2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The new Boeing 787 Dreamliner can carry about 250 passengers. This blog was viewed about 1,800 times in 2012. If it were a Dreamliner, it would take about 7 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.


Power Up! Game-based learning white paper

This is the opening to a white paper on game-based learning I’ve written which you can download here.

 “A game is a problem-solving activity, approached with a playful attitude.” – Jesse Schell, Professor of Game Design at Carnegie Mellon University

“Games are the most elevated form of investigation.” – Albert Einstein

In recent years there has been an explosion of interest in using video game techniques (or ‘gamification’) to make non-game applications more fun and engaging. Gaming strategies can now be seen in a wide range of contexts including business (gamified marketing campaigns and loyalty programmes), health (the gamification of fitness through programmes like Wii Fit and Nike+), government (the application of ‘nudge’ tactics and behavioural economics) and the military (war games and simulations). So whether you enjoy playing games or not, it’s important to understand how they’re shaping the world we live in.

The concept of game-based learning is not new. Effective teachers and instructors have always understood the power of games to motivate and inspire. From using chess to develop strategic thinking; Backgammon and Monopoly for mental arithmetic; Scrabble for spelling and vocabulary; to sophisticated driving and flight simulators – games make learning fun. The buzz word of the moment – ‘gamification’ – has simply reactivated interest in how games can increase learner engagement and influence behaviours.

In this white paper we’ll look at how game-based techniques can energise online learning programmes. Throughout the paper we’ll provide examples of game-based learning that has made a positive, measurable impact. Some techniques (such as immersive 3D virtual environments) require substantial levels of investment, while others can be produced quickly and cost-effectively with just a little imagination, planning and game-based thinking. If you’re interested in gamifying the provision of learning in your organisation, this white paper will give you some useful food for thought.

Easy to understand and remember

In the same way that the novel defined 19th century culture, and cinema was the dominant art form of the last century, video games are the most influential medium of our time. And what do all three media tap into? The human fascination with stories, characters and goals.

Many online learning courses fail to engage because they transmit too much information in an uninvolving and decontextualised way, i.e. screen after screen of dense text, diagrams and bullet points. So why not take a lesson from game designers and reimagine your training course using a compelling story? As well as being more fun and engaging, research shows that stories are much easier to remember than text and bulleted lists. Let’s take a look at some examples…

Download the full Power Up! white paper now.

Gamification vs. Game-based thinking

Karl Kapp’s brilliant series of posts on the Learning Circuits site are a must-read for anyone interested in game-based learning. It certainly stirred things up on the usually sedate LC comments pages with several readers arguing against the dark side of gamification and the risk of treating people like lab rats. Kapp draws an interesting distinction between ‘gamification’  (perceived by some as being manipulative, through the misuse/abuse of reward schedules) and ‘game-based thinking’ (the motivational and instructional power of gaming). And his conclusion is hard to disagree with:  “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.”

Award winning playwright Lucy Prebble’s feature ‘Gaming is an artform, just like theatre’ also provides some interesting insights into how video games can stimulate creativity and lateral thinking. Of course, all of this is heresy to doom-mongers like Baroness Susan Greenfield who make a good living filling up column inches at the Daily Mail on how video games are set to destroy civilisation as we know it. But the games industry is so diverse now that all the good and bad things it’s accused of can be justified with relevant examples, just like cinema, books or television. I guess that goes to prove what a mature and interesting medium it’s become.

Game-based simulations

Recent evidence-based research (Sitzmann T: “A Meta-Analytic Examination Of The Instructional Effectiveness Of Computer-Based Simulation Games”, Personnel Psychology 2011) provides compelling reasons for using game-based simulations in adult training. After analysing 65 studies and data from 6,476 train­ees, Traci Sitzmann found that trainees who used simulations gained the following performance improvements over a comparison group who were trained with other forms of instruction (e.g. lectures and assignments):

  • 20% higher confidence levels
  • 14% higher skill-based knowledge
  • 11% higher factual knowledge levels
  • 9% higher retention levels

These findings chime with my own experience of using simulations in a wide range of training interventions over the last 14 years. Learners respond enthusiastically to game-based simulations because they provide an authentic but risk-free environment where you can practise skills, and also feature motivational devices (exploration, challenge, feedback, rewards and virtual coaches) which makes learning fun and addictive. Game-based simulations can also help overcome ‘e-learning fatigue’ in organisations where learners have become tired of clicking through linear tutorials. But to maximise the business impact of game-based simulations, it’s important to deliver them within a blended learning model which provides learners with the opportunity to discuss how newly acquired knowledge and skills can be applied in the real-world. As Traci Sitzman notes: “Games are beneficial for practicing work-related skills, but trainees must first learn work-related knowledge to apply it during game play. Furthermore, a debriefing ses­sion after game play is beneficial for ensuring that trainees realize how their experience in the game is applicable to the work environment.

While playing the computer game LA Noire (where you take on the role of a detective investigating a series of crimes in 1940s Los Angeles), I was reminded of a fraud investigation simulation I produced several years ago.  As part of your detective work in LA Noire you must interview ‘persons of interest’, ask them the right questions, and decide if they’re telling the truth.

LA Noire

Still from LA Noire, produced by Rockstar Games.

The fraud investigation sim I worked on featured a similar interactive approach. We filmed actors talking straight to camera to mimic the experience of being in a tense, face-to-face interview situation. Depending on your choice of questions, the characters under investigation would react accordingly (sometimes with explosive results!). Similarly to LA Noire, the goal was to challenge learners to ask the right questions and get to the truth.

Realism and authentic practice activities like this are key to effective game-based simulations. As Ruth Clark (“E-learning & the Science of Instruction”) makes clear: The surest road to learning is to engineer overt interactions…Rather than asking learners to ‘click on the guidelines for a good client response’ design a simulation in which they will respond to the client and see the client’s reactions.”

Evidence-based research conducted by academics such as Traci Sitzman is starting to validate what many training practitioners have known for years: game-based simulations can provide some of the most effective, motivational and memorable learning experiences the e-learning industry has to offer.