Podcast 17: What’s hot in learning?

Welcome to a question of gamification a podcast where gamification expert and competence answers your questions.

Welcome to a Question of Gamification. My name is An Coppens. I’m the show host for this show and also the CEO and founder of Gamification Nation.

Today’s question of gamification is, what is hot in learning? And I guess we should also cover what is ‘not’ as a sort of balanced approach to answering questions.

My interest in learning

A lot of our work in gamification covers learning because my background has been in learning and development, instructional design, training. I’ve been an in house trainer and in house, L&D manager. I’ve also been an external provider and external trainer, a workshop host and instructional designer, both inside and outside of companies. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that I keep up to date with what’s happening and that a lot of my connections are also in this space. It’s also where we started Gamification Nation was with ultimately learning related gamification projects. It’s also why I have a learning gamification framework, and a book coming out in the space of learning gamification, based on the practical experiences, I’ve faced implementing gamification for learning in organizations large and small.


So back to the question of the week, what is hot in learning? Well, one of the hottest topics is chatbots. We see tutor bots or learner bots popping up a lot more. And some of the large consultancy companies have successfully implemented chatbots that basically find the relevant information for you, based on the questions you asked a bot. Some are machine learning based bots, which will search for information and learn to present the good material, others are just simple bots with connections to the whole database of learning material that a company may have.

Chatbots function very much like your search feature in some sense. They basically act as the Finder of all of these great materials that people may be looking for. Sometimes, these are only set to work on an internal platform, other times, they can also search online like YouTube, TedX, you name it, any learning related resources that they can get their hands on. So that’s one thing. So that’s definitely hot. I don’t see it changing anytime soon.

To make the most out of a chatbot, however, it does need to be relevant and come up with relevant information for your users. If it still doesn’t answer the question the user is trying to answer, it will just be annoying. It may serve as a database or a bank of questions of what people are asking or looking for. That’s one thing. But if it still doesn’t answer those questions, it will soon be seen as another useless tool that L&D has pushed on us and nobody is using. If however, you are a company with a large learning database and you have the trouble of many questions relating to ‘where can I find this’ or ‘I need a course on X and I can’t find that’, that’s when a chatbot can be really helpful.

Currently, in most organisations, chatbots are in written chat format, so they won’t be accessible through voice on most occasions. But for the future, that is where we are headed, where we ask our Alexa or Siri to find those things. And the voice-enabled bot then goes off and looks wherever we wanted it to look. So the tech is there. how good the tech is, is a bit debatable, depending on the company, depending on how you program that to work, it will have more or less good functionality. What I would recommend if you are embarking on a chatbot project is to make sure that it also has a little bit of adaptivity and machine learning attached so that it can find the best and better recommendations for your users.

If you can include user recognition in it, and you can link it to an adaptive platform, you’re on a winner. And that brings me nicely to the next what’s hot in learning.

Adaptive and personalised tech

Well, adaptive technology, it’s still not implemented in the majority of learning tools, which I find fascinating. It’s pretty much been standard in a lot of games, to have a track that gets easier or harder depending on the user’s experience. Coming from the gamification space, looking for adaptive tracks, that suit a learners ability is vital, I think, and personalisation as a close second.

So adaptive and personalisation, I see as the next two hot potatoes in learning. We want our learning our way. Now, that means sometimes that we personalise it based on the levels, personalised based on our preferences. I may like a lot of text, or images, and quick snippets, short snippets of learning, whereas others may want to deep dive, read a book, maybe spend an hour on a webinar, others may prefer the classroom setting. So depending on preferences, learning should still be presented in as many modalities as possible. And don’t miss out on things like audio, like this podcast. I have been blogging for four or five years, actually probably longer than that. And the feedback has always been very positive. But adding the podcasts into it has actually given us a new number of users and a different piece of feedback. The fact that people can listen and read is also been appreciated.


Multimodal is definitely a good way to think about learning for the future. And if you count on devices, like an Alexa, for example, or a Google Assistant, they are able to advise, they’re able to even give you the score, award you badges, unlock more content. Meaning that you can also gamify them. One of my favorite games or skills on Alexa is that we can ask her the question of the day and although it is a randomised question, we also get a score. It’s a family deal, we all try together to answer the question correctly. Sometimes we receive further questions, sometimes we don’t, sometimes we’re just really bad at it.  I like the question of the day concept and I feel you could set that for example leadership with a scenario of the day. You could set the topic to be anything you really wanted it to be.


Next topic on what’s hot in learning is scenarios. Now, scenarios have been around since forever. Scenarios have also been renamed now into making learning experiences. So from start to finish, we want to create an experience that’s compelling, that engages the learner, that effectively gets them going and gets them engrossed.

Now, if you look at games, that’s what they’ve been using and doing for years. To tell a story in the game though, we usually hire a multitude of skilled people. So there could be a storyteller, there would be a game designer, there will be a level designer, there’ll be an asset designer. So there’s a vast number of people that get involved. Today in the learning space, we still only see a small number of people involved in actually designing new learning, and often relying very much on the subject matter experts, or the SME, as it’s called in learning tech jargon. A learning experience has a start and beginning, a middle and an end. The experience usually should follow some kind of story arc in my view. And the story arc can be, let’s say, a hero’s journey, which is probably one of the oldest story arcs on the planet, where the hero comes to realisation that there’s a shortcoming, then he has to overcome obstacles, He learns new things, or finds new advisors along the track, and comes to a decision point, maybe more than once, and then ends up in a scenario where he has to overcome the biggest battle, namely, the battle with him or herself, to overcome that massive obstacle, and transform into a new personality or a new version of self.

So when we’re looking at an experience, you’ll recognise elements of this in it, yes, experiences can be gamified, they can unlock new challenges based on the choices made, they can cause positive consequences, and negative consequences. In the same way, as you do in life, some things help you some things hinder you. And that’s, you know, the nature of a good experience or a good story.

Most Hollywood movies wouldn’t be any fun on this, you are the major crisis at some point, something went wrong, and then you came out the other end changed with new skills, etc. and effectively, if we think about life in general, and how we operated business, we’ve probably learned more from doing things wrong than we’ve done from doing things right. So this is definitely an area I am quite passionate about and I advocated for years and years that we should focus on scenario-based learning, scenario-based development. And also to give people feedback in the moment when they’re doing it right or wrong, because that’s how you learn. That’s how you get better.

Repetition is something that isn’t so popular. Yet, in scenario-based learning, you can dress repetition up in a neat way by presenting similar scenarios and checking in whether somebody has actually changed over time. And for compliance related learning, for example, I find that really useful. You may have given a theory about one example, show it untested in another one. So that people learn that, yes, we have transferable skills here, we need to switch on our mind, our brain to you know, look out the right way of doing something.

So when it comes to learning, I think experiences are definitely here to stay. They’re here for the long run. And looking at games in the adventure, role-playing and multiplayer genre would actually help you make better scenarios. If you haven’t played any yet, my recommendations, are there’s a few, so there is one that’s quite a simple, I suppose interface, and quite simple to follow, it’s 80 Days, made by Inkle studios, which is very much scenario-based game. An adventure game where you go on a journey, 80 days around the world. Sounds familiar, right?

So and you make choices on behalf of your master. You have to resource manage, so you, you still have to arrive intact. And you have to make sure that you take your route that will get you there. And sometimes you crash, sometimes you die, sometimes your partner gets ill, sometimes you get robbed, you know. So there is many, many variations of things that happen to you. So that’s one.

Another great example from a game that I think will help scenario-based learning writers is What Remains of Edith Finch. And this is a very immersive game, where you see things through different perspectives. Sometimes you’re a person, sometimes you’re a cat, sometimes you’re a bird, sometimes you see you change the way you view things, and how you explore in the game. And that makes it interesting because that gives you many perspectives. And also gives you sometimes limitations and what you can do. And sometimes it increases your awareness of your environment, the level at which things are at. But from a storytelling perspective, it’s a really interesting story. And, you know, it really drew me in to just go through it and explore.

So those two I think would be great examples of games I liked and illustrate a scenario base choices, consequences in great detail and what it can bring to learning because they have so many different variations of what can go wrong, what could go right now you can see things that it’s, it’s fascinating. So scenarios are here to stay. I don’t think they’ll go away. They were never the cheapest option to develop or design, they need more time, they need a deeper knowledge of how people handle things. They need emotional responses. They need insights into more complex sides of an equation. So I think that is the real true reason why many companies shy away from this method of learning and favour the lazy approach of rapid altering, where, you know, effectively, we’re not going in depth, but we’re dashing out the knowledge into basically a PowerPoint on steroids, hoping that people will be able to read, grasp and adapt.

Now, if you’re in learning, you know that all the work hasn’t worked for quite some time. And still, it’s still the methods of sharing information for a large advanced group of companies. So I challenge you, step out there. Do it differently.

Mixed reality

Another thing that will help the storytelling in terms of scenario-based learning is a mixed reality. I think augmented reality, reality, virtual reality, all have things that aren’t learning. For example, the regular 2D or old school PowerPoints, or even classrooms cannot add, having an additional dimension from AR and VR, is helpful. experiencing something in a safe environment, like a simulation in a virtual world may give it that safe place without you actually getting hurt. It’s been the method of training for pilots, it’s been a method of training for people that go out on oil rigs, for teams to operate together. So it doesn’t come as a surprise. And it will be a tool that we’ll be using time and again, in a space where AD equipment is super expensive. The chance of lives being endangered, also quite big, it’s still not cost effective. So I still see you very low tech up in the corporate world of actual VR because of the pricing. But more and more tools are available that are coming down in price and making it accessible for a lot of companies.

We are playing around with a new tool called learn bright, which we hope to implement into our learning space. So watch that space basically, is what we’re saying. And it’s a VR ready platform with gamification built in, which is what makes it exciting for us. So we’re looking at playing around with some of the settings there. But augmented reality treasure hunts or mixed reality rather treasure hunts where you have some clues that you give them on paper, some clues that come in the form of an app, some clues are, you know means that they have to uncover something in virtual reality. Mixed reality has a lot of scope, can work for a lot of organisations, and especially for workers that don’t necessarily have 100% computer access all of the time. So I’m thinking of factories. I’m thinking of outdoor workers. I’m thinking people that usually are transitional or on in transit travelling a lot. So there are ways of engaging these guys in learning through mixed reality. And that obviously assumes that there is a mobile component to everything that you do. So mixed reality opens the door.

Retro gaming: board and card games

Now, in terms of gamification, and what’s hot in gamification, I actually believe that retro gaming or board games and card games are making a comeback into the classroom. It’s also very popular with authors who want to add a different dimension to their book. Namely, they have a card game now today, I bought, Dan Ariely’s book, well, actually not the book, the card game of irrational experiences. Now irrational, I think, what’s the title of his book, it’s called Rational Irrationality. And he’s got a few books on that topic. And a) I was fascinated by the books, but b) the actual card game now fascinates me, because he’s challenging us in bite-sized moments. So think about Okay, what is the rational thing you think the answer should be? And then what’s statistically the situation, and to discover it we actually probably act more irrational than rational most of the time, from a statisticians point of view.

So I think board games mean, we’ve successfully worked on a number of board and card games, where effectively we wanted people to learn true actually physically sitting around. And if you think about it, social aspects of learning social learning with a board game is ideally situation for now. A card game you could still play against, you know, yourself or a very small number, whereas a board game assumes at least four or five people around the table, and the impact it can have based on scenarios based on the boundary you have, based on the questions you may have that come up as part of the game, the decisions you have to make as a group can give you very good insight, not only in your team, but also in the types of things that we want to do. So I would say put board games and card games on the agenda if you haven’t already because they are making a comeback. And they are also seen as a less formal way of learning much more social in nature because typically, it’s more than one person and not personally against the machine.

So we’ve worked on a couple and we can see from the results and the number of retention based on the post plays surveys that in some of the cases retention of information goes up 40% higher than after an E-learning course, or even a classroom training. So there is validity in it. There is more and more research coming out to that effect. So I would say, Don’t miss out on the good old pen paper or in gaming term is the equivalent of actual board games, card games, and you know, even outdoor experiences that you do together.

So that’s our roundup of what’s hot in learning. And I hope that answers some of the questions. And as I promised at the beginning, or believe I did, we are setting up a quarterly trends webinar and report to discuss the trends in gamification in learning, in HR, and business applications, and how gamification is creeping probably into most of them as we speak without you noticing much.

So if you’re interested in that, have a look at the show notes and connect with us on our website so that you can sign up and don’t miss out on these special quarterly reports to keep you up to date on the latest and greatest of trends, and what’s hot in the space of gamification learning and HR business applications.

Thank you for listening. If you enjoy our podcast, do give us a good rating and get in touch with your questions. We would be delighted to answer them


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