Monday, January 23

ASTD TechKnowledge Happenings

Well, my time blogging here at The Learning Circuits Blog is quickly coming to an end. It’s been a great time with some awesome discussions. So, I hope to meet a number of readers, commentors and lurkers in person at TechKnolwedge 2012 at the end of this week.

If you are going to TechKnowledge 2012, stop by and say hello, I will be doing a number of different events and I love meeting new people as well as past, present, or future students.

TechKnowledge 2012 Twitter Game

For the first part of the conference, I have co-created a game that is designed to increase conference learning and give attendees the opportunity to network with peers or play solo.

In the game, you’ll hunt for answers to questions supplied by speakers by attending sessions and viewing session slides online and on the mobile app. The game card of questions can be found online and on the mobile app under session number Game 1. Answers to the questions will be found in the session slides identified by a special icon. If you’d like to partner with others, use Twitter hashtag #TKgame at the conference.

A debrief of the game as a learning experience will be held in the Tech KafĂ© on Thursday from 5:15–6:00 p.m.

My TechKnowledge 2012 Presentation

Here is a description of my session. It will be held on Wednesday, 1/25 11:00a.m.–12:15 p.m., Room Miranda 7/8. Please stop by and say “hello.”

What Research Tells Us About 3D Avatars, Storytelling and Serious Games for Learning and Behavior Change

This decidedly unacademic presentation provides a broad, scientific overview of what we know from research about the effectiveness of today’s technology for changing learner behaviors. We will discuss the use of 3D avatars to change learner behaviors; we will consider how playing a video game changes a person’s behavior and how storytelling helps learners memorize facts. We’ll answer questions like: Are two avatars better in an e-learning module than one? Does the appearance of an avatar impact the person when they’ve finished working with the avatar? Do serious games have to be entertaining to be educational? This exciting session shows you how to use the existing research literature in your own design and delivery of online learning. You will be provided with tips and techniques for matching research findings to your own e-learning design. We’ll move the concepts from research to practice. The presentation ends with a practical case study outlining how the research tips, techniques, and practices can be applied in a real-life online learning situation. Discover how research-based practices really fit in with today's fast-paced need for quick, effective online instruction.

TechKnowledge 2012 Chats

I am participation two TK Chats. One is about Gamification on Wednesday, 1/25 from 2:00–2:45 p.m. It will be a lively discussion with Rick Raymer, Koreen Olbrish,Kris Rockwell, and myself facilitated by Judy Unrein. This will be a fun and thought-provoking discussion. Join us for the controversy.

The second might not be as controversial (or will it)? The topic is Instructional Design, which is as critical to what we do as professionals as you can get! With thought leaders like Ellen Wagner, Allison Rossett, and Steve Villachica and faciliated by Cammy Bean, it’s bound to be an engaging and thought-provoking review of the field and where it needs to go.

Wednesday, January 18

ARG and ARG --What are they? What does it mean? Should you care?

In addition to discussing Gamification, I also wanted to take one of my January blog postings and talk about ARG.

The term ARG is batted around from time to time as a method of conducting training programs but there is a lot of confusion around the term.

Let's look at the terms, to help define the terms, I asked Koreen Olbrish who is a self-described--opinionated and snarky entrepreneur, instructional designer, learner and mom who has experience developing ARGs and who blogs at Learning in Tandem for her expert input.

She contributed an entire chapter to my upcoming book explaining the two terms and has created ARGs and implement them successfully.

Here is what Koreen wrote in the chapter:

Alternate reality games (ARGs), also sometimes called pervasive games or transmedia storytelling, are designed to combine real life and digital game play elements. So that you are playing the game in the real world but doing behaviors that are linked to the game. (my addition.)

Typically, Alternate Reality Gamess are "tracked" online but the actual game play consists of real life activities. There are many entertainment-based examples such as the games, I love bees, The Lost Experience,Numb3rs Chain Factor and examples of ARGs for social issues such as Urgent Evoke, World without Oil.

Here is a video explaining "I Love Bees"

There continues to be a lot of confusion in the term ARG--some people use "alternate reality games" and "augmented reality games" interchangeably. For a point of clarification, alternate reality games refer to game play that integrates real life and online game play through a storyline that seeks to engage learners in an experience that seems real. While augmented reality enhances reality or adds something to it. For example the yellow first down line superimposed on the football field is augmented reality. Often smartphones are used with Augmented Reality Games.

Here is an example of an augmented reality game.

The really confusing part comes in when augmented reality is used as part of an alternate reality game. To keep them straight, think about the meaning of the words; “alternate reality” seeks to create a different reality for game play purposes. “Augmented reality” adds additional information to real life environments and objects.

Here is a great video from BMW that shows the potential of augmented reality in the realm of training:

Here is one done for the military. Notice all the heavy and bulky equipment...remember, cell phones used to be heavy and bulky as well. The technology is shrinking and will soon be in a training center near you.

So yes, you should begin to care about ARG, they have the potential to be powerful instructional tools that can allow a true performance support system. I think the BMW example clearly shows how to mix training with on the job actions. The military example could be used for teaching such skills as negotiations in a highly sophisticated branching simulation or for teaching people how to insert artificial hips or even how to deal with upset customers.

Technology is driving a number of interesting advances in learning environments. The important thing for learning and development professionals to realize is that the basic understanding of how people learn and what it means to motivate learners does not change with technology. Now more than ever we need to know and put into practice evidence-based guidelines for developing instruction.

Thursday, January 12

Broadening the Definition of Gamification for L&D Professionals

In my posting on Learning Circuits Blog, a reader left a thoughtful and interesting comment about points and the use of the term gamification and the Blogger software won't let me write my entire comment (too many characters) so I am posting my comment here. See Kathy Sierra's comments under What is Gamification and Why it Matters to L&D Professionals.

First, Kathy, as always, thanks for your thoughtful comments on the topic of Gamification. You always help to expand my thinking on the topic. Although, I have a couple of points of clarification that I'd like to make. 

You define gamification as “based entirely on operant conditioning, using +r in the form of rewards to reinforce behavior, especially the behavior of ‘engagement’.”   Your definition reminds me of the old folk story that originated in India where a group of people in the dark all touch an elephant to learn what it is like. Each one feels a different part, but each only one part and they come up with different descriptions. One feels a leg and says the elephant is like a pillar; and one feels the tail and says the elephant is like a rope, etc. Later they compare notes and are in complete disagreement because none of them has seen the entire elephant. (source)

I think you are only feeling one part of the elephant.

While points and rewards can be framed as operant conditioning and as a game-mechanic, it is only one part of gamification—one element, one piece. Not the entire definition of gamification.  If points or rewards were the single engaging element of games then the game Progress Wars  where you just click a button to get points would be the most popular game ever.

In almost every legitimate definition of gamification the term “game-based thinking” is used. This term encompasses ideas like challenge, story, instructive feedback, levels, characters and freedom to fail. These are not elements of a Skinner Box or operant conditioning. These are elements of  engaging games like Angry Birds, Civilization V, Red Dead Redemption and Monopoly. All enormously popular games that do not rely on points for motivation or engagement.

It is disingenuous to state that “virtually ALL game scholars, game researchers, and professional game designers are passionately against gamification.” Serious and knowledgeable individuals like Sebastian Deterding and Amy Jo Kim and other well informed people are passionately for gamification—as properly defined.

Sebastian Deterding discusses gamification in terms of meaning, mastery and autonomy—concepts closer to Self-Determination Theory (a theory of intrinsic motivation) than operant conditioning. (Source) Amy Jo Kim discusses gamification as the design of the player journey where the player progresses over time, giving people something to master and building in emotional engagement. (Source)

Again, she is not discussing a Skinner Box approach to gamification, instead it is a thoughtful approach focusing on the overall experience and progress of an individual through some type of experience leading toward mastery.  Serious, well informed people are advocating for gamification beyond the concept of adding points to experiences.

But even points are not all bad or DEmotivational. It is true that points can, in some cases, be construed as extrinsically motivating; but they can and often are intrinsically motivating as well.

Research articles by Deci & Ryan, 1985 and Lepper & Henderlong, 2000 (some of the same researchers you mentioned  in your comment) indicate that in one sense something like desiring good grades can indicate that children are engaging in academic behaviors merely as a means to some extrinsic end.

BUT in another sense grades provide useful information about competence and mastery, and desiring this sort of feedback may reflect an intrinsic interest in the material or activity rather than an extrinsic orientation.

So are grades intrinsic or extrinsic? By extension then, are points, scores, and certain game rewards informational and, therefore, intrinsic and not extrinsic?  Giving points to someone (as a form of information about competence) is actually intrinsically motivating. Giving someone a reward related to a specific achievement that gives them information about their level of mastery related to the achievement is intrinsically motivating.  Informational-based points, rewards and achievements are intrinsic motivators, they are not operant conditioning.

Another interesting concept related to extrinsic motivation is that, over time, it might be possible that extrinsic motivators actually become intrinsic motivators. This is called “internalized motivation.”

In the above mentioned article by Lepper and Henderlong, (2000) they state “One issue not addressed is the development of internalized motivation—those originally external motives that have over time become incorporated into one’s personal goal or value systems.” They go on to state that there is some suggestion in the literature that internalized reasons gradually supplant extrinsic reasons for engaging in disliked behaviors (Chandler & Connell, 1987) and that there are specific teaching practices that facilitate internalization (Deci, Eghrari, Patrick, & Leone, 1994).”

Meaning that extrinsic motivations could eventually lead to intrinsic motivation—an area worthy of further study and a compelling reason not to dismiss points outright as dangerous. They, like almost any other instructional element, can be used appropriately or used inappropriate. Points are not inherently demotivational—it’s how they are used, it’s the design of the points system. Again, well designed systems of learning lead to positive results, poorly designed systems of learning lead to poor results. Just like every other instructional design element.

Your argument against points as solely extrinsic motivation needs be more nuanced than simply stating points undermine intrinsic motivation. In fact, points may actually be intrinsic motivators in many cases thus providing an excellent tool for learning and development professionals to leverage for instruction and motivation of learners.

Finally, given the idea that gamification is more than “operant conditioning, using +r in the form of rewards to reinforce behavior, especially the behavior of ‘engagement’” then adding game elements to something like negotiation skills is gamification.

 If I take the content associated with negotiation skills and I add the elements of challenge, a story, instructive feedback, levels, characters and freedom to fail in the form of “The Negotiation Game” then that is the gamification of teaching negotiation skills.  How is adding game elements to a serious topic like negotiation skills not gamification given that it includes game-based thinking? It is adding game-based thinking, game mechanics and a game-based approach to learning—that is gamification. (Notice, I didn’t even add any points or rewards.)

Perhaps it’s just the word “gamification.” So a growing trend now is to use the term “gamefulness” which may be less controversial as a term for discussing the concept of game-based thinking.

Regardless of what you call it, more game-based thinking can only improve the current state of mind-numbing, page turning e-learning--not harm it.

Thanks again for your thoughtful comments about the subject of gamification.


Chandler, C. L., & Connell, J. P. (1987). Children’s intrinsic, extrinsic, and internalized motivation: A developmental study of children’s reasons for liked and disliked behaviours. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 5, 357–365.

Deci, E. L., Eghrari, H., Patrick, B. C., & Leone, D. R. (1994). Facilitating internalization: The self-determination theory perspective. Journal of Personality, 62, 119.

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (1985). Intrinsic motivation and self determination in human behavior. New York: Plenum Press.

Lepper, M. R., & Henderlong, J. (2000). Turning “play” into “work” and “work” into “play”: 25 years of research on intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. In C. Sansone & J. M. Harackiewicz (Eds.), Intrinsic and extrinsic motivation: The search for optimal motivation and performance (pp. 257–307). San Diego, CA: Academic Press.

Monday, January 9

What is Gamification? and Why it Matters to L&D Professionals

In my last posting I mentioned the idea of “Gamification” and Anna thoughtfully pointed out that we need to “ define what "gamification" means to learning development. “ I couldn’t agree more and I have spent the last year exploring that concept to see what Gamification does mean to learning and development professionals. 
For more on this, see my posting In Defense ofthe Term Gamification as used by Learning Professionals on Kapp Notes, and be sure to read the insightful and provocative comments. 

So on this posting, let’s define Gamification.
“Gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning, and solve problems.”
Now, when most people think of “gamification” they think of rewards, points, and achievements and how artificially incentivizing people to do things based solely on rewards is a losing proposition (and most of the time it is), so let’s look at the characteristics of video games that are useful, exciting, and engaging in terms of learning and, it turns out, in terms of video game play.  

Here are few examples of game-based thinking we can apply to our instruction, this is an abbreviated list. I explore many more in The Gamification of Learning and Instruction which will be out in May and in my talk at TechKnowledge 2012—coming up shortly.

Games are interesting and motivating because they have a story, they provide a context in which actions need to take place. Many learning courses provide no context, no reason for actions. We need to use story elements, plot, characters, resolution, scene setting to help put learning back into context. Training, and the educational system, has removed training or learning events too far from the actual application of the knowledge. Stories bring context back. Additionally, research indicates that people remember facts better when they are in a story than when they are presented in a bulleted list.

Another element in games is immediate feedback. When you play Pac Man, you know right away how you are doing; you visually see the number of dots left to be eaten and how close the ghosts are to cornering you.  From a learning perspective, feedback is a critical element for facilitating learning. Providing frequent opportunities for students to respond during a lesson helps with learning as shown in research. Most of our learning courses do an extremely poor job of providing immediate feedback. Additionally, the feedback typically is not based on action or activity, it’s based on knowledge—how well the learner could “temporarily” remember what was covered earlier in the course. This isn’t meaningful feedback. Gamification can provide, in the form of points or “health” or “lives” feedback on progress.

Games provide meaningful and immediate feedback far more effectively and efficiently than a classroom instructor. Game-based thinking and mechanics can help learning designers think about continuous corrective feedback.

Freedom to Fail and Chance
In an instructional environment, failure is not a valid option. In games it’s encouraged with multiple lives and attempts. Games overcome the “sting of failure” specifically by doing things like giving multiple opportunities to perform a task until mastery and through the introduction of chance or randomness (two elements that schools and corporations work hard to eliminate). In fact, research indicates that gaming uncertainty can transform the emotional experience of learning improving engagement and, more importantly, improving encoding and later recall.

Games do a great job of providing personalized experiences. In many games I can choose an entry point of easy, intermediate, or difficult. Most online learning experiences are developed for “one-size-fits-all” with no consideration of different skill or knowledge backgrounds. Why can’t we design learning to accommodate different skill levels just like video games?

Two things I’d like to mention before signing off for this post. First, notice I did not mention points, rewards, or achievements. We can apply game-based thinking without having the elements of points or rewards. We don’t need to use points or rewards as motivation—however, we can use points and rewards as feedback on progress. So, let’s not abandon all mention of points or rewards because we fear they may undermine intrinsic motivation, the research is not as specific on this point as many would like. In fact, some research indicates that intrinsic and extrinsic rewards exist side-by-side in classroom environments and that they are not, indeed, opposite ends of a continuum.

Second, when I mention “gamification” people often caution me that we must “get it right” or we can cause a lot of harm and that getting gamification right is tricky. I don’t disagree but designing any type of learning event effectively is tricky and, unfortunately, learning professionals often mess that up.

One example is the continued, unscientifically supported use of learning styles. So, I don’t believe the argument that we should abandon the use of gamification because it is hard to do and because we might do it wrong. If that was the case, 40% of all corporate learning could have to be thrown out because the objectives are wrong, the instructional strategies are wrong and the assessment of knowledge is wrong. You don’t throw out a method because in some cases it might be incorrectly used, instead, we need to educate people on the correct usage of the concept.

Gamification is an exciting addition to an instructional designer’s toolkit but it should not be foreign or strange to learning and development professionals we have been using many of the techniques for years (check out the last link in the resources list)..

OK, this post is already longer than I anticipated. 

Here are some resources to further your thinking on the subject and if you are going to TechKnowledge, look for my session on Wednesday, 01/25/2012 from 11:00AM -12:15PM, Room Miranda 7/8. The description title of the talk is What Research Tells Us About 3D Avatars, Storytelling and Serious Games for Learning and Behavior Change

Additional posts of interest:

Thursday, January 5

Resolve to Engage Your Learners in 2012

No one wants to watch a movie in which the director yells “Lights, Camera…Multiple Choice Question” We are more excited with movies directed with the words “Lights, Camera, Action.”  Multiple choice questions don’t reflect reality. In real-life we are seldom confronted with a multiple choice question, we are confronted with problems, decisions, and the need to be innovative. Not the need to choose the best answer out of four choices.

Action is what we want, it is what motivates humans. Kids can’t sit still, they need to move. We want to watch sports with activity and movement. Our jobs demand active thinking, complex decision making, and activity. Why should our learning design be inactive? Why should our online courses start with something as boring and pedantic as a learning objective?  Why do we commonly create instruction with the page-of-text, page-of-text, page-of-text, multiple-choice-question format?

For the month of January as the New Year kicks off, I want learning and development professionals to think about action, activity, and innovation. I want us to make a conscious effort to force learners to do something. ..anything to get them mentally or even physically moving. Challenge your learners to interact with the e-learning and classroom instruction that you create.

Here are three tips to help you get started; some are borrowed from the field of video games which is an awesome place to look for inspiration for learning and development professionals.  A term I like to use (while some others don’t) is gamification. We need to add gamification to our learning—more about that in a subsequent post.

So here is the list:

Start your learning with a challenge instead of a list of objectives or a lecture.  Rather than state, “there are three things you should know about fraudulent claims”—start the training with, the statement “A potentially fraudulent claim has just been filed, you have 20 screens and 30 minutes to learn what to do. Proceed with caution.” As the challenge unfolds and you provide information to the learner, you should be providing more and more learning opportunities, introduce the fraud detection worksheet.  Incorporate policy points into the feedback you provide the learner, add in exceptions. Too many courses are too easy. Yes, I said it…too easy. Humans don’t like or respect tasks that are too easy. Yet too many learning courses are built to the lowest common denominator. Create courses that challenger learners, they’ll learn more, remember more and, as a result, be able to do more.

Create training where more than one answer is possible, feasible, and acceptable. Rarely in life are answers cut and dried. There are typically shades of gray that must be dealt with and reconciled.  In most e-learning, there are absolutely right and absolutely wrong answers.  How does that prepare a learner for what she will encounter on the job? Present a situation where the customer is half-right and half-wrong…what do you do? Or an ethical situation which is filled with gray. Training needs to be more nuanced than its current form. Provide alternative endings, provide different levels of “correct” …don’t keep giving one right answer.  

Thir   Third
Force the learners to perform the activity they are learning about. Make them enter a customer order, make them calm down an irate customer, make them close out an account. Make them operate the machinery. If you want someone to learn to do something, they must practice doing it! We can’t tell them about being a good leader and then hope they’ll be a good leader, they have to practice being a good leader, or sales person or accountant. Practice is needed to improve performance. Athletes don’t just read about competition, they practice, work on fundamentals, play scrimmages, and then perform. In training situations, the learner reads about negotiation skills, takes a multiple choice test about negotiation skills, and then is asked to go negotiate with a customer.  That’s it--no practice, no scrimmage. Immediately they go to the real thing. This is not good.

So, as the New Year starts, think about what you, as a learning and development professional, can do to engage the people for whom you are building instruction. Don’t passively hand them content, instead make them do something in 2012.  Your action item from this post is to create at least one challenge or action oriented activities for your learners in the next 3 months.

January Blogger: Karl Kapp

Happy New Year!

A big thanks to Judy Unrein for blogging last month. If you didn't get a chance to read it, you should go back and catch up on her thoughts on HTML5 and our fortcoming TechKnowledge Conference.

I'm really pleased to have Karl Kapp take the blogging reins for the month of January.

I first saw Karl Kapp speak at last year’s Innovations in E-Learning event. Karl often speaks at ASTD's TechKnowledge conference and other similar events, but I’d never had a chance to hear him. I’m glad I was able to catch up with him last year. Karl’s session was on 3D, games, and simulations and why they matter for learning. The session was enthralling. Never before had I seen someone approach the topic with the amount of research and case examples that Karl did. It was a great session.

If you’re not familiar with Karl’s background, he is a leading consultant, scholar, and expert on the convergence of learning, technology, and business operations. He is a professor of instructional technology in Bloomsburg University’s Instructional Technology Department, and is the assistant director of the Institute for Interactive Technologies (IIT). Two of his more recent books are Learning in 3D, which he wrote with Tony O’Driscoll, and Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning. His forthcoming book is titled The Gamification of Learning and Instruction: Game-Base Methods and Strategies for Training and Education.

Karl already has a very active blog in Kapp Notes, but he was nice enough to take on blogging duties here for the month of January. He’ll be talking about games, simulations, and ARGs--and ranting a bit about how to better engage learners.