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Building Passion & Thought Leadership in Gamification, Serious Games, & Sims: Part 2

Teaching, Learning, and Development in the Corporate Enterprise

After a decade or so of this type of coding and analysis work, I progressed in my career and achieved the status of business analyst, senior consultant, business consultant, and later management consultant. Much of my work encompassed leading teams in training and development initiatives. In my capacity to transform organizations through the intervention of new information systems, I was able to introduce serious gaming into the learning environment in order to build upon soft skills like leadership, team building, and communications, as well as the hard skills associated with information technology.

The results did not amaze me, but the outcomes certainly intrigued the executives I reported to. They received feedback and course evaluations describing positive learning outcomes from the individuals and companies involved in the training courses. We all noticed increased engagement, commitment, problem-solving capabilities, and positive attitudinal and behavioral changes.

I was in my element, creating immersive simulations, scenarios, role-playing, and games that provided the training participants with real problems to solve and actual business situations and technical barriers to overcome. Most importantly, I wanted to introduce fun and gameplay in the learning space. Anecdotally, I was always encouraged to see people smiling and having fun while learning quickly. Retention of the information conveyed was very high. The participants left the learning environment with “sticky” knowledge and information, ready to apply it immediately to workplace challenges.

HRDQ Jungle Escape


Back to School at Fifty to Reach for the Brass Ring

When I was invited at age 50 to return to university to achieve my doctorate, I chose to research an emerging field called Knowledge Management. I worked in this field for decades, long before the moniker applied to knowledge processes and artifacts that could transmit information into higher forms of actionable knowledge in an organization. I facilitated gamification as an experience for participants, where my teams set up many knowledge centers, competitive intelligence and knowledge management business units, and knowledge-based applications. On many occasions, I created simulations and scenarios that the participants applied to overcome numerous barriers to managing knowledge in the organization.

Situating myself in a doctoral program when I was much older than my academic peers was definitely not easy. Most of the other doctoral students and master students I worked with were 10 to 20, even 30 years younger than myself. However, I dipped into a reservior of energy to pursue new ideas, unique concepts, groundbreaking frameworks, and models in an emergent field of study. Excitement and new knowledge about the field were being created daily. During the first few years of my doctoral work, I was introduced to a new tool for connecting business folks called LinkedIn by a colleague at the International Air Transport Authority (IATA) in Montréal, one of my clients. I recollect that maybe 200,000 individuals were members of LinkedIn, and, at that time, you could only join through a personal invitation,.

Gamification of LinkedIn

(Source: My Original LinkedIn Site)

To me, this platform was an excellent example of demonstrating gamification in relationship building. As I built connections with numerous international and domestic professionals, I realized that LinkedIn was a digital marketing tool for professionals who could create a magnetic digital persona to attract others to join them. From my initial contacts, I was able to invite many of my colleagues to LinkedIn, and help them to learn how to join others to create their digital presence and communities. Often I would hold personal workshops with many of my staff and colleagues to help them figure out the business value proposition for building their LinkedIn profiles and connections.

My First Professorship: An Opportunity to Experiment in Higher Ed

After four years as a doctoral student in the ad hoc Ph.D. program at McGill University in Montréal, I achieved the status of ABD (All But Dissertation). Still, I was running out of personal funds to continue. Since I could not qualify for the fellowships and scholarships due to my age, I was forced to continue part-time employment as a consultant in those first four years. Once I achieved ABD status, I was invited to Kent State University (KStateU) in Ohio as a freshly minted Assistant Professor to architect a new knowledge management educational program resulting in a Master of Science degree.

This Information Architecture Knowledge Management (IAKM) Program consisted of a collection of courses comprising an interdisciplinary program sponsored by the Department of Management and Information Systems, Department of Mathematics and Computer Science, School of Communication Studies, School of Journalism and Mass Communication, and School of Library and Information Science.

Often I used simulations, case studies, and serious games to build a critical understanding of knowledge management processes, systems, technology, and organizations in the courses I designed and delivered for this program. While at KStateU, I also architected and led the design of the new eLearning certificate in Knowledge Management. After three years of curriculum and course design, course delivery, and research at KStateU, I finally finished my Ph.D. dissertation and graduated from McGill University.

At 57 years old, I had invested seven years to achieve my doctorate—a bit past the average of the younger folks I had met. Today, as I convey to folks my story of this accomplishment, I joke that as hard as it was, I am glad I didn't wait until my seventies to try to become credentialed as a Ph.D.

My Second Professorship: A Platform for Research and Funification in Higher Ed

Subsequently, I received a very attractive offer from a business school at a university in the western USA. The Director of a unique academic unit invited me to become a lead member of the team that was creating a competency-based, project-based curriculum for a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) degree completion program and a low-residency MBA program. My experience in competency and project-based curriculum development at Kent State University, along with my experience with gaming, provided me with a unique suite of competencies to build and co-develop these new programs.

As this Division's curriciula and learning programs were deployed, the Director was promoted to the position of Dean. I was encouraged to introduce serious games and simulations into the on-campus residencies. We built significant cohesion amongst the cohorts, such that the learners felt part of a college and part of our school while attending these distance education-based programs. Often, course evaluations from the learners highlighted the value of gameplay in building each learner's sense of teamship and communityship within their cohorts.

Once the low-residency programs were successfully underway, I spent additional time in the traditional classroom-based teaching delivery program. My goal was to demonstrate the business value proposition of project and competency-based education within a more traditional learning venue. To increase engagement, commitment, team sharing, and knowledge acquisition, I immediately introduced 3 to 4 serious games and simulations per course in my andragogy. The learners (who were normally acquainted with the classical lecture method) discovered the educational and entertainment value of using gaming to demonstrate learning outcomes associated with the themes and topics of the course. My gaming exercises evolved as a learning trademark of my classroom-based courses.

MBA Marketing and Social Media Management Course:

Games Played in the Last Class

(Source: Stephen Bair)

Heightened Awareness: Learners Apply the Benefits of Game Play in the Classroom

Learners would actually register for my courses because they had heard about the positive results that gaming had on their learning in my classroom. Of course, one of the side benefits for the learners was that I used these games to assess their learning and evaluate their engagement and commitment instead of using tests, quizzes, and midterms. The learners had to accomplish specific deliverables and outcomes to achieve excellent grades in my competency and project-based courses. Moreover, the learners embraced the learning process instead of potentially being bored by an instructor who might talk to them for 2 to 3 hours in a lecture hall.

My approaches to gameplay became widespread. I actually provided instructions and training to the learners on how to build their own games. In many of my courses, the games the learners constructed were used weekly, or teams coalesced around a game deliverable for the final class. That last class of each course had become a terrific example of the “funification” of learning in my classroom. Not only did the teams design and develop their own card games or board games, but they carried out a peer evaluation of the games of other teams with a rubric.

My reputation for applying experiential learning in the classroom, along with the execution of serious games and simulations for learning, spread throughout our campus. However, I learned that all faculty and administrators did not appreciate my iconoclastic approach. Two Master's Learners from a different school on-campus asked to interview me and advise on their theses as part of their gamification in non-profit research initiatives. The two graduate learners could not locate anyone else on campus who applied serious games at my intensity, passion, and rigor levels.

A few years later, I received an invitation to engage 40 faculty and staff in a Gamification and Serious Gaming Workshop at a community college in the Southwest. What a terrific opportunity to build sustainable capacity in a college setting, where demand and appreciation for gaming in the classroom were being encouraged. I met an incredible range of educators, administrators, managers, and staff who just needed a bit of guidance and nudging to launch the use of gaming for building soft skills in their learners. This experience was one of the pinnacles of my career in education. Subsequently, the college constructed a Community-of-Practice to share best practices and lessons learned about gaming in higher education.

Community College Gamification and Serious Games Workshop

(Credit: Author)

Morpheus Shows Neo Two Pills and Asks Neo to Make a Choice: the Red Pill or the Blue Pill?

In November of 2014, during my seventh year of teaching at a college/university, I applied for a paid Sabbatical from 2015 to 2016. Regretfully, the college/university, like many other higher education institutions, experienced critical drops in enrollment. As a result, the college could not fund all of the applications for paid Sabbaticals in the coming academic year. Nonetheless, I was surprised by the memo I received turning down my application. The Sabbatical Committee did not understand the research agenda I had submitted and did not follow up with questions. Apparently, the committee members did not feel I was qualified to “program and develop video games.” I laughed out loud when I read this indictment of my research since the proposal had never even mentioned video games. With over 15+ years in computer programming, albeit decades earlier, I would have enjoyed contesting such a conclusion, but I would have wasted my time.

Like any quickly evolving field, many misconceptions and misunderstandings exist about the significant impact of gamification in higher education. A growing, credible body of knowledge emerged in the last 15 years on the effects of gamification, serious games, and simulations upon learning at both the undergraduate and graduate levels in higher education. Nonetheless, unless fellow faculty members became involved in this emerging field, a cognitive bias often suggested that gamification-based learning strategies were all about video games. Realistically, video games likely comprised less than an estimated 10% of the serious gaming taking place in higher education.

I was faced with a life-changing dilemma: Do I choose the blue pill or the red pill? How long would it take my colleagues to develop insight into the use of serious gaming in higher education while the field was taking off at a logarithmic rise? If I wished to increase my visibility in this field, now would be the time to spend significant research hours and concerted effort immersed in educational research on gaming. A window of opportunity was opening before me, but if I did not step through it immediately, that window would slam shut.

I could not wait another two to three years for my faculty colleagues and administrators to come to an epiphany that educational gameplay was spawning a revolution in higher education retention, success, and engagement. So, because my previous 35+ year career in business and management was founded on entrepreneurship, I made a critical choice. In consultation with my wife—who has been at my side through many of my earlier entrepreneurial failures and successes over the previous 30 years of marriage—I launched formally as an Edupreneur. We decided to take the risk of embarking upon a one-year UNPAID Sabbatical Leave of Absence from the college.

Edupreneurship: The Red Pill

Thus far, you have endured my historical narrative that described my passion and motivation for the emerging field of gamification, serious games, and simulations. You may call me a geek, but I am actually an Edupreneur. I am focused on a new journey to explore gameplay as a critical strategy for higher education, corporate training and development, and customer-facing experiences. I am also a knowledge activist dedicated to building valid and credible experiential learning in my learners. I aimed to increase my recognition as a significant international thought leader in this emergent educational endeavor. My primary objective became the positive disruption of both higher education and corporate environments through the application of gameplay experiences. As a lifelong learner, my secondary objective was to learn, learn, and learn more about “funification.”

Learners, especially millennials, were begging for revolutionary approaches to learning. The learning strategy of the medieval period, lecturing, had become an inferior substitute for learning—an overused strategy and invalid method for motivating a broader range of learners who needed to build soft skills in this increasingly complex, ever-changing international, global business environment.

Please, join me as my adventure continues by following my blogs. I received seminar and workshop invitations from educational institutions and professional associations around the globe: Scotland, Germany, France, South Africa, Thailand, United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Malaysia, U.A.E., and Australia. I could never have accomplished this level of digital visibility without a relationships building tool like a blog.

Basic Artifacts for Gamification in the Classroom


Please contact me about your evolutionary experience in game-based learning, gamification, and simulations. We should share notes.

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