Some roads in These Parts are still icy and treacherous, so it’s a “delayed start optional workday” for teachers and other school district employees, another day off for students. After three restful days at home with The Dog and The Cat, I’m looking forward to a few quiet, productive hours at school, then a happy (and much warmer) weekend with The Family. But in those quiet days at home, I’ve had a lot of time to read and think … and a lot to think about since this post about Andrzej Marczewski’s “Gamification User Types” showed up in my Google+ feed on Wednesday. How does the game itself change when different players participate … or choose not to? And what are the implications for ongoing game-like structures, from factory-model schools to joyful learning communities and other organizations?
Marczewski’s elearningindustry post led to an earlier post of his that makes more explicit links between his six player types and the motivating factors that drive them. Like Daniel Pink, Marczewski sees autonomy, mastery, and purpose as fundamental motivators, but he adds relatedness … and as I read the list, I suddenly realized how important it was to do so. Four of Marczewski’s six player types (Free Spirits, Achievers, Philanthropists, and Socializers) are intrinsically motivated, one by each of these four fundamental motivators; a fifth, the Player, is extrinsically motivated by points, rewards, and the like; and then there’s the Disruptor, who wants to change the game instead of playing it the way it currently is.
We had a lively conversation about Marczewski’s types and their implications on Google+, especially after I asked about the implications of player types on game design. I think it’s pretty typical for game designers and system designers of any kind to assume that the players are pretty much like you; that was certainly true when I was a new teacher trying to design a “perfect system” that would help everyone learn Latin well and enjoy the process. Of course I quickly learned that the perfect system for me wasn’t always (wasn’t usually!) the perfect system for the actual players, for the 25 or 30 eager or reluctant teenagers in This Classroom, at This Hour, on This Day. One Ms. X I know, who will probably be at school with me today (because “it would be a waste of a whole day of leave when this is a short day anyway,” which gives you a good sense of her primary player type, I suppose), is still in pursuit of the “perfect” lesson plan, the one that can be “handed in again” unchanged to Powers That Be year after year and followed, as written, regardless of changes in students or external conditions. But even That Ms. X understands about things like snow days … and even That Ms. X has been going to summer workshops, learning new skills, adding new techniques and information to her “perfect” plans. Even That Ms. X has been making changes to the game, and of course there are the external changes like new curricula, new textbooks, new versions of the Big State Test.
But educators, like game designers, often don’t think about player types … or if we do, we assume that everybody must or ought to be pretty much like us. Another Ms. X, who will probably be at school because there’s “too much to cover” and “not enough time,” etc., has surely learned about learning styles and multiple intelligences and intrinsic motivation at some point along the way. But when she’s designing lessons or teaching her students, she reverts to a one-size-fits-all approach that, of course, fits nobody, the kind of approach that Nick Manning unpacks in this excellent post on Getting Smart. Ms. X is angry, it seems, because she has “low students” this year, and she knows they’re “low” because, district-wide, students in That Particular Grade scored poorly on the Big State Test in Her Content Area last year, and maybe even in the year before. Armed with this (problematic) knowledge, and “too busy” to study the detailed diagnostic reports she’s received, Ms. X assumes “bad and lazy,” or at best “slow and stupid,” and acts accordingly in class … with predictable results. Her proposed solution? At a “regular school,” she opines, “those kids would get pulled out of their elective classes for the month before The Test, and they’d get the extra teaching they need.”
If most schools are “regular,” that’s probably what happened Last Year, and The Year Before, Ms. X. Might your solution have contributed to the problem? Ms. X doesn’t want to think about it, because she just knows that more time ought to solve the problem … because more time would have solved the problem if she’d had the problem. Because she “was motivated,” she said the other day … and she’s trying desperately to figure out “how to motivate them.” I asked her a hard question: why is it that little children do pursue learning for its own sake before they start school? Could it be that our efforts to “motivate” are actually part of the problem? And that was an uncomfortable thought for Ms. X, but she was unusually receptive to it. I wonder if we’ll have a chance to talk more about those issues today!
When you’re building a joyful learning community, the individual members are a lot more important than any categories you might put them in. If categories serve a useful purpose (and sometimes they do), it’s as a mirror or lens, something that both teacher and learner can use to see parts of a complex pattern that might otherwise go unnoticed. But mirrors and lenses distort as they reveal, and what they reveal is only part of the overall pattern … and if you’re looking in a mirror, the reflection is actually less real than what’s being reflected. Different players obviously change the game, just as different lenses reveal (and distort) different pieces of the overall pattern. I wonder what new discoveries we’ll all make today!