The Adult Education Approach to Gamification

The Adult Education Approach to Gamification

By Harry Jacobs

Based on the work of Mario Herger [1]and Mauritz Johnson’s Curriculum Instructional Model [2]


As I continue with my adult education I find it amazing the parallels between Adult Education and the concepts of Gamification. 

Relationalship Model Gamification

In the above link, I have taken Johnsons Curriculum Relationship Model, and have mapped Mario Herger’s design centric frame work for Gamification.  What this suggests is that how we deliver Gamification is not unique, but born out of adult education.  Gamification is really just a mechanism that is designed to engage and motivate participants to a desired state.   When you think about the facilitation of adult education adult educators are playing a similar role, we are engaging and motivating participants to achieve success in learning a new skill or subject, so we are moving learners from one state to another.

One of the aspects of this model I like personally in the middle layer is the notion of value.  Posner and Rudnitsky (2006) state that value is “an ideal state of affairs towards which one or more persons has a high effective regard, for example, equality of educational opportunity.”  [3]One of the questions missed in some of the Gamification frameworks that exist is the notion of value.  What is the perception of the value of the ideal state you are moving towards not only from a participant’s point of view, but from a organizational leadership point of view.  Not only should we define who are users are, what the goal Gamification is working towards, but also a clear statement on the value of adding some sort of Gamification.  If nobody perceives there is value in the activity, then the change may turn out to be an object failure. 

The model that is shown above shows three distinct layers, the first layer asks the questions, of why, what and how. On the left you can see how this maps to Herger’s  frame work.  The second layer is the actual design and delivery of the content, the mechanics of Gamification, while not explicated stated I added that this is iterative. The content and delivery must be continually   be evaluated in order to fine tune and continue to deliver relevant experiences to the participants.

Lastly the third layer allows for evaluation of what we are doing, in order to definitively state that we succeeded we have to determine what KPIs we are going to measure.  The model breaks this down into three processes; evaluating the main effect of Gamification, this basically answers the questions of did we accomplish what we set up to do?  Secondly, where there an side effects to what we put into place, these could be unintended results that were not planned upon in the initial planning of the activity. Lastly evidence of the Gamification results, a clear evaluation plan is needed, as the evaluation plan should be used to evaluate are initial assumptions set at the beginning of the project.

While I am not going to go deeper into this model at this time, what I attempted to show is that an older adult education model clearly shows that Gamification is really a mechanism for adult education in some cases, and that as Gamification experts we need to be more than just gamers. We need to understand the concepts of education and how to deliver content to adults in a way that addresses all learning styles or risk having underdeveloped solutions. 



[1] Kumar, Janaki Mythily and Herger, Mario (2013) ‘Gamification at Work: Designing Engaging Business Software’. Aarhus, Denmark, The Interaction Design Foundation. ISBN: 978-87-92964-06-9. Book available online at

[2]Posner, G.J and Rudnitsky A.N. (2006) ‘Course Design: A guide to Curriculum Development for Teachers.’ 7th Edition Boston, MA, Person. ISBN:0-205-45766-5. P. 12

[3]Posner, G.J and Rudnitsky A.N. (2006) ‘Course Design: A guide to Curriculum Development for Teachers.’ 7th Edition Boston, MA, Person. ISBN:0-205-45766-5. P. 293


Balancing Safety and Challenge (and Critical Thinking)

This weeks post from my Adult Education Course at the University of Victoria


While I can’t speak to the challenges of facilitating in a classroom as I have yet to have that experience.  However in terms of informal education I spent almost 20 years as a Chef.  When teaching apprentices and cooks as a chef, there is still balancing the need to provide a safe learning environment for everyone as well as ensure that the staff was up to the various challenges ahead as they learn new skills.

 The notion of safety as stated in our study notes comes basically in two forms, first the physical environment.  As a teacher/facilitator we must ensure that the physical environment is safe for each student.  Whether the environment is a classroom or a kitchen, students need to feel safe and secure.   UVIC (2013) course notes state “Taking care to ensure a comfortable physical learning environment sends a message to participants that we genuinely care about their needs.” As a chef, the responsibility is high to ensure the learner whether it is a first time cook or an experienced apprentice to ensure that the physical surroundings were safe so that learners feel comfortable without worry to whether or not they would be harmed by sharp objects or heavy kitchen equipment. 

But it is more than that it is making sure they have the proper equipment regardless of whether it is a knife to cut food in the kitchen or a workspace in the classroom.  Taking away the fear or concern of the physical space is one step towards ensuring the comfort and safety of the students.  The next step of course as stated in the UVIC(2013) course notes that the second part of safety is the emotional and social environment. 

A good example is this week’s assignment of safety, for Assignment one, Colleen in the forums posted that our assignments do not have to be posted.  Since some of our assignments are personal not everyone may have the comfort level to share with the class.  This agrees with the University of Wisconsin’s (n.d.) that states “The teacher may state that s/he will not call on students individually to participate, and students have the right to not participate.” 

In adult learning there may be the potential to have a wider variety of diversity in the classroom.  Not only is there potential for cultural diversity, but also gender, age, education and experience all come to play in a group setting.  The University of Wisconsin (n.d.) states “All learning and change involves some degree of culture shock to the degree that they challenge our basic perspectives.”  What this suggests to me is that when we put a group of people into a setting where they will be challenged facilitators may have to deal with a wide array of emotional reactions of their learners. 

Wlodkowski  (2005) states that establishing participation guidelines is important in adult learning, since as facilitators part of our role as a guide is to ensure the emotional and social stability of the group, by opening up and discussing with what they can expect from me as a teacher in the class room is important.  But also, understanding what the students expect from me as well as what students expect from each other.  Much like we do at teams in the work place understanding and developing group norms is important.  Mutual respect for each other as a person, that each person’s voice is important, and that each person adds value to the classroom in some way, in a way we are creating a sub-culture in the classroom with our own beliefs, symbols, behaviors, stories, etc..

It took me awhile to see the connection between a safe environment and critical thinking.  There are a number of different definitions of critical thinking.   The one I like the best is from Scriven and Paul (n.d.) that states Critical thinking is that mode of thinking – about any subject, content, or problem – in which the thinker improves the quality of his or her thinking by skillfully taking charge of the structures inherent in thinking and imposing intellectual standards upon them.” Fostering critical thinking in Adult Education is very important, often we think with our emotions and our experience, but critical thinking goes beyond that. 

In the safe classroom critical thinking is important in formulating responses to other students.  Critical thinking in my opinion is really meta-thinking, what I mean by that is that we think about thinking, before we respond to someone’s thought, we think from all angles.  We have to look at it logically and try to remove our prejudices and biases in order to formulate a response or action.  In the classroom with a high level of diversity we need to encourage students to see all sides of the argument and be able to respond in an intelligent logical manner, as opposed to an emotional manner.  If we respond with our heart rather than our brains, we may make other students feel uncomfortable, your prejudices or biases could also hurt another person’s feelings. 

Safety then in the classroom encompasses three elements, the physical, and the social/emotional side.  Related to the social/emotional side is also being able to critically think as well.  Without critical thinking skills, I do not think any education will affect social issues of the day, if that is what adult education is trying to achieve.



Duncan, J. (n.d.) ‘Critical thinking’[Online]. Available at: (Accessed: October 7, 2013)

Scriven, M. and Paul, R. (n.d.) ‘Defining Critical Thinking’ [Online]. Available at: (Accessed:

UVIC(2013) ‘Module 4: Safe and challenging adult learning spaces’ [Online course notes] Available at: (Accessed: October 6, 2013) Note: Available to students only

University of Wisconsin (n.d.) ‘Creating a safe and engaging classroom climate’ [Online]. Available at:  (Accessed: October 6, 2013)

Wlodkowski, R. (2005) ‘Motivational Strategies’[Online]. Available at: (Accessed: October 6, 2013)

Edult Education, This weeks Post from UVIC

Having reflected on the readings for this week, is there an adult learning theory (or two) that resonates for you? Do you see the influences of this theory in your own work? Or, perhaps you oppose and would like to challenge some of what you read and you may have a different perspective. And then, consider the readings and the notion that adult education is said to be a strong catalyst for social change. What are your thoughts on this?

In terms of learning, the notion of Active learning stands out for me Sierra Training Associates (2007) defines active learning as “the use of one or more interactive approaches to education and train for the purposes of engagement students in their work to acquire and understand knowledge.” Looking at Knowles four principles as stated in Northern Arizona University (2010) first the concept that Adults like to be involved in the planning and evaluation of what they are doing. Secondly, a person’s experience is from the past is the basis for learning activities, Thirdly, Adults like to learn subjects that have relevance in their life (job or personal) and lastly the use of problem centered learning as opposed to content centered. These principles are also a good foundation to Gamifcation when it is applied to the workplace, understanding active learning will help build better tools for adults to use and to learn from in a virtual world.
Looking down the list that MacKeracher (2008) offers many fit Knowles principle well, I certainly believe that learning is something an adult must want to do, they want to be involved in the learning process not just sit there and be a passive receptacle to information.

But actively involved, not only with the content but with those also those who may be taking the course with them, while I understand the need to deliver content in lecture style, there should be room to explore and experience the content as well. Often in today’s workplace training does not exist, in my company training exists in the world of Skill Port, this is the most boring delivery method of course material I have had to work with. It is non-interactive, it is read/present then answer a few multiple choice questions. There is no context in which to learn the material nor is it applied to a real world situation. This is a very ineffective, in my opinion as an educational tool for training in the workplace.

The question of whether education can bring about social change is difficult. I have to believe that this is something that each individual person has the ability to do depending on if they are in the right place in their life to be able to shift from education as a need to learn skills to survive in the work place and society or whether they are at a higher level of enlightenment and can make use of education to make social changes. Most people are too busy living their day to day life to even consider acting on social change that could radically change society in some way. Education has the potential to do this, if we can teach critical thinking skills, we go beyond the notion of learning for survival in society skills. I do not think many adult learners get the opportunity to apply social change when they are too busy living day to day. However, one of the big comments we hear in Gamification circles is ‘Don’t Be Evil.’ When we teach we could say the same thing, ‘Don’t Be Evil.’ As teachers we have a responsibly to society to ensure that we act within societal norms. That does not mean we should steer away from hard social issues, but we should also take the tack of doing no harm.

Northern Arizona University (2010) ‘Adult Learning Theory (andragogy)’[Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 9/30/2013)
MacKeracher, D. (2008) ‘Making Sense of Adult Learning’. University of Toronto Press:Toronto
Sierra Training Associates (2007) ‘We can teach the way we are taught, or we can teach the way people learn’[Online]. Available at: (Accessed: 9/30/2013)