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A True Culture of “Game” Learning

April 5, 2011

I remember a time when I would buy a computer game, a thin disk or CD accompanied by a large manual and maybe a map. The 160-page, spiral-bound, operations manual and fact book that accompanied a Blackhawk helicopter simulator circa 1995 has been replaced by… 

Well, it hasn’t been replaced. 

The game I recently downloaded from a digital distribution service, didn’t include any printed material. I could get a PDF version of a manual, a few pages outlining basic gameplay information, contact information for the publisher, etc., but the information needed to really enjoy the game would come from emerging, more agile, more technical sources than a dead tree. 

Welcome to a true culture of learning; driven by folks passionate about their work, interested in helping people while they show off a bit and make use of the social network tools available. Welcome to the culture of gaming.

Gamers make use of two prominent social tools to help the population learn: forums and chat. Forums provide a repository of knowledge that is both searchable and interactive. Players may ask questions of the community, who then respond with answers. Participants can often vote on the strength of the information presented, guiding new users to more helpful guides, insights and gurus. Forums keep the good stuff around, leaving a written record the nOObs can look up and use.

Though not as in depth, chat rooms provide instant information. Playing many games nowadays means playing online with any number of people. Stepping into an avatar as a part of a MMORPG means joining potentially thousands of people, a good chunk of them willing to help and support each other. Asking a question to a support channel will inevitably lead to any number of helpful tips and suggestions. 

All of this really helps when it’s time to face the big boss at the end of a level and it easily extends into filing that pleading on time, creating that closing book and getting that signature on a contract. These two tools, forums and chats rooms, have entered mainstream use and can help with communications at law firms. 

Let’s face it…big, printed manuals are not found as useful as they once were and they’re not getting cheaper to produce. New forms of social media present firms the opportunities to target users and communicate more efficiently. 

I’m thinking of a forum, launched in support of a beta test or pilot. Users can post issues and workarounds, while technicians can publicly list open items, upcoming dates and potential fixes. All participants share information in an open FORUM with the ability to track or highlight particularly insightful or helpful posts.  

A supervised chat room provides access to instant assistance to those engaged on a call or uncomfortable with using the phone. Chat technologies even provide opportunities for instant escalation, to a voice chat or remote session.

SharePoint, Community Server, and many other providers offer near turnkey solutions for support forums, as does Lynx, OCS and IRC for chat-based items. These social tools help people connect across a firm easily; trapping and presenting knowledge at all levels. These simple and often free tools borrow a few tricks from gaming to create a true culture of learning.

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