Ep 031 Michael Sutton talks about the use of gamification even when it didn’t exist

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Michael has built his reputation as a Game-Based Learning Innovator, Architect, and Edupreneur. His current applied research and consulting focuses upon architecting and delivering immersive environments using serious games, workshops, and simulations. The initiatives leverage earning experiences by transforming key performance and quality indicators into increased learner satisfaction and institutional effectiveness.

He has established an exceptional record of success in educational program delivery, learning communities’ development, competency-based assessment, and problem-based educational program management through innovative adult educational and online programs.

How did Michael start in gamification? Well, he’s one of the oldest in the industry but is constantly learning. In school is what we now know as geeks or nerds, back in the sixties they were eggheads and he was one! He played chess a great deal and learned Go, which he found even superior to chess. He still enjoyed chess though and was one of the first in his school to buy an “AI” chess to play against. He played a lot of the early board games and then his first job was in computer programming (think 1970!). He was also very involved in learning environments, which he gamified though it was not called that way then, it was called “skills based.” His courses were facilitated thinking that participants should also have fun. At fifty years old he was invited to do his Ph.D. and his dissertation was on how knowledge management was taught in universities. In his courses, he hardly ever gave a lecture! His students had to invent games to demonstrate what they were learning in the class!

Michael loved the question of his favorite failure and the learnings he gained from it because he feels it is fundamental in any knowledge management system to share these experiences. He has two of these, one of them when using gamification in a business school and his colleagues got their noses up in the air when looking at all the board games, student-created games, Lego and more. They asked “how is it that your students can learn by having fun??? If the students don’t hear my golden words there is no way they can learn.” His failure was not being able to help the faculty and the business school to see the value in game-based learning and gamification in education. The second one was on the first class of a course, when he asked at the end if there was any issue or concern and a third of the class raised their hand because their biggest problem was that this thing of creating a game to check learning… why couldn’t they get three-hour lectures and a test to be marked? They even went to the dean to ask for somebody more conventional, these included millennials! From this second experience, thinking back he feels he should have marketed it better, so they would already know what to expect from that class. With the first experience, well many universities are so caught up with bureaucracy that they forget they are there for the learners and only cater for the comfort of professors. There is not much to do there, it was actually a good thing that it didn’t work there and he eventually left, that is how he is now where he is! Failure is very rarely final, so take it as it is and move on!

The biggest challenge he’s faced in his teaching is that there is not much pragmatic information for his course (leadership) and he decided to teach it in the hallways with games where they would learn skills associated with the topic and he evaluated with a rubric. He was showing that to learn these abilities you have to do them. A cool exercise for entrepreneurship mindset is he gave them $10 each that they would have to give away, one dollar at a time, to strangers who are not street people or beggars, and they would be recorded by one of their colleagues. There were many things to learn on marketing, communications and many more. They spent two sessions debriefing this experience. An interesting highlight is the fact that there was no digital solution and the investment was perhaps around $40 because most of them were not able to give away more than two!

Michael doesn’t have his own process, he actually uses Karl Kapp‘s method! No need to reinvent the wheel. He feels it is important to dive deep into whichever process you choose, so you can have a lot of experience on it.

Authenticity in scenario design is a best practice for Michael, it has to be something where the participant can really be immersed in, it should be credible. His favorite game is, again, Go. Michael would love to listen to Kevin Allen of EI Games. A book he would recommend to us would be the new book by Sune Gudiksen and Jake Inlove “Gamification for Business: Why Innovators and Changemakers Use Games to Break Down Silos, Drive Engagement and Build Trust.”

Michael’s superpower is building trust and a sense of integrity with players! The random question that Michael answers is about high stake scenarios where gamification has worked, in particular about its use in learning through a simulation. The example is fantastic and directly tackles the issue of how we currently grade and evaluate students and learners.

He will be publishing a book around September of 2018, it will be about how to market and create the business case in organizations for game-based learning, so serious games and simulations.

Michael believes that one of the main fears of people getting into this is that what they design won’t be good enough! And, in a way they are right but the way to learn how to drive is by driving and making mistakes. Act and do, you need those mistakes under your belt, however also you can learn from others, figure out what motivates players in a game. Most game authors would even be keen on talking about their game if you are interested in knowing how they think, you will learn a lot more from them if this happens after you’ve tried, and probably failed, at your first two or three games, or attempts.

If you want to get in contact with Michael you can find him on LinkedIn or write to him an email to michaeljdsutton [at] funification [dot] biz


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