Tuesday, March 28

The Genetic Differences Between Games and Instructional Design (Clark Quinn Beats Me to the Punch)

Darn Clark! And here I was going to spring this same post. Anyway, since you already spilled it, I want to follow and extend a bit.

What Clark posted was a little re-cap of part of the keynote that Nintendo president, Satoru IwataIwata2_1 delivered to a packed house at this year's Game Developers Conference. I'll say that I was in the audience that packed the San Jose Civic Auditorium (we were actually 2-3 deep standing around the top and some were left outside - the capacity is slightly over 3,000). Let me just say - the dude was ON! Forget the problems of english not being a first language - Iwata was engaging, funny, personable and darned interesting.

Clark, in his post, points to a section of Iwata's speech in which he (Iwata) lays out the "Four I's" that Nintendo uses as game development standards. They are:

"First, is it truly innovative - something different from what has come before? Second, is it intuitive? Do the control of the game and the direction of gameplay seem natural? Third, is it inviting? Do you want to spend time in this world? And finally, how does it measure up in terms of interface? Can the player connect in new ways?"

Here is what I want. Quick - someone start talking to me about how these are not valid design considerations for learning. Start telling me about how what we do is serious and this stuff is just frivolous, meaningless - dare I say the "F" word? Fun? Tell me about constraints. Tell me how learning is different from gaming. Tell me about how so much of our thinking about learning is calcified and how we as an industry seem to have lost the ability to think within frameworks such as this. Someone tell me how putting the "next" button in the lower right-hand corner (oohhh maybe with rounded edges instead of square ones) is inviting, intuitive, innovative or considers the user as a requirements generator in the design of the interface at all!

I swear I think I know what it is - and the news is both good and bad. The good news is that's its not really our fault - phew - as instructional designers, we were just born like this. Like color blindness or being tone deaf- our handicap doesn't prevent us from functioning in the world - just from perceiving it clearly. The bad news is that its genetic - this goes to our core and it reveals the shocking fact that gaming and instructional design (note: I did NOT say learning) come from two distinct evolutionary branches.

Gaming comes from play and art and music  - from a creative place. Where does instructional design come from? There are a few probable fathers but chief amongst them is World War 2. The real drivers were the need for effeciency and effectiveness. Not exactly the most forgiving or indulgent of parents. So now we come to present day and shocker!...processes derived from a need to have a conscript military force rapidly trained in set patterns...are breaking down in the face of generational and technological changes that were never anticipated or dreamt of at the dawn of ISD (at least not by instructional designers).

So we have a practice, a set of ways of knowing what to do, that are radically unable to keep pace (and its getting worse) and all we can seem to talk about is how to generate templates faster. We need to be talking about gene therapy; about some radical treatments that can save the best values of ISD and yet jettison - in some wholesale fashion - the outdated and outmoded ways of thinking about humans and how they learn (but that's really not what we think about is it?).

What is the answer? I don't know. I know enough to listen though when a man speaks who has a set of design principles flexible enough to produce both Super Mario Kart and Brain Age. Let's stretch people...left leg...on three....

Monday, March 27

Let's Talk Some Serious Numbers

OK. So I just got back from a week in San Jose at the Serious Games Summit / Game Developers Conference. I have a lot to post about things I saw/heard there and I'll probably split the postings between here and my blog. I did want to throw these numbers out though as a discussion starter...they are from Philip Rosedale, CEO and Founder of Linden Lab 'ne Second Life.
  • Number of residents: 166,000+
  • Number of ongoing educational or 'Serious' research projects: 100+
  • Size of Second Life: 32,000 acres (bigger than Boston)
  • Amount of real world currency (in US$) traded annually for goods and services (i.e. paid between residents): $160,000,000 (yes, that's million)
  • Number of user-created objects: 10 million
  • Size of user-created data: 10 TBytes (yes, that's a T)
  • Number of unique items sold/traded monthly: 230,000
  • Number of events per day: approx. 500
  • 43% percent female
  • 25% non-US
Keep in mind - Second Life is NOT a game - it is a platform.

BusinessWeek piece on Serious Games

In case you are interested, here is a link to BusinessWeek's new piece on serious games used in corporations.

Take a look at the screen shots through the context of Situational Awareness.

Gaming Classrooms

When showing a great simulation to an instructor, I often get back the following response.

"It seems like students could game this." Then the instructor leans back, smiling triumphantly, as if having delivered the killing blow.

"Well, the simulation represents about 15 hours of student time. Sure, if they wanted to put in an additional 15 or 20 hours, they could probably get a better score not on their successful integration of productive knowledge, but on finding the cracks in the scoring algorithm and level design." I reply. "But that would almost necessarily come after they learned quite a bit."

The instructor shakes his or her head. "The whole gaming thing troubles me. We need to have a higher level of integrity in any kind of grading or scoring."

Here, for the first time anywhere, is what I really want to say:

"Listen. I have been gaming classrooms for my entire life in order to get better evaluations, comments, grades, or certification scores. I have been dressing appropriately, feigning interest in topics that bore me beyond belief, cramming for tests in a way where my command of the information has a half life of hours desperately hoping that I forget the information moments after I write it down not moments before, skimming tangential sources to ask the one question that makes me seem much more knowledgeable than I really am, interviewing past students to see what will be on the test, playing back what the instructor said without understanding it at all, and pretending to take notes when I am really designing a biosphere in the margin. You want to talk about gaming? What do you think all of your students are doing all of the time?"

On the Sublimity of Practice

I am writing up an article on the nine paradoxes of educational simulations for T+D magazine.

When talking about my personal favorite, number four, I had two comments I just couldn't wait to share.

Jake Stahl, Director, Client Systems Delivery, Purdue Pharma, “If Joe Montana said to me that throwing a football is simple, I would agree that from his perspective it is. But can he explain to me in words how to do it, or does he need to show me? Once he shows me, do I now know, or do I need to practice? Once I practice, have I perfected it or do I need to fine tune?”

To Jake's comment, SimuLearn's Ken Kupersmith added, "And, finally when is my skill good enough, or should I always be striving for improvement. Even professional baseball players have a spring training every year to practice and improve, and often they have practice during the season when they do not schedule a game."

So often, formal learning seems like a desperate chase to cover as much ground as possible, inevitably at the expense of depth. We love long lists of learning objectives"covered." But the real magic might be in "learning" less but practicing more.

Friday, March 24

I need your advice on learning profiles

full disclosure - As some of you may know, I joined Thomson NETg in January to run one of their strategic business units called Collaboration (essentially what was KnowledgeNet whom they acquired in late 2004).

Very exciting (at least to me) but what I need is your feedback on a tool that Thomson NETg developed which I think is a hidden gem. By answering 25 online questions it builds a high-level personalized learning profile (for overall learning not just eLearning). I took it and found it to be very useful plus there is little marketing or promotional BS.

A sample question is:
When you get to work on Monday morning, you discover that, over the weekend, a new phone system was installed in your company. The first thing you need to do is to set up your voice mail for the first time. All employees have been given a short manual about the new system.What do you think you would do?
• I would read the manual, then attempt to set up my voice mail.
• I would start setting up my voice mail and never refer to the manual.
• I would start setting up my voice mail and refer to the manual only if necessary.
• I would ask someone else for help before attempting to set up my voice mail.

Knowing that many of you are experts in this field I would really appreciate it if you could look at it and post your feedback in the comments below. Is this useful or just cleverly cloaked marketing?

There is also a good document that goes into the educational theory behind the tool but is more self-promotional:


If you get prompted for some reason to login to see this stuff just use my email address ben[dot]watson[at]thomson[dot]com

Wednesday, March 22

"Research" as Pawn to Support the Status Quo

I love research, maybe a bit too much. I love measuring effectiveness. I love making sense of chaos that enables predictability. I love presenting hard evidence.

And yet...

And yet the phrase "we need to do research" more often than not is a code phrase for, "we just don't want to move ahead" without having to justify the action, or to appear in favor of something while trashing it. When George W. Bush, early in his presidency, said that he wanted to study global warming, he did not mean "I really want to act on this; let's make it a priority to understand the exact nature of the problem so that we can apply comprehensive yet targeted solutions," what he meant was, "I don't want to deal with it."

Our industry seems addicted to this best of all excuses, both because it plays to a supposed strength (we are smart people who like talking about using our brains and employing a rigorous process), and our weakness (we hate pulling the trigger).

Monday, March 20

kowabunga dude!

i just had the experience that i'm sure happens to many of us.  i was reunited with a long lost favorite website. the collaborative learning environments sourcebook was one of the first resources i use when i began learning about communities of practice.  unfortunately somewhere along the way i "lost" my bookmark for it.  (thus the power of bookmarking services like blinklist, de.licio.us, and the like.)

but what struck me as worth blogging about was that i rediscovered this resource through practicing one of the first forms of informal learning that the internet spawned - web surfing.  back in the barbaric dark ages of web 1.0 before rss, news aggregators, blogrolls, technorati tags and folksonomies, most "webbies" would wander around from site to site, following whatever link caught their imagination. 

today the web is about finding information you "know" is there and thus tools from google to tags to rss feeds are created to help you pinpoint what you need to find as quickly as possible.  but back in the day, the internet was still evolving.  you really had no idea what you might find.  there was even a time when browsers didn't have book marks. (i recall having a legal pad with urls scribbled on page after page.)  so you would just sign on, log into a site you knew had some interesting links, pick one and off you would go, surfing from one site to another.  it was like a scavenger hunt every time you went on the net. 

my favorite discoveries back then include a site called "the big red button" where fellow surfers would leave their impressions of their experience having found the big red button (it was picture of a big red button. it didn't do anything. but thousands of people left notes.) and another site which stripped the captions off family circus cartoons and visitors wrote their own captions - most too off color to repeat here.

now don't get the wrong idea, if i'm trying to get a project done and need information or just trying to stay up on the latest in our profession, i'm very happy to use my rss feeds and google to get the job done fast.  but i realized that i've kept my web surfing skills up and i use them regularly to just discover new things.  just to explore and learn.

then i wondered, i never hear anyone talk about surfing the web anymore. 

am i the only one still practicing this ancient craft?  do you secretly sneak off to you computer at work to hang ten hoping to find a site with a wicked cool design that blows you away?  or a site for radical environmentalists in southeastern oregon seeking to protect beavers' rights to dam any river they want?   or a gnarly site with pictures from a berlin burlesque show?

over on eelearning i've posted a flash poll. pop on over there and let me know if you've totally co-opted to the web 2.0 thang, or if you still are with it and get stoked lookin' to catch the big one.  if you have some rad stories to lay on us of your surfin' days, it'd be so chill if you'd lay it out in a comment below.   


hang loose dudes and dudettes!

Saturday, March 18

JayFeeds - a corporate learning aggregator

Stephen Downes' Edu-RSS had been my favorite source of learning & education news for years. Stephen is on hiatus and I am suffering withdrawal pains, so I figured I'd pick up the slack. I've experimented with half a dozen aggregators but have found none to my liking. They are ugly or incapable of dealing with the number of feeds Stephen maintained. I also realized that many of the listings on Edu-RSS held no interest for me or were topics for which I had other sources I liked.

JayFeeds | JayFeeds - River View

JayFeeds is a group of twenty blogs that I enjoy reading. Most focus on corporate learning. Less is more.

  • Ageless Learner Blog

  • Connect @ EDUCAUSE


  • cogdogblog

  • Communication Nation

  • Donald Clark Plan B

  • Edge Perspectives with John Hagel

  • elearnspace

  • Harold Jarche

  • Jane Knight, eLearning Centre

  • Joho the Blog

  • Parkin's Lot

  • Internet Time Blog

  • InformL Blog

  • Robin Good's Latest News

  • Dave Lee's eelearning

  • The Experience Designer Network

  • The Learning Circuits Blog

  • e-Clippings (a division of blogoehlert)

  • elearningpost

  • judith meskill.

  • T+D Blog

  • Currently running on BozPage, I'll change the URLs here when I find a better aggregator.

    Permanent home of JayFeeds

    (Bookmark it because the target URL changes periodically.) I'll also put it in the sidebar of Internet Time Blog.

    If you don't care for my choice, start a new BozPage and make your own.

    Monday, March 6

    This is Your Brain on Poverty

    For some time it was believed that animals grew no new neurons in the cortex of their brains upon reaching adulthood -- their fate was basically sealed by their generic nature. This was apparently proved by Pasco Rakix, a neuroscientist. However, Fernando Nottebohm soon found that adult canaries made new neurons when they learn new songs. So Rakic replied that it was only adult mammals who could not grow neurons. But soon afterward, Elizabeth Gould found that rats do. Thus Rakic zeroed in on primates. Gould found them in tree shrews. It was then only higher primates. Gould found them in marmosets. So Rakic finally zeroed it down to old-world primates who could not grow new neurons. Gould then found them in macaques.

    Now it is almost certain that all primates, including humans, grow new neurons in response to new experiences, and loose neurons in response to neglect. Thus, with all the determinism built into the initial wiring of our brain, experience with our surrounding environment refines and in some cases rewires that initial wiring.

    Along with her discovery, Gould noticed something else -- put the brain under stressful conditions and it starves itself by failing to create new cells. There are severe social implications with this. Environments that are boring, have stressful noises, poverty, etc., have playing fields that are no longer level when compared to enriched environments. The brains that live in impoverished environments never have a chance as poverty and stress are no longer just concepts but are actual parts of a person's anatomy.

    Christian Mirescu, one of Gould's post-docs probably said it best, "When a brain is worried, it's just thinking about survival. It isn't interested in investing in new cells for the future."

    So how is this impacting us? America has one of the highest childhood poverty rates among rich nations (only Mexico's is higher and they are not really all that rich). As David Berliner writes, "The USA likes to be #1 in everything, and when it comes to the percent of children in poverty among the richest nations in the world, we continue to hold our remarkable status."

    Berliner, the Regent's Professor of Education at Arizona State University, started to dig into the data of high-stakes testing and poverty. He discovered that when you take the scores of the poverty-stricken out of the national averages, then the U.S. ranks up there with the best of other nations. Leave them in and we plainly suck -- we are very near the bottom of the heap as compared to other rich nations.

    Thus our high poverty rate ensures that our national student test averages remain low. Our answer -- more high-stake testing. In other words, we keep trying to test a disfigured brain, hoping that it will somehow work its way out of poverty and become a productive member of our society. Yet all too often...

    Woman hold her head and cry
    Cause her son had been shot down in the street and died

    Wanna tote guns and shoot dice.
    all mah life i've been considered as the worst. lyin' to mah mother even stealin' out her purse
    crime after crime
    from drugs to extortion
    i know my mother wish she got a abortion

    Woman hold her head and cry
    Cause her son had been shot down in the street and died

    From "Hold Ya Head" by the Notorious B.I.G. [featuring Bob Marley]

    In the end, poverty becomes both nature and nurture, which helps to ensure that it stays a visious circle.


    THE REINVENTION OF THE SELF - Jonah Lehrer From the FEB/MAR 2006 issue of Seed

    Our Impoverished View of Educational Reform - David C. Berliner

    Friday, March 3

    Blogs as knowledge management

    Blogs are knowledge objects that can make bottom-up (i.e. useful) knowledge management a reality. As you may be aware, I've become a champion of using Web 2.0 technology to upgrade corporate learning and performance. In his Journal of the Hyperlinked Organization (JOHO}, David Weinberger describes the role of blogs inside corporations:
    I continue to believe that for many companies the best path to blogging is by using them internally as a knowledge management tool. The dream of KM has been that people will write down what they know. KM regimes, however, have assumed they would have to discipline people into doing that. Blogs entice people to write down what they know and to share it widely. A project blog or a department blog not only surfaces and shares knowledge, it also makes it searchable and archives it. And once a company gets used to internal blogs, it's only natural (if anything about a corporation can be said to be natural) to open up some blogs to trusted customers and partners, bringing them into the intellectual bloodstream of the organization. And then why not open some blogs more widely? Thus companies inch their way into the blogosphere.
    Doesn't this make more sense than paying consultants to install some humongous KM system that nobody uses? Shouldn't we be capturing the know-how of front-line workers who actually know how? Why aren't more organizations getting on board with this?