Tuesday, October 18

MT2 Announces 2011 Top Simulations & Training Companies

With Ben’s expertise in simulations and games, I thought it might be worth mentioning that Military Training Technology (MT2) magazine recently announced its listing of the 2011 Top Simulation & Training Companies. Although companies making the 2011 list come from around the world and have made a significant impact on the military training industry across the spectrum of technologies and services, many produce non-military-based offerings as well.

An impartial panel selected the winners from MT2’s most competitive group yet. The companies’ products and services enable U.S. airmen, Marines, sailors, soldiers and Coast Guardsmen to train and rehearse for missions in theater, or to prepare for deployment at home station. Companies were selected based on various criteria, which included innovation and program effectiveness. Each listing includes the name and description of the company as well as core competencies. Those that made the most significant contributions to the training community are recognized with one of the following awards:

  • Best Program - a company that had been involved with or led a program of the year—programs that are revolutionizing military training

  • Innovation - a company that leads the industry in advancement

  • Up and Coming - a company that is quickly rising in the industry.

Thursday, October 13

Where Social Learning got its start: An interview with Dave Tosh

I'm sure many of you will have come across Elgg before. For those that haven't, Elgg is an open-source engine that allows you to create your own Social Network. Founded in 2004 by Dave Tosh and Ben Werdmuller, Elgg was often pitched as a Social Network for education - perhaps the first foray into the world of 'online' Social Learning, some time before the phrase entered popular parlance.
Dave Tosh has since moved to pastures new (as has Werdmuller) but I thought it would be interesting to touch base with Dave to talk about those early days before Social Learning became the phrase du jour...

Ben Betts: When you were in the process of creating Elgg, did the phrase 'social learning' crop up or was it yet to emerge as a theme in education?
Dave Tosh: I can't remember anyone talking about social learning back in 2004 when Elgg started. Blogging was just beginning to come on the radar, which did introduce some 'social' aspects but it was not referred to as social learning.
BB: Which segments of the marketplace were quickest to adopt Elgg when you launched?
DT: Education was the first group to experiment with Elgg, however, it was when things moved out of the Edu arena that groups became willing to pay for customisation which was the business model and ultimately dictated the future path.
BB: In persuading your early adopters was there much focus on the command and control mechanisms within Elgg? Were people scared of how users might abuse a social system?
DT: This was one of the major stumbling blocks when people tried Elgg. It was very deliberate that there were no roles and permissions. A student was on the same level as an educator as we tried to create a space where the individual (regardless of position) could control who to collaborate with and who got access to their content. This caused confusion and it was a constant battle to get people to try and forget (for the purpose of a trial) about the top-down, course centric, constraints imposed by the LMS platforms of the time in order to experiment with a platform that was bottom up, user controlled, and experience centric.
There were other concerns raised when we visited the US around kids using the privacy options to plan attacks on the school and the school then being accountable due to provided them with the online platform for this.
BB: In your opinion, is Social Learning a fad, a passing trend, or a sea change in the way we learn online?
DT: I don't know enough about 'social learning' to comment. For me personally, learning is not a solitary pursuit. I feel the informal aspect of the learning process plays a crucial role in moving from the retention of fact to a real/deep understanding. This is something Elgg tried to address: it was not about access to course notes or course work submission but instead capturing and fostering the reflection that many students and researchers do in the cafe or pub after lectures as this was often, at least for me, when the grounding of understanding happened; in those informal discussions.
BB: If you could have kept just one feature in Elgg for social networking, what would it have been?
DT: This is a tough question as different components were important to different people. Some liked the group blogging component, others the fine-grain access controls - it was dependant on context. I guess if I had to choose, I would have kept, and focused more on, the aggregation side of things to make it easier for people to use their own tools but still participate in the community.
BB: You open-sourced Elgg; was this a commercial or idealistic decision?
DT: Elgg started out as a simple proof-of-concept - there was no business/commercial thinking involved at that time - so the decision to go open source was based on encouraging others to help build out the concept.
BB: Finally, do you have any tips for how to engage and grow an online social learning community?
DT: I am not sure about a social learning community. Regarding online communities in general, I would never underestimate the importance of having an engaged community; the community is everything. This is one of the biggest lessons I learnt during my Elgg days.

About Dave:
Dave Tosh is passionate about technology, in particular the web, and its potential for creating new learning opportunities for us all.
Dave co-founded Elgg and is now to be found experimenting
on a couple of ideas around information accuracy.  You can read his blog at http://davetosh.com/

Friday, October 7

In a cash, time, and people strapped work environment, how can we develop our own games?

A great question from Kevin Shadix is the topic of my first proper blog post here on Learning Circuits. For me, the answer to this question lies in the perception of what a ‘game’ is. Personally, I’ve adopted Jesse Schell’s definition of a game which suggests that a game is “a problem solving activity, approached with an attitude of fun”.

It’s a pretty simplistic definition but it helps me to frame my thinking when it comes to designing a new game. The definition says nothing of time or expense, or even particular skills and resources to be deployed; it is purely about solving a problem with a fun approach.

Of course, Schell isn’t the only person to have an opinion on the definition of games and for many this would be too simplistic. So I’ll throw another at you here; this time from Chris Crawford, which doesn’t so much define Games as it defines the taxonomy of creative expressions…

Things get really interesting with Crawford’s taxonomy when you get to the lower reaches. Crawford suggests that without a competitor whose outcome you can directly influence, you don’t have a game. I’m not so sure direct “attacks” are actually required in order to influence the outcome of an event – think about the mind games that occur in a running race where you can’t actually touch your opponent, but you can psych them out. But his definition really boils down to this element of conflict, an element which makes it into other definitions of games, such as that of Learning Games expert Simon Egenfeldt-Nelson, who suggests the definition of computer games to be ‘virtual worlds with a conflict’.

For me, ‘virtual worlds’ is a contentious term because it conjures the image of 3D graphics engines, Second Life and the rest of it. I don’t believe that this level of virtual world is necessary to create a computer game, but I do believe it is necessary to create a reality which is different to our own – be that through a webpage, an app or a world.

Constructing the ‘world’ is a key part of the games design, as are a number of other elements. I’ll throw back to Jesse Schell who neatly outlined 4 pillars of game design for us to work from:

Schell suggested that all games have a basis within these 4 pillars.

They have Aesthetics – a look, feel and touch which appeals to players and is appropriate to the context. This might mean a 3D virtual world, or it might mean a few scribbles on a piece of paper. If you are short on resources, it probably doesn’t mean a 3D world, but that’s no big issue. Many fine computer games are played out through a text interface within a browser window.

Schell also talks about the Story behind the game. This, for me, is one of the most important features in any game. Does it have a narrative that I am compelled to see through to the end? Am I genuinely interested in the outcome? To often ‘serious games’ overlook this aspect as they seek to rip the ‘fun’ elements out as an unnecessary and childish addition. It couldn’t be more core. If ‘fun’ isn’t a part of your vocab, leave games-based learning well alone.

Mechanics are the pillar which the architects of many a ‘gamification’ have come to rest upon. Mechanics are the methods by which we compete within a game, the way in which we do better and win. Most people come to rest on the ideas of points, levels and badges as being the sum-total of mechanics, but again, this is selling the concept short. Mechanics can be woven into complex design patterns which promote engagement within the game if they are done right. Think about ideas like Quests, Treasure Hunts, Reputation, Scarcity of Resources and Roles as just a handful of mechanics which you can use to promote engagement and signal competence within the game.

Finally, technology is the pillar which allows your participants to play your game. Simplistically, the technology you choose needs to facilitate the other pillars to the best of its ability. If you choose an aesthetic which happens to be a webpage, then you better have a web server which can serve it up reliably and your students better be able to access it. But it doesn’t need to be an X-Box to do this.

I guess what I’m getting at with this background information is that you shouldn’t feel constrained by the ‘normal’ view of what a triple-A rated game on the store shelf looks like. You don’t need to invest in the next Call of Duty to make a great game. By considering the core components of a game and aligning the games objectives with your learning outcomes, you can create a neat solution which doesn’t cost the earth. Games come in all shapes and sizes and, if you structure your expectations accordingly, can be brought in at low or even no cost if you are willing to do the work yourself.

Plagiarism is rife in the game development world and I wouldn’t be adverse from taking a leaf or two from existing games as your inspiration. For example, in a recent project we created a very simple game that replicated “Guitar Hero” to teach students the rhythms behind a horses hoof falls. Really simple, less than a day to make and it works really well.

In reality, unless you happen to be a kick-ass coder, most games that are within the reach of your ‘average joe’ probably play out most of their story without the use of a computer game engine. But that’s fine too; the approach transcends computer games technology once you know the core components of creating a decent game. Nowhere in those definitions will you find an insistence to make it a 3D photo-realistic shoot ‘em up.

Let me close on a favourite story of mine for the development of a simple game.

Imagine you are running a new employee orientation course. On the first morning, you arrive 10 minutes late, looking a real mess. You announce to the class that you’ve lost everything for the onboarding programme – every scrap of information, save for the contents page at the front of the binder. Your job is on the line unless you can pull this information back together before the end of the day. You need their help. They need to get online, get around the office, and get talking to people to find you the information you need. They’ll compete against each other to get the info back to you first as you only need one copy. But you need it all by the end of the day.

Well, what are you waiting for? Get going!

Tuesday, October 4

Howdy and October's Big Question

Hi all and welcome to my one month tenure at the editing console for the Learning Circuits Blog. Thanks to Justin and the team for the opportunity and the nice introduction!

I've been working in and around E-Learning for the last 10 years or so - enough time to know a lot about nothing and a little about everything. Drawn in by the possibilities of blending technology with education, I'm a bit sad to say that the results haven't always been everything I might have hoped for...

There's a very early episode of The Simpsons in which Lisa imagines herself in the school of the future. She puts on her VR headset and is transported alongside Genghis Khan to explore the battlefields with him on horseback. Somewhere along the way, we seemed to miss out on this vision.

Driven as I was by this view of the future, it perhaps should come as no great surprise that my area of interest resides firmly in Social Learning Games - a whole buzzphrase, let alone buzzword.

We've been researching, experimenting and implementing solutions that embrace both social and game-like behaviour for the last couple of years and we've seen some stunning results. But more of that later... it's time for the Big Question!

Does Gamification have a role in Workplace Learning?

How to Respond:

Option 1 - Simply put your thoughts in a comment below.

Option 2 - Tweet your thoughts using the hashtag: #LCBQ. We will do our best to collect together tweets around the topic.

Option 3 - Post in your blog (please link to this post). We recommend including #LCBQ in your title to help us. Put a comment in this blog with an HTML ready link that I can simply copy and paste (an HTML anchor tag). I will only copy and post, thus, I would also recommend you include your NAME immediately before your link (or you could also include your blog name). So, it should look like: Tony Karrer - e-Learning 2.0 : eLearningTechnology.

Feel free to interpret "Gamification" in the way you see fit - we'll discuss the outcome later in the month.

Cheers for now!


Monday, October 3

October's Guest Blogger: Ben Betts

I met Ben Betts at last year's Learning 2010 Conference. He was there as part of their great 30 Under 30 group. Ben spoke as part of a panel session on the Sales and Marketing Cycle for E-Learning. I was immediately impressed with him and his ideas.

Ben is the Managing Director at HT2, an innovative learning technologies group focused on gaming, social, and mobile learning. Ben was the lead designer and creator of HT2’s Curatr platform, which adds social and gaming elements to e-learning. As if that’s not enough, Ben is also getting his Engineering Doctorate at the University of Warwick. Make sure to ask him how his thesis is going.

Ben will be blogging here during the month of October, after that, you can catch up with him over at his blog.