Social Gamification: Who’s Gaming Who?

I spent last week at mLearnCon San Diego, attending presentations, checking out solutions from vendors old and new, and talking to people about their various mobile learning experiences (or lack thereof). I even gave a talk of my own on Brandon Hall Group’s Mobile Learning Maturity Framework. The people who attended my session seemed to really nod their heads almost in relief when I showed them how little mlearning is actually occurring within organizations, even after all this time. This was the fifth mLearnCon, and mobile learning as a concept is hardly new.

One part of my session that seemed to really strike a chord was my series of slides on “why not.” That is not a question, but rather a statement. Attendees are inundated all week with shiny new apps and tools and opinions as to why they must do this. I told my group that first it might be important to figure out why not to do it.

Although this conference was clearly a mobile learning conference, my big takeaway is actual social in nature and focuses on games. It also speaks to my “why not” philosophy.

The conference had its own mobile app, developed by Double Dutch. The app allowed users to see the daily agenda, a map of the conference area, session descriptions, speaker bios and more. The big push, however, was the activity stream. It worked just like Twitter, but you were able to tag specific sessions and people within mLearnCon.

To incentivize people to use the app (specifically the activity stream), there was a contest. Posts were worth so many points, posts that tagged people a few more, posts with photos even more, etc. The idea was to get people engaged and connected. You could turn in your points for some cool swag like a cell phone wallet or the big prize, a cool mLearnCon T-Shirt with a Sugar Skull design on it.

On the one hand, the game worked. People were quickly accumulating vast amounts of points and collecting their spoils. On the other hand, the activity stream became a garbled mess of random pictures and posts that contributed nothing to any conversation whatsoever. People wanted their loot. Period. It got so bad that people used the activity stream to complain about it, then ran back to Twitter and relied on the #mLearnCon hashtag.

It’s a prime example of being careful what you wish for with gamifacation. It will never work if the incentive to participate induces people to game the system for the sole objective of achieving the reward. The whole purpose of the initiative gets lost this way. There’s nothing wrong with providing incentives; just make sure they encourage the behavior you are actually trying to instill.

David Wentworth, Senior Learning Analyst, Brandon Hall Group

David Wentworth

David Wentworth has been a senior research analyst in the human capital field since 2005 and joined the Brandon Hall Group in 2013. He has authored reports and articles on various human capital subjects with an emphasis on workforce technology. He has contributed to several reports published by ASTD, including authoring Mobile Learning: Learning in the Palm of Your Hand, The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations, and Instructional Systems Design Today and in the Future. His work has also appeared in Compensation & Benefits Review and T+D Magazine.

Leave a comment