What Pokémon Go can teach us about designing the learning experience

What Pokémon Go can teach us about designing the learning experience

Posted by Michael Griffiths on August 09, 2016.

The idea of bringing the world of virtual reality/augmented reality (AR/VR) gaming into the realm of corporate learning and development (L&D) isn’t new, but it has been a hard sell. Efforts to interest the C-suite in the potential of game-based learning have been known to raise eyebrows, and the idea often falls by the wayside in favor of more conventional learning modalities. Now, however, CLOs may just have an intriguing argument to present to their fellow executives by pointing to Pokémon Go.

Whether or not you’ve actually played Pokémon Go, it’s hard to escape knowing at least something about the disruption it’s created, having attracted an estimated 20+ million players1 less than a week after its US release. The game features augmented reality, overlaying Pokémon characters on top of the players’ real-world environment. Players wander around, viewing the world through their phone cameras, looking to spot and catch Pokémon characters to earn points.

What does this have to do with corporate L&D? For learning professionals who’ve struggled to gain executive buy-in for AR/VR/gaming-based learning programs, it’s a living example of the technology’s and methodology’s potential to fuel mass adoption and the desire for content mastery.

Pokémon Go features many of the key characteristics of effective L&D programs, including:

  • Mobile, 24/7 access to accommodate learners’ schedules—players access Pokémon Go on their phones via a downloaded (currently free) app.
  • Multigenerational attraction to reach across the age-diverse workforce—Pokémon may have started out as a kid’s game, and some of the current attraction is likely nostalgia-driven, but the people crashing their cars into trees2 aren’t young children. Adults have clearly embraced the experience.
  • Easy to understand and use, but challenging—there is no steep learning curve to get started, but the game involves many layers and strategies.
  • Responsive and competitive—players instantly earn points for their success and progress through levels of play, encouraging them to go deeper into the experience.
  • An evolving rather than static platform—characters are many and varied (one such appearance of a rare character spurred a virtual/actual stampede in Central Park),3 and different levels introduce new elements.

A lesson to be learned: design the experience
It may be far-fetched to think corporate learning programs can have the mass appeal of commercial AR/VR games, but there is considerable food for thought in the current gaming craze. It points to the great potential for learning professionals to take gaming principles (and marketing tactics) and apply them to create more energy and enthusiasm for learning.

Imagine if, say, you are rolling out new sales or product processes and you can lay on existing workforce interactions and immediately reward adoption behavior. Or consider the possibility of overlaying virtual aspects to an existing assembly line so that when the technology is released, workers are more immediately productive within it.

The Pokémon Go development team refreshed the classic Pokémon game to take advantage of design thinking and current technology and make it more relevant and enticing for today’s players. Learning content developers should be paying as much attention to designing the experience they want learners to have as the information they want to convey. And of course, they should understand the characteristics and motivations of their learners—and not only at work, but as individuals who have myriad demands on their time and lives beyond the workplace.

Is AR/VR worth the investment as a learning modality? It depends on the organization, its learners, and the potential value it holds for both. But now that we’ve seen its ability to generate widespread adoption, it’s at least worth considering as part of an organization’s overall L&D content development strategy.

Michael Griffiths is a principal of Deloitte Consulting LLP, leading the Learning practice in North America.

1 Morrow, Brendan, “‘Pokémon Go’ Number of Downloads: How Many People Are Playing It?” Heavy.com, July 14, 2016.
2 Somers, Darian, “‘Pokémon Go’ is Causing Car Accidents Across America,” US News & World Report Best Cars, July 18, 2016.
3 Al-hlou, Yousur and Collier, Neil, “The Week Pokémon Go Took Central Park,” NYTimes.com, July 17, 2016.

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