We spend a great deal of time planning for learner success. Do we ever create the ability for learners to lose? Should we?Our society puts a premium on “winning” — nowadays it seems like every team gets a trophy — not just the winner. Americans are culturally bound to the ideal of winning. However, in the real world people lose all of the time: athletes lose games and tournaments, politicians lose elections. In high stakes situations like these, losing has a real consequence. How does this affect learning?Low stakes losing occurs every day. When we lose, we tend to either give up, or continue to practice to overcome the failure. Any casual gamer is familiar with losing and attempting to overcome the loss by quickly replaying the game. Losing, in this context, can be a big motivator, driving the will to practice, which can lead to increased skill. Learning to lose effectively is actually a skill in itself. Resiliency in the face of losing and using strategies to improve is an important life lesson and professional skill. If losing always equates to complete failure, then learners stop striving, stop attempting creative solutions, and see themselves as incapable.In learning design, a primary goal should be to create an atmosphere where losing is acceptable and intrinsically motivates the learner to try again. The potential learning value from this type of experience is measured not by how often the player loses, but by how much they improve through repeated practice.
In your training design include opportunities for low stakes losing before learners are thrust into their high stakes, real-world situations — be it a qualifying exam or on the job performance.
Recommendations for a “losing” design:
- Make content available on demand so that learners can review material as needed
- A common mistake is being overly controlling with content. If the goal is for learners to gain knowledge and skills, shouldn’t they have free access to the tools that can make that happen?
- Communicate how the learner is performing relative to passing scores or via peer-to-peer review as appropriate
- By communicating how comparatively well they are doing, learners can better sense where they can improve. This also gets their competitive juices flowing.
- Allow plenty of practice opportunities before the final assessment occurs
- If the only time that learners can demonstrate knowledge is a final graded test, their opportunities to “lose” are reduced to one high stakes moment. Build in low stakes assessment opportunities that prepare learners for the one that counts.
This post originally appeared in July 2011 on The Total Learner Experience.
I was a bit excited this morning to see that IBM’s CityOne had finally launched. I’m always a fan of innovative games with real life applications and I am currently searching for activities to use with my high school students. Billed as a SimCity-like experience, but with an educational side, I was expecting to have some fun building a city to my specifications and doing some high level problem-solving.
That build-up would indicate some disappointment– and indeed there was. The glossy cityscape I viewed was inviting and attractive. A small icon indicated my first problem to solve. I clicked, exposing the specific city-planning issue related to water. Three solutions were presented with various pricetags. I choose the most expensive, most comprehensive solution and was presented with some boilerplate response. Mousing and clicking over the screen to find my next challenge I determined (perhaps incorrectly) that I had no more challenges. I ended this first of ten rounds thinking that I couldn’t make much progress if I only had ten challenges to solve.
I made it to turn 7, barely. By this round I had begun to have challenges from all 4 areas (water, energy, retail and banking), but they all had the same basic format. There were few of the identified game attributes– little challenge, no suspense, I had no idea what I was competing for or against and I didn’t know how or why I could fail– and I didn’t really care.
I was attracted to the game because of this line from Gizmodo: “The idea here, presumably, is that it’s always a good thing to educate the populace about the these sorts of problems, and, hey, who knows, someone might unwittingly stumble on a solution we can actually use.” This is hard to see how that could happen because all of the activities are call and response. There is no room or opportunity for players to create their own innovative solutions.
This seems like a marketing/training tool go awry. To launch the game I had to enter detailed personal info– not surprising– but the limited options for industry or occupation indicated to me that IBM had a target audience in mind. One of the follow up questions asked you to indicate if you were a software purchase “decider”. Many of the game solutions included using software (presumably developed and marketed by IBM) to clean up a variety of perceived major city issues.
It’s disappointing to me that this game is so lame. I have no problem with companies reaching out through games– I just want them to be fun. There was no fun to be had.
This post originally appeared in October 2010 on The Total Learner Experience.