In an inflammatory article published this week titled “Do your fellow Brits a favour. Stop going on holiday”, the Guardian columnist Simon Jenkins wrote that the reason for the concentration of holidays in August – somehow overlooking school holidays – was “a medieval hangover from the need to bring in the harvest”.
I can empathise with Jenkins, however, having spent much of the summer performing a strenuous harvest of my own. My harvest, unlike my medieval forebears however, has been for data to help me in my quest for fantasy football dominance in the coming months; my seeds – statistics on minutes played, goals, assists & aerials won; my tools – copy, paste, sort & filter; and my crops – metrics such as points per minute, goals per shot on target and as I descend further in to fantasy football insanity, things like ‘aerP%’ and ‘iP%’.
This might sound like a colossal waste of a young man’s time for relatively little return, and while my housemate and I refer to it as ‘playing spreadsheets’, Coursera – an online learning platform with 25 million learners, 2,000 courses and 149 university partners – calls it Gamification; “the application of game elements and digital game design techniques to non-game problems, such as business and social impact challenges.”
The philosophy is relatively simple, with gamification leveraging people’s natural desires for learning, mastery, competition and achievement designed to engage players in situations with learnings for non-game contexts.
The applications are wide-ranging, appealing to all ages and across a range of industries; research from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) has shown that the use of Minecraft in classrooms has led to improvements in engagement, problem solving, design and creative work, while as long ago as 2002, the U.S. Army developed a game called America’s Army, envisioned by the Army’s Chief Economist as “using computer game technology to provide the public a virtual soldier experience that was engaging, informative and entertaining”.
The applications are sure to grow in the coming years, with the disruptive nature of Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) such as Coursera, Udacity and edX challenging the role of the undergraduate degree as proxy for competence, with employers increasingly focussing on practical skills rather than academic achievement. Ernst & Young are just one of many large firms that have removed degree classification from their entry criteria stating with an internal review stating that “it found no evidence to conclude that previous success in higher education correlated with future success in subsequent professional qualifications undertaken.”
While many UK undergraduates are already taking the decision to play games rather than turn up to lectures without the boost to career prospects of a gamified qualification, the price of these courses could provide a more pressing motivation; just a few clicks has you learning coding for free at CodeCombat while a start-up called CodeFights offers free, gamified challenges to 500,000 users as a way of helping programmers learn; when these programmers know enough, they are recommended to employers, which pay CodeFights 15% of the employee’s starting salary.
Gamification, and its potential for cheap, engaging and specific skills training for both organisations and individuals mean that it could present a significant disruption to the way we learn, and the way we work in the coming years. If it can get me ‘playing’ with Microsoft Excel in my spare time, its possibilities are endless.