Browse Tag by storytelling

The lost weekend Part 1 – an exploration of game-mechanics and gamification on our motivation

It’s three o’clock in the morning.  Where did that last 6 hours go?  

Am I in a time warp and have been bounced forward in a blink of an eye?

No, I’ve been collecting evidence, visiting different venues, asking lots of questions of different people.  I’m very fastidious – I don’t leave a room – or, at least, I revisit it many times, until it’s been thoroughly checked; crawling on hands and knees, shining my torch, picking up any unusual or out of place item I might come across.  It takes some time and I have to go back to the lab and review my case notes regularly.  Something has to tie all of this together.

I’m not alone.  I have my colleague with me. She’s been in the job for quite some time now.  I’m just a newbie and Catherine Willows is there to give me a helping hand if I need it.  It’s only my fourth case and each one has been tougher than the last.  I’m learning fast though.  I’ve already solved the last three by putting all the clues together and analysed the evidence.  It won’t be long before I’m a fully-fledged CSI agent.  But for now, I must put my Wii controller down and go to bed.

There was a little girl,
Who had a little curl,
Right in the middle of her forehead.
When she was good, she was very, very, good, but
When she was bad, she was horrid.

A rhyme which, I’m sure, resonates with all mums and dads out there.  Seren, a typical little girl, is no different.  To encourage good behaviour, she receives a ‘good girl’ star (Seren is Welsh for star so she loves stars) and pops it in a box on the windowsill.  When she is naughty and doesn’t do what she’s asked, she gets a ‘naughty girl’ token which cancels out the ‘good girl’ star.  Seren knows that if she wants a special treat like a sleep-over with her Auntie Laura, she has to collect a certain number of stars.

Both these true stories are examples of game mechanics in action; one for pure pleasure (the CSI Wii game, if you hadn’t guessed) and one to influence positive behaviour in children.


Why are games so compelling?

Put simply, the key factors for player motivation are the sensory stimulation of game realism, experience striving to overcome challenges, opportunities to explore the game environment, discover new information and a sense of control1.

Games have been around for centuries.  Games and gamification have been applied in the L&D arena in one form or another for a long time too.  L&D professionals have used them to engage learners in the classroom through card activities, case studies, role plays, competing teams etc.

They’ve been used by the military for strategic thinking, the sales industry for customer service and in the health profession participating in online games is said to have improved hand/eye co-ordination in laparoscopy surgeons.  They’ve been used to help us improve our fitness levels.  Think Wii-Fit, the FitBit, Nike-fuel  (unfortunately, the game-mechanics don’t motivate me enough to change my sloth-like lifestyle)

Take a look at how VW used game-thinking to motivate people to take the stairs rather than the escalator with their piano stairs.  The result was 66% more people opted for the musical stairs.

Some might conclude that playing immersive, commercial, collaborative games can equip players for life in the workplace.

The Department of Work and Pensions (UK) developed an online social innovation community with game-mechanics to motivate collaboration called Idea Street 

Amuzo’s play2learn project is developing high-fidelity serious games for sales, compliance and recruitment to name just a few.

Sponge has helped bring gamification to elearning modules for compliance, leadership and public services.


What is gamification?

Perhaps, before we define what it is, it might be worth exploring what it isn’t.  Gamification is…

not the same as game-based learning

Game-based learning, according to Karl Kapp, is using a game or games to teach knowledge, skills and abilities to learners in a self-contained space with a beginning, middle and end.

not just about points, badges and leaderboards…

Using such elements as bolt-ons to boring content can have a detrimental effect on learner motivation, perception and quality of the learning.  Ryan Tracey raises his concerns in his blog post The dark side of gamification 

not a trivialisation of learning..

According to Carol Leaman, CEO of Axonify, “when learning is wrapped up in a game , more learning occurs.  Those who select a game participate 20% more than those who don’t”.  She also explains that 30% of Axonify learners check the leader board every time they visit the platform – 40% if they are sales professionals.  Fully immersive simulation games have helped learners develop strategic thinking and apply behaviours through trial and error in a realistic, safe environment.

not appropriate for every situation…

To decide on the appropriate type of game mechanics to apply will need a detailed analysis of the situation to establish what knowledge, skills or behaviour is required, together with the relevant instructional strategies.

not a fad…

Gamification is gaining momentum in learning and development.  The younger generation, who have grown up with video gaming and multi-user immersive online environments will no longer accept the read, click next, style of eLearning so often experienced in the corporate learning solutions (although there is a positive change happening).

not just for the young…

In April 2015, Polygon reported on the Entertainment Software Association (ESA) statistics that the average age of gameplayers is 35 and 27% are over 50 years of age (link). Oh, and by the way, I can personally attest to this one!

not just for consoles…

In the UK, according UKIE, over half of the £500m UK app market is spent on games and mobile gaming revenue is up 21% since 2013.  In terms of revenue per download, the UK is more profitable than Germany, USA and China

not just an insular experience…

37% of frequent game players play social games


So what IS gamification?

In his book The gamification of learning and instruction; game-based methods and strategies for training and education2, Karl Kapp defines it as  “gamification is using game-based mechanics, aesthetics and game thinking to engage people, motivate action, promote learning and solve problems in a non-game context”  There are two types of game mechanics:

  1. Structural – where the learner is taken through the game to learn the content and applying game elements such as points and leader boards.  There is no change to the game structure itself.  An example is Duolingo, it’s a free app for learning languages where it awards points for correct answers and takes points away for incorrect answers.  This is a very simplistic description for a very popular and successful learning app which is designed for short, regular burst of learning content (and an excellent example of applying spaced learning).
  2. Content – where game elements such as story, characters, challenges and curiosity, together with game thinking to make the content itself more like a game.  The learner interacts with the elements of the content.  An example could be the CSI game mentioned at the start of this blog.


What keeps us playing? 

Why did I stay up until 3am?  The key is maintaining the curve of interest.  It’s about achieving the cognitive flow state.  I like to think of the flow as the perfect storm for immersion.  It’s that sweet place between boredom and anxiety.

According to psychologist, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, when a person’s skill level is low and the task is too difficult, they become anxious.  On the other hand, if the task is too easy for their skills ability, they become bored and easily distracted.

Success is when skill and difficulty are more or less proportionate.  When they achieve this, the player experiences extreme focus, a sense of active control and become so immersed in the game that they experience a loss of self-awareness and time just disappears.  Yep – I guess I experienced the flow state.

For this to occur, Csikszentmihalyi identified 4 characteristics:

  1. Concrete goals with manageable rules
  2. Set actions within a player’s ability to achieve the goals
  3. Feedback on performance
  4. Reduction in distractions

Earlier, I highlighted that gamification is so much more than points, leader boards and badges.  These do play an important role when implemented appropriately, but they are only some of the 13 game elements involved in applying gamification.  These are:

  1. Characters
  2.  Story
  3. Mystery
  4. Challenge
  5.  Levels
  6. Goals
  7. Rules
  8. Time
  9. Feedback
  10. Chance
  11. Replayability
  12. Aesthetics
  13. Rewards

Although not all of these elements need to be present.  We’ll explore each of these game elements more closely in part 2.  In the meantime, what are your own experiences?  Have you been so immersed that you forgot to eat, pick up your children from school or walk the dog?  What was the game that did that?  Have you experienced them for learning something new? Are you using gamification for your own learning programmes?


1Webarchive Learning in immersive worlds: a review of game-based learning Joint Information Systems Committee, Freitas

2Kapp, K.M. (2012) The gamification of learning and instruction; game-based methods and strategies for training and education  Pfeiffer 1st Ed. (Kindle)


Stories and analogies

Image by Полина Андреева from Pixabay

Now don’t faint – I’m just writing a short post – promise!

I recently came across a new blog.  Nowadays I’m awash with information from my social media sources and I do find it easy to just skim through my e-mail subscriptions hitting the delete key as I go or skip down my Twitter stream looking for something interesting to catch my eye (yes, I know you all post interesting posts and I do try to keep up to date).  Therefore the catchier the ‘headline’ the more likely I am to take a closer peak.

And that’s exactly what happened with this post from Ethan Edwards of Allen Interactions “e-learning… as easy as pie“.

It just goes to confirm how powerful stories and analogies are in helping people understand often complicated or bewildering information.

Read and enjoy!

Dexter-fests, 24 and lost weekends

Photo by Phillip Goldsberry on Unsplash

Why do we get so hooked on binge watching?

Recently I curled up on the sofa with my other half, settled down with a mellow glass of red to enjoy an episode or two of Dexter. Now Dexter is one of my favourite US series. For those of you who don’t know anything about this series, you may think I need therapy for being so compelled to watch it. It’s about a serial killer who works for the police as a blood-spatter analyst. Yes… he’s the lead character and despite his unhealthy hobby, he’s the hero (or should it be anti-hero?).

Those fans of the programme actually like him and hope he never gets caught. From watching the previous series and having to wait for a whole week to go by before catching up with the next episode, we decided to record them to watch in bulk. After some mishap with the recordings, I just had to buy the boxed set (Stay with me here…. )

The up-shot is that the two episode evening lasted all weekend. It’s a good job there was nothing more pressing to get done (the ironing could wait!).

We’ve recently started to watch 24. Well, you can imagine what happened although this time we had to be very strict with ourselves.

So what’s the point of all this? Well I started to wonder why we found it so compelling – to sit there and watch episode after episode until our eyes became square (or rather 42 inch wide-screen).


For the love of story

From an early age we love stories. I’ve spoken to many a parent who can almost recite Thomas the Tank Engine word for word from memory or that video of The Little Mermaid is almost unrecognisable after the trillionth time of watching. My brother and his wife are expecting their first child in November and I suspect they’ll be no different. Her Auntie Laura will likely also be caught up in the magical world of story-telling too.

It doesn’t stop though does it? The love of stories? We may grow out of the wide-eyed excitement of being read bed-time stories but the magic doesn’t stop when we grow up. It just grows with us. From Disney films to Dr. Who. From romantic comedies to dark Gothic vampire tales. From the trashy, steamy novel to the complicated thrillers or classical period tales of yester-year. What keeps us so enthralled?

Telling stories began thousands of year in the past. We can see evidence of it from ancient drawings on cave walls. We can imagine travellers recounting tales of their journeys round campfires and then progress meant those words could then be recorded for generations.

I have my own theories by analysing my own love of a good story and would like to share what I like them here.

  • immediate connection with characters
  • emotional connection – empathising with the characters feelings and situations
  • a compelling story line
  • suspense
  • mystery that keeps you guessing what might happen next
  • challenges that put you in the character’s shoes
  • sparking imagination through written words
  • visually stimulating through clever direction and cinematography

In short – I need to believe I could be there. I need to live it and be totally immersed even if it might be the most fantastic tale of hobgoblins and superheroes.


What is it about stories?

In order to satisfy my own curiosity, I set about doing a little (and I mean a little) research into why storytelling has such an impact on us. What I found was fascinating – and it’s only the tip of the storytelling iceberg.

In a New Scientist article by Richard Fisher, entitled ‘the evolving art of storytelling’ he explored the effect an immersive experience of a good book or movie has on our brains. He found that according to neuroscientists and psychologists, areas of our brains react to the emotions the characters are feeling as if we were ‘in their shoes’.

Our brains behave in such a way as if we were experiencing the fiction as if it were our real-world experiences. The reason stories have such a powerful effect is the release of chemicals serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine such compelling stories trigger in our brains. Fisher goes on to review ‘The Art of Immersion’ (available on Kindle) by Frank Rose, which investigates storytelling and how it’s evolved with technology and something those of us who are looking to design experiences in our e-learning and engage our learners might find worth a look (note to self – order this book).

In another article ‘Mind Reading: the science of storytelling’ which referenced the same research reports further that our brains will react the same way regardless whether we are reading the story or watching an action video but the most potent of all is that of the ’emotionally charged story’.

What I found reassuring was the chemical triggers in the brain “explains why we can be lured into watching back-to-back episodes of series” and that “we are empathetically engaged. We are treating this as if it is our real family. We can’t help but care for these people”. So, there you have it. Proof that I’m not really that sad. I may have an addictive personality but the only drugs I may be addicted to are serotonin, oxytocin and dopamine! Although I’m not sure whether I’d like to think a serial killer blood-spatter analyst as family.

Engaging e-learning – as easy as CSI!

Photo by George Prentzas on Unsplash

Creating engaging eLearning: Part 3

I’ve never been really interested in computer games in the past but then, what I classed as computer games was PacMan! The only box I was interested in sitting in front of was the TV – that seemed much more fun and engrossing.

Moreover, my imagination was captured more by superb writings of great authors. I was whisked away into a dark world of love and torment of Cathy and Heathcliffe in Wuthering Heights; cryptic clues, excitement and intrigue of any Tom Clancy novel; to the zany adventures of Arthur Dent in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy …… “so-long and thanks for the fish”. I was totally absorbed and read for days on end – often into the early hours. That’s how absorbed I was. I really couldn’t see what all the fuss was about in computer games.

That was until recently. Now – I’m a big CSI fan, so when I discovered a CSI game for my Wii, a team of wild horses couldn’t stop me from grabbing it. I know CSI is far fetched but it is fascinating. Well….. that was it ….. for that weekend the remote had to be prised from my hot, sticky hands. I couldn’t wait for my husband to go to London so I could play unhindered and unchastised. One time right up until 3am! Now that’s sad!

What kept me so engrossed? So engrossed I didn’t notice how long I was actually playing? It was the pure fact that I became part of the CSI team. I searched scenes of crime for any piece of possible evidence. I interviewed suspects by choosing from a selection of questions. I put the clues together, reviewed the evidence and asked Brass for search warrants. Sometimes, these warrants weren’t issued because I hadn’t enough evidence – so I had to go back and search the scenes again, interview again, review the evidence again.


Taking inspiration into eLearning design

What can eLearning designers learn from this? Looking further into how we can put the learning back into eLearning let’s consider that for a moment.

Well, firstly, I was dropped in at the deep end immediately. I wasn’t sat in a virtual room with pages upon pages of rules and regulations, examples and theories before I could get out at the scene. I worked through the problem, analysing and making decisions as I went. I didn’t get all the answers right and had to revisit some, occasionally having to start again. But, hey, I could afford to make mistakes – it was a safe environment.

My new skills came from my own hard work and from the feedback from my CSI mentor who was there for any assistance I may have needed (although, the stubborn competitive streak in me meant it was rarely sought). I was able to remind myself what suspects said from the personal profiles built up as they were interviewed. I was given encouragement and praise where needed which built up my desire to succeed. What I didn’t get was a multiple choice quiz at the end – phew!

Now I’m not saying this has made me a fully qualified member of the CSI team to be let loose on real scenes of crime. After all – it is only a game. Just think what we could do if we took this across into realistic work situations and absorb our learners as deeply. It CAN be done. With a little imagination. Oh, and hard work of course. But – wow – what a difference it would make.

So how can we do this if we haven’t got access to simulation gaming technology?

More and more people are realising leaving that multiple choice quiz to the end of the e-learning doesn’t exactly test application. All it does is test immediate recall. So we chop it up a bit. What tends to happen now is eLearning is divided up into smaller chunks of information followed by a little practice quiz. Yes, it is a little better but it is still providing information up front with no opportunity to analyse and apply.

If there is one thing to learn from gaming it is to allow people to think for themselves first and try things out. “That’s all very well and good” I hear you say, “but learners still need information to work with and learn from”. This is true but it will be as feedback. More about feedback in future posts in this series.

Using normal rapid authoring tools such as Adobe Captivate, Articulate or Lectora, we can tell a story through pictures, voice-overs and/or speech bubbles. It is important to bring your learners into the heart of the action. Make them believe they are living the situation.

Your scenarios can built up over a number of slides while you introduce characters in the team. Give them a voice and make them ‘real’ with real problems to work through. Still images work perfectly for this. Your learners’ engagement will be with their minds as the visuals bring the situation to life. Short scenario-based questions can be like building pictures in your learners’ imaginations.

Stories have always worked well in the classroom so come on people – you can use them in e-learning too.

What does this do? It makes it real. It makes it believable. It makes it relevant and it will help people remember what they are supposed to do to do their job – not to regurgitate a piece of legislation.

Let’s rise up and rid the world of boring eLearning where we put the learner at the heart of the action. Stay tuned for future posts in this series on creating engaging eLearning where I will share some tips on learning through feedback.