What we can learn from BAFTA best game winner

Last night the BAFTA Games Awards took place and showcased some of the best in the UK in terms of game design, audio, visual, narrative, music and innovation. The games industry is continuing to grow and one of the reasons spin-offs such as gamification are also growing and finding their way into the workplace.

Last year, 32.4 million people played games in the UK, spending $4.2bn, which made the UK the 5th largest games market in the UK (data from Newzoo). The Scottish built game Grand Theft Auto grossed over $6bn since it’s launch in 2013, which is more than the highest grossing movie Avatar.

The 2018 BAFTA winner of the best game is “What remains of Edith Finch” developed by Giant Sparrow/Annapurna Interactive. It is a mystery adventure game, played in the first person exploring the life of a family that used to live in a big house in the woods. Here is the trailer:


The last remaining family member of the Finch family is coming back to the old house to discover more about her family members. The storytelling really draws you in, so many mysteries are raised at every step, enticing you to continue exploring. A key opens the door to secret passages and all of a sudden you find yourself exploring the game as an animal instead of a human. It gives a multi-perspective approach to one story.

When I look at the stories in games like this, with the variety of angles and characters, e-learning development has a lot to learn yet. If you look at a development team for a game of this nature, it will include game designers, narrative designers, asset creators, level creators, music writers, developers, etc. and you compare it with the size of a typicaly elearning team which if you are lucky is two people a learning designer and a learning developer and here and there you may also have the assistance of graphics and voice-over people. But if we really want to make learning as intriguing as games with great stories, there is a need to think different about the size of the teams working on them.

A lot of elearning is written in the third person and someone is telling you what to do next. In the ‘what remains of Edith Finch’ game, you explore as the first person. Little lights that change into hands, indicate that you can open something. A pathway in the forrest guides you to the house, in the house you can choose your way of exploring. The graphics are there to guide you along and also create a distinctive mood for the story. The fact that sometimes you see the world through the eyes of a human, but other times you may be a cat or an owl or… Either way the perspective is interesting, surprising and different.

In my work in gamification for learning, I really push people to level up their thinking and working styles around learning design. I have to say, it is not easy to find learning designers that can flex into full out story writing and at times I have wondered if I hired a narrative designer instead or even a movie script writer, would I just get a better learning story. (if you are a narrative designer willing to test your skills on learning plots, do get in touch)

I love using games as inspiration and this type of game, definitely gives great food for thought. Well done to all the winners at the Bafta game awards. I look forward to exploring the titles I haven’t yet played.

Trends for gamification of learning 2018

As a result of my post earlier this week on gamification trends for 2018, someone asked me what my predictions were for the gamification of learning in the coming year. One of the reasons why I had made the general predictions post is because I think in learning, gamification has become more and more expected, rather than the “hot” new trend. With more use comes higher expectation and personally, I think that is a good sign of an industry maturing and people understanding more about it. I also think the exciting things coming towards us in learning, are not necessarily related to gamification. So for the trends below I am keeping the field narrow and purely look at gamification for learning in 2018

Experiences drawn from games

In learning, in the past year, we saw the emerging title of learning experience designers, instead of instructional or learning designers. The people behind these terms often draw on both the fields of user experience and game design as well as learning design, which effectively is what we have been doing for a number of years only with a strong focus on what games bring into the mix. Experience design puts the learner in the driver seat, which then allows for more creativity and puts games in an ideal place to serve as inspiration. Games already have a first-person player in most cases, so adapting it to suit learning is a natural fit in my view (also congruent with level 1 of my learning gamification framework).

Mixed reality

Both augmented reality and virtual reality have a definite place in learning. Most organisations can create a blended experience, where traditional classroom training benefits from augmented reality or a blend between regular e-learning and virtual reality. At this stage, the easy win remains augmented reality, tools such as Meta Verse and Zappar to name only a few, allow you to create fun interventions from treasure hunts to knowledge collection points. It is teachers in the educational space that are jumping on these options more readily than the corporate learning teams. Mobile devices are the key to making this work and they are widespread in both educational and corporate sectors. Gamification can act as the bridge that ties the mixed reality experiences into one learner journey or learning experience. Virtual reality requires more investment, which is why the market is slower to jump into this, yet we see the first gamified virtual reality experiences coming up.

Blockcerts to replace Open Badges

Blockchain technology has opened up new opportunities in terms of certification of skills. Open badge technology in the world of learning related gamification has been widely accepted and documented. The first steps have been made to apply blockchain to certification through Blockcerts, with reputable academic institutes looking to have their certifications verified by the blockchain. Effectively, it would allow us all to create a certification verification of all of our courses whether academic, workplace-based or purely things you did out of personal interest in your spare time. The next level, I see for this is to make it real-time evidence-based, where peers can evaluate your skill in the moment and verify that you can apply the skill.

Co-creation and co-experiencing

Co-creation was already thing last year in my opinion for learning, where learners are allowed to create playlists and generate content, albeit with or without curation from a learning manager. Again the education sector leads the way with co-creating stories and learning together with students. In the corporate sector, this is still frowned upon and I am hopeful or wishful that this will become a thing here too this year. From a gamification design perspective, for me it is a pre-requisite of good design, however, I am aware some organisations don’t involve client teams or learners in their designs. Either way both for learning and gamification, co-creation will answer some of the challenges learning faces in terms of relevancy and pitch level. Co-experiencing then takes the co-created learning into practice, where both the designer of the experience plays together with others and with that improves the game or learning or whatever you have called it. Reflection and feedback will then both find its place as enhancers of learning and the experience itself.

Stories over PBL (points, badges and leaderboards)

With the maturation of gamification, it seems like we can finally push points and badges to the place where they belong, aka in the background as opposed to them to be the main driver of learner gamification. They have a place, just not in your face all of the time. Narrative, messaging and storytelling is what is taking centre stage and rightfully so in my opinion. With terms like story branding popping up in corporate marketing and communications, maybe this is the opportunity of the year for both learning and marketing teams to join forces and write compelling narrative consistent for internal and external use whilst drawing on the strengths of both teams.

Obstacles as scenarios

If we define games as ways to voluntarily overcome obstacles, then gamification in learning is the tool to provide scenarios to apply your problem solving or learning to. For me this has been how I have designed learning for years, saying that rapid authoring tools allowed for slide decks to be the norm for information dumping and the “next” button to be the mechanic of choice. More and more result-focused learning designers and thankfully also business managers want results over pretty graphics. In games, we have a scenario at each level and we need to navigate learning at this level through battling opponents, overcoming obstacles, scoring point or simply tending to your resources. Scenario-based learning gamification is the way forward and even if I don’t personally think it is new, given some of the above points, it should be a focus area for 2018 learning gamification.

Closing the feedback loop

Performance management and learning have often been brought together, I think everyone who has experienced a performance review has probably been asked the question what you want to learn or do to enhance your career or job or potentially even been told what to take a course in. Gamification design especially when you are looking at performance-related gamification for a function, allows you to bring both learning and performance together in one place. I would even add management into the equation in that scenario to drive optimum results. Managers often need to learn how to support their individuals. Individuals, in turn, have their own strengths and weaknesses both can be enhanced through helping them focus on the behaviours that work in a role and teaching the specifics of where they are falling short. Gamification can close the feedback loop between both and that is where fantastic success stories will come out in 2018 I hope.

My predictions for learning gamification, may not be surprising, I know I have been pointing out some of these for some time in both this blog and my learning gamification framework. Maybe they are also more my wishlist for 2018 than truly predictions as such. In any case, I am excited about what is now possible with gamification in general and for learning. Mostly I am glad that we can have educated conversations with clients on what works and where it may not be appropriate, which is a welcome change from previous years. Learning without gamification I believe is a thing of the past.

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Flow learning and gamification

Flow learning is a concept originally designed by Joseph Cornell for sharing learning about nature. The stages of the flow learning process lend themselves well to gamification and great storytelling. Here are the 4 stages of flow learning and their intended outcomes:

Stage 1: Awaken enthusiasm – in this stage playfulness and alertness are the key. The objective is to get people involved and active about a topic. It also intends to create a rapport between the learner, the topic and the teacher if there is one. Games and play are really useful in this even for adults.

Stage 2: Focus attention – in this stage the objective is to nurture receptiveness, to deepen awareness and increase attention and concentration. The energy in this is more calming and puts more emphasis on observation, it is a way to positively channel the enthusiasm from stage 1 into something more focused.

Stage 3: Offer Direct Experience – giving a real life experience to create deeper learning and an intuitive understanding. By tapping into strong emotions, you create a long lasting bond with the material. Ideally you feel part of the solution or able to come up with the solution.

Stage 4: Share Inspiration – processing the previous stages into feedback and conversation, which ultimately reaches a shared understanding among others in the group. It also increases learning to have multiple perspectives.

I like this model, because it confirms my personal experience as a trainer that you really are responsible for energy management around learning. If you create the right kind of energy for enthusiasm, focus, trials, inspiration and reflection, then you are actually facilitating learning. It is also what I have from the early days in gamification tried to re-create in my designs.

As part of my personal development, I trained with some of the successful motivational speakers and observed and volunteered at their events to learn how they managed the room. At one point I was responsible for bringing energy up in the room, before the speaker would start. It always amazed me, how willing people were to participate and how effective the technique was. We started with fun music, dancing (yes, it involved dancing) and generally creating a happy enthusiastic vibe in the room. It always started with easy rhythms and gradually hyping up to a more quick energetic beat, the movement started low key and became more power pose linked as we built up. Depending on what followed it could go straight into new learning or even experience of practise. From those experiences, I know the theory outlined above works in practise, even with rooms of up to 5000 people present.

When I then look at e-learning in a lot of cases, we only find stage 2 or 3 present. Enthusiasm building is often the missing piece, but it can still be done. An engaging host for the learning, an exercise to show how much you know or don’t know, scenarios that bring home why something matters, a game to illustrate how something matters. If you manage to make people stop and realise, that they better pay attention because they have something to learn, then you are ready to move them on to what is important. Offering a safe chance to test things out, especially with todays technology of VR and AR, you can add a dose of realism and heighten the experience. Feedback and conversation about the topic are crucial for all adult learners, by the time we are adults we need context to make sense of new materials. It tends to be how we organise our information.

In gamification design for learning, we have an ideal opportunity to build in these 4 stages of flow learning. Most good storytellers do this intuitively. When I give live workshops, we start with an element of play as simple as story cubes to introduce yourself, then we go into some material and often we discuss things as we go. Some of the courses I have designed over the years started with a movie, a story, drawing, etc. to get people out of their normal thinking and into a new energy, where exploring is safe in numbers and it typically led to better results. Online by setting a similar trajectory for your learner, you may not have the closeness you achieve in person, but you can achieve a similar flow of energy, which is ultimately creating the conditions for learning in my experience and opinion.

Researching benefits of gamification

Together with a client we are embarking on research to verify if our gamified learning solution is actually more effective than the non-gamified learning resources. In my quest to prepare for this research I reached out to a number of academics in this space in the US, which surprisingly lead to some rather direct variations of ‘please get lost’. Only not expressed in such words.

My list of connections hasn’t been exhausted yet and some of the UK based academia have been much more friendly and at least willing to engage in conversation. It is one thing for academics to criticise that our field hasn’t been researched enough but then in the same sentence refuse to work with practitioners who actually are willing to engage in research, I find dumbfounding.

We will still go ahead with our project regardless of academic input. It is both in the interest of our work and that of our client too. What we are looking to get input on, is research methodology for short term research and what variables to test for.

The obvious items we want to discover is whether the learner indeed retains more information with gamification. We would like to find out which of the game mechanics we used actually stood out and made a difference to the learner as expressed by the learner.

Due to time constraints the sample may be small for now and very targeted at our clients target audience. It also means we may need to keep the testing relatively limited.

So a question to all my readers, what would you test and want to find out from research on the effectiveness of a gamified learning solution?

What to learn when you are at the top of your game?

As a leadership trainer, I often heard the question: “what should our senior leaders still learn?”. To me that always sounded like an odd question. I personally don’t think we ever stop learning. I think where the pendulum swings come from is that the type of learning to master a skill may be different to the type of learning to tweak or hone a skill.

It makes total sense as a novice to take courses and learn by trail and error. When you reach the point where you are considered a master learning by trial and error is still effective, but may also come with losing reputation or other perceived negative threats. In many cases it is also about finding out your blind spots or weaker spots and exploring how they affect your overall performance. The concept of 360 degree feedback works well to find your blind spots and weaker points. The energy going into mastering a skill is more pro-active and you are more in control of it, whereas the energy that goes into fine-tuning or tweaking is a lot more subtle. Both can be equally profound and impactful on performance.

If I explain it in game thinking terms, the positive feeling of making it through a particularly hard level tends to be a lot higher than the feeling fo achieving 3 stars on a level after several attempts. In fact a lot of people would never go back to complete al levels up to three stars. Some do, but not everyone will. It is in fact the same in learning and hence the odd question we started with.

If you find you have exhausted all the topics there are to learn in your field, it is time to find related or even unrelated fields to stimulate your growth. I find I never run out of things to learn about especially with the rapid advance of technology and new things emerging all of the time. However, I have had clients in my executive coaching practise wondering what to improve next, when they felt they had reached what they were aiming for in a particular area of their development. Another great way to find learning opportunities is to ask your team, your superiors and peers what you should improve upon.

In gamification we tend to focus on crafting a path to mastery, whether that is through levels or specific status achievement or other. In some of our designs we build in boss fights, where the most senior skilled person, can be challenged by people in a knowledge tournament, which can equate in them losing their top status. This kind of game definitely is not always welcomed by some senior leaders especially in the soft skill arena, however in science and IT we often find people more up for this type of game play. I don’t know whether that is confidence or whether the fields are more black and white or whether it simply attracts a different kind of person. To earn our three stars of completion in a learning environment, may mean having to go over material and related knowledge tests more than once, which is rather rare to find in most learning related gamification.

Stimulation towards reaching new levels, tends to be triggered by the awareness of a missing trick. Setting learning up to give this insight early on, will open up the attention people pay to the topic. To turn up the volume once again is adding in relevancy to their situation right now and how it may impact their work or role in the organisation. Highly conceptualised topics like leadership and performance often don’t dare to go down to questioning competency, in my coaching work that often came out. I asked people to self-assess their skills level and then look for the areas where fine-tuning could benefit them. Nobody started at 0, but it was very rare people gave themselves 10/10, which in different culture may vary, but in Europe that is generally the way. Allowing for self-reflection and assessment I believe is a place where learning can add more value and gamification can provide the trajectory to nudge your people to go there.

 

What corporate education can learn from B2C learning?

In the corporate sector, learning teams have to create learning or make learning accessible and relevant, usually to multiple 100’s if not 1000’s of users in various global locations. I have been part of these teams and often felt that we were only scratching the surface with the possibilities. Only occasionally hitting the sweet spot for a large amount of users with outlier courses that just hit a nerve in the company.

With the lead up to Thanksgiving and Christmas sales, my inbox is being flooded by messages of great course deals by B2C course providers some private and some more widely known like Udemy and Lynda for example. Because of the messages I logged back into Udemy and started cleaning up my wish list and delving into some courses, which I had bought but hadn’t made time for yet.

Immediately that triggered more messages, to tell me about related courses I might be interested in. The fact that these new messages inviting me to look into more courses related to what I was learning already, made me look again. I am at some level suspicious sometimes that I will get pitched courses to me that I have already bought. So far I haven’t seen duplicates in my account, but there is no little messages like for example in Pinterest to say “Psst you already pinned that one” or in this case “Psst, you already bought that course”.

It made me reflect that the personalised messages both to my inbox and on the platform, truly work to make me consume more courses. I have often bought a course to learn about a new technology and then not wanted to pursue anything more in that field, because I have learned enough to realise it isn’t going to be of that much use to me. So far I have 49 courses sitting waiting for my attention in Udemy, 10 on my wishlist and 54 in my archive, where I feel I have either completed them or found I got what I needed out of them and moved on since.

In the corporate learning world, in our gamification work we often talk about reminders and inviting people back with personalised learning messages. Immediately this tends to encounter reluctance and criticism for fear of overloading inboxes. In my case I route all learning related emails to a folder in my inbox and I choose when to look at this, in the corporate world you can do exactly the same. Then you choose when to look at it. In our gamification designs, when one of the goals is to increase learning activity, we recommend reminders and nudges to come back. Just making new material available is not enough for your learners, in their role learning is not their first objective, rather doing a great job is.

Messaging in gamification is often considered as additional and not quite relevant, but I tend to disagree. In business related gamification messaging is essential if you want to drive changes in behaviour. You remind and invite people back into your game, with things that attracted them already and nudge them forward to achieve their goal whether that is learning a new skills, dipping into a topic to find what they need and mark it accomplished or whether you peak their curiosity to delve into new materials.

 

Feedback in learning

In games we receive feedback on our performance on a consistent basis from simple power ups for a great move or words to that effect, to gaining points and moving up in levels to adaptive gameplay. In racing games, the gameplay is often at it’s best when you have other cars around you and the design is built that way on purpose. You will often find that the leader will only be able to pull away so far, before the other players start receiving power ups and can pull forward to catch up. Equally the racer that falls behind will receive more and more opportunities for powers to help them catch up. In casual games I play, I often notice that they become easier after the 7th or 8th time of repeat play of a particular level.

Feedback loops in games can be both positive or negative, positive feedback loops empower and encourage, negative feedback loops make things harder and tell you were you are making bad moves. Most frequently you have a visual or sound prompt to indicate good or bad feedback.

If we transfer this type of feedback to learning, most of us received feedback through the sound of a trainers voice, the dreaded red pen marker and test scores. We expect teachers to personalise their feedback to the individual and when they spend a lot of time together this is possible. In my work as a corporate trainer for a multinational I would meet 10 to 15 new people for each course, only over time would I have a chance to give personalised feedback. The feedback I was able to give in the training session was on exercises we did together and compared to others that had gone before them.

Studies of effective learning and teaching (Dinham, 2002, 2007a, 2007b) have shown that learners want to know where they stand in regards to their work and their peers. Providing answers to these 4 questions on a regular basis will help in providing quality feedback:

  • what can the learner do?
  • what can’t the learner do?
  • how does the learner’s work compare to others?
  • how can the learner do better?

If we work with a positive feedback loop system in training, the high performer would gain extra levels and further power ups to move ahead. The lower performer would fall further and further behind because they receive less and less power ups and need to work harder and harder to simply maintain status. If we introduce negative feedback loops which allow the poorer performer to catch up, it levels the playing field in a game, but in training it may cause boredom to the higher performer. In an online learning environment you can encourage both with adaptive systems, which enable each kind of learner to still move forward with power ups and reinforcement appropriate to their level. In a classroom, it is harder to make the distinction without labelling people in a sort of competency group, which may have its own side effects.

In games and in life, feedback is what causes us to change behaviour or stick with a behaviour.

In a training environment, you will naturally find a mix of both positive and negative feedback loops going on. In the corporate sector, this is often accompanied with an aversion for anything that could possibly have a negative effect. I would challenge this, because both in games and in life, feedback is what causes us to change behaviour or stick with a behaviour.

My most memorable feedback moments tended to be linked with some high emotion, one such experience stands out in my memory in the learning context. A French language teacher challenged individual students to step up to the blackboard and do an impromptu spelling and grammar test. He would then challenge you to also explain why you had spelled things a certain way. I was in a class with very intelligent people and most of my predecessors got either the spelling or the rule wrong and the teacher had been rather cruel to them. So by the time it was my turn, I was dreading it, but also deep down hoping I could do it because languages were my strong point. I passed the first test of spelling the sentence correct and then the teacher bet me a lollipop that I wouldn’t know why I wrote an ‘s ending to a word. I did get that correct and it became fun. The teacher never bet with me again and because he forgot the lollipop, he punished himself and gave me an extra one for every day he forgot. In future lessons, if he had a difficult question, he didn’t ask me first, but would turn to me after a few had it wrong. I have to say it massively kept me on my toes.

The example would be a positive feedback loop for the person who get’s the answers right and a negative feedback loop for those that get it wrong. In my class, quite a few people took it as a personal challenge to get better and equally a few decided they were just not good at French and would do just enough to pass. From a human side, a learner centric perspective would have tailored the responses to the individuals and maybe he did, he did tend to pick on the top scorers in the class in general. I was somewhere in the middle average of our class and an unusual pick for him, but then languages were my strong point, whereas the others excelled in other subjects. In hindsight, he rarely put the really weak students in front of the room, he would question them in the safety of their regular seat. They didn’t quite escape his treatment all the same, but the walk of shame or triumph up and down to the blackboard steps they were spared from.

Gamified training for a specific skill

In a recent proposal, I was asked to come up with a competitive and fun way to train people to be more strategic minded. Thanks to a change in the company strategy people would need to adapt from being operationally focused to becoming more strategic in their thinking and analysing more than one option to move forward. The solution of choice was a gamified training program.

My first question then was, how will they know it has been achieved and what exactly does strategic thinking mean in this companies’ context, culture and world they operate in. A lot of the time when asking these kinds of questions, you also help the client in crystallising the vision or meaning they have for their project. The answers to these questions help us determine what kind of game play could potentially work. Often the narrative can come from the bigger picture vision.

We then look to speak with some of the target learners to identify behaviours and potential game play they tend towards. For anything to be appealing and motivational, we want to involve the target audience in the design.

Creating the gamified learning journey is what comes next. We look at relevant strategy games with an element of resource management planning, because in the user research it came out that multiple factors would need to be managed in reality. We want the game play to reflect exactly those same conditions as people experience in real life albeit in a  game environment.

We opted for team competition and for teams to find out who to put forward for which of the challenge tasks based on individual strengths discovered in the learning journey. Active conferring and comparing within a team was encouraged as that is also what the company wants to encourage going forward. The learning journey contains mini-challenges which can be completed individually and will build the team score and give an indication of personal competency. Each individual in the team will need to their share of individual challenge in order for the team to be allowed to move forward on the bigger game board and take on higher level challenges and other teams.

Learning and competition don’t have to be mutually exclusive, saying that I also strongly feel that the competitive element then needs to come from collaboration and team performance rather than individual performance. The reason for this is the impact of competition on the loser is far stronger if you play as an individual rather than as a team. A team will have a bigger coping mechanism for when it doesn’t work out. Individuals will still learn and often rise to a higher level because of the team. By asking each team to nominate their MVP for each round, we still allow for personal recognition and in the individual challenges individuals build up their scores.

The end game is to play in the inter-company championship and compete against your peers to crack the strategic challenge set by the board. Each team will be pitching to the board for their game plan to win. It will play out like a debating style competition where part of the team has to address pro’s and the other part con’s to allow the board to see how you navigated the problem. The team score up till now counts as well as the scores given by the board. The top two teams will face each other in a public voting round with their peers on the CEO challenge.

Some of the key game play we draft from casual games for the individual mini-challenges, board games for the overarching team game play and ultimately tournament style for the final rounds with elements of popular game shows where voting and scoring is the key to success. Each team cannot succeed unless all members play, MVP awards will gain an individual scores and will give teams a chance to have power-ups in the final rounds.

Although the key is learning, the organisation in question truly want to make it a fun event in a campaign style manner. This type of learning in my view will be talked about for a number of years to come.

What else would you add to this gamified learning journey?

Selling to a split audience in learning gamification

A large percentage of our work is in learning related gamification and very often what the learning and development manager wants to suit their needs and what the end-user learner needs are poles apart. Learning and development professionals in most corporate organisations have a set of metrics to adhere by. Often they include course completion and satisfaction levels and proof that all the mandatory courses have been done by everyone.

When working as an in-house trainer, we had the following metrics: number of people trained, courses delivered, training needs analysis done with core clients and average score of the happy sheets at the end of a training. I knew that if I positioned the happy sheet also known as feedback form as an important way of delivering honest feedback then the scores would be lower than if I positioned it as a tool for me to keep my job, which would boost the numbers. Equally if in a course I made people reflect and think, the scores tended to be lower than in a course where I entertained them through course material with light exercises. Personally I am not a fan of edu-tourism, the people that come for a day in training that is and hope to have a great time, I would rather have a room full of people who really want to learn something, but either way that audience exists.

For the learner, most of the time they want learning at their moment of need. In today’s world that means ask a colleague or if they don’t know search online for an answer. The instinct is rarely, I will look into the learning management system or knowledge bank for the information. When I worked in one of the big 6 consultancies, way back when there still were 6, we had a comprehensive knowledge bank with good old 1950’s style interfaces to search on. As ugly as those were, we could usually find a project similar to yours somewhere in the archives, but it was rare when the problems faced were completely similar and the solutions still relevant. So even with great knowledge databases, the search typically ended up further than just internal tools.

In most corporate learning systems, we will find generic courses on time management, goal setting, project management, leadership, etc. Most of the time when an employee is stuck and looking for answers, it comes in completely different words than the positive ones used to describe a course. The answers may be in there, but in a search they would never come up. Tailoring the content to the needs of organisation is again something a lot of learning teams don’t have the time to do or fail to do. I remember being asked to revise the project management training program for one company, they had great PRINCE2 heavy methodology and whilst that serves it’s purpose the reality was more a fly by the seat of your pants and hope and pray that it works approach. So Prince2 and all it had to offer was deemed over-kill and unpractical, so I made an Oceans 11 version with key methodology and good practices sprinkled into it. That became a very popular course, I was even ask to fly in to Ukraine on a weekend to come and deliver it once, which in the corporate world was unheard of.

The disconnect that exists between what learners need and how learning and development teams are measured is often where the two fall down also in learning related gamification. Management wants to reward completion because it suits their metrics and learners want to see their progress towards a specific competency or career track, which often is not included. So the disconnect continues. As a gamification designer we will not go ahead with our designs unless we can test a sample size of end-users or learners to find out what their current experiences are, their likes and dislikes, what motivates them to learn and achieve, etc. We find it rather fascinating that learning management systems and even some gamification platforms just say, we  have added badges for completion, leaderboards for some competition and points to track everything else and your learners will love it and do more without ever asking a learner anything or looking at their goals.

In my view this is where a lot of work is needed and implementing gamification without user research is in my book equal to flushing money in the toilet. I just wish that more people involved in gamification put user research forward as a key to successful design and engagement.

Creating content leaderboards

In learning gamification, I am always in favour of creating content leaderboards. When course participants review the content and give it a star-rating with 5 stars being top and 1 star the low end, it gives the learning and development team and content owners feedback on the content provided. Content that receives 5 stars consistently by the majority of people is obviously the kind of content you want to create more of.

For the unmarked, yet taken courses and the low marked courses, you want to explore what the problem could be. It could be not relevant for the problem the individual was trying to solve. It could be just bad content. Ideally, I would look for participants to give a bit more feedback on those kinds of courses, to find out what could be improved to make it better.

As I was working through a content leaderboard for a client, I was also discussing the measurement system with my partner, who works with sports statistics. I was explaining that I gave a 5 star rating 50 points, 4 star 40, 3 star 30, etc. and then divided it by the number of actual votes received, to create an average score. Because some courses received 100s of ratings and others only a handful, I was considering a weighting in favour of the heavily rated ones. My partner immediately responded that it then would create an unfair advantage towards higher number of votes always ending up higher in the rankings, which made me conclude that the average was probably the fairest way of showing the ratings.

We talked some more about it and then looked at the App Store on our iPad, sharing the star rating for an app and in brackets the number of votes. That completes total transparency of any given rating score. It is ultimately what I am aiming to implement for my client, both a leaderboard with the top 25 rated courses and for each course a star rating with the number of votes received in brackets beside it.

Sometimes the answers are right in front of us, but talking it through with another person gives new perspectives. For me the client ultimately gains and we can present a clear way forward to the developer team as to what the exact plugin needs to be able to do.