All-volunteer classroom

I recently had a great lunch with Steve Mahaley from Duke Corporate Education and our talk ranged from communities to social media to games and gamification. Our most interesting discussion was about how a training program is like a game. Or, rather, how it can be like a game when its good and how the differences between a program and a game points out some of the inherent challenges to programs. 

One definition that sticks out is Bernard Suit's' - - playing a game is the voluntary attempt to overcome unnecessary obstacles. Steve was particularly interested in this in parallel to training. We often do not get voluntary participants. People are forced to come to programs and consequently, it undermines the implementation of other game mechanics. 

How do we overcome the challenge of voluntary participation? Motivation and connection. Adult Learning models assume that engaged learning requires voluntary desire - or at least coerced desire. Andragogy suggests that we let the participants know what they will learner and why it is significant. This is why a roadmap of the program and a contextualizing from leadership are essential early in the schedule. Also, andragogy reminds educators that motivation in adult is increasingly intrinsic. This doesn't mean that extrinsic motivation is ineffective - people do participate in trainings in order to get promotions and raises - but that without intrinsic motivators, participation will not be as engaged. 

Voluntary, engaged participation is often called 'buy in' (a game metaphor from poker!). Once buy-in has been achieved, it needs to be constantly re-earned. This is true in games as well, but is often overlooked. Because games are voluntary, players can walk away at any time. Not only that, but players can ignore/break/challenge the rules at any time and still stay in the game. My son pointed this out to me recently. And by 'pointed this out' I mean he changed the rules during a game because it wasn't going the way he wanted. He didn’t buy in to the game anymore, so he changed it.  Games handle this need for regular buy-in by offering regular feedback and chances to achieve goals that break up the process.  This is another thing we can incorporate into adult education to keep people interested – What’s the prize for winning the week?  How do I know I am doing a good job during the session? 

In our lunch, Steve wondered if we could get to a point in corporate education where participants are all voluntary.  I’m not confident that will happen.  However, I think a smart combination of adult learning principles and game mechanics can really help gain and keep volunteers in the classroom.