Tag Archives: radical innovation

Finding the flow in social learning: a game perspective

In a previous post, I talked about elements of games that are incorporated to varying degrees in different social media platforms. In this post, I’d like to consider  how these  game elements might be used to make social learning opportunities more satisfying and effective.

On skewed participation

Just as people want to pull instruction when and where they need it, people want to pull what they perceive they need from social networks when and where they need it.  Learners may also be choosing to  pull from one network and share in another network where they feel more comfortable. This can create a skewed level of participation in any given social network with more people “listening” than “speaking.”

I think it’s important to acknowledge that people connect with social networks differently and are likely to be involved in multiple networks at a time. Supporting and valuing unique ways of engagement may do more to encourage participation than chastising people and labeling them “lurkers,” which assumes you know their intent. To encourage a sense of sharing and participation in a given social network and to make it more about fun than judgment,  it’s useful to return to game mechanics.

Finding the flow in social learning

A game that’s particularly addictive usually:

  • Allows the player to see himself or herself as a creative force within the game
  • Allows a player to achieve a rapid state of flow
  • Provides both short-term and long-term feedback
  • Balances continuous small rewards with occasionally large and unexpected rewards

(Tierney, 2010)

In a social game, exchanges can be an important factor in creating a sense that a player’s participation is essential (Kim, 2010).

Creating a personal stake in social engagement
When social media platforms are used for social learning, participants should be able to establish their unique voice in the community. Creating a profile is only small part of this mechanic, the larger part is to foster a sense that participants have a stake, that their reflections on content matters, that their creation of content is rewarded, and that their responses to others are appreciated.  A personal emotional investment creates a desire to return to a social media platform and to participate.

Nurturing flow
Just as a game player can achieve flow, that state of balance between a challenge and belief that success is possible (Csíkszentmihályi, 1990),  individuals can achieve flow when using social media. There’s challenge in finding  information and transforming it into something specific and useful that will spark others’ interests and create discussion. However, participants have to believe that engagement is possible and that questions and reflections are not merely dropped into the void but will be valued and responded to.

Lack of flow is what drives many not to actively share content but to remain outside of the online conversation stream. Shyer participants can close up, sensing that the conversation is moving too quickly or that they don’t understand the rules of engagement and will make social gaffes. Initially receptive participants may feel that there’s a sense of inequity. They’ve offered something, but there’s limited exchange. Communication styles can also limit exchanges, for example, when responses are perceived as bullying.  “What ARE you saying?” is a conversation stopper. “Tell me more?” invites continued exchange.

Both a sense of individuality and flow can be nurtured by providing the proper feedback and reward systems.

Short-term feedback can include feedback that:

  • Helps you to solve problems you’re currently experiencing
  • Spurs your creativity through questions
  • Creates a sense of emotional support (e.g., the sense that someone else has experienced the same frustrations or even just that someone is responding positively to the fact that you’ve  dived into the conversation stream)

Long-term feedback can:

  • Allow you to judge your progress and growth as a member of a social community
  • Nurtures your long-term development and success as an individual in your own organization

What types of rewards are valued?
Rewards that acknowledge mastery of challenges are necessary but individuals will have their own unique take on the value of different rewards.  In external social networks, some may be highly motivated by achieving Klout, others may care less about influence and more about exchange of ideas. Still others might prefer to get recognition for bringing information back to a different network, e.g., one that exists within their workplace. Rewards valued by these individuals might be in the form of recognition by a manager and opportunities for personal development.

You can’t homogenize perceptions of rewards, nor should you, but you can try to provide different opportunities for rewards. People have much more fun when they sense they can negotiate with the rules of a game.

When internal social networks are more fun

Although you may not want to call it play when talking to clients, there are elements of play that are vital to the functions of organizations and which should exist within a firewall.

For example, this type of play creates:

  • A protected space and time in which to explore internal strategies
  • Resources to connect strategies to tactics
  • Forums to engage with others in a positive way to transfer knowledge and master challenges
  • Forums in which to celebrate individual creation and to connect this creation to the efforts of others and expand upon it

As Blackwell, et al, note: “Interdisciplinary innovation is a social activity that requires creative spaces and network resources.” Hence, enterprise social media platforms can be a powerful force in fostering these dynamics, providing freer open spaces where conversations and divergent thinking can take place. That’s not to say that power-seeking dynamics won’t exist, but here, the learning developer has an important role as a facilitator who can keep these social spaces open and who can work with team members and team leaders to build the trust and respect necessary for innovation. Of course,  adding a liberal dose of game mechanics may also help.


Blackwell, A.F., Wilson, L., Street, A., Boulton, C., Knell, J. (2009).
Radical innovation: Crossing Knowledge Boundaries with Interdisciplinary Teams, University of Cambridge, NESTA report, Retrieved from www.cl.cam.ac.uk/techreports/UCAM-CL-TR-760.pdf

Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1990). Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, New York: Harper and Row, ISBN 0-06-092043-2.

Kim, A.J. (2009). Putting the Fun in Functional: Applying Game Mechanics to Functional Software [YouTube Video]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ihUt-163gZI

Tierney, J. (2010).  On a hunt for what makes gamers keep gaming. The New York Times. Retrieved from http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/07/science/07tierney.html?_r=2&ref=science