Intersection of games, learning, and organizational psychology: Gamification Blog Book Tour Underway!


Gamification Blog Book Tour Underway!.

Ok, so it’s my “turn.”  Is this, too, a game?

According to Karl Kapp, I suppose it is.  There are a set of rules (when to post), rewards (a preview of the book, notoriety, contributing to the professional Karma), other players (other bloggers and potential readers), etc.  So, I guess it is my turn to play.

Kapp, author of Gamification, is conducting an innovative “blog book tour,” wherein he has requested a series of bloggers to comment on his recent and emergent publication.  I was honored to be asked to participate in this “game.”

Like previous blogger in the tour, Mike Qaissaunee, I am also not an instructional designer, although I’ve also designed many courses for delivery at the undergraduate, graduate, and corporate levels.  I have delivered instructor-led classes, virtual sessions via distance tech, and on-line eLearning.  But, I am not a professional, trained, certified instructional designer.

My perspective is that of an organizational psychologist, and I want to examine Gamification in light of my recent discussions of employee enablement.

If you pull back far enough, and open the meaning of the term “gaming” or even the “gamification” of learning, you’ll certainly understand that this is not a new phenomenon.  As Kapp points out in the introductory chapters, games have been used for centuries (if not millenia) to teach and practice skills in an artificial environment – that is, one which is removed (slightly or entirely) from actual, in-the-workflow behavior and consequences.

Now, sometimes games can be played purely for their entertainment value.  Observing the dynamics of this game play, and applying them to Learning and Instruction, is the domain of this text.  How do games work, really?  How might that apply to learning?  How would you go about doing that (if you buy into the assumption that it is of value)?  These are the questions Kapp addresses, and well – sometimes at a survey level (theory) and more deeply in other places (application).

My question, on the other hand, is “How does gamification of the workplace enhance employee enablement?”  Forget, for the moment, the pretext that game mechanics can be applied in a relatively neutral environment to enable greater acquisition and retention of target skills.  We’ll call that a “given.”  Let’s talk about how those same dynamics can be integrated into the real flow of work to enable employees to do their jobs better, with greater satisfaction.

One of the major tenets of gamification is the idea that a “flow state” is achieved (thanks, again to the Csikszentmihalyis for this concept).  Isn’t that what we are attempting to also achieve in the workplace, in the flow of work?  How can game mechanics be applied to successfully elevate the level of work to a flow state?

The workplace is fundamentally an artificial environment.  Not that very “real” things don’t happen; but when you consider that most people “go to work” to earn “money” (tokens) with which they can purchase not only shelter and sustenance, but other items that have been operationally conditioned by society to be essential to modern life – we can recognize that there are absolutely elements of artificiality about the whole thing.  So much so that, when amplified and storified, we laugh in recognition of our selves and our workplaces in TV sitcoms and movies.  Yet, many “play along” with the game until they can 1) go on vacation, and eventually 2) retire to “real lives.”

So, given that (for the moment), think about how we could intentionally manipulate the rules and rewards of the workplace to “up level” that environment to a state of flow for most (if not all) concerned.  Can we enhance feedback loops to respond to target achievements (rather than relying on annual reviews)?  Might we introduce aspects of pay-for-performance (already being done in many environments) that only rewards positive outcomes?  How do we reward collaborative behavior (when indicated), and minimize destructive competitive behavior?  Would a safe, non-threatening workplace enhance employee’s ability to enter flow?  Can we assign work that is not boring yet not too challenging, and facilitate growth into next-level competencies through individualized training regimens?  Are learning activities then supportive of all moments of need (Mosher) and available across a spectrum of blended learning for various learning modalities?

Thank you, Karl Kapp, for introducing the topic to a new level of discussion, for covering the foundational theories, and suggesting practical application in the learning sphere.  Let’s also think about these practices more generally to enable employees in the flow of work as well!

1 Comment

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  1. Karl M. Kapp


    Thanks for playing! I really appreciate having you on the tour. I especially enjoy your perspective of looking at the issue from an organizational psychologist view point. You ask a really interesting question “How does gamification of the workplace enhance employee enablement?” I think that challenge is important from many perspectives. One is that the challenges and feedback mechanisms in games need to be applied more in the workforce, another is that many elements of work are downright tedious. I can’t tell you how many paperwork mazes I have been challenged with which take me out of the flow just so someone can get hired at the university.

    I think, perhaps, that some work can be tailored to create flow and optimal states of participation, collaboration and enjoyment but that other aspects are just plain awful. Whoever invented paperwork, for example, needs to be reprimanded.

    But the idea of creating more flow and engagement in the work itself is an interesting challenge and one that I think existed when the craftsperson worked with an apprentice and created items of value but gets lost in the sea of thousands of employees all working on forms. I don’t know it is an interesting problem. Are certain elements of work open to Gamification while other elements are not? Or can all work be made into a game and by the nature of having pay and requiring someone to work…does that make it impossible for play. For example, does a professional athlete ever feel that playing the “game” is actually work? Does this taint their “love of the game?”

    Organizations have a lot to deal with and I think elements of gamification can help, I think it is interesting how games can help to humanize organizations.

    Thanks for your thought provoking comments and your perspective from an organizational psychologist’s viewpoint.


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