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PokéMon Go and Learning – Should We Believe the Hype?

Posted by Silke Simons on Thu, Aug 4, 2016

Unless you took the last couple of weeks off and spent your vacation on a lonely island far away from civilization you must have heard about Pokémon Go – the game that spread around the globe like a virus.


In case you’re not infected (yet): Pokémon Go is a mobile game using augmented reality, i.e. instead of creating an entire virtual world, virtual elements are added to the real world by mixing software with the phone’s camera and GPS data. In this case, the ‘virtual elements’ are cute little monsters – Pokémon, and the point of the game is to capture as many of these creatures as possible. They’ll show up on the mobile phone’s screen once the player comes near a critical spot (e.g. a public park or a monument), so the idea is - to borrow the game developer’s own words - to let people explore their surroundings while on the hunt for Pokémon. 

But what does this have to do with Learning & Development? The catchwords here are “mobile”, “augmented reality” and “gamification”, or rather a combination of all three of them. 

At SwissVBS we are constantly looking for ways to incorporate new trends and technologies into our solutions, with the goal of creating truly interactive and more contextual learning experiences - so is there anything we can learn from Pokémon Go?

Quite a bit has been said about the game’s impact on L&D already, with reactions ranging from excitement[1] to mild annoyance[2].

But what is SwissVBS’ take on the hype? To start the discussion, I turned to my co-workers Fabian, Hao, Alex and Nishan who a) actually play Pokémon Go and b) generally have a much better understanding of AR and gamification than I do. What potential for our field of work do they see? Here are our key takeaways:

Augmented Reality might be on it’s way to become mainstream

A word in advance: We do not think that Pokémon Go will revolutionize L&D. What the game could do, though, is move Augmented Reality into the consumer mainstream and from there into the sphere of learning, training and development.

Why is that good news? Because the appeal of using AR in a learning context is that it can transform static 2D content into an active, dynamic 3D experience – something that many people in L&D functions would love to promise their audience. With the success of Pokémon Go we might be one step closer.

The fact that the AR component of the game isn’t all that spectacular could actually be beneficial in this regard, since it shows that AR isn’t necessarily a fancy, intricate tool. With the right concept, even a low-key version of AR can be powerful and convincing, turning it into a realistic proposition for those outside of the gaming industry (or any other industry with million dollar budgets).



Pokémon Go and Learning: New opportunities for training programs are already out there

As mentioned above, using your mobile phone to explore your surroundings and discover places and items is one major aspect of Pokémon Go. The app merges physical spaces with virtual spaces and sends people on a treasure hunt.

It’s fairly easy to imagine how this idea could translate into a training concept, for example for an onboarding program: New hires that need to get to know various departments of a company, or have to get familiar with a production plant, could use their mobile phones to explore these locations, and discover and check into significant spots where they can then learn something about the company. So called beacons would be used to push relevant information to the new hires, creating a more contextual onboarding experience for them.

Or think of a similar approach for technical training: A mobile companion app, e.g. designed as part of a L&D program for shop-floor workers, will recognize digital markers on machines or electrical devices when those come into view of the camera, and display technical specs, an explanation of their functionalities, a 3D model of the machines’ interior etc. Learners won’t have to memorize every single detail about every machine by studying at home or in class; instead they’ll obtain information the moment they stand in front of the machine, i.e. the moment when they most likely have an actual use for that information. That’s basically what ‘classic’ mobile learning is about anyway, but enhanced with new features. From a purely technical perspective this wouldn’t be too difficult to realize, the number one prerequisite being that all learners are equipped with a state of the art mobile phone, potentially their own.

Social interaction can make for an effective user experience

Overall, Pokémon Go is easy to play. Most functionalities seem straightforward and self-explanatory, so the barrier to start playing is low. In fact, instructions for the game are minimal; just a couple of screens that you will see when you first open the app, and then they never show up again.

This lack of instructions may be on purpose - Pokémon Go has a significant social element, and fewer instructions means more people turning to each other for help. In other words: Social interaction happens because nothing is spelled out to you.

Of course, this approach would not work with every training program, and certainly not with every target group. With a lot of learners a lack of instructions would just lead to frustration.

For those training initiatives that explicitly want social interaction to be part of the experience – think training programs focusing on millennial learners – a “try for yourself and talk to your peers” approach to user experience might be the way to go, though.

No, Pokémon Go does not hold the answer to ultimate learner engagement in L&D

Let’s be frank - achieving Pokémon GO levels of engagement with a learning program is something L&D professionals can only dream of. And why shouldn't they – learning is about creating a long-lasting effect after all, not a hype people grow tired of after a couple of weeks.

The game’s most important drawing card is arguably millennial nostalgia. The children who once dreamed of capturing real-life Pokémon back in the 1990's are now helping fuel the worldwide success of Pokémon Go.

Sure, the game feeds compulsion and is full of incremental goals and rewards, thereby adding something that keeps the players coming back. But it would be naïve to think that these game mechanics could somehow be applied to a learning solution and create the same effect. Receiving a badge after visiting every department in your new company just isn’t the same as finally discovering Pikachu.


Spending a couple of hours or days with Pokémon Go to draw some inspiration from it for your training programs certainly isn’t a waste of time. The game can offer insight about the usage of augmented reality, the possibilities of advanced mobile learning and about new ways in which we can use technology to bring people even closer to the concepts they are learning.

Pokémon Go’s true importance in a nutshell might be the following: It has the potential to change people’s expectations on how they access information.[3] It’s that shift in expectation we as L&D professionals have to be prepared for in order to keep on creating relevant learning solutions.

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[1] http://www.brightcarbon.com/blog/pokemon-go-lessons-for-learning/; http://donaldclarkplanb.blogspot.ca/2016/07/10-ways-pokemon-go-portends-ar-in.html

[2] http://www.litmos.com/blog/tag/pokemon-go/

[3] http://www.newyorker.com/tech/elements/pokemon-go-will-make-you-crave-augmented-reality

Topics: Learning Journey, Trends

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