In 1890, an American university student would spend untold hours in the study and translation of Latin, Greek and German – largely the grammar and vocabulary. Listening to it or speaking the language didn’t happen until the 2nd or 3rd year.
In 1916, Carl Krause proposed a more natural method. The Direct Method, he called it; learning language by being immersed in it. Mr. Krause’s method suggested that students attended classes where no English was allowed. Students would receive content and communicate back using only the language they were to learn.
It was a revolutionary idea, and one that changed curriculum design for many fields of study. The foundations of learner-centric design, and even gamification find their roots in the Direct Method:
- the student was forced to practice, and their level of engagement pushed their success.
- It applied psychology in much the same way gamification does. Krause understood that humans need to communicate. The Direct Method largely removed the boredom of rote learning and replaced it with communication challenges of increasing difficulty.
In our industry, we’re given to re-inventing the wheel. We know greater engagement equals greater success in learning outcomes. Gamification and Learner-centric design are just the latest experiments; how to apply a challenge such that it engages the learner enough to offset the boredom of learning material they might not choose to learn on their own.
Gamification can be effective. For example:
- The individual who is driven by recognition (I want to be first, best, or a star). While I personally feel this type of individual is highly motivated to learn without the gamification constructs, the widely available examples and ability to implement a recognition platform makes it a no-brainer to set up and try.
- It takes the boredom out of rote subjects through storytelling, social interaction, challenges and introducing fun elements such as sound and animation or actual game play.
The problem with gamification is that it’s hard to do well. Leaderboards and learning paths, badges and achievement points are great for early adopters. If you start the climb three years after implementation, the wall of leaders is a proven vehicle for dis-engagement, for example. “I’ll never beat that score!”
For many companies, taking your learning content and converting it to something animated and fun is an expensive and paradigm-shifting endeavor. The outlay is a deterrent to wholesale change unless you can prove the ROI is there to justify it.
There’s also resistance to change. How do you hand control over to your employee to drive their learning? How does the trainer learn to lead a session from within the group? How do you test for actual improvement in outcomes? How do you deal with learners who don’t respond well to self-direction?
Personally, I favor flipped classroom design. Ultimately, no matter your learning type, you settle down and teach yourself: by going for the star and racing through the content ahead of the pack, or listening to the instructor intently and practicing, or grabbing a book or watching a demo and trying it for yourself.
In each case, the learner does the driving. Flipped classroom lets the learner decide their path. Our job then becomes ensuring that no matter the road, the content delivery (or rewards) match the learner’s choice. It means making tough choices – such as a distributed learning system that contains content blocks which can be re-purposed with a new stylesheet; or a rewards system that sorts out levels of achievement, branches and refreshes so that new learners aren’t discouraged.
Ultimately, though, we’re still in 1916, trying to figure out how to get into the learner’s head and figure out what makes them tick.