Why don’t they teach Instructional Designers this stuff?

Update 1/25/16: Extra Credits has moved – all the episodes can now be found here:

The best place to find them is on youtube.  Here’s their design playlist.

So, I write about games a lot on this blog, but it isn’t really supposed to be an educational gaming blog specifically.

I think the reason it keeps being about game design is because that’s where I keep seeing interesting specific design recommendations.  So much of the stuff written about instructional design recommendations is good, but frequently vague or too general (with a few exceptions like Tom Kuhlman and Cathy Moore), while in the mean time I keep finding really great experience design information in the game design blogs that addresses very specific problems.

The other day, I showed this video about the distinction between choices and calculations to a friend of mine who is a very good and experienced instructional designer Go watch it NOW (seriously, it’s worth it).

My friend was blown away, and his reaction was more or less “Why didn’t I know this?”  He and I both have written hundreds of learning scenarios over the years, and the distinction of creating choices vs calculations is probably the single most useful piece of design advice that either of us have encountered (and definitely clarifies some of the things I was thinking about in the post Computers are Dumb — Make Smarter e-Learning) .

About a year ago, I did a post called Best e-Learning Blog that isn’t an e-Learning Blog which was about how much I’ve been learning about instructional design from the game design site http://www.gamasutra.com/.

The Extra Credits series of game design tutorials on the escapist site is definitely my nomination for the Best Instructional Design Videos that Aren’t Instructional Design Videos. There are many that are about the gaming industry that aren’t applicable to instructional design, but in addition to the one above, there are some other gems that are also well worth watching:

The Learner’s Journey

So I just bumped into Amy Jo Kim’s Gamification Workshop 2010 slides (via Sebastian Deterding).  Amy Jo Kim is another of my professional crushes (she’s awesome), and there’s loads of goodness in the slides, but my favorite bit was based on this image about the Player’s Journey:

(Image from Amy Jo Kim’s book “Community Building on the Web“).

She talks about how each of the different levels has different needs from a gaming system:

  • Novices need onboarding – welcome, goals and process
  • Experts need fresh content, activities and people
  • Masters need exclusive activities, access and unlocks

This is possibly the most useful thing I’ve ever seen about social media for learning. E-Learning tends to be a one-off experience.  Little time or money goes to the progression of the experience because the experience begins and ends in one chunk.

Hoping they don’t hate us

In my experience, most e-Learning also tends to be aimed at novices, and we sort of just hope that experts don’t hate us too much as they are compelled through the material. That’s about as much fun as being the experienced flyer standing in the TSA security line with your laptop out, liquids in a bag, shoes off and carry-on ready to go, trapped behind what appears to be a Grandma who hasn’t flown since 1972 and an entire daycare of small children with all the associated paraphenalia*.

But as (hopefully) we are slowing wrenching ourselves out of that model, and moving towards more integrated learning resource systems, we’ll have to take into account the differing needs of our learners, and how to engage them and meet their needs.

I’m in the process of thinking through ways to steer away from one-size-fits-all-ism for learning applications (yes, scenario-based learning is *great*, but it’s not the answer to all learning needs).  I read another post this morning on why Gagne’s 9 Rules of Instruction are dead, which describes why those rules are entirely inappropriate for just-in-time learning.  The writer is absolutely correct in those circumstances (Gagne’s 9 Events still have their uses for other things, but that’s another blog post).

So what have you seen?

What kinds of resources / systems / models are you aware of that give specific recommendations based on the circumstances or learner charactistics?  I’m on a hunt and would be eternally grateful for anything you could point me to.

A few resources:

  • Simon Bostock reminded me the other day of the Cynefin Framework for looking at different systems.

Here are the complete slides for Amy Jo Kim’s presentation:

*I’m not hating on parents who travel with small children.  I think they are the bravest people I know.

I can put on this tiara, but it won’t make me Wonder Woman (Gameification)

So, one of the biggest issues with games for learning, is that there’s this weird logic out there:

Games are fun + I made e-Learning that looks like a game = Therefore my e-Learning will be fun!Um…no, not necessarily…

As I allude in the title of this post, I can put on the Wonder Woman costume, but that doesn’t mean I can deflect bullets:

(Lest this sound preachy, be assured I have fallen victim to this myself “I’m gonna put power-ups in this course, and it’s gonna be awesome!”).

But one of the beautiful things about the internet is you can find people who are way smarter than you to explain this stuff, as in this presentation about the issues with gameification from Sebastian Deterding (The menu button will let you run it full screen so you can read the small-print commentary at the bottom):

Found this via @hypergogue’s posts (which you can read here) about the Playful conference (really want to make it to that next year).

Are Learning Games More Like Movies or Like Sports?

So, this came from a comment I made on Simon Bostock’s post Disappointment and Dysludia, and it’s something that I’m curious about.

So are educational games movies or sports? By that, I mean: everybody likes movies (except for a tiny fringe that I am not going to worry about designing for). They may like different types of movies, but everybody has a movie of some kind that they like.

Or are they like sports, which a big section of the population loves, a decent number are indifferent to, and a not-insubstantial minority actively dislike*?

Gamers (with a capital G) are such a self-selecting population that it’s hard to tell what can be extrapolated from their experience to a broader population. I *think* games are more movies than sports, but not all the way (there’s no learning curve to a movie), but I do think there’s a varying degree of tolerance for the hard fun that makes gameplay so compelling.

This is a concern for learning games, because we want the engagement that gameplay can provide, but that engagement is usually with people who are choosing to play the games, but learning games aren’t always a choice (required training, critical learning topics).

I’m listening to a recent Jesse Schell Talk called Visions of the Gamepocalypse:

The talk made me think more about this question, particularly when he talked about Nintendo’s creation of the Wii.

He points out that many of the product conversations are about the technology – how can we use Virtual Reality / Augmented Reality / Haptic Feedback / Social Media / Motion Sensing / Immersive 3D?

But he talks about the fact that the Wii controller – arguably the biggest innovation in gaming consoles in decades, didn’t happen because Nintendo asked “What can we do with this nifty motion sensing technology?”

The question they did ask was “Why aren’t people playing more games?”

The answer they got was that basically the controller was too complicated to learn (unless you were the prototypical teenage-boy-gamer with the time and motivation to spend hundreds of hours developing your muscle memory to kill at Tony Hawke’s Skater Pro 2X).

So, the Wii wasn’t about a cool way to use the technology, but rather a way to provide a game controller that your grandmother could pick up and be using with a workable degree of competence in minutes, rather than hours, days or weeks.  This argues that the gaminess isn’t the problem, but rather the design and interface.

So, here are the questions I have:

  • Can we reasonably expect any audience (insurance adjusters, surgeons, frequent flyer mile credit card holders, middle school teachers, etc.) to enjoy learning games?
  • Is the difficulty in the focus on video games? Maybe video games are sports, but games (of any kind) are movies?
  • Is it okay to make people uncomfortable for their own good? A timer is a great way to raise the performance stakes, increasing tension and attention, but could be really frustrating if some of the people in your audience struggle with the pace required.

What’s your take?

(*okay, so I don’t really know that the church lady dislikes sports, but that’s what comes up when you search on “disdainful old lady”).

Game Making for Learning

So here’s my pitch for not making learning games for students, but rather getting them to make those games for you.  It’s less work, more fun, and potentially a better learning experience for students.  Win, win, win.

First, the back story:

Okay, so I used to teach Project Management to art students.  This was a somewhat quirky undertaking.

Admittedly, these were design/visualization students who were going to go work for advertising agencies or web design houses or the like, not fine arts students seeking purer artistic truth, but it’s still a somewhat odd mix.

The nice thing about their program is that it was very practically based, and the students (almost without exception) were working on projects (websites, marketing materials, etc.) for actual (non-paying) clients at the same time that they taking my class.

What that meant was that they did a ton of work for my class early in the semester (analysis, project plans, scope, budgets, etc.), and that by the end of the semester we were just filling in the gaps.  Also, at the end of the semester, they were furiously working to get their client projects done, having discovered (with a certain painful inevitability) the joys of scope changes, and schedule delays, and changeable clients, and so forth.

But (as a merciful gesture) I wanted to have their final project not be a source of great stress. By that point, they had mostly earned their grades, and I just wanted a final project that would cause them to revisit key material, and to reflect on everything they’d learned over the semester.

So I gave them two options:

  • One: They could create a project management template that they could use on future projects, that organized all their formats, and gave everything a standard look and feel.  This required them to scrutinize all the documentation that they had done all semester, and process it into a coherent whole.
  • Two: They could create a project management game. The only requirements where that it 1) covered all of 15 key topic areas from the semester, and 2) that it could be used to teach somebody else about project management.

On the last day of class, students would either present their template to their fellow students, or they would bring their game, and we’d play it.

And this ROCKED.

Some of the things that they came up with:

  • Project Management Chutes and Ladders (the metaphor holds surprisingly well)
  • Project Management CLUE (“I think it was the primary stakeholder in the copy room with the scope change…”)
  • A video game called “Hunt the Project Monster”
  • Any number of different varieties of board games
  • A variation on the card game Scruples that involved project management dilemmas (ethical and otherwise)
  • Project Management Jenga (again, the metaphor holds surprisingly well)
  • A Project Management race card game where remote controlled cars would race around the track and crash into project obstacles which they would then have to resolve
  • Project Management Twister (Seriously)
  • A Project Management memory game that involved matching problems to solutions
  • A Project Management adventure game that involved the project management issues facing trolls and elves during battle preparation.
  • Any number of trivia games, board games and team games
  • And, new this year (I no longer teach the class, but I passed it to one of my original students from several years ago and keep in touch), they have apparently added Project Management drinking games to the repertoire (although I believe the demonstrations were mercifully alcohol-free)

As I mentioned earlier, the two things that I wanted the students to achieve by doing this were:

  • Revisit key material
  • Reflect on what they’d learned over the semester

And, by and large, this assignment does those things pretty well.  Students actually have a reason to go through the material looking for key points they can use in the games, and, while I also assigned a more traditional reflection paper, I was really satisfied with the quality of reflection demonstrated by the games they built.

A couple of things about this:

  • There’s a tendency towards trivia games: There’s a tendency to have the project management ideas show up in these games primarily as trivia questions (“If a client decides to completely change everything at the last minute, will you A) Cry B) Do a scope change or C) Set their desk on fire“) – the experience would definitely be richer if the gameplay was bound up in the workings of project management itself (e.g. scope points, time points, budget points, etc.).  EdgeofStretch was talking on twitter about concept mapping a while back , and I think that could be a useful tool for thinking about how the elements interact, and from there how to make that a game. There are also wonderful resources out there on how to conceive, design and build games.  But I think the amount of guidance and modeling needed to get the students into that mindset were beyond the scope of this particular class.  It’s definitely something I would consider when using game-building as a learning tool in the future.
  • It doesn’t have to be this full blown an effort: Even if it’s not practical to have students build a game (maybe you are limited by time, or may you are dealing with an online environment), just having your students go through the act of thinking about how they would “game-ify” a topic, and sketching out design ideas could be a really valuable activity.  Meta-understanding, in the form of game design.

What examples have you seen?  What could it be used for?

Best e-Learning Blog that isn’t an e-Learning Blog

I follow a whole lot of e-Learning blogs, and they typically cover topics like web 2.0, social media for learning, e-Learning technology, the state of the industry, etc.  Once in a while, they do tackle interesting, chewy e-Learning design questions (but not as often as I could wish for).

Where I do consistently find conversations about interesting, chewy e-Learning design questions is on Gamasutra – a gaming industry blog.  Few, if any, of those articles are actually about e-Learning (and, according to Patrick Dunn, they are on the other side from e-Learning, separated by a huge and uncrossable chasm.”).

Gamasutra does also cover topics like the industry, tools, etc., but they also have amazing things to say about e-Learning design.  Here are some of the best examples:

  • Funativity: Want to learn about how to motivate learners to engage with your e-Learning?
  • Persuasive Games: And you should read pretty much all of Ian Bogost’s columns on persuasive games. Really.

Frequently, Gamasutra does deal explicitly with games for learning, and it’s a beautiful thing:

(This more or less goes with my previous post about the Acagamic – another great site about e-Learning that isn’t about e-Learning.  Go there too).

Holiday Present from the Acagamic

Dave Ferguson already called attention to this over on his blog, but I’m going to do it here also.

One of my favorite new-to-me blogs is The Acagamic – Usable Game Science, and it’s marvelous stuff.  As a special holiday present, the blog is featuring a series of presentations on things game-y:

As a Christmas special, I will for once update this blog daily for the next 24 days with my favorite presentation slides about games, user experience, game design, emotion, affective and entertainment computing, etc.

The first one is here: http://www.acagamic.com/specials/advent-2009/1-virtual-goods-how-and-why-they-work/

Collect one!  Collect them all!