by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president - client services
Anyone who reads my blog posts knows I’m a fan of applying gaming principles – as they fit – to e-learning. It’s one thing to discuss that relationship in theory and quite another to find application from specific games. For science and posterity, I decided to conduct a user testing experiment.
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of hosting my dear friend and colleague, Edmond, at my home to watch him play Journey by That Game Company. Edmond was an ideal noob (new gamer) for me to observe because we’ve been friends for many years and I can accidentally shout, “FIND COVER FROM THE BLIZZARD, YOU IDIOT” In return, he will only grunt and then demand another beer.
I love watching noobs. I learn so much about interface design, where learners struggle, and what they need to succeed. As an experienced gamer of many years, I simply forget how the noob thinks.
And yes, it’s also frustrating to watch the noob blithely stumble around in circles, consistently walking into walls and then standing there inert while predators gather. Much like pioneer naturalist Dian Fossey, I observed my own gorilla as he battled his lack of experience blundering through one of the more profound gaming experiences available on console. Sure, I wanted to scream. Instead, I channeled my smoldering frustration at Edmond’s ridiculous blunders into insights about e-learning.
Gorilla observation #1: Noobs come with baggage
Edmond picked up the console and held it with some reservation. With his boots on my coffee table, he said, “This isn’t like the last game, right? It took me 45 minutes to craft my avatar.”
Edmond’s and my last game-playing experience was well over a year ago. He stumbled around a military bunker (mostly walking into walls) for an hour before giving up. There simply was not enough reward for him to keep playing. Even the promise of zombie hordes waiting to be demolished could not pacify a zombie-lover like him. He was frustrated with how long it took to pick out character details and frustrated by doing anything that he considered ‘meaningful.’
He brought that old baggage with him to Journey.
Do not assume that learners come to your e-learning ready and eager to play. Do not assume that they’re ‘thrilled’ that the previous two-day class has been replaced by three hours of e-learning. Just because you’re excited, do not assume learners feel ‘rewarded.’ They will each decide for themselves whether it’s reward or torture.
Over the years, I have witnessed clients co-design amazing interactions and then saddle the experience with a clumsy, over-drawn out introduction that explains (in 22 short pages) how to get started. Baggage.
Journey begins with selecting a new game or continuing an existing one. And then, suddenly, you’re in the desert.
Gorilla observation #2: Expressing frustration is not the same as giving up
Edmond was mystified at how there were no instructions onscreen. No rule books or heavy-handed explanations. Edmond held the console, inert, confused. He turned to me for instructions but I refused to help.
He eventually noticed a relationship between where the console pointed at the screen and his ability to physically see the landscape. He turned the console to the right and gradually swept over the panoramic, high-definition desert, dunes, and monoliths under a blistering sun. He giggled with delight once he established his relationship with the controls. Three minutes later, he began his cautious experimentation.
“What are those things?” he would ask every few seconds. “What do they do? Do I use those monoliths to get power gems or something?” I would not answer and he would growl at me. But this forced him to master the controls with greater precision so he could advance his avatar closer to the destination and ‘investigate.’
When he paid attention to details and talked out his assumptions, he learned things. But as our e-learning audience knows, it’s easier to ask questions before trying to learn for oneself. It’s easier to complain and quit than stay involved.
Edmond growled at me a few times, but he did not give up. And when he discovered a truth about the world created within Journey and he expressed his satisfaction at discovering an answer.
Gorilla observation #3: Noobs make brilliant mistakes
Part of the challenge of withholding judgment while a noob plays your favorite game (besides the sore tongue from constantly biting it) is that the noob can go anywhere, do anything, and waste a whole lot of time in the process.
I watched Edmond explore minor buildings in abandoned ruins while ignoring the main structure that held secret to advance. He didn’t know that. He hadn’t manipulated his camera controls enough to view the main ruin. Every experienced gamer knows to look for the biggest attraction on the horizon – that’s where the power is. So instead of exploring Mount Rushmore, he happily jogged his avatar around the equivalent of a rest stop.
He discovered a fountain of golden light, and before I could break my vow of silence to say, “No, wait,” he raced his character to the edge and cannonballed through the portal, ending up in a completely foreign landscape. He shocked me. I had no recognition of the world where he emerged, and I had played this game multiple times. Why did he jump through that minor portal? Where were we now? What about all the necessary skill-building that he bypassed by doing something ridiculous?
When I asked him why he did that, he shrugged and offered this brilliant explanation: “I dunno.”
We often profess to want to give learners control of their environment and then don’t like it when they don’t go where we think they should go, or learn in the sequence we want. Edmond’s lack of explanation was frustrating. If he had only justified his answer, I could tell myself, “Well, at least he’s learning.” But noobs don’t always have brilliant explanations into their decision-making. If Edmond played more video games he would have known about the importance of scanning the landscape for buildings of greater significance.
Still, he unlocked a scene in Journey I had never discovered. I watched in amazement as he plodded through a wintery landscape, blizzard winds, and gorgeous snowfall. He walked himself into a stone cliff and while continuing to try to walk through solid rock, said, “Cool.”
Gorilla observation #4: Given the right motivation, learners will learn
Edmond was playing the game wrong. He had skipped necessary lessons that would help him in future levels. While he ran his avatar through the snow, with the same pleasure he experienced in the desert, I worried that the rest of his experience would be diminished by all that he had missed.
And something odd happened.
He figured it out.
As he gained more dexterity over the controls, he mastered the art of scanning the 360 degree environment. He stopped slamming himself into rocks and learned the skillful ascension of icy marble steps on a castle cliff in the howling wind. At one point as his avatar struggled through the tundra, he said with surprise, “Hey, my guy is crusted over with ice. Is he getting cold? Shouldn’t there be a way for him to warm up?”
It didn’t take long before he figured out his environment, even though he had approached it all wrong. I knew (and he didn’t) that it would have been easier if he hadn’t jumped through the first portal. But nevertheless, he learned. Why did he learn? Because he was so hooked by the context and challenge.
I’ve seen content experts gnash their teeth just like me when some new person applies the wrong problem-solving technique to a problem. Or, they apply the right technique the wrong way, some distinction that means they won’t immediately see success. We want to fix it. Tell them they’re solving problems the wrong way. If they would only listen!
Edmond truly is a gorilla who grunted and batted my hand away when I offered to help his avatar out of a rocky wedge. Nope. He wanted to solve it himself. He was hooked.
Gorilla observation #5: Delight in cooperation
During Edmond’s painstaking journey through the frozen tundra, he jogged alongside a guide most of that time. They communicated through light and sound, no actual words. Eventually, Edmond figured out the necessary steps to further the quest. Edmond raced across the miraculous drawbridge only to plunge off the side (gotta work on that motor dexterity, Edmond) and his traveling companion deftly waltzed across the drawbridge easily.
He was shocked to discover – absolutely shocked – that the other ‘guide’ was not a computer-generated avatar designed to help him, but a real person somewhere out there in the world playing Journey at the same time. The news that he had been collaborating with a real person thrilled him: I’m not alone out here. There are others.
Your corporate training on ethics and security may not boast multi-player functionality. But, you don’t need that to connect employees to one another, to allow them the thrill of unlocking something hidden and accidentally stumbling across a real person, perhaps another employee who planted a flag in the very same spot. What if instead of carefully staged VP testimonials, a user actually discovered real people, speaking in real language, telling insights and anecdotes that are only accrued as secret rewards?
The thrill in “I’m not alone out here” is not to be underestimated.
Gorilla observation #6: The affect is everything
I am tempted to explain Edmond’s end game and how he achieved the beauty of his journey. I want to, but discussing it ruins the possibility of you exploring this yourself and I hope that interested readers will invest the time to explore Journey (and then email me about it).
I will say that after two hours of non-stop gaming, Edmond turned to me at the conclusion and said, “When can we play this again?”
You could argue that the skills Edmond developed are not exactly the same as Corporate America’s agenda: greater sales, better customer service, and decreased inefficiencies. True. But he spent two hours fixated on acquiring skills he did not know he desperately wanted. And after two hours of uninterrupted game play his first objective was to schedule more time.
My time with this gorilla reminded me of the power of user testing. Edmond ruined several opportunities of focused skill-building and he didn’t care. His lack of gamer-aptitude did nothing to damper the joy and elation he felt floating his avatar through one heavenly environment.
If someone had asked me what the user experience of playing Journey was like, I could have told them. You will feel this and you will find joy here. I would have been partially right. But I also would have been wrong. Only actual end users can genuinely define their own experiences. And they have much to tell us if we give them a banana and take out our notebook to watch what happens next.
by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president - client services
No one. Corporate standards deem humor to be inappropriate in the workplace.
I am constantly amazed how often humor is shelved as an instructional strategy. You heard me — instructional strategy. In our striving to gain and maintain learners’ attention, you would think that developers of e-learning would relish an instructional strategy that has mass appeal, creates happy pheromones in learners, promotes integration of information, and remains absolutely free.
But not so.
Years of stern disapproval from legal, regulatory, and even the boss’s boss have successfully trained learning professionals to turn a blind eye to the awesome powers of hilarity. The standard disclaimers are, ‘Not everyone finds the same thing funny,’ ‘Who can say what’s truly amusing,’ and ‘Humor can veer into the inappropriate.’ All of these statements are true and yet none justify excluding this powerful instructional strategy. At worst, they point to the need for evaluating the humor included, not outright exclusion.
Thankfully, some corporations understand that tapping the funny bone works. In November of 2012, Delta Air Lines released two new safety videos, those irritatingly familiar do’s and don’ts reviewed while the plane prepares for departure. (Both versions appear at the end of this article.) In each version, I count roughly 14 jokes.
Mind you, Delta isn’t the first to add humor to their safety videos. Searching on YouTube will reveal other hilarious entries from various airlines. The difference seems to be (in my opinion at least), is that while those other videos try to create something hilarious, Delta chose to use humor instructionally to emphasize their message, not mask it with laughter.
You’d think that for a serious topic (furrow your eyebrows whenever you read the words ‘serious topic’) like airplane safety, executives would steer clear of humor. I picture a gaggle of senior executives arguing around a conference table.
“We can’t,” says Jenkins. “I’m all for humor, but not when it’s a serious topic.”
Oh Jenkins...humor is appropriate in a wide range of circumstances when you know how to properly apply it. The secret is to use humor as an instructional strategy, not create a stand-up comedy act. Using Delta’s charming videos, I’ll articulate a couple useful guidelines for utilizing humor in training.
1. Use Humor to Underscore Main Points
During Delta’s video, when reminding passengers to pay attention to all posted signs, the camera turns toward the signs we’d expect: keep your seatbelts fastened, No Smoking, etc. Then, Delta-branded signs for “No Squash” and “No Juggling Chainsaws” gently come into focus.
Our humorless executive, Jenkins, might argue that a passenger would never get chainsaws past airport security. Jenkins! You’re missing the point. The learning emphasized paying attention to signage and underscored the message with gentle absurdity.
Should we fret it sends a mixed message about signage and how some might seem silly? No. The absurd signs are ridiculous enough that there is no confusion with real world signs, nor would it cause internal angst for learners as to which signs are worthy of consideration.
2. Choose not to use Humor
The Delta videos are not a series of non-stop gags. These videos aren’t trying to win 100,000 hits on YouTube. They use humor to emphasize situations, rules, and reactions. They avoid humor when it interferes with the instructional message.
For example, humor is not used at all when instructing on how to fasten seatbelts, attach an oxygen mask, or during the pilot’s final message. Why not? I believe the creators were cognizant of the learning outcomes and affective impact. Nobody wants to see their airline pilot play ‘the clown.’ We want to trust and rely in the confidence of pilots, not be wowed by their Robin Williams’ impression.
When fastening seatbelts and attaching oxygen masks, Delta has an investment in learners performing these tasks correctly, flawlessly. Their instructional designers (I believe) said, “Not here. Humor must not interfere with the steps and correct demonstration of those steps.” Good for them. Half of using humor as an instructional strategy is deciding when to hold back.
3. Use Humor to Emphasize Sameness or Differences
When asking, “Are you comfortable performing the tasks necessary in an exit row,” two of the three row mates, identical twins (dressed identically) respond in a monotone, “Yes.” The third gentleman winces slightly and says, “Not really.” He leaves and is immediately replaced by another exact replica of the first two. The twins, it turns out, are triplets.
While chuckling at the exit row trio, several instructional points got validated: everyone has to say yes or no to their responsibilities in this row, it’s okay to decline the responsibility, and all three must be equally up to the task. I’m not suggesting humor theorists write a 12-page paper analyzing this exchange (humor theorists = murderers of humor), but I can appreciate that Delta once again used humor to enhance teaching points.
Similarly, when talking about putting ‘smaller items’ under the seat in front of you, the camera shows an absurdly tiny suitcase, smaller than the size of a pop can. The absurdity contrasts the point being made and makes me think of all the times I have witnessed row mates shoving and kicking full-sized duffle bags in an attempt to make them ‘fit’ under the seat. Delta just tricked me into considering ‘what is small? What would fit? What is appropriate for that space?’
Kudos, Delta, for making me consider implementing your guidelines. That’s what you wanted from your learners all along.
4. Laugh at Ridiculous Situations
We all encounter ridiculous situations in our world — at the supermarket, other Moms at daycare, and gasp, even at work. We can laugh at their (and our) foibles without laughing at the people themselves. It’s called self-effacing humor.
While stating that the airline patrons may experience turbulence, the camera cuts to two young girls playing the popular wooden blocks game Jenga on top of their tray tables. As the plane experiences a few bumps, their eyes dart with alarm to the clattering, wiggling tower they’ve constructed as they realize their impending doom.
Who plays Jenga on an airplane?
Nobody — which is why it’s damn funny. We’re not laughing at the girls. In fact, we share their dread that the turbulence will prematurely end their block-stacking game. We laugh at the absurdity of playing games of precision and balance in an environment almost certain to be tumultuous.
Delta found a way to laugh at a ridiculous situation while emphasizing a reality of the world of flying we all hate: turbulence.
Isn’t it possible that your work environment/training situation has ridiculous moments? Don’t you think your learners know this? Don’t you think they’d eagerly welcome the empathy and recognition when those creating their training acknowledged life’s absurdities?
Win some points with your learners and show them you get their wacky, difficult challenges.
5. Have Fun
Remember the senior executives sitting around a conference room table arguing about whether to incorporate humor? Bless their vision and faith for saying ‘yes’ eventually. But they probably weren’t the ones who came up with the many goofy jokes that work.
The people who created humor in the Delta video clearly did so with an eye toward the instructional goal. But they also were people who like to play. You can’t create humor or find appropriate humor without actually having fun. Appropriate workplace humor is a byproduct of confidence, skill, and boundaries. When your team gets all three dimensions, you can play. You can laugh.
If your folks aren’t having fun brainstorming humor as an instructional strategy, chances are it’s not that funny.
6. Test with Users
In the end, you test humor the way you’d test any instructional strategy — with end users. If they think it’s funny, it is. If they think it’s not, then it doesn’t support the learning and you must remove or modify it. Count on your learners to tell you the truth when it comes to humor. It’s one topic where each of us considers ourselves an expert.
by Allen Interactions, @customelearning
2012 was a fantastic year for us here at Allen Interactions. And thanks to all of you, our blog was also a success! We hope to continue to share with you relevant, inspirational, and insightful thoughts and stories regarding e-learning design and development, project management, and learning strategy in 2013.
So, to celebrate last year, here is a collection of our most popular learning blog posts from 2012:
- It's an ICE Time to Leave ADDIE Behind | Richard Sites
- Love Your Learners | Angel Green
- No One Reads Online | Linda Rening
- Can We Stop Hiding Behind Failed e-Learning | Ethan Edwards
- e-Learning... As Easy As Pie | Ethan Edwards
- Frightening Realities of Content Regulation Over Learner Engagement | Angel Green
- e-Learning Course Text: Less is More | Angel Green
- Top 10 List of the Biggest e-Learning Challenges | Richard Sites
- I ♥ m-Learning | Mary-Scott Hunter
- Lights, Camera, ACTION!... Creating a Compelling e-Learning Experience | Ethan Edwards
- Game-Like Qualities | Mary-Scott Hunter
- Excuse Me Your Biases Are Showing | Linda Rening
by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president - client services
Hi there. Remember me? Mary-Scott? We chatted the other week about game-like strategies to integrate into your e-learning? Oh good. You do remember. Well, I had talked about three favorites of mine: adding a timer, building in collaboration, and exploring new worlds.
I also promised four (4) more additions to this list, so I’m going to continue to explore game-like wins for your e-learning. Let’s go!
4. Surprise me
Have you ever been through an e-learning experience and been flat-out surprised by what happened next? Me neither. e-Learning is predictable. In fact, adult learning theory advocates the opposite: always tell adult learners exactly what to expect, how many minutes to plan for the experience, etc. Generally, I agree with setting expectations. If learners think an e-learning course is going to last 30 minutes and it lasts 45 minutes—that’s a terrible surprise.
But, there are hundreds of surprises to consider integrating into e-learning. What if you initially requested learners to enter six names of loved ones and then throughout the course customers randomly show up with those names? What if you added a simple, 20-second animation midway through the e-learning course reminding learners to take a break and get some water? What if the reward for finishing a module was your VP of Sales with slices of cheese on his/her head?
Okay, that’s pretty random.
But guess what happens when you shock learners? They pay attention to everything. Who knows where the next insanity may come from? Who knows who is going to be next one wearing cheese slices? Not every surprise has to be insane; your culture may not support such hilarity. Still, that’s exactly what a surprise is—something completely unexpected given the environment.
5. Do something new physically that learners haven’t done in a computer environment
Let your learners fly (reward!) over the office environment. Have them ‘bowl’ as a two-minute intermission break. Have them move the mouse in ways they have never done before. I won’t elaborate much on this idea as it’s so close to generating surprises.
The act of doing something different with your mouse and your keyboard can ‘wake up’ a dull learning experience to new possibilities. So many clients want their learners to think creatively and yet invite them to think creatively inside e-learning that uses the same techniques developed in 1986.
This may not be an applicable example for e-learning but in the game Assassin’s Creed, you (through your avatar) dive off a tall building in Renaissance Italy. It’s amazing. It’s terrifying. I’ll never experience anything like that in the real world. There is no practical value to this experience. I loved it. I want to do it again.
6. Show me the Boss
Uh oh. Guess who was assigned to review your paperwork in your highly-regulated, technically-challenging, paperwork-driven environment? It’s OSHA’s meanest, most meticulous reviewer, Melvin Marump. He hates his job. His teenage daughter just got her first piercing and he misplaced amazing 50-yard-line tickets to this weekend’s NFL game. He’s going to go home and look for those tickets right after he inspects your paperwork. Melvin’s not in a great mood.
Games are often leveled so that the last challenge the gamer encounters is The Boss. The Boss Challenge is the ultimate challenge, the culmination of every skill acquired along the way. Melvin Marump—he’s the boss. Tell the learner he’s coming (and angry) and if you can’t access the paperwork he desires in under two minutes, he’s going to fail you. You will start over.
Then, give them chances to practice. The goal is to beat The Boss Challenge. If the learner has truly mastered the skill, they will beat Melvin. We want the learners to win. But, put a challenge in front of them that feels hard, that feels unwinnable.
You know what we love? To win. When does winning mean something? When it is hard.
7. Let Learners Earn Success
I think the best part of old-school Wheel of Fortune (I’m dating myself here) is when the contestants won money and were forced to make their winning selections from a stage of random prizes. “Pat, I’d like to buy the his and her bikes for $500…and the life-sized ceramic greyhound for $250.”
Who wants a ceramic greyhound? Nobody.
That’s not the point.
There’s a certain thrill in ‘buying.’ Why not let learners experience that thrill. For every problem solved or customer made happy, allow them to ‘buy’ different colors in their interface. Allow them to ‘buy’ background music or ‘art’ to hang in the e-learning environment. If you want a tighter fit with the instructional design, allow them to buy clues or solutions. Allow them to purchase advice from trusted stakeholders or 'buy' a second chance to fix a mistake made earlier.
Which should you use?
As you consider which game-like qualities to integrate into e-learning, do not lose sight of the instructional goal. I love games—games are a passion of mine. But, I do not allow my gamer love to blind me to instructional outcomes and what I need to accomplish for learners. On the other hand, I do not let instructional outcomes blind me to the possibility of gaming either. As in most things in life, the secret is balance. And surprises.
I hid a link to one of my favorite videos on YouTube in this article. Can you find it?
View Part I of Mary-Scott's blog for the first 3 Game-like Qualities
by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president of client services
During a weekend partying spree, the King of the Cosmos destroys every celestial body: the sun, the moon, and every star in the sky. He tasks his son with recreating the heavens by rolling a magic ball around the planet Earth, until its accumulated mass is ready to become a star.
Has this ever happened to you on a Tuesday at work?
Well, maybe recreating Katamari Damacy in your highly-regulated, pharmaceutical environment won’t solve your training problems. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the King of the Cosmos.
Excitement about utilizing games in e-learning runs hot and cold. When clients think they've found a perfect match between an existing game and their training problem, they’re thrilled! Elated! Best game ever! Once they discover that parallels are only surface deep and nearly impossible to recreate in training, the love affair ends and the game is dismissed as useless.
That might be premature.
I recommend taking a more eco-friendly approach: instead of immediately discarding, reuse and recycle. Some of the best e-learning I’ve seen utilizes ideas game-like qualities.
In my last post, I asked if readers would like me to elaborate on some of my favorite game-like qualities. Through comments on the blog or private emails, you responded with a resounding ‘YES.’ I thought I’d describe seven (7) game-like qualities that you might consider.
I’ve been informed by my technology experts that there’s not enough space on the internet today to list all seven game-like qualities to consider, so I’ll present three (3) of them today and four (4) in my next post. Hopefully, the internet will be back to full capacity by then (I hear they’re going to make more room by deleting Madonna fan fiction. This is a good thing.)
You can answer that customer question utilizing existing resources, but can you do it in three minutes? When the performance requires a certain measure of unconscious competence (learners must perform tasks quickly or with rote proficiency), integrate a timer into the e-learning. Perhaps the first few practice activities for learners to complete do not have a timer, which gives them a chance to master the skill and read feedback to guide performance.
But, if you’re training an audience where dead air or awkward delays equal lost business (call centers, sales situations, customer service), consider telling the learners: “In this next set of challenges, you are expected to perform the same task within four minutes, then three minutes, then two minutes.”
As with any game-like quality you’d like to infuse, do a little design analysis to determine if this variable serves your true goal. Timers add pressure. If that pressure is present in the real world, good. Use a timer. But if you’re artificially creating a time-pressure situation because you have a vague notion that learners should do their jobs ‘faster,’ the ‘learning’ they will remember is that you pushed them hard when they did not see the relevance.
At the end of my last blog post, Rainy Horvath commented: “…this gaming thing leads to collaborative play, not competitive play. One kid had the controls, and all the others would sit around them and make helpful suggestions, such as ‘See if there is a sword under that rock,’ or ‘Maybe he's really a vampire.’"
(Rainy, I hope it’s okay that I quoted you!)
I love this comment because collaboration is often overlooked as an element of game play. So many traditional games focus on winning at someone else’s expense. For someone to win, someone else must lose. And yet, aren’t we often trying to elicit a ‘win win’ situation with clients and stakeholders? Or a ‘win win win’ including employees in the mix? Or a ‘win win win win’ — well, you get my point.
Integrating collaboration requires designing situations where collaborators supply hints and clues, but do not give away the full answer. Or maybe each person holds one dimension to the solution.
Even better: design a situation where learners have to earn collaboration from co-workers. You answer questions for them and they become available to assist you. Create a ‘you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours’ environment. Isn’t that how the real world works? Don’t you have relationships with co-workers whom you trust so you seek their advice?
Explore collaboration. Otherwise, you might never know if there’s a sword under that rock.
3. Unlock new worlds
As a gamer, one of the greatest thrills comes from earning the right to explore something which was locked away a moment ago. Earning the right to cross a bridge, to access a secret passage, to open mysterious rooms, are the types of rewards that keep me coming back again and again. And yet I can almost see you crossing your arms right now, thinking, ‘Well, we don’t have secret passages in our work environment.’
See, this is where it would be easy to discard this game-like quality and say, “Doesn’t apply.” But what if it does apply? What if there are entire applications for the ‘unlock new worlds’ idea you won’t consider because right now you’re stuck thinking about Super Mario Brothers?
Allow learners the possibility of ‘unlocking a filing cabinet’ where the better solutions are stored. After successfully dealing with three difficult customer scenarios, grant access to ‘the secret room’ where they get the great customers, the ones who are appreciative and fun to work with. Trust me, it will feel like accessing a different world.
And gosh, as expected, we’re out of space and time for today’s blog post. Darn. Well, one of the elements that draws people back to games is the idea that there’s more to explore. Please come back again. There’s more to explore. If you’ll excuse me now, I’m joining the King of the Cosmos for martinis. What’s the worst that could happen?
by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president of client services
You’d be surprised how often during a kick-off meeting with new clients I hear something like, “Make it game-like.” Game-like. What does that mean exactly? Fun graphics? Challenges such as chasing after roving fruit (think old school PacMan) or attempting to navigate a mysterious desert without speech or tools (Journey)? Does the client want learners pursued by an unrelenting zombie horde?
None of the above.
When I hear clients say, “Make it game-like,” I try to understand what they really want – the truth behind those words. They want it to be fun. They want learners to want to stay. They want that exciting, informal marketing you simply can’t buy when a learner says, “You have got to experience the new anti-money laundering e-learning.”
I’m a firm believer in bringing the best of gaming into e-learning whenever possible, so when a client seems sincere about pursuing gaming, I brainstorm and create something directly aligned with what the client says he or she wants. And then I’ve experienced that same client saying it’s ‘too gamey.’
In an introduction to a very thorough paper by Clark Aldrich (found in Michael Allen’s 2012 e-Learning Annual) discussing building games within e-learning, Michael Allen says:
“Games attract, motivate, and engage people, but many attempts to integrate education or training with games have resulted in applications that neither appeal to learners nor produce targeted learning outcomes.”
Michael goes on to say:
“Organizations often need simulations and serious games to build competence and confidence in their workforce and extended enterprise.”
How do we reconcile the vision that games can be powerful tools to achieve learning outcomes with the reality that most compromises made while creating games result in something that is utterly useless?
First, let’s look at the targeted outcomes. In an online role-playing game, you can expect to spend roughly two hours getting familiar with the environment. You gradually figure out how to get your player necessary tools, how to navigate the landscape, and which controls you have to be ready to work quickly to escape danger. In games, skill acquisition is often a by-product that ‘happens’ while playing.
In training, play might ‘happen’ while on the way to skill acquisition. Someone decided training was the way to achieve this skill acquisition, which means at its heart, the targeted outcomes of training and games might be very, very different. Any attempt to consider a gaming solution for a training problem requires a very thorough analysis of the targeted outcomes to determine if they’re compatible with the kind of complex interactions that happen during game play.
Time Investment in Games
Are you willing to create a training event where learners willingly spend two hours ‘figuring out the landscape?’ No? Didn’t think so. Games require a voluntary investment of time. Gamers aren’t forced to negotiate for zombie-proof armor; they want to. They thrill in the best Kevlar, bite-proof shoulder pads. And let’s face it, most learners approach training as though it’s a trip to the dentist: something to be endured several times a year, ideally as quickly and painlessly as possible.
Games with more complicated outcomes (surviving a post-Apocalyptic world, protecting the maiden spirit of a fantasy world) require time. No one who designs a game says, “Hopefully, they’ll find the dragon’s treasure quickly so they can quit and do other things.” Nope.
Of course, one could argue that the current generation of mobile games invites much shorter time investments: three slingshot tosses and you suddenly understand everything you need to know about Angry Birds – time invested: four minutes.
But keep in mind games experienced this way often have a one-dimensional targeted outcome which is repeated over and over and over. The kinds of behaviors most businesses want to target in their employees are multi-faceted: software that relates to business practices, sales that reflect company values, customer service that leaves the door open for future sales. You’re not going to accomplish that by flicking your index finger across the screen until your bus finally arrives.
Most training does not encourage learners to linger and stay. We develop the bare minimum of interactions and scenarios that we believe will master the performance outcome; anything else is ‘overkill.’ There are very few enrichment activities because enrichment requires more money and development time.
And that brings up another sticky wicket. (Ever been curious about that phrase? Follow the link.)
What was your last e-learning budget?
If you’re a fan of the gaming industry, as I am, you pay attention to not just the games themselves, but who makes them, how they’re made, and what it actually takes to create games. The average price of multi-platform, next-generation game production slowly rose from $1M–4M in the year 2000 to over $5M in 2006, to over $20M in 2010. In fact, in a 2011 article about soaring game development costs, they estimated an average as high as $28M.
Of course, training games won’t have the same development challenges as games sold to the public and casual games developed as mobile device apps are cheaper to build. But you’d be surprised how much it costs to explore and create multiple right paths and options, to allow for ‘surprises’ in a gaming environment, and to build meaningful record-keeping. Perhaps most frustrating to budget-conscious stakeholders is that frequently, ideas must be explored, programmed, and tested only to be discarded. Sometimes the only way to figure out if a game is fun is to build it and play it. This is not always a practical strategy when you’re attempting to develop supervisory training on a $140K budget.
By now, you may think I’m headed down the path of advocating the separation of games and training.
Absolutely not – as stated earlier, I am a strong believer in game-oriented solutions. I’m a fan of “game-like”!
We need to get clear on what game-like really means. My recommendations for achieving more clarity include:
- First, let’s talk about the training’s targeted outcomes and what you’re trying to accomplish. Let’s see how closely they match the flexibility, creative problem-solving, and diverse thinking that games offer.
- Next, let’s talk about how much time you want learners to spend in the training environment. If you’re already confident you want learners to spend no more than 30 minutes in the experience, we might want to start talking about game-like-lite.
- Finally, let’s talk budget. How willing are you to permit $15K of that $140K budget towards exploring ideas that never come to pass? Don’t get me wrong – I think my studio generates amazing gaming solutions on the first pass, but you must devote a portion of budget to instructional or visual approaches that simply don’t pan out; that’s a cost associated with gaming. Ever make a recipe only to decide “I’m never making that again?” If so, you get what I mean.
Once we talk about those three dimensions, we can start to identify which game-like elements might apply to the unique training situation. As I write these words, I’m struck by how a companion article to this one might focus on what game-like qualities you can utilize (timers, ability levels, reward systems) without building actual games.
Any interest in that? Let me know via your comments on this blog if you’d like me to expand further on game-like, and if there’s enough interest, I will write that article next. Otherwise, I’m going to expand on the difficulty of slaying zombie hordes, even in the very best bite-proof Kevlar an avatar can buy. Your choice.
by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president - client services
In my last blog post, I described the challenges in creating e-learning on mobile devices. I stand by those challenges as a cautionary tale for those considering diving into the deep end of that technology pool.
I do worry (okay, worry is a strong word: let's say 'gently fret') that my post might not convey the excitement I feel for m-learning opportunities, so I thought I'd share some instructional value for mobile devices and reflect on successful design principles.
An Important Distinction
Before I roll up my sleeves to describe some m-learning love, I want to make a critical distinction. When I think "m-learning," I'm not considering iPads or tablets. Those devices share screen real estate comparable to a laptop or full-size monitor, which means they are more aligned with e-learning for computers.
For my purposes today, m-learning means smartphones. Now, what kind of m-learning works on smartphones?
1. Performance Support Tools
Let's start with the obvious, shall we? m-Learning kicks butt for those just-in-time opportunities. How do I access a seldom-used computer screen? What's the process for those rare times when I close out the cash register before closing? What's our four-step process for restocking kitty litter? (In my hypothetical other job, I often see myself managing a cat store called Mary-Scott’s Cat Emporium, where nobody actually buys cats. People just pay to come in and love them, while sitting on plush couches trading cat stories.)
I would not consider performance support tools like this to even be training, so "training design principles" do not apply. Instead, I would focus on solid information mapping principles and an interface that allows learners to find answers quickly.
2. Training Support
Not to be confused with performance support, training support assumes that training occurred prior to m-learning access. If I rolled out training on how to sell X or Y, I might consider rolling out a weekly m-device update targeting common customer objections. First screen: a customer says, "Your X product is great, but too expensive for me." The learner flicks through subsequent screens to see four ways to address that price concern. In the next week's update, the customer says, "Thanks for the information. I'd like to think it over." Flick through four ways to address that concern. And so forth.
As far as good design for training support, I would first remember that training support is not the training. Do not expect the m-device to carry the skill development. I would focus on specific words, list steps, and shar the rich details of application that sometimes get lost when you're focused on the big-picture of skill acquisition. There are many content details that may get lost in the training which might be wonderful to receive five weeks after training was completed.
3. Video Support
I would use smartphone video regularly for employees at Mary-Scott's Cat Emporium. (In my imagination, we're thinking about becoming a nationwide chain. There's that much demand.) Through video, I would show proper ways to pick up and hold a cat. I would film common cat warning signs for when it's ready to claw your arm. I would show videos of cats playing. All of these could be shared with our customers, providing another means for employees to interact with customers, educating and cooing together.
How could you use this in a corporate environment? How about a hilarious 45-second video from lawyers explaining to vendors why the employee who showed you this video can't accept gifts? How about a two-minute snapshot of relevant warehouse activities a sales person could show to positively influence perception of quality? In our YouTube era where "hits" count as measures of success, I’m shocked more companies aren't ordering memorable, meaningful videos to share with employees and their customers.
Here are a few good mobile video design principles:
- Keep it short!
- Incorporate high production values.
- Use humor!
- Use personality!
Obvious as this point is, use video's advantages (which is not talking heads). Nobody forwards links to their friends saying, "Check out this VP of product design articulating the three most important product features and benefits."
4. Location-based Learning
I think we forget one powerful dimension of m-learning: we can do it anywhere. I often think that big companies should design new employee orientation that you could listen to on your smartphone like a museum tour. "Now, go to the fourth floor and press pause once you're there, now click play again. You're on the fourth floor? Good. To your right you'll find human resources. Walk down the hallway. In these offices you will find the person responsible for your department's support. This person will cover topics such as bereavement leave, vacation days…"
Create some m-learning love for customers on how to shop for your product in a mall. "Are you standing right now in front of the blenders? Great. Pick up the boxes to see if you can find warrantee information available. Our blenders promise a three-year warrantee right on the package. Press pause while you compare products and when you return, I'll walk you through the various useful add-ons."
Good location-based learning design principles:
- User-test this extensively.
- Record the audio cheaply for user testing so you're not constrained by expensive voice talent as you revise and make changes.
- Use visual cues whenever possible.
- Make it interesting!
- Meaningful and memorable apply as design principles, even if it's audio-only.
5. Tweet it Out
I advocate using smartphones for thier social media potential but I want to be crystal clear: this isn't training. I think one of the reasons m-learning is doomed to fail is because people misdiagnose a smartphone solution as training and then apply inappropriate instructional design rules. Sometimes, you gotta let a tweet be a tweet.
At Mary-Scott's Nationwide Cat Emporium, we would post adorable kitten pictures all day long and tweet about how to spot a 'cat hater' as they sneak into our space. We'd build our corporate culture on m-devices.
Good smartphone social media principles:
- Ask: “Do we need someone to constantly monitor the flow of text messages or images shared between employees? Is there any filtering needed?”
- Can ANYONE communicate and are off-topic posts welcome?
- Before you jump into smartphone social media, get very clear on what parameters you want.
Never Send a Kitten to do a Cat's Job
As a learning consultant, I find myself surprised at how eager people are to use a nascent technology just because it's fresh, new, and cute. m-Learning has fantastic applications and uses we should leverage. When it comes to developing skill-building scenarios that actually allow learners a meaningful context to practice skills, focus some of that excitement back into a familiar world: e-learning on bigger screen displays.
I leave you with this:
Well-fed and well-petted, all cats will purr. If you create learning opportunities that match the strengths of the available technologies, your learners will also purr with satisfaction.
by Mary-Scott Hunter, vice president - client services
You probably already know that the current favorite rags-to-application-riches story is Angry Birds. Conceived during the swine-flu panic in 2008, the game developer Rovio Mobile created a simple game with an equally simple premise: pigs stole our eggs. We want revenge.
By 2010, it was the number one best selling app. In MIT Entrepreneurship Review (February 2011), they called Angry Birds "the largest mobile app success the world has seen so far."
Those who want their companies to invest in m-learning might read that and salivate.
After all, Angry Birds boasts the triple crown of user nirvana: 1) behaviorally-based, 2) simple, elegant interface, and 3) a game that takes six minutes to complete, manages to draw users back for eight, nine, ten hours. Those who create learning events cry out the same outraged chorus: why can't we create learning like that?
The problem with m-learning right now is that everyone wants Angry Bird success without paying attention to those three success factors outlined above. The secret to mobile learning success isn't much of a secret. Dr. Michael Allen discusses it in every book he writes. My team and I preach it at every project kick-off. If you want learners to value your training, first and foremost, it's got to be behaviorally-based. Your learning event must center around actions performed by users, not content.
Everyone reading this will nod at that sentence and it sure looks like agreement, but then Carol from Legal wants this text explained in detail, so suddenly that's included. Just a small compromise. Then, the Regulatory team doesn’t like the idea of putting learners at risk, so we'll just compromise a bit more and put in some reading pages here, here, and here. You must understand that successful m-learning will not tolerate content-heavy, reading-rich applications.
How many screens are learners required to read about physics and calculating angles for hurtling birds at the pig lair? None.
Simple, elegant interface
Ask yourself these questions:
- Are you willing to create a simple interface that focuses on learners? (Everyone's nodding again.) Uh huh.
- Are you willing to remove your own company logo to make sure the interface is simple? (Less nodding.)
- Are you willing to whittle away content that is not absolutely essential to the next step? (Infrequent, hesitant nodding.)
What if your CEO says, "it's not intuitive; I couldn't figure out what to do next" but your learners had no problem. Would you risk arguing against the CEO's changes on behalf of the learners? (Crickets.)
The gaming industry gets who their customers are: the ones who pay for their product. We in the training world say the learning is for learners, but when push comes to shove, is it? We don't like their suggestions so we don't include them. Yet for widespread acceptance of a learning event, the usability testing with actual learners must drive decision-making.
If the first success factor isn't heeded (behaviorally-based), then the second success factor (interface) cannot possibly succeed and you get an application that is designed to hold content. And beyond a smartphone's contact list, users are underwhelmed by the prospect of reading extensively in the palm of their hand.
Time to complete
As a gamer, I am willing to spend several hours a stretch in an immersive world that fascinates me (Skyrim or Flower). I return over and over for the richness, to see what nuances I might discover during each visit. I play mobile games as well, 15 minutes here, an hour on a plane there. However, meaningful and memorable experiences are more likely to happen on a PC or console device. While the technical limitations of delivering on mobile have quickly evaporated; on a handheld device, I’m still mainly passing time.
In contemplating m-learning's golden possibilities, some fixate on its many advantages without considering what could be lost. Learners might not invest much affect in an m-learning experience. If you're developing higher-order skills that require learner richness or complexity, m-learning may not be the right option.
Some topics aren't good candidates for your "Angry Birds" m-learning.
Winged migration to m-learning
Let me be clear. I love technology. I love games. And I’m really excited about m-learning.
As a consultant, it's my job to steer clients toward their best solutions, and (following our bird analogy) help them avoid crashing into windows. In my next blog, I will explore some of the design principles that can help make this migration more successful. I'll analyze more gaming trends and ponder what lessons learned we can apply.
In the meantime, remember that e-learning isn't dead. Even classroom training isn't dead. No, there's just another addition to the family of options, and it's new, fragile, barely hatched out of its egg. We must take care against crushing m-learning with expectations that it is the miracle solution.
And we must especially protect it from those damn pigs.
Mary-Scott Hunter is studio executive for one Allen Interactions’ Minneapolis/St. Paul based studios and vice president of client services. While not gaming, she is deeply committed to solving clients’ business challenges by helping design meaningful and memorable e-learning and m-learning experiences.