Bartle’s Gamer Profile for Designing Learning Experiences?

What is your gamer profile and what does it say about you as a learner? Is it possible to use gamer profiles of learners to design more high-interest lessons and learning experiences? Last year I learned about Richard Bartle, creator of the first Multi-User Dungeon, author of Designing Virtual Worlds, part-time professor of game design at the University of Essex, and originator of the research behind Bartle’s Gamer Psychology Test. Based upon his MUD, Bartle noticed that there were four types of players. There are killers, achievers, explorers, an socializers. Kyatric provided a simple explanation of these profiles:

Achievers are diamonds (they’re always seeking treasure).

Explorers are spades (they dig around for information).

Socialisers are hearts (they empathise with other players).

Killers are clubs (they hit people with them).

While these were intended to describe interactions in a MUD; game designers, educators and those interested in gamification have used these categories for everything from instructional design to marketing campaigns. There are challenges and proposed alternatives to using these four categories, but the profiles offer an interesting lens through which to look at learning experience design, considering distinct motivational and personality profiles of participants.

As an example, in my last MOOC (Learning Beyond Letter Grades), we decided to experiment by using Bartle’s profiles to inform the types of features and experiences we built into the weekly learning experiences. We provided forums, Twitter, and a Google Community for ample opportunities to socialize. We also leveraged many activities where the participants collectively generated important knowledge from which we could all learn. We built a collection of suggested resources (including some for those who want to go deeper into a subject) for the explorers, but we also used the forums and other places for those explorers to display their findings for the rest of the group. For the achievers, we built a digital badge system, offering participants the opportunity to earn open badges by demonstrating a baseline skill with each of the learning modules. Finally, for the killers, we added a competitive feature where participants could see who already earned a badge for a given module, generating a leader’s board (although we had a glitch with this part and ended up disabling it).

This was more of a creative exercise and I have little evidence to show that learners were more satisfied or engaged as a result of using these profiles to shape the design. Nonetheless, it drove us to spend more time on the learner analysis of our instructional design. As any good instructional designer knows, the best designs need to take into account the needs, motivations, background, interests, and profiles of the intended audience. This can include psychological profiles, and Bartle’s categories served as a playful tool for building with the learner’s mind in mind. At minimum, it led us to design greater variety in the activities, adding a number of potentially high-interest experiences. We ended up with largely consistent activity through most of the MOOC (where activity dropped off more sharply over time with our first MOOC).

I have no research to argue that Bartle’s profiles can or should be used to increase student engagement or learning, but the research solidly supports designing learning environments and experiences that take into account the distinctives of individual learners and groups of learners. From that perspective, I see his profile as a fun and interesting way to start thinking about designing learning experiences that are multi-faceted, connecting with learners based upon their motivations and profile as learners.

What do you think? Would you consider using Bartle’s four categories to design learning experiences for the killers, achievers, socializers, and explorers in your learning organization? Might this help you think about more variety in the design of these contexts? Or, perhaps you could use this to invite learners to think about their own profiles as gamers and learners. If you’ve used Bartle’s profiles in one of these ways, I would love to hear your thoughts. Or, if you decide to give it a try, please considering letting me know how it goes.

Posted in blog, education, gamification

About Bernard Bull

Dr. Bernard Bull is a President of Goddard College, author, podcast host, and blogger. Some of his books include Missional Moonshots: Insights and Inspiration for Educational Innovation, What Really Matters: Ten Critical Issues in Contemporary Education, and Adventures in Self-Directed Learning. He is passionate about futures in education; leaner agency, educational innovation, and social entrepreneurship in education.