How PSL helped me refresh my thoughts about PBLs

So I finally broke down and succumbed to my first Pumpkin Spice Latte (PSL in Starbucks lingo) of the season. Everyone is pushing the pumpkin out earlier and earlier each year and I wasn't ready to give in too soon. But I love Fall and back to school (even for those of us, long out of school) and the changing weather. Ahhh ... but I digress. So I'm sitting there and looking at the PSL and my brain goes to PBL.

I've said it numerous times and tweeted and whatever, but still there are a lot of people out there who hear gamification and get their hackles up and complain about points, badges, and leaderboards. Sigh. We've made a lot of progress over the years explaining that while those elements are often used, they are not the sum total of gamification and, yes, they are abused by those who think that gamification is easy or can be dumped on top of learning as an afterthought. Sigh.

So, as this new season is upon us, maybe it's time to refresh our thinking about PBLs. 


One of the pieces of gamification that I still think gets commonly overlooked is how points are an important connector between the front-end/user-facing and the back-end/metric-collecting side of things. Points, in an of themselves, carry little value but given context they can be helpful both in terms of providing signals to learning about their progress and to administrators of systems in terms of analytics. Well designed gamification for learners can also be well designed learning analytics.


Like politics, I know the issue of badges can be rather divisive but, as with other gamification elements, it really comes down to how they are used. I am not a proponent of badges for the sake of badges, but when they have real meaning to the learner and/or the learning community of the organization, they can rock. For instance, say I'm putting together a team of distributed employees for a new project, it is nice to be able to see little markers of competencies or achievements so I can create a balanced and team of diverse personalities and experiences. Likewise, I have seen people form competency affinity groups around certain skills. If I need help learning an advanced function in an application, it is nice to be able to see others who have already forged ahead on that pathway.


I will confess that leaderboards have always been one of my least favorite elements, but I am finding new appreciation for them. I think my vision was blurred by past experiences and the fact that most I had encountered focused on competition of individuals. I had seen some interesting usages with teams of people but that was still all about competition. Then it occurred to me that leaderboards could also be for things rather than people. A top ten list of most helpful tip articles on an intranet is a leaderboard of articles that can serve a really useful function both for the learners and those administering the system. 

Well, my coffee cup is empty, so I guess I'm done for now. But it is nice to stop and refresh how and what we think about topics that we are very familiar with. Good to get some fresh perspective. What are the freshest ways that you have used or seen PBLs used?

Image from @shaunholloway on Unsplash