LILA ~ Learning Innovations Laboratory at the Harvard Graduate School of Education

Looking for content and documents from our Gatherings? Login

Designing for Total Engagement

Posted by
Stanford’s Byron Reeves shared his thinking and research on “total engagement” and the role that games do and could play to foster engagement in the workplace.  He’s been interested in what can we steal about what we know about how the brain activates engagement and motivation and drop them into workplace context to improve engagement.  He isn’t taking an anthropological point of view, but a micro, neuroscience point of view as a media psychologist. He asked us to consider “where do we work?” Often we think of locations, like a building.  But Byron believes that often we are working in a screen-based world, on computers and devices. And when we consider the question, “where do we play” we get some interesting answers: golf courses, gym, etc.  But Byron believes that more and more we are playing in computer-based softwares and virtual worlds.  These are environments in which you are playing roles, using media, getting feedback, often working in teams, part of a narrative.  These environments are a totally new psychological experiences.  What can we learn from these environments and translate them into workplace environments? Why consider games?  For the current and next generations in the workplace, games are their primary modes play. Lots of money is being spent on this and games are competing head to head with movies and television. What are the ingredients for successful games?  In his lab Byron has identified 10 important features: self representation, narrative, feedback, transparency, teams, economies, ranks and levels, communication, time pressure.  A small “g” approach to these ideas is to think about a few of these features in one’s organization.  A capital “G” approach would be to deeply overhaul and design a workplace with these features in mind. Byron showed his neat, real-time arousal data from a monitor he was wearing that showed his levels of psychological arousal, which when elevated may be better opportunities for learning.  The potential is that we could be transparently communicating our levels of engagement and arousal with others.  Daniel: Man, I hope my wife doesn’t get wind of this! He showed some effective examples of sales force games at Cisco and that are being used as replacements for conferences.  He showed a game from the intelligence community that uses real time feeds from the London underground that creates fictitious bad guys that they have to thwart and a game in a financial services organizations to help teams be more agile and effective.  These games are increasing a number of performance outcomes such as reducing cycle times, saving money, stronger services and products, as well as enhancing employee engagement. HOWEVER, powerful also means dangerous!  There will be important disruptions.  Transparency breeds discouraged losers and jealous bosses. Employee and HR issues may arise.  Privacy can be lost. Avatars make mistakes,  There can be anti-social narratives.  And this can lead to stress and burn out if not kept in check.   Byron also has learned that these games are most successful when the top level leadership owns the them and these executives are in charge of the work design and performance.

Byron noted that there is an interesting change in psychology that mirrors the challenge of positioning learning more towards performance.  In organizations, rather than learning for desired performances organizations are refocusing on when desired performances are happening (executing successful missions, effective problem solving, etc,) what learning is happening in action?  In psychology, for many years,  learning was studied almost divorced from actual performance.  It was studied through surveys.  But now with fMRI technologies, psychologists can see the actual mechanisms in action when individual behave in particular ways. Back to games . . . why do social games work? They tap into important regions of the brain.  When we play games against computers, it lights up visual tracking regions.  When we play agains/with others, it lights up social interaction and relational regions of the brain.  He shared the interesting “green dot” game in which the only manipulation in the experiment was telling the player whether he/she was following a computer or a person-controlled dot.  So physiologically and neurologically virtual social games light up the same regions that light up when we are in face to face encounters.  Daniel: Interesting, I wonder if just because it’s lighting up different regions whether it is experienced differently?  Or does that even matter?  Are games addictive?  From a psychological standpoint, there is an interesting debate happening but it hasn’t yet been recognized as a medical addiction.  But clearly there are dangers and many players exhibit addicitive sorts of behaviors — deleterious changes in lifestyle and relationships. He shared an interesting example of a game called “Power House” in which homes are connected to smart, real-time meters, that feedback data to users that change energy consumption behaviors.  They get great results but the danger is that the behavior change doesn’t stick.  Once the game goes away, so does the behavior.  So this is a danger — using entertainment interventions may not yield long term, sustained change.  One need “game-isodes”  in which the game needs to be refreshed to sustain the new behaviors.  Daniel: very interesting, so learning in the sense of transfer of behaviors, seems not to be very powerful.

Harvard Graduate School of Education