Fun is Just Another Word for Learning

This well-coined phrase is becoming more and more relevant to how we adapt, design, and deliver learning. There is often a misconception that fun must be equated with being frivolous without any productive or meaningful benefits, and can, therefore, have no value to any work-related activity or goal. In the last decade, cutting edge organizations have turned this notion on its head, and have demonstrated how having fun can lead to greater productivity, engagement, and ultimately performance.

Fun takes on many different forms and dimensions. There is fun for fun’s sake, and there is the type of fun that can be meaningful and linked to the achievement of goals. In recent years, leading edge thinkers who have studied human behavior and socio-dynamics have realized the importance of play and fun to our own evolution and ability to deal with problems. Most notable is Stuart Browns’ 2008 TED Talk, which documents how play actually develops the capacity for change, adaptability, and innovation.

In designing learning games, the fun factor is the element that captivates and engages the target audience. How do you create an emotional experience of fun? What appeals to the tastes and preferences of your player / learner? How does the environment influence what type of fun will work? What is the right combination for the content and what needs to be achieved? I have often included what seemed like a great idea for fun within a game on paper, to re-evaluating after it just didn’t work that well in reality; and often a hunch of what could be fun exceeded my expectations! After reflecting on my own experiences and investigating what some leading game designers and thinkers had to say, I discovered two models that I would like to share.

The groundwork was set by Nicole Lazzaro (president of XEODesign) with the 4 Keys 2 Fun published in 2004. This was developed from extensive game player research and provides a simple categorization of fun and type of emotional experience generated from each of the four categories. The 4 Keys 2 Fun define fun into four categories:

Hard Fun – this would be associated with a challenge, solving a problem or developing a skill to achieve an outcome

Easy Fun – curiosity, investigation, and creating new things all lead up to this type of fun

Serious Fun – a need to contribute or make a change in the world is linked to this type of fun

People Fun – is about generating social interaction, whether it is competing or co-operating within a group of people to derive enjoyment

More information can be found at Lazzaro’s website

This model was developed further by Andrzej Marzewski who worked with Lazzaro to link the four types of fun with the four core drivers of fun: Relatedness, Autonomy, Purpose, and Mastery (based on Daniel Pinks Drive). This builds on one of my first blog articles on player type and linking player type, their core motivator, with the type of fun that would appeal to them. Below is a brief synopsis of the more extensive article:

  1. Relatedness – Socializer searches for connection, social status or interaction in a gaming community to meet the need for relatedness. Their type of fun would be People Fun
  2. Autonomy – Free Spirit wants to explore a game and discover new knowledge, tools, and artifacts. Their source of satisfaction springs from easy fun driven by curiosity.
  3. Purpose – Philanthropist seeks meaning, and how they can influence and change a game. They are motivated by the serious fun of making a valued and meaningful contribution.
  4. Mastery – Achiever wants to develop mastery and skills, and their fun originates from achieving new goals and overcoming obstacles. The hard fun of accomplishment is what they seek.

I have found these frameworks can assist with generating ideas and emotional experiences, and guide in selecting the type of fun which resonates with target audiences and environments. What has been your experience of including fun into learning and the workplace? Does gamification and game-based learning have to always have a fun component or is games / gaming elements fun in itself? Please feel free to share your opinion and experience in including the fun element into learning and the workplace.

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