gamified learning I recently had a conversation about something I hadn’t thought about for a long time. Pokémon. And it dawned upon me that the franchise is a surprisingly good metaphor for gamified learning. For those who aren’t familiar with them, Pokémon are fictional creatures. The people who catch, tame, and teach them to do battle are called trainers. The successful ones win badges. Sound familiar? The different types of Pokémon even have different traits, like learners do in real life.

From here onward let’s think like Pokémon trainers. Our Pokémon are our learners and they want to be the very best at what they do. It’s our job to help them make that a reality. Let’s see what we have in our training toolbox.

Target Learner Analysis (Choosing Your Pokémon Team)

There are hundreds of different kinds of Pokémon, but each trainer can only teach six of them at a time. It’s up to you to pick the best team for accomplishing your goals.

In the real world, you don’t want to give the wrong training to the wrong learners. It wastes valuable time and resources. Making role-based learning experiences is a good way to avoid this.

Learning by Doing (Battling and Gaining Experience)

Your six Pokémon are ready to start improving their battle skills. The first thing you do is take them out and let them practice, a lot. As they battle they gain experience, which makes them stronger, unlocks new skills, and eventually lets them evolve.

Learning by doing is much more active than starting with a “How To.” It provides immediate context and engagement. It gives learners the opportunity to pull information, rather than having it pushed at them, and adjust their performance based on feedback. And no matter how it’s gained, experience leads to new knowledge and skills which can in turn lead to expertise and promotion.

Social Learning (Competing and Sharing Experience)

Pokémon battles are usually one-on-one. Your Pokémon gain experience by defeating the opposing Pokémon. But your six can also tag team with one another. If one of them is struggling another can take its place. When they work together like this they share the resulting experience.

For some people, knowing that they’ve outperformed someone else is very satisfying. In other cases, people see competition as a form of conflict and try to avoid it. On the other hand, working with a trusted mentor, project group, or learning buddy can lead to positive experiences for everyone involved. They all benefit from one another’s ideas and insights.

Self-paced eLearning (TMs and HMs)

There are special mobile devices in the Pokémon world (called Technical Machines and Hidden Machines) that can speed up how quickly a Pokémon learns a new skill or teach them a skill they wouldn’t be able to learn otherwise.

Self-paced eLearning is often used as a primary means of delivering courses. It can also be used to provide additional practice like interactive scenarios or simulations. Its ability to compress the timeline between a decision and its consequence is very useful. The safe environment it provides, along with flexibility for time and place, has also helped make it a popular delivery method.

Cognitive Load (Number of Skills)

No matter how experienced any of your Pokémon are they can only remember four skills at a time. When they have the opportunity to learn additional skills after the first four it’s decision time. They have to forget one in order to learn a new one. As their trainer, it’s up to you to decide what stays and what goes.

At its most basic, cognitive load refers to how much information a learner can process at one time. If they have too much thrown at them too fast they’ll feel “overloaded.” This basically grinds learning to a stop. And memory works on the principle of “if you don’t use it, you lose it.” So any skills a learner acquired, but doesn’t actually use, are likely to be forgotten and replaced with something more useful.

Gamification (Badges)

As you travel through the Pokémon world, you and your team have the opportunity to test your skills against gym leaders. These are Pokémon trainers who have specialized in using certain types of Pokémon in battle and are recognized as the best in their field. As you defeat them, each one gives you a unique badge to commemorate your victory. You need all of the badges to prove that you’re qualified to face off against the best Pokémon trainers in the world, the Elite Four.

Badges, leaderboards, and points have become the hallmarks of gamified learning. But these elements alone aren’t guaranteed to motivate or engage learners. Game theory is much more complex than that. This one is last for a reason. While gamification may be easy to see or promote, the learning it’s intended to encourage will only be as effective as the learning experience itself. If the experience is poor, badges won’t do much to salvage it.

Pokémon trainers have a lot in their training toolboxes. From target learner analysis to gamification, there’s a lot to consider.

Did you find the reference to the Pokémon theme song I snuck in?

If you’d like to learn about game-based learning from Digitec Interactive, visit our eLearning page.

If you’d like to read more about instructional design best practices, check out the rest of this author’s blogs.

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