Learning and The Long Road to Mastery


The L for Leaning in Gamification, I like to think of as coming in two distinct flavours. The leaning high that comes from solving and mastering a knowable system and the long term learning that comes over a lifetime of striving towards a state of mastery. Hmmm….that was a lot of Ls.

Let’s lightly look at this learning below :)

The Learning Drug

The chemicals in the brain are priming us to get a kick out of mastering a system and environment around us. Our in-built survival trait. The person or any animal that learns, lives another day.

As coined over 10 years ago, Raph Koster, Game designer and author of “The Fun Theory”.

Fun from games arises out of mastery. It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun.

In other words, with games, learning is the drug.

Games have been created in known environments, with systems that are designed to be learnt and mastered. In gamification, however, the task is to bring that desire and chasing of learning into the big, meandering unknown of our lives. Blurring and bringing them closer together into smaller and smaller abstractions of a system we can learn to master.

The advancement of games with their greater diversity and complexity now being explored makes this merging of learning spaces possible.

Where previously a game system would have had to have every solution solved in advance, every avenue of possibility already coded or constrained. Now, procedurally generated, creative and collaborative modes have changed what we know is possible to build a game around.

The games created to take on unsolved science challenges are one example of this. Here is Adrien Treuille talking about the amazing world of collaborative science through games like protein folding game Foldit and nano-engineering in EteRNA.

The Long Road To Mastery

The now famous figure made popular by the book Outliers, of 10,000 hours to get to mastery, is further qualified in the original paper as time spent in deliberate practice.  But in order master anything, there is a learning loop that must happen:

New Learning (understanding of the new skill/concept) –> Practice (ingraining this through repeated attempts) –> Habit (practice turns to unconscious execution)

Move too quickly through this cycle by rushing through you understanding of how to carry out a new skill and you’ll misapply it in practice, if you are unobservant and unfocused whilst practising, progress will never become ingrained as habit or this is when bad habits can form.

Gamification solutions in learning have to avoid accidentally making what might be called ‘mindless practice‘ a rewarding activity. Games have shown us the power of habit loops to keep the player coming back in the middle stage of a gamified system,  but on its own this does not guarantee mastery.

The game player journeys I covered in previous post recognize the middle stage’s role in continually turning practice into habitual actions, but also providing opportunities for deliberate practice that stretch skills.

Viewed as learning loops, the end mastery or beginners ‘newbie’ stages are just different iterations of the same learning loop. The first learning experience of the game is the ‘on-boarding’. However, when we think of the increasingly finessed difficulty in an ‘end game’, this mastery is a state of being rather than an end completion.

In the quest to learning and master anything, we know, this is a journey that is never truly finished.


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