you give your learners rapid, frequent and clear feedback?
    – Do you practice positive reinforcement (ie praising good work and ignoring bad work)?
  3. Engagement

    Tom Chatfield talks about how games like World of Warcraft keep people engaged because they make people both want to achieve and they make them like the items as well for their aesthetic appeal:
    Another way he puts it is:
    Jane McGonigal also points out that people who play World of Warcraft spend an average 20 hours a week playing the game in their spare time. This is the equivalent of an extra part time job! She calls this Blissful Productivity, saying “we’re happier working hard than we are relaxing”.

    How can this be applied to learning?

    – I think this is quite hard to directly apply to learning. However, I think the idea of bringing ‘delight’ into learning is a useful one.
    – Are your learners not only engaged but emotionally engaged?
    – Do they care about what they’re working on? Enough to stay up late?
  4. Rewards

    Closely related to feedback, computer games provide plenty of rewards along the way. You get rewarded in small ways for small achievements and big ways for big achievements. Rewards, as Tom Chatfield says can be emotional, individual and collective.
    He advocates:
    – Multiple long and short term aims
    – A variety of tasks with a variety of rewards – eg. turning up, collaborating, doing a test, etc.
    – Rewarding every bit of effort, no matter how small.
    According to Tom Chatfield, the more ways to get rewards, the better.
    There is also the use of an element of uncertainty – this is what keeps gamers’ interest.
    How can this be applied to learning?

    – This is already something which is built in to a lot of learning programmes.
    – However have you thought about providing a variety of ways in which learners can get rewards? 100% attendance rewards, commitment to team work rewards etc.
    – What surprises can you build in to a learning experience?
    – How can you keep an element of uncertainty? What about saying ‘I’ve no idea if this is going to work, but let’s try it together’. (See my blog on Sugata Mitra for more on this)
  5. Collaboration

    Finally, online gaming involves tremendous collaboration efforts. One of the exciting things about new technologies is that they allow for collaboration on a scale never seen before. For an example of this, see my blog which refers to the Virtual Choir project, the video of which I’ve shared above. Tom Chatfield talks about how what really motivates people is other people.  Jane McGonigal says games are “weaving a tight social fabric. Stay with the game until it’s over”.

    How can this be applied to learning?

    – Again, we all know the power of learning in groups and by collaborating.
    – Have you considered how you can use technology to boost collaboration with your learners?
    – Consider setting up a group blog, or using a network on Twitter to collaborate on work.
    – Do your learners have opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other and do you reward them when they do?

    I would be so interested to know what you think about this, please feel free to add comments below.

    If we can try and make learners feel as excited, committed, supported, loved and geeky (even) as people who play online games then we really will have achieved an:


  1. Nice post Bryony – with some really interesting ideas and lots to think about! I’m about to start more gaming in my class so it’ll be interesting to see how it affects their learning.


  2. Hi Alex, sorry for the delay in replying – I’ve been on me hols! Thanks for commenting, I’ll keep my eye out to see what you find with using gaming in class!


  3. Great article, I just happened across your blog while Googling 😛 I think you’ll find the Gamification Encyclopedia we created of interest at http://gamification.org , we discuss a lot of these topics and would love feedback from someone like you who’s put a lot of thought into the subject. 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s