On seeing a link with the title ‘Ribbon Hero 2’, I thought it was an app which would spam all my friends. But the moment I saw Clippy’s Second Chance, I knew it was something related to Microsoft Office.
Clippy (an animated paperclip who was one of the Office Assistants included in Microsoft Office 97) had helped me with tips and tricks when I first started learning the software. When I downloaded the game and saw that, as the story unfolds, Clippy is in need of some help, I thought I should return the favour.
Learning Microsoft Office is not exactly the most fun thing to do, but as I played the game, I saw that there were three main elements which kept me glued to the screen. I thought I’d share them, as each one helps us understand how we can gamify systems training to get better user engagement:
1. Leveling up
The first interesting thing about the game was the different levels it had to offer as I completed tasks. Each level was designed differently, and you get to explore each level, with challenges you have to complete before you move up.
People using a new system may have feelings, insecurities, and reasons why they want or don’t want to do things in a certain way, and to overcome those feelings we have to reinforce learning with strong, simple motivators. Levels are everything in gaming: enabling learners to recognise their own progress through incremental accomplishments is vital to sustaining interest.
So how about renaming your modules as ‘levels’? It’s a lot more satisfying to know that you have reached level five, rather than starting yet another module! Also, remember to include scenarios (like Clippy’s story!) which explain WHY they should be doing this. Every organisation has an interest in people knowing how to use their software better, so involve learners in a different scenario during each level that explains those benefits.
2. The ‘What You See Is What You Get’ factor
The tasks in Ribbon Hero 2 were beautifully overlaid over the software and hints help you overcome the hurdles. Since everything happens ‘in-application’ there was nothing left to my imagination: I knew what I had seen and how to use it in real time. There is something addictive about a realistic environment because it lights up neural connections which already exist, so the detailed graphics used in games help players feel truly engaged (especially when the game is about something that could ‘happen’ in real life).
It’s really important that systems training replicates this by including real screenshots and, most importantly, real and believable data. The success which Saffron had with Hilton International when we developed system simulations to capture and replicate every function of the system was partially because of the WYSIWYG factor.
3. Performance indicators
The game progresses based on a variable number of points awarded for each task. For example, if you don’t use the tips for a task you get the maximum points. And, focussed on winning points and level ups during the game, unwittingly I was mastering the features of the software.
These performance indicators are not difficult to build into elearning – it’s all part of giving learners strong and positive feedback when they complete tasks successfully. In systems training, we have additional scope to use devices like countdown timers and optional tips, which contribute towards variable points for the same task. This variety gives learners an extra incentive to apply more brain power than they usually would to a task!
As Sara Faulkner, from the Office Labs team, says, based on early usage data, we know that 60% of Ribbon Hero users who completed two challenges then went on to play all ten, and 80% of users agreed with the statement that Ribbon Hero is a ‘great way to get familiar with the new version of Office’. User feedback like ‘I learned three new tasks in just five minutes’ and ‘I feel that I have learned quite a lot about Office’ also demonstrates the success of the game.
What did you think of Ribbon Hero 2: Clippy’s Second Chance? Did you play it at the time, and if so, would you recommend it as a training tool? I’d be interested to find out what you think.
Saffron Interactive (Stand 24) has contributed a thought-leadership piece on the business impact of gamification to Training Zone’s report. In the article, Saffron predicts that game-based reward systems will merge seamlessly with good user experience design in online learning.
‘For the next generation of learners, gaming will be a feature of the physical and digital landscape: a lens which shapes their perception of reality’ says Toby Harris, creative lead at Saffron, in the report. ‘This generation will internalise the specific reward-systems of games and seek them elsewhere.’
Saffron’s article analyses the latest industry thinking and practice, and offers up some specific ways in which gaming features can be applied to online learning. The report also features chapters on key trends including mobile learning, gamification, HTML5, content curation and social learning.
It’s available for free download here (registration required).
Behaviour change through emotional investment is the focus of Saffron Interactive’s seminar at Learning Technologies Summer Forum on 18 June.
Learners are working longer, harder, and with less job security. So why should they care about driving through the changes that organisations need to survive? Next week a seminar by Saffron Interactive will demonstrate how e-learning can play an indispensable role in creating emotional investment.
‘Engaged employees have an intrinsic, emotional bond with their organisations’ goals’ says Toby Harris, creative lead at Saffron Interactive. ‘They are far more likely to embrace new systems and drive essential business change. But unfortunately, most e-learning courses and platforms do little or nothing to foster this emotional bond.’
The seminar will draw upon case studies including award winning e-learning on mental resilience at Transport for London and a successful sustainability programme at Balfour Beatty.
A brand new course on mental health and human rights developed with Amnesty International will also be on show. It uses diagnostics, storytelling and personalised action plans.
‘Building on the idea of me-learning we introduced in January,’ Toby continues, ‘our seminar is going to show visitors how to use e-learning to produce a palpable return on emotional investment in difficult times.’
Saffron Interactive (Stand 20) develops bespoke digital learning experiences and open source platforms for public and private sector organisations. Attendees will be able to demo its newest offerings for learning, talent and social networking.
Saffron’s seminar takes place in Theatre 3 at 12:15pm.
The Learning Technologies Summer Forum is free and takes place on 18 June. Register for your place here.
Saffron creates the Bribery Act Challenge – a serious game designed for smartphones and tablets
Paxman’s sexy prime numbers – how they can help you to make the key messages in your e-learning memorable
Sky is great, isn’t it? Recording your favourite programmes, watching them whenever you want… except it gets a bit complicated when you’ve got more than one University Challenge fan in the house (yes, really) and two fiercely competitive housemates.
Last weekend we watched a pre-recorded University Challenge episode. Both housemates were shouting out answers and the one who wasn’t doing so well accused the other of cheating. He decided she must have seen this one before (surely her general knowledge couldn’t match that of a panel of Oxbridge swots?), yet she was adamant she hadn’t.
Tensions rising, we carried on in this vein until two things happened:
- Jeremy Paxman asked a question about the size of African countries. “ETHIOPIA” I cried, and I was right.
- Jeremy asked a mathsy question, “SEXY PRIME THE ANSWER IS SEXY PRIME” I yelled, and again I was spot on.
I never know the answers to geography and maths questions. Never. And no, I hadn’t recently returned from a meditative retreat where I had succeeded in opening up new areas of my mind, allowing me to discover and harness never before accessed knowledge. I had seen this episode before.
But that wasn’t enough for me to remember the answers to all the questions, or even to have realised that I had seen the episode before until this happened. I remembered the answers, and realised I had seen it before, because:
- The first time I’d seen the show I had attempted to answer the African countries question and got it wrong, as had the University Challenger (pah!) and Paxman had then given us the right answer.
- First time round, I had found Paxman saying ‘sexy prime’ funny. I had chuckled.
The two lessons that I have taken from this sequence of events are:
- Immediate and corrective feedback works… test, and then tell.
The questions you ask your learners should be drawn from the key messages you are trying to get across. And if your learners attempt to answer a question and are then given corrective feedback they are far more likely to remember this key message than if it’s just been ‘told’ to them.
- Making it funny makes it memorable.
Remember the girl who in your class at school who did quite well in P.E? Probably not. Remember the girl who tripped her way onto the stage to collect a certificate? It’s more likely. If you’re going to try and achieve a light and humorous tone then decide this at the beginning of the instructional design process. Get as much information about your learners from your SMEs, for instance, what characterises them? Do they have examples of popular internal communications that they can show you? This will help you to build up a picture of your learners and help to gauge what they may find funny.
Who would have thought Jeremy Paxman and "Sexy Primes" could be related to learning outcomes
And so I outed my sly housemate’s cover and she later admitted she had seen that episode before. What are your thoughts? Do you have any similar anecdotes? If so, please comment below. Or if, like me, you find sexy primes amusing, check them out on wikipedia You’ll probably be disappointed, they’re not very funny.
The Spirit of Christmas Plagiarism
I have endeavoured in this Ghostly little blog, to raise the Ghost of an Idea …*
As I’m sure you’ve noticed, 2012 is the year of Charles Dickens’ 200th birthday. Part of his enduring celebrity is due to modern readers being able to relate to themes discussed almost two centuries ago. Tiny Tim going hungry at Christmas still tugs on the heartstrings, while Pip’s love/hate relationship with Estella wouldn’t seem out of place on Eastenders. One of the most recognisable parts of A Christmas Carol is Scrooge’s unwilling journey of self discovery by looking at his past, present and future – I think we can all gain some insight by taking a step back and examining where we’re going and where we came from.
So, with my nightcap firmly in place (and no sign of the Muppets), let me persuade you to take a well-earned break from your mince pies and I’ll take you on a journey through the spectres of e-learning past, present and future …
Self examination – is it always a jolly affair?
Click to Continue’s ghost and the haunted present.
Looking back on some of the earliest e-learning courses, it’s hard not to laugh at the rudimentary ‘interactions’ and dull narration. We’ve come a long way from clicking to continue on every page, or from thinking that a clip art course guide is the best way to engage learners.
But the scary part is that some of these elements haven’t yet been stamped out. In an age where nearly all of us use a computer, is it really necessary to have an instruction page detailing how to use an online course? I think most of us can work out that clicking the sound icon will turn the audio on, and that the home button will take us to the homepage – after all, these mirror the websites, games and applications that we use every day.
Another element that I feel is stuck in the past is the linear structure of a lot of e-learning courses. In our ‘on-demand’ society, we are used to being able to pick and choose the information that we need, whether that’s from YouTube tutorials or Wikipedia. So why do we ask learners to trawl through content that they may already be familiar with so that they can get to the part that interests them? Sometimes it’s because the project sponsor wants their employees to cover everything on a topic, but I still think there are better ways around this. Instead of having module one working through to module five, how about letting the learner choose what they do first? That way users can focus on their priorities, which is more efficient for the business as essential skills can be learnt more quickly, and learners are less likely to lose patience with the course.
Look to the future, it’s only just begun?
“Ghost of the Future,” he exclaimed, “I fear you more than any spectre I have seen. But as I know your purpose is to do me good … I am prepared to bear you company.”
Once again, A Christmas Carol hits the nail on the head. The future is frightening. How are we going to make use of all this new technology (which is constantly evolving) without looking gimmicky? How can we keep e-learning fresh and exciting? But the race to keep up with innovation is definitely a good thing for us – it pushes us to new limits of design and structure, and will lead to bigger and better e-learning.
One trend that is currently doing the rounds is ‘gamification’ (for more on this, see Alex’s earlier blog). Although some project sponsors may be sceptical of the educational value of game based learning, I think that we’re more than able to respond to a format that truly allows users to take control. If you consider how many button combinations and complicated tactics users of Skyrim learn during the course of a game, I don’t think that it’s too much of a stretch to imagine we can use that enjoyment driven learning in an online course. In fact, we’re currently working on a Bribery Act e-learning ‘game’ which will be showcased at this year’s LT Show, which uses branching scenarios to create a ‘choose your own adventure’ style progression. Bad choices have in-game consequences, which is much more enjoyable and therefore potentially more effective than the standard ‘That’s not quite right …’
So let’s learn from our past, keep an eye on what we can make use of in the present, and aim for a truly engaging e-learning future.
Merry Christmas to all!
Okay, maybe I lied about there being no Muppets in this blog …
*All quotes in italics from A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens.
It’s the office Christmas party and everyone’s taking their seats at the table. Who would you rather sit next to, the rather dull colleague in the lovely dress or the one with the great stories who you really get on with? An e-learning course’s ‘look’ is important… but its ‘personality’ is paramount.
Some e-learning blogs include tips such as ‘use handwritten style fonts to make your e-learning engaging’ – but surely that’s like saying someone is interesting and likeable because they have a nice haircut? Effective graphic design and the overall presentation can make a course more user-friendly and visually exciting. However it’s a course’s voice and personality which can truly engage the learner.
Here are my five steps to engaging your learner by creating a distinct personality in an e-learning course.
1. Create a personality for the voice of the course at the beginning of the design process, rather than trying to ‘inject’ personality further down the line
If you’re at the stage where you’re adding in handwritten style fonts, it’s a bit late – the instructional design, graphic design and development need to work together to create a believable personality.
2. Set the right tone
The course speaks to your learner and aims to hold their attention for up to sixty minutes, so the tone of voice needs to be just right. Too patronising or ‘out there’ (picture someone who has drunk far too much at the office party) and your learner will cringe away. Too stuffy and formal and your learner will feel like they’re reading from a textbook, and who really remembers the order of the elements on the periodic table?
Write how you speak… It’s OK to begin sentences with ‘And’ and ‘But’.
3. Go beyond writing in the first or second person – create a person
Clark and Mayer’s theory states that personalisation ‘induces learners to engage with the computer as a social conversational partner’. Would you listen to someone who comes across as arrogant, dull and perhaps even a bit thick? Probably not. Create a social conversational partner that will engage your learner – someone they wouldn’t mind sitting next to at the Christmas do!
4. Agree your style guidelines
Turn your course’s personality traits into some style rules. Imagine how your social conversational partner might speak, so instead of ‘Course objectives’ introductory screens could begin with ‘What’s coming up’. Instructional design and graphic design need to agree on these style points before you write the course, as the writing tone, images of the course guide and the overall design need to be consistent. And if your learning solution is a blend you’ll need the involvement of, say, the classroom trainer and the social media expert.
5. Avoid Bieber-esque slip-ups… check the details!
I’m sure Biebs’ PR team isn’t too happy about the allegations that a fan is pregnant with his child. This supposed dalliance just doesn’t fit his carefully constructed butter-wouldn’t-melt persona. Avoid pulling a Bieber and instead take inspiration from Innocent, the smoothie-maker and brand language God which carries its distinctive tone of voice through from website to ingredients lists on product labels.
Check your style is consistent at every level – don’t lose your learner by overlooking details such as the style of the audio voiceover and check the writing style right down to image captions and launch page text. After all, you wouldn’t want your Christmas party outfit to be let down by laddered tights.
 Clark, Ruth. C., Mayer, Richard. E. (2003). E-Learning and the science of instruction: proven guidelines for consumers and designers of multimedia learning. Jossey-Bass/Pfeiffer Edition. P.180. ISBN: 0-7879-6051-0
Now before you start thinking this post is going to be full of sour grapes, let me explain that I’m quite happy with the awards Saffron has won in the past. I’m also looking forward to pitching along with our client to win an LPI 2012 award for which we’ve just been short-listed. And that’s enough self-congratulation too.
The question I really want to address is: in what way – if at all – do our learners (and yours) benefit from industry awards? I’m aware of the usual pieties: awards help to set and raise standards, awards force us to continue to innovate, awards help to build a sense of pride for the L&D community, blah di blah. Some of this may indeed be true (particularly the last one), but look how little connection there is between the workplace learner and these justifications for awards.
That doesn’t mean I have some kind of vox pop voting scheme in mind either. The lines are open, so please dial or text in your vote. That’s just pseudo-democratic and unrepresentative for all the usual reasons.
What do learners want that would make our learning interventions award-worthy in their eyes? It’s perhaps easier to say what they don’t want: they don’t want to be patronised or disrespected or bored with irrelevancies. Fancy submitting your work for an award called “Least patronising training intervention” or “Least time wasted in alleged e-learning (but actually just e-telling)”?
OK, I’ll get to the point. Within the L&D profession, we use the term ‘learners’ – not ‘developers’ – though this isn’t, of course, how people necessarily see themselves (and I don’t have a better term at the moment). So they’re not necessarily asking for innovation in learning or the other categories and criteria that we reward. There’s a consensus within the profession that the pace of change in the modern world means that people should constantly be on the look-out to increase and improve their skills and know-how. But I’m by no means convinced that there’s such a consensus in the workforce at large.
If the organisation where they work doesn’t have a learning culture where individuals take responsibility for their personal development, then that’s a change management challenge for their HR and L&D departments, and management in general to address. The usual change management rules come into play: if you want the change to happen, you need to (a) express, (b) model and (c) reinforce. In other words, (a) clarify the performance improvement or behavioural changes you want, in everyday language, (b) show you mean it by acting as a role model, and (c) provide incentives so that positive behaviour is encouraged and negative behaviour is discouraged.
So what contribution can we, as L&D professionals, make and not just towards an individual training exercise but also towards the overall goal of promoting a learning culture in the workplace? The answer is by delivering learning interventions that take the leaner’s side. We should explicitly articulate the learner’s questions (Why? What’s in it for me? Do I really need to do that?) and provide adequate responses.
As I’ve argued recently at a Learning and Skills Group webinar, there’s much we can take from the Assessment for Learning programme. In his recent book, Embedded Formative Assessment, Dylan William sets out five principles of the programme, one of which is “Activating learners as the owners of their own learning”. Sound familiar? It’s by providing constructive learner-focused feedback, wherever possible down to the individual learner, that we’ll promote a culture of learning.
Can we do all this within the framework of existing award categories? Let’s try. We should also be encouraging the awarding bodies to shift the award criteria so they’re a little less L&D-centred and a little more focused on the expectations found in the workplace. That way, everyone’s a winner. “Everybody has won, and all must have prizes.” – The Dodo was right all along!
Rapid development. One of those fairly nondescript-seeming phrases you might see anywhere on an agenda at pretty much any company in the City. For those of us who work in e-learning, though, it’s a bit of a buzzword (or should I say buzzphrase?). Semantics aside, these days it’s all about delivering the same quality at half the price and twice the speed.
I recall an engineering adage that goes, ‘build it fast, build it well, build it cheap – pick two.’ In rapid e-learning, we don’t get the luxury of just picking two. The challenge, the long hours spent building the content into the course, and the satisfaction of getting a release turned around in ten days all go hand-in-hand.
The rapid development of e-learning projects is all about adaptability and versatility. Let me use a recent project as an example. This was a two-hour systems simulation which took – if you’ll permit me to quickly check my Outlook calendar and do a double take – six days, as well as a few hours in the office over a weekend.
Now, I work with some extremely bright and professional Instructional Designers (IDs). And even they struggle with workload from time to time. So what does a rapidly developing ID like me do when, suddenly, a new brief lands on their desk with the final release date looming closer than most pilot release dates?
Here’s where adaptability and versatility come into the equation. Working on rapid projects, even for a little while, makes you especially sensitive to any change in your schedules. Having contingency is a great thing. Sweeping everything non-essential aside, I set about trying to shoehorn the development hours into the hours available.
Naturally, no amount of contingency can prepare you fully for the arrival of a whole project, so it’s important to build a solid plan as soon as possible. Once I had the time blocked out for this project, the next thing was to figure out the best possible use for it. I asked colleagues to help and delegated as much work as possible. We roped in senior management to tackle the client queries. The tech team got themselves stuck into the LMS.
After six (and a bit) days we’d built, quality checked and released a course which our client was very happy with.
Adaptability and versatility are your greatest weapons when going into battle against a seemingly impossible list of deliverables. You have to ensure that all of the essential processes are followed while simultaneously making the most of every possible shortcut you can take. Without doubt, it’s risky business.
I made a few mistakes along the way – rapid development isn’t only a learning process for your target group of users. The upshot is that if you can adapt and stay versatile, it won’t just be your courses that are being rapidly developed.
We win more awards. This time for Instructional Designer of the Year and Best Custom Content for projects with BT