Data Analytics for Learning: Game Design is Doing It Right

By March 7, 2012Ideas

What if, as you were practicing a skill, making an attempt to figure out a tough problem or applying something you just learned, you could get instant and continuous feedback? Just like driving a race car where every small movement has instant results, what if every action you take provided data back to you that allowed you to see whether you made a good or bad decision, did something right or wrong, or gave you insight into what the next best step is based on that action?
If you were in a learning environment like that, you’d probably be playing a game.
Learning, in its organic state, is our brain constantly making sense of data and sensory input in the context of our previous knowledge. In other words, we learn through data analysis and much of the data that we analyze to make sense of the world is in the form of feedback to our actions. Without feedback, we are left to make assumptions about our performance, whether a success or failure.
Games are built around the same dynamic of constant input and response; in essence, they are data analytics engines with an overlay of rules, competition, and (hopefully!) fun. If learning experiences paralleled game experiences, everything we did would be collected as data that could be analyzed over time to show improvement. Learning now is measured in infrequent and sometimes overly simplistic ways that don’t actually show what people have learned (i.e., multiple choice tests).  Because live instructors do most of the learning evaluation, there is a limit to the amount of feedback and assessment that can be reasonably provided. Elearning is more scalable, but the structure for most traditional elearning has modeled didactic classroom instruction: content presentation, knowledge checks, content presentation, and comprehensive knowledge assessment.
The opportunity in gaming for learning is to capture massive amounts of data, provide continuous, specific performance feedback and allow learners (players) to apply knowledge in context. As technology improves to more effectively capture different types of data and performance, gaming has evolved to leverage that data. The Xbox 360 Kinect is a recent example of how motion capture can now be used to collect new types of data and measure performance.
Game design is keeping up with technology, creating new and creative ways of collecting data to analyze and provide performance feedback. Learning experience design should look to game design to evolve (or catch up…) to provide our learners with the same types of data and feedback to reinforce positive behavior change and improve performance.
About the Author
Koreen Olbrish, Ayogo VP of Learning Design, creates games that demonstrate the untapped potential of immersive learning design.