Some more on what learning needs to pick up from gaming

So another post on the lessons from the world of gaming.

This one was sparked by an article considering if the latest Legend of Zelda game is the greatest ever in terms of design.  I’ve spent quite a bit of time already in this iteration of the world of Hyrule and it is difficult to disagree with the arguments in the article.

The closing paragraph should particularly resonate with learning professionals thinking about how to support their organisations:

the job of the designers is not to hold your hand and guide you around a set path. It is [to] reach out hundreds of hands and leave it up to you which you grab first.

Wow! There’s a topic starter for instructional/learning design debate!

Whilst in the past people may have talked about things like “learning styles” to warrant different approaches we are now, instead, in a position where we consider the different approaches we might drive performance and support learning for people at different starting points and existing levels of competence.

Now the counter argument would be that the multiple, even unlimited, permutations of many games are not feasible in instructional design.  Instead we end up with versions of relatively simple board game constructs when gaming or fairly restricted ‘serious games’.  However, with dynamic algorithmically driven learning there is the potential for an explosion in personalisation.

Screen Shot 2017-05-29 at 20.33.00.png

Winning a battle with only your general left may not be recommended. But a win is a win.

Now the above image is an example of a counterfactual gaming experience, crusading as the Byzantine Empire.  Traditional L&D has of course made use of just such counterfactuals, through role plays, business modeling, simulations, etc.  If you can create an appropriate model then the variations are possible – with different focuses possible across, say, finance, marketing, etc. – all in the ‘safe’ environment of not impacting actual bottom lines, patients, customers, etc.

By thinking through game constructs there is the potential to think about what you want to achieve in a different way.  For example, the battle focused historic counterfactual (such as Total War games in the above image) and more character focused such as the grand strategy Crusader Kings 2 (images below) are effectively giving you the same goal (rebuilding the empire) but in very different experiences.


Expanding (and renaming) the Byzantine Empire across c.100 years (of game time)

The storytelling in a scenario such as the above is prompted by certain actions (for example Byzantium becoming large enough to reclaim the title of “Rome” as an achievement) but is not as structured as, say, a linear first-person-shooter game like Call of Duty.  The latter, more linear style, offers up the potential for set storytelling, with some games much better at this than others.  Which leads to an argument that future instructional designers would be best sourced from graphic communication or creative writing backgrounds.

Traditionally simulation has, of course, taken many forms in workplace development – from table top games to computer scenarios.  The challenge with simulations remains the balance between ‘keeping it real’ (i.e. actually useful in the workplace environment) and maintaining interest through the storytelling/fun and other components.  Meanwhile this post makes good points about balancing complexity versus needing to know ‘now’.

So what to takeaway?

  1. Think about how much hand holding is appropriate – it’s not always a bad thing.
  2. Have the plot/narrative/story drive motivation.
  3. Reward with hidden achievements.
  4. Use users/learners to determine if you are hitting the right balance between reality and gaming elements.

Microsoft Teams: The platform we’ve been waiting for?

What is a ‘learning platform’?

We can perhaps agree it needs be a platform that supports behaviour change and knowledge sharing?


It has been good to try out this week what Microsoft have launched with Teams and think how it might be used as such a platform.

Now, it could be used for the Team(s) communication and sharing.  However, my mind has wandered to how it might work as more of an ESN/LMS if you went for a topic focus – creating open/public teams per topic where the business feels it has needs.

Now there are possible problems – not least that the rather unhelpful banner prompts you download a desktop app.  Hi Microsoft – its 2017 calling, where is the mobile app prompt!

Microsoft Teams Desktop Download Prompt

As for Microsoft – this might be the way to add structure to your sharing of documents and conversations.  However, there are clearly the problems with how this should work between Delve, Yammer and other options.

So what about the LMS?  Well there has, of course, been the “LMS/VLE is dead” narrative for a while, add to this a renewed discussion around disruption.  Therefore, can Teams act in place of the LMS – for example as a “learning experience platform“.  Whilst you could argue with a lot of that article this piece certainly resonates:

A disruptive change has occurred. Companies no longer look at their LMS as the core of their learning infrastructure. It’s now the back-end, and they are searching for a new employee experience, which demands a new set of tools.

There are many exciting things happening in the learning technology space: tools like Workplace by Facebook, Slack, and Skype are becoming enterprise-class, and these tools will likely become primary destinations for learners too. Now we need a new class of learning platforms that bring all this content together, deliver it in a compelling way, and give us the social and mobile experience we use every day throughout our life at home.


Microsoft Display Dock

Initial thoughts on Continuum

A couple of months back I was given the chance by Vodafone to upgrade early. The choice was then clear, stay with Windows (‘upgrading’ from a Nokia to latest Microsoft phone), go back to Android (same as my work phone) or switch to Apple (work phone up-to about a year ago).

I fundamentally prefer the Windows phone/mobile/Windows for phone interface so opted to stay put.

One tempting advantage of moving to the new device (beyond the fresh battery as my Nokia was struggling to last a day) was to try Continuum.

I got very excited about Continuum on release. Here are my pros and cons from a month or so of (attempted) use with the display dock:

·        Very simple to use and setup using the ‘gadgets’ feature which I’d previously not really seen the point of in Windows 10.
·        The dock itself (see pic) is nice and has a ‘paperweight’ kind of feeling – not too light to feel flimsy but light enough to carry easily.
·        Using the phone for control (mouse trackpad and typing) work nice enough.
·        The dock comes with two cables, one with wall connection for power and one for connecting to phone – this has become my home charger with the Microsoft original now at my work office desk.
·        Great at offering functions when my primary home device (iMac) isn’t available – for example going through emails, browsing, etc.
·        I didn’t manage to pick up a dock for free (as has occasionally been the offer) so had to spend a little extra for one on eBay.
·        You don’t get a HDMI cable with the dock, so it has added to the switching on my home TV (2 HDMI ports) between PlayStation, Apple TV and Sky Box. This is another thing you’d have to find and carry when traveling (I didn’t take one on holiday and the gite’s TV only had scart cables so I couldn’t use it).
·        The Store.  It’s perhaps the information manager in me, but the Store is awful. The lack of an easy filter (currently just a limited Microsoft controlled collection/listing for Continuum enabled apps) is a glaring gap. That so many sites and user forums have listings of games and other apps that work with Continuum shows people are having to work around Microsoft’s own approach.
·        Existing non-Continuum apps. It would be really nice if these just appeared in phone dimensions, rather than not being accessible at all.
·        If I was to carry a mouse and keyboard on the go, are you really saving much space from a laptop? Perhaps, but probably not from the netbook I would have used on the go c.10 years ago.
·        The dock to phone cable included is fine for desk usage but not so great (length wise) for working with my TV and wanting to be sat back on my sofa.

·        The sound comes through the phone speakers not my TV. Admittedly the speakers are better than in my last device but it seems, from searching help forums, that audio output is a little random in terms of which monitors/tvs/etc. respond to c’ connections.

Overall, still huge potential.  However the App issues, which normally don’t bother me as I’m happy with what my phone device can do (phone, podcasts, contacts, messaging, Facebook, browsing, maps), become acute when trying to take the phone device to the next level. With the larger screen you want more games and apps.

I would recommend it though for organisations where staff are on the move and could hot desk using Word and other core apps as they go. Perhaps best for those who work in environments such as journalism, consultants (although they may want their own dock for when at client sites) and where you don’t often need to be at a desk but do want to check emails, etc. when you do – perhaps in a retail or factory environment.

My vote for the Top Tools for Learning 2016

Here’s what I submitted to the annual poll (

  • Tool 1: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Old Reader – personal RSS reader of choice for news, sharing and current awareness.
  • Tool 1: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 2: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Xmarks – bookmarking for personal knowledge library and sharing of folders/topics with contacts and colleagues
  • Tool 2: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 3: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: YouTube – still most used video platform in terms of access to recorded webinars, tutorials, etc.
  • Tool 3: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 4: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Articulate Storyline 2 – authoring tool of choice for content distribution and for developing support tools.
  • Tool 4: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning

  • Tool 5: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Totara – simplifies our L&D management requirements for regulators, government, etc allowing more of our time on performance support and career development.
  • Tool 5: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 6: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: LinkedIn – learning via groups and 1-2-1 communication. A source for news and useful links (but less so than Old Reader or YouTube).
  • Tool 6: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 7: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: WordPress – for reflection and sharing my learning.
  • Tool 7: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 8: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Prezi – started using it again this year to share messaging where the templates/zooming helps.
  • Tool 8: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning , Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 9: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Firefox – as the entry point to other tools remains essential. Used over other tools for speed, plugins, etc.
  • Tool 9: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

  • Tool 10: Name and (optionally) reason for choice: Grover Pro – Podcast app of choice for learning on the go.
  • Tool 10: How do you use it?: Workplace Learning, Personal & Professional Learning

Game elements often ignored by learning pros

Gamification has been a buzzword for a few years now but the success of Pokemon Go has, inevitably, led to a raft of ‘what can L&D learn from Pokemon’ articles whilst the even more inevitable backlash has already begun (Should employers clamp down on Pokemon Go?).

1 – Reflections on elements ignored

Electronic gaming has been a huge part of my life (at least if we use ‘time spent’ as a measure) since my brother got his C64 many years ago.  Having, therefore, played games for 30 or so years it is with interest to see a few points missed by many:

  1. Gamers are not one-size-fits all.  Like with other media, gamers are not a universal group.  There have been long running cultural differences between, for example, some Japanese-focused releases versus the American/Europe market based on real (and presumed) preference.  Opera and pop fans are not normally lumped together as ‘music fans’ but even though there are differences, for example those who primarily aim for quick fixes versus being happy to play the long game, gamers often are.  Where there is a more widespread group, such as mobile phone playing commuters they’ve been seen as the exception “casual gamers” rather than what they actually are, the majority (in terms of everyday use as Pokemon has highlighted).  What this means for learning is what we already know – we need to personalise and tailor to the audience.
  2. Games are not one-size-fits all.  Yes, there are some standard elements of games (see “What is a Game”) and there is a science behind gamification (check out Yu-Kai Chou) based on a number of neurological and psychological elements.  However, sports games versus grand-strategy games, for example, represents a decision between, say, a 10 minute commitment versus 100s of hours.  What this means for learning is again what we already know but often fail to implement – activities need to be correct for the desired outcomes, not just fitting into a set time limit based on what regulators, room booking systems, technology or other limiter puts upon us.
  3. Ultimately it is an industry, not just a game.  Games even have a CrashCourse series on the evolution of the market and related topics.  Too often learning is a breed apart from the business and ‘gamifying’ to make things more interactive/addictive is likely to just make this even more obvious.  ‘Serious games’ should be able to avoid this, others need to be used appropriately for your culture.
  4. Effectively game entertainment relies on neurology/psychology.  Gaming can become a very real addiction.  It is not some kind of magic Greek fire that the learning department needs to discover the recipe for for our own means, instead it is about making things compelling which learning pros have traditionally had mixed success with.
  5. Gaming is often to ‘zone out’.  Yes there are engagement design decisions but often a game is taking the place of a book, TV, exercise, etc. as a way to unwind and relax.  The game playing becomes almost subconscious.  The challenge here is to take a new decision when thinking about learning – when is non-engagement okay?  This shouldn’t be a lack of engagement in the way that, say, repeated ‘next’ clicking in an e-learning module creates but instead something where people are able to learn even if they are not necessarily making notes, discussing with peers, etc.  Podcasts are an obvious route to support this, for example by allowing people to pick up key corporate messages whilst on their commute.

2 – Key things to take from gaming

So what else would I say learning can learn from games?  Well there are obviously plenty of people who have written and researched on this topic.  I would particularly highlight:

  1. Be entertaining.  Tackle Netflix, Pokemon and the rest via edutainment.  Podcasts and some other educational media have achieved relative success in this.  In comparison workplace learning remains, too often, a chore.  Narrative, where appropriate, can be key in tackling boredom…remember even a mega budget Hollywood blockbuster can flop if people do not engage with the characters, story and/or special effects.
  2. Be non-linear.  Allow the learner choices, for example, I can lead my medieval kingdom in Crusader Kings down unlimited paths whilst my eLearning is too often a locked down exercise.
  3. Design for “one more go”.  We want deep learning experiences to be addictive or raise a challenge that people want to tackle.  Here we need to balance carrot and stick and this aligns with the Stella Collins’ presentation at the CIPD exhibition last year.
  4. Support around the experience.  Many games do not expect you to become a pro via game-time alone; magazines, user guides and websites have been used to provide tips, cheats and walkthroughs.  Use all the communication and information management tools at your disposal, think beyond ‘learning’ solutions for your blend.
  5. Don’t be cheesy.  Fixing learning into a model such as a car racing visualisation isn’t engaging – you are almost certainly using animation without emotion, chance, risk, etc.  You can of course be ironic in this but it would depend on your culture if people would would like that, for example, I’m trialling putting funny Easter eggs into my e-Learning and seeing what the reaction is – inevitably some people like them whilst others think I’ve lost the plot, ultimately we’re all different…see point 1.1!