Accelerating Learning with TechnologyBy Daniel Burrus and John David Mann

Anyone who has kids—or who has been around them for any length of time—knows they are attracted to video games like moths to light. You might be tempted to think these young-uns are using their time idly.

In reality, they’re pioneering the future of business training and education.

This is part of a trend I call gameification, which I first identified in the early eighties and is today reaching its tipping point.

Gameification represents part of a predictable sequence. Many of the greatest technological advances in business have come originally from the world of kids and their games. Here’s how the sequence flows:

• First, an innovative concept or new technology often starts out in the world of games for children. Sometimes it’s the military (or in times past, the space program) that serves as the launch point. But it’s amazing how often it’s kids’ games.

• From there it sooner or later gains the attention of the adults in the business community as they learn how to adapt and apply it to their needs.

• Finally, it creeps into the education sector.

Just look at the evolution of social media.

When new social-media sites such as FaceBook and Twitter first launched, who were the first to get on board? Young people. Adults didn’t see the value. (Who really cares what you had for lunch or what outfit someone wore to the dance?) Eventually adults in the business world started seeing how social media could be used for tasks like brand management, marketing, and collaboration, and began embracing the tools their teenage kids had long mastered.

New Thresholds of Interactivity

Social media and video games are very different technologies, but the migration pattern is the same. And with game-controller systems like the Wii and Xbox Kinect giving us radical new ways of interacting with technology, the business world is finally on the threshold of becoming gameified.

In the past, gaming meant sitting passively in front of a computer or television screen and using a game pad, joystick, or keyboard to play against the computer or online opponent. No more. With Nintendo’s interactive Wii, players began standing up and getting physically involved in their games. Microsoft’s Kinect eliminated the need for a hand-held controller entirely, with players using movements of their hands and bodies to manipulate the game.

Thanks to Microsoft’s software development kit for the Kinect, university students are writing software that lets users control business software using hand motions alone—no keyboard or mouse. You want to go to the next page? Just sweep your hand in the air, past your screen. Sweep left, sweep right, scroll up, scroll down … Remember in Minority Report how Tom Cruise could maneuver data in the air without touching anything? Science fiction to science fact. Interactive gaming like this will transform the nature of training and education.

Five Core Elements

Based on twenty-five years of research, I’ve identified five core elements that can dramatically accelerate learning when applied together.

1) SELF-DIAGNOSTIC. In the world of gaming, the more feats you accomplish, the greater challenges the game gives you. Power down and the game remembers where you left off, so when you return to the game, you don’t have to start over from scratch.

How much time have you wasted sitting through business trainings that mostly covered things you already knew, just to learn those few key items you didn’t? Why not give your business training a self-diagnostic component, like advanced video games?

2) INTERACTIVITY. For centuries education and training have been mostly passive experiences: someone stands in front of the group and talks, and the trainees sit and listen. You might get some hands-on practice in a lab, but that’s comparatively rare.

In advanced video games you move things around and manipulate items. You interact with the information. You are engaged and immersed—and learning is far more effective when you interact with the material. Why not create an interactive module for your business training?

3) IMMERSION. With early 3D technology (including today’s 3D movies and 3D televisions) you have to wear special glasses to make the images pop out at you. With newer technology the 3D is interspatial: instead of images popping out at you, you enter them. You become immersed in the information.

When you’re training salespeople on, say, a particular manufacturing tool they’re going to sell, why not have them see the tool in 3D and get to manipulate the tool (virtually) rather than have them read spec sheets about it?

4) COMPETITION. Humans are naturally competitive. We want to sell more, be more productive, and innovate faster and better than the next person. When you sit in class learning, there’s little competitive value. Whether you learn the materials in one hour or three, no one advances until the class is over.

When you compete in a game, there’s an adrenaline rush that keeps you engaged and focused on the task at hand. In an effort to win, people master concepts faster so they can be first.

5) FOCUS. When you play a game, you’re forced to focus. You have to do A before B can occur. If you don’t focus on doing A, you don’t get very far. Focus is enhanced by interactivity, competition, immersion, and self-diagnosis. And when you can focus, you can learn virtually anything—fast.

Accelerate Learning

When you model your company’s training to include these five elements, your employees will learn more in less time and have better results.

Using all five core elements is the key to accelerating learning. With more and more to learn, it will be increasingly important to gamily both business and education to create better results faster. Since businesses spend large sums of money on training and education, any tool that can accelerate or enhance learning will save both time and dollars. Those companies and school districts that adopt early will be the long-term winners.

So here’s your homework assignment: Get together with a kid and play one of their games. While you’re playing, think about and how you could reinvent learning with tools like these.

Daniel Burrus ( and John David Mann ( are coauthors of Flash Foresight: How to See the Invisible and Do the Impossible.