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So, so remiss

I admit it. I’ve been posting to LinkedIn because of the active captive audience there. Are blogs dead? Discuss.

For the record, here’s one from last month: It was not, how do you say, a hit, but I still like it. I hope you do, too.

    Waiting for the zombie rebirth of gamification in education

A recent article in EdTech magazine crows about the death of gamification in education. Let’s amend that statement and say that perhaps, for now, gamification is not the white-hot strategy many intelligent analysts thought it would be back in 2012. But like McRiblets or New Coke, this practice could very well return seasonally, or disguised in a new wrapper.

For the uninitiated, gamification is the practice of applying game-like mechanics to non-game actions. For awhile, gamification was the easy answer to flat sales and/or lack of user engagement across verticals. Want to increase grocery shopper loyalty? Introduce a game with possible instant and cumulative rewards! Need to drag your employees to training sessions? Dole out badges based on performance and attendance!

In educational circles, gamification seemed like a sure-fire way to entice reluctant learners who bolted at the sight of a book but who were more than happy to spend hours mastering the intricacies of World of Warcraft or Call of Duty: Advance Warfare.

Why I hate it:

Gamification relies on principles of behavioral psychology and neuroscience to entice engagement, not on meaningful content or an experience that can stand on its own. It’s BF Skinner disguised in, well, a new wrapper. Behavioral psychology techniques can be great for training, but are disastrous for more intensive learning.

Why it may return:

My reluctance to stick a fork in gamification and call it done are in part the reasons cited for its fall from grace: “We don’t see it making the mainstream,” an analyst in the EdTech article says. “For most people, it’s just too hard to integrate and there are no tools to make it easier.”

A few things to keep in mind:

* The analyst quoted is likely associated with the New Media Consortium’s 2015 Horizon report. The report is typically written by about fifty participants, and while it is a great and necessary read for anyone in ed tech, such recommendations need to be taken with a grain of salt.

* In the past when there have been no tools to accomplish something, you only needed to wait about two or three years for the tools to emerge. Websites, blogs, videos, and even simple game mechanics were very difficult to construct and maintain once upon a time. Now the barrier of entry is extremely low, with abandoned blogs and websites littering the margins of the Internet. I bet that someone will create a platform for designing gamified experiences by 2018.

* Designing learning experiences that are intrinsically valuable and meaningful can get expensive. It would be so much easier to hand out virtual prizes once a user reaches a given benchmark of achievement than relate informational content to local contexts, or personalize learning, or create dynamic teams, or… just about anything.

Given the logic behind this obituary of gamification, I would not be surprised if the concept crawls its way back into the spotlight in a few years’ time. Thoughts? Comments?

What’s the Buzz?

Here’s a little collaboration between me and a colleague of mine at Six Red Marbles about jargon in the education space. Spoiler alert: I hate jargon. Mind you, I don’t mind vocabulary, but jargon to me speaks of language designed to exclude and to obfuscate actual understanding.


What’s the Buzz?

By Jennifer Livengood and Margaret Weigel

Jennifer: Learning Designers use dozens of buzzwords to describe what they do and Margaret and I decided to come up with some of them off the top of our heads:

Margaret: Emotional Intelligence

Jennifer: Social Constructivism

Margaret: Flipped Classrooms

Jennifer: Pedagogy

Margaret: Adaptive Learning

Jennifer: UI/UX

Margaret :The Cloud!

Jennifer: There are other terms commonly heard amongst packs of hard-working learning designers: Androgogy, blended learning, asynchronous,, F2F, LMS, assessment, gamification, game-based learning, emotional intelligence, whole-student learning, grit, multiple intelligences, and student-centered learning.

Margaret: Stop, I’m getting dizzy. Or maybe I’m getting ‘buzzy.’

Jennifer: Why do we use these buzzwords, or to take a more general viewpoint, why do we use buzzwords at all?

Margaret: First, let’s define what we mean by ‘buzzwords.’ They’re usually common terms that are just as commonly misused and misunderstood. It’s not their fault. These concepts are typically perfectly harmless, well-meaning ideas. In fact, that’s part of the problem. They’re victims of their own success. Everyone wants to use them. And, with mixed results, everyone does.

Jennifer: I have an untested theory that people may misuse buzzwords in a well-meaning attempt to appear informed about rapidly-changing ideas. Learning design is filled with new research on how humans learn and new technologies that enhance the learning experience every day. Keeping up on the newest technology or learning theory can be difficult during a typical work week and buzz words help make new, and confusing, technologies and theories seem more digestible.

Margaret: Jennifer is far more gracious about the infestation of buzzwords than I am. I may be lacking in some EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE. Every discipline has its dedicated vocabulary, and when used well, these words help to convey complicated concepts quickly and easy. When used poorly, however, the very usefulness and definition of these words is put to the test. Words become buzzwords when they are frequently used without knowing what they fully mean, usually as a way to jump on a popular idea.

Jennifer: When I was a professor, I found myself telling colleagues that I used a “blended” or “flipped classroom” format to teach my course because it was easier than saying I teach a class that is partly online and partly face-to-face. Also saying I taught “flipped” or “blended” courses sounded more avant garde, and well buzzy!

Margaret: If you were using the term correctly, they probably knew what you were talking about. Buzzwords aren’t in and of themselves evil. Their power can also be harnessed for good.

Jennifer: I found the more I investigated this classroom format, the less likely I was to use fancy buzzwords. I was comfortable saying I taught a course that had multiple formats or I taught a course where students were online for part of it. It almost felt phony to use buzzwords after a while.

Margaret: I’m guilty of misusing buzzwords on occasion. But I am only partially ashamed of this transgression. As new concepts emerge, their definition often remains fuzzy until the concept is put into practice for a period of time. There’s also that challenge of understanding the totality of an idea. I liken it to how I’ve used PhotoShop for twenty years at this point and I still have never used or fully understood what 3D Extrusion mode is or what the video options can do. Perhaps we need a better way to express parts of an idea. Perhaps we’ll develop language for that over time.

Jennifer: Buzzwords can help us define something that is new, and perhaps bewildering, and offer us an entry point into thinking about a learning design method or theory. Leaving the conversation and professional development on the buzzword level does not offer us much intellectual depth. Buzzwords are a good entry point into starting a conversation about new learning design methods.

Margaret: Agreed. However, we suggest a more authentic approach of digging in to the design or theory and discovering the nuts and bolts of how methods and theories actually work. Knowing this on-the-ground information can help us describe what is really happening in the learning experience and further our understanding beyond the surface of the buzzwords.

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