Game On!


Crabtree PDX KeynoteThe future of lifelong learning may very well be educational gaming.

In a stunningly insightful and fun keynote before 700 LERN conference attendees, former Intel game developer Scott Crabtree reported on the science of learning based on games and outlined the four key intrinsic motivators for work, games and learning.

Then he took the audience by surprise with gifts, attendees keeping their own ‘game’ score, lots of participant motion, small group discussions, and using a catch box – a microphone hidden in foam that is thrown around the room so participant comments can be heard by all.

When asked, every one of the 700 lifelong learning practitioners had played a game. Some as recently as the day before.  And some 10 to 15 percent of people reported they had created a game.

Crabtree works off the science, noting that the CEO of Intel once told his staff, “All of you have an opinion. A few of you have data.”

The four key intrinsic motivators for work, games, and learning are:

  • Autonomy
  • Relatedness
  • Mastery
  • Surprise

Those four are what makes for a good game, for a good work environment, and for good learning, he said.

“People hate being micromanaged,” Crabtree noted.  Everyone loves autonomy. But actually, people perform better when given three best choices rather than unlimited choices.  Even when individual choice is not optional, he noted that giving people “why-in” helps get “buy-in.”

In one of the biggest takeaways from the conference, lifelong learning practitioners liked the idea of Pecha Xucha Night, one way to get connectedness among people to help them relate to new content and ideas.

In Pecha Xucha Night, every person introduces themselves with 20 slides, each slide 20 seconds.  Crabtree likes to cut that in half, with 10 slides, each shown for 10 seconds.


  • Confidence.  Mastery, Crabtree said, was not just about competence, but equally important, about being confident about one’s competence.  This is a new element in learning, the self-reporting of a learner being confident about an answer, and building teaching strategies around that.
  • Rubber Banding.  Rubber banding is a concept of dynamically adjusting the level of difficulty for a learner.  So if in a particular learning task, it is too difficult, rubber banding makes the learning easier with techniques such as breaking down the task into multiple steps, or pairing people up, or giving people tasks they are good at. And if the learning task is easy, rubber banding makes it more challenging by asking the learner to do or learn it faster, with a higher quality level, or even training someone else on it.
  • Celebrate progress.  Giving and getting immediate feedback, through quizzes or other ways, reinforces learning and actually helps people learn more.

The element of surprise actually plays a role in stimulating learning.  Changing the flow every 20 minutes is one technique, as well as actual surprises either related to the content or even a side-activity like sharing photographs or other ‘surprises’ to the learner.

What we know now is that incorporating the elements of gaming into both learning and work environment improves learning and productivity, Crabtree concluded.  And what the field of lifelong learning will want to figure out next is the extent to which educational gaming is our future.

Skip to toolbar