David J McClelland

Experiences at the Intersection of Programming & Design

Archive for the ‘Practice’ Category

eLearning Mechanics #21: Free Lunch

Wikis, Communities of Practice and other forms of contributed/distributed knowledge are like hot-house flowers that require special conditions and cultivation to thrive. In my experience, one of the requirements confounds corporate initiatives: They do not tolerate organization confines.

I have seen several internal initiatives aimed at creating wikis, COP’s and message boards fail. At the time it was blamed on a failure to provide proper incentives. I suspected it had to do with the layoffs planned for the subject matter experts it was hoped would most contribute. I have since realized that potential contributors have an instinctual primary allegiance to their larger community-outside of their employer- under any conditions. Although a purpose-built wiki on a well-defined topic may serve a need, it is in reality documentation – not a wellspring of shared wisdom and best practice.

In retrospect, a corporation that understands the meaning of the word “community” would put it’s efforts behind public-facing efforts where contributors receive what they really crave- the respect and acknowledgement of their peers and the preservation of their contribution to a greater good. Proprietary information and tacit knowledge will not “bubble up” from internal efforts to cajole people who did not choose a writing career to put their work aside. Even providing incentives will not guarantee an expert will intuit what topics are most important, or how to tease out the unwritten practices they follow through years of experience.  This requires skillful interviewing and writing – and a level of investment few organizations are willing to commit.

eLearning Mechanics #4: Behavioral Context

Behavioral Context can be a critical aspect of learning situations: after all, the goal of most training is to change behavior.

For example, developing an understanding of how one’s own behavior affects a situation or outcome is necessary in any interpersonal situation: teaching, corrections, sales, management.

How can this be represented in a game setting? Imagine a sales training simulation where a series of choices within a conversation with an in-game character lead to a product sale. Now imagine there are several characters and each of them has a different situation, personality and motivation. What works well with one does not work with the others.

If you have never heard of this, or don’t understand the concept, it is probably because eLearning is very deliberately designed to evaluate everyone using the same criteria. Games are not concerned with providing accurate evaluations of employees, and can become susceptible to design traps where players know they are not evaluated fairly.

Since eLearning doesn’t have this problem, why not skip this topic?

If we are about introducing game dynamics into eLearning, it is very easy to inject this problem in the process – so I think it is important to call this out. For a simplistic example: if a learning game relies on target shooting to answer questions, how much are we measuring visual acuity and manual dexterity at the expense of knowledge retention or performance? I have seen this happen in assessments that had nothing to do with games, such as Captivate simulations with hotspots that were too small.

And let’s not forget the consequences of job training are much higher stakes than entertainment.

eLearning Mechanics #41: Social Fabric of Games

Distributed teams and occasional contributors could benefit from social games designed to promote collaborative, but asynchronous, activities. This would be a practical way to measure current practice and gaps, model desired practices and build up a technical and behavioral capability before moving critical functions to a distributed model.

For example, a biomedical firm with a team distributed across 4 time zones could designate a role in each responsible for regulating the growth of a simulated sample culture. Circumstances scripted into the simulation could be designed to expose gaps in coverage, communication, trust and other dynamics that might impede ongoing operations.

eLearning Mechanics #26: Meta-Games

In games a meta-game is usually hidden within a larger game: finding one can be an entertaining diversion made all the more pleasant for that fact that the discoverer now possesses hidden game knowledge and just got a free game.

In eLearning the rewards, if there are any extrinsic ones offered, are usually not hidden. A meta-game can be a reward for progressing through required content. It may or may not layer on additional content associated with the training topic. It is important that there is no requirement to start or complete a meta-game, or it is simply another required training component.

eLearning Mechanics #28: Modifiers

Modifiers can bring a quick enthusiasm boost during a simple shooting scenario in a game. For someone trying for a high score they can be a spoiler when a miss resets modifiers to 0.

In learning applications a modifier could be applied to practice assessments so that for each correct answer a modifier is applied. Offering a high-score award for a peer group could drive some intense repeat practice, raising knowledge retention well beyond the normal level associated with compliance training.

Applying modifiers to assessments is not recommended, as it makes accurate grading difficult if not impossible.

eLearning Mechanics #16: Envy

Although generally thought of as a weakness, envy can be an effective source of motivation. It must be handled carefully in the workplace.

Training and learning can provoke envy if only a few individuals get “the special attention” in the form of development resources. This is going to build destructive motivation and is avoided with communication. Training and learning that result in personal achievements by others can bring about a kind of positive envy that leads to improved performance and ambition.

Generally, comparisons to other people and what they have is not safe for work. A leaderboard that shows everyone that Bob from accounting is way ahead of everyone else in completing his training is. Showing assessment scores is not a good idea, but having a department pizza party for completing all compliance training first is.

eLearning Mechanics #30: Ownership

Ownership applies to eLearning most directly in terms of the learner taking control and responsibility for their learning experience. The shift from being told you need a class and being trained (passive, pushed) to identifying a knowledge gap and addressing it through the best available means (active, pull).

At a more tactical level, knowledge has traditionally been treated as a precious commodity by the holder. How can this knowledge be unlocked while respecting the fear that more experienced experts feel about giving it away? Ownership is a far less abstract concept when viewed this way.

eLearning Mechanics #2: Appointment Dynamic

Imagine simulating distributed group dynamics using Farmville. Plowing starts in Europe, Crop selection and planting is done on the East Coast. Fertilizing and watering on the West Coast, harvesting and processing in Asia. The East Coast crew is upset that Europe didn’t plow enough for them to plant the best cash crop. Asia is unhappy that they had to wait 3 days for the harvest because East Coast chose to plant slow-growing tomatoes. Europe can’t plow on day 2 because there is no money until harvest.  Then you switch up the roles and start over.

One of the weaknesses of classroom training is that it is event-based. Learners are presumed to be learning while in class, but who learns everything they need  completely in a classroom? Or in eLearning for that matter?

The appointment dynamic in gaming is probably overutilized to get users to return often to a game that is funded by eyeball metrics. How else do you explain why so many farming games have so many different growth cycles and harvesting deadlines?

In training this technique could map to a process that covers longer timecycles than what can be observed in an hour, or day, of training. It could also be used to simulate a process that involves mutliple people and multiple hand-offs and responsibilities.

eLearning Mechanics #46: Viral Effects

See if you can tell which actually happened:

An airline had one of it’s flight attendants star in an air-safety video they started playing back in the headrest screens. Somehow it got on Youtube and became a phenomenon.

A learning management system came out with a sharing and rating system for eLearning and classroom training. Top rated trainers and eLearning course creators reaped the reward of being in demand for additional training delivery and development.

A company created a training website for individuals and businesses in the creative and technical fields. They added a “share this” link to each course module which put it on Facebook and/or twitter. The learner’s friends could see what course they were taking and get a free preview of that course or choose another one to try as an introduction to their service.
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