Are You Going to DevLearn 2013? We Are!

Looking to have your mind opened? Your paradigm challenged? Looking for a hot new tool you can start using right now to improve your corporate training?

There’s a conference for that.

DevLearn 2013

DevLearn is one of our favorite eLearning conferences, and it’s just around the bend… October 23 – 25 in Las Vegas. BLP will be at DevLearn in a big way this year. Members of the learning services team will attend for professional development… and we can’t wait to hear what they learn from the 200+ sessions available at the conference. Sharon Boller is partnering with Karl Kapp to lead a pre-conference workshop on learning game design, their fourth session of the year.

We’re ESPECIALLY pumped to send the Knowledge Guru team back to DevLearn with some exciting product enhancements to announce. We’ll be showing off the new business theme packs and improved Experience API dashboard, which makes it easy to connect Knowledge Guru to an LRS.

Are you going to DevLearn? If so, we’d love to meet and share ideas. Fill out this form to request a personal meeting with us, or come to one of the following sessions:

Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself Happens Thursday October 24th, 12 – 12:45 pm on the eLearning Tools Learning Stage. Includes an overview of research supporting learning games… and an overview of Knowledge Guru. Learn more

Knowledge Guru in the DevLearn Expo See an overview of the Knowledge Guru game engine in Booth 208 of the Expo. Set up a free trial of Knowledge Guru. Happens all day October 23rd and 24th. 

Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games Pre-conference Workshop happens all day October 22nd. Presented by Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp. Learn the basics of learning game design, then spend an afternoon prototyping your own learning game. Learn more

BLP at DevLearn Demofest See a demo of our Avoid the BBPs gamified eLearning course at Demofest. Happens October 24th, 4 – 6:30 pm.

You can register to attend the Expo, Learning Stages, and Demofest portions of DevLearn for free here.

DevLearn Thoughts: Is Game Based Learning Misunderstood?

We had a great time at DevLearn 2012 in Las Vegas. Since we were there in part to launch or Knowledge Guru™ learning game engine, we were especially tuned in to what was being said about learning games at the conference… and what other game based learning products were being shown.

Sharon Boller introducing Knowledge Guru at DevLearn

Sharon Boller introducing Knowledge Guru at DevLearn

One thing is clear: learning and development professionals are almost unanimously aware of game based learning as an important trend. Many are already knowledgable, and those who have not used game based learning yet are rapidly looking to increase their understanding (it was no surprise that Karl Kapp’s session on games was packed!). With any learning technology trend, it is important to distinguish the true learning value from the hype… and back it up with some serious research.

Along with all the enthusiasm, game based learning risks being misunderstood. Some may see opportunities for game based learning where it is not actually the right solution. Others may not understand the true benefits of game based learning and write it off before giving it a try. Here are a few misconceptions about games we heard at DevLearn… and our attempts to clear the air.

1. Misconception: Game based learning is the same as gamification, right?

When companies get started with game based learning, they often decide to add badges, achievements, and points to their online learning. These elements can certainly motivate learners to keep going and make an experience more fun, but they are NOT a game! Game based learning is a completely immersive experience with a game goal, rules, and repeatable set of game mechanics. If your learning experience doesn’t have rules or a back story… it is not a game.

This does not mean games cannot have elements of gamification and vice versa. Many games have points, badges, and leaderboards built right in… and a gamified experience can have elements of story and purpose, such as scenarios in an eLearning course with points attached. We like to think our Knowledge Guru game engine is actually a nice mix of game based learning and gamification. There’s a narrative at the beginning and a game goal you work towards, all while climbing the leaderboard. Here’s how game based learning and gamification differ in Knowledge Guru:

Game Based Learning Gamification
The Knowledge Guru challenges you to deliver three scrolls to his Pagoda at the top of his mountain of Knowledge in order to become a Knowledge Guru yourself. Players answer three iterations of the same question while earning points, seeds of knowledge and pearls of wisdom in order to climb the leaderboard and earn a high score.

2. Misconception: There’s no way to track learner activity in games, so I can’t use it.

In the past, this has been true. If an activity is happening outside of the LMS, learner activity could not be tracked. Even for activities inside the LMS, data is usually limited to completion and knowledge check scores. Thanks to Tin Can API, this is no longer the case. It’s a new eLearning standard that allows all manner of learning experiences, from the grandiose to the granular, to be tracked and accounted for. That means all of the activities, achievements, and milestones learners accomplish in a game can easily be tracked in an LMS… if you are Tin Can compliant. And with ADL and AICC announcing their collaboration on Tin Can API as the NEW eLearning standard, Tin Can (also called Experience API) will only become more of a standard.

3. Misconception: Games should only be used as reinforcement activities. They can’t replace courses.

Some learning professionals are so deeply entrenched in the world of designing, developing and deploying courses that they cannot fathom using a game instead. Sure, games work great as part of a broader curriculum with courses, forums, videos, and other learning elements… but they can also use a game as a standalone learning exercise. For example, our A Paycheck Away learning game about homelessness is a self-contained educational experience. All the learning happens in the flow of the game and there is no need to study introductory material before playing. Even though Knowledge Guru is question based, it is well-suited to be used as a primary learning tool. AJ George wrote on the Iconlogic blog about her experience learning football facts on one of our sample Knowledge Guru games just by playing:

And that world turned out to be a place where the game throws you right into a question without giving backup information. My first thought was that this was a shortcoming. It seems counterproductive to throw a learner right into a quiz without first giving them the knowledge needed to potentially answer the questions correctly. But as the quiz progressed, the same questions were asked again in a different format. The new wording of the questions and the answers forced me to carefully read each question and all of the answer choices. And about halfway through the quiz, I realized that this quiz was doing something my boyfriend has continually failed to do: it was teaching me the rules of football.

4. Misconception: Games are too “fun” for a corporate setting

In Sharon Boller’s DevLearn Morning Buzz on learning game design, a participant commented that the cartoonish, animated feel of many games would not be suitable to her learners. They only responded well to realistic, games depicting people in a corporate setting, she said. While this may be true in some situations, we often find that a game with a fun, non-corporate theme is more engaging and motivating. Why? It’s a break from the drudgery of past courses, webinars and instructor led training! Learners are happy to be doing something different, and that change of pace makes them primed to learn more from the experience. Don’t be afraid to break from that corporate look and feel every once in awhile.

5. Misconception: Games distract from actual learning

There are times when game based learning and gamification can get in the way of learning. Consider these thoughts from John Barnes, who tweeted at us during DevLearn:

John is right: we do start learning the mechanics of a game the more we play. That means games pose the same danger in learning as standardized tests do for children in school. Players might learn the game mechanic better than they learn the actual material, just like kids can learn how to take a standardized test without retaining the subject matter long term.

This can be avoided by either carefully embedding the learning into the game mechanic itself or making sure the game mechanic is not overly distracting from the content being presented. The approach will depend on whether you are going for a solution more focused on game based learning or gamification.

What do you think? Is game based learning misunderstood? Where is game based learning headed? We’d love to hear your thoughts.

Game Based Learning – Why Does it Work?

The information in this post is covered in a brand new infographic from The Knowledge Guru (learn about The Knowledge Guru in the video below). Click Here to see the infographic!

A Learning Brief by Sharon Boller

Forty years of research[i] says yes, games are effective learning tools. People learn from games…and they will learn MORE from a game than from other forms of learning.[ii] However, most people don’t get WHY games work, which causes them to dismiss games as frivolous.

If you want to defend games as a laudable learning strategy, you need to be able to explain how the fun of games links to the essentials of effective learning design. Let’s start with the fun. Fun can be:

  • Winning!  Most of us like to win at things even though some of us might say we don’t like competition. Games don’t necessarily have to be competitive. Games can be cooperative or competitive. Cooperation can still lead to a “win” state in a game if you beat the game or achieve the game goal.
  • Triumphing. Triumphing might mean vanquishing an opponent or it could mean mastering something really, really hard (such as a level in a game or an in-game challenge). People love triumphs and the sense of emerging victorious over a human opponent or opposition of any type.
  • Collaborating. Lots of folks enjoy the opportunity to work with others. Think of times you’ve played a game as a team – and the enjoyment you got out of working together as a team toward the game goal.
  • Exploring and Building. How many of us got a kick out of checking out all the rooms in Clue as kids and making suggestions? What about participating in a scavenger hunt? Millions of players enjoy the online game, Civilization, and the ability to explore new territories and build cities. Not convinced? How about all the people who enjoy wandering around the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art or any other museum. It’s a love of exploring that makes these visits enjoyable.
  • Collecting. Ever play Pac Man? As your expertise in the game built, you collected more and more achievements. If you play Backgammon, you collect your opponent’s markers. Lots of card games allow you to collect cards (Rummy, Canasta). Many folks make hobbies out of collecting memorabilia. Lots of people find collecting fun.
  • Problem solving or strategizing. Crossword puzzles, word searches, and strategy games are popular because people like to solve problems and they like to formulate strategies that can help them build things, achieve, collect, triumph, etc.
  • Role-playing or imagining. Getting to be someone or something you’re not in the real world is fun for many people. It’s also a very safe way to try on new behaviors.
  • Surprise.  Lots of us enjoy the element of surprise or the unexpected. Often the biggest fun is in initiating the surprise, not receiving the surprise.

Now, let’s identify essential elements[iii]  needed for learning to happen.  To learn, we need:

1)   Motivation. People have to have some motivation to learn: either a desire to learn or a compelling need to learn (e.g. I cannot perform my job unless I learn how to do X. If I cannot do my job, I will get fired.)

2)   Relevant practice. For maximum learning effect, practice needs to be contextual – mirroring the situation where the learning will be applied as closely as possible.  (e.g. if you want a person to learn how to drive, you put them in a car on the road, not in a classroom with a written test.)

3)   Specific, timely feedback that reinforces that we’re doing well or gives us clear feedback on where we are performing poorly.

4)   The ability to retrieve what we’ve learned when we need it. Our ability to retrieve skill or knowledge depends on how much of #2 and #3[iv] we got as well as on how much repetition we got when learning.[v]

Finally, let’s map the fun in games to elements needed for learning to occur:

These concepts will be discussed in greater detail at Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s upcoming workshop, “Play to Learn: Designing Effective Learning Games. Learn More.

Learning Element:

Game elements that meet these needs:

Motivation: to start, to keep going, and to remember. 1)   Game goals: Games tend to have clear, well-defined goals for success. Decades of psychology research show us that most of us are goal-oriented and tend to perform better when we have goals to achieve.2)   PBLs – points, badges, and leaderboards. PBLs are very common in online games. All three are used because they are highly motivating to players who will play to earn points, collect achievements (aka badges) and obtain top positions on leaderboards.  Leaderboards and badges both also represent a type of recognition of achievement. Recognition is a common motivator for people..3)   Levels– the ability to master things or triumph over things is another common motivator. Levels provide people with the motivation to keep playing. Think of levels as mini-goals toward the overarching game goal, which often cannot be accomplished until you’ve mastered all levels in a game. To advance within a higher level, you have to recall what you learned in a previous level and use it.4)   Flow – in a great game, time seems to either stand still (no awareness of it passing) or it goes incredibly fast. This flow occurs when we get immersed in problem-solving or strategy or simply the desire to win. We keep playing because its fun; the more we play, the more we learn from playing..5)   The “Fun” in problem-solving, strategizing, collaborating, etc., all of which people find motivating.
Relevant practice Fun factors in here, too, as problem-solving, strategizing, mastering things, etc. all can tie into providing relevant practice. Also, learning games tend to be designed in context. In a simulation, for example, the simulation is set up to mimic the real-world or real-world challenges. This provides relevance. In a quiz-style games such as Knowledge Guru, relevance can be mirrored via scenarios that match those the learner will encounter in the job.Game rules and game resources can also be designed to mimic real-world constraints. Rules can affect order of play, how you acquire or lose resources, how you influence the circumstances of others, etc.In a game, the entire “play” is practice. In traditional training, there is often a ton of “tell” before you get to any “do.”
Specific, timely feedback that is continuous Games offer continual, immediate feedback. Good performances get rewarded with increasing points, escalating achievements, or advancements to new levels. Poor performance typically results in the opposite and causes the player to immediately adjust behavior to try to improve.The “turn” nature of games ensures lots of opportunities to adjust and recalibrate to refine performance.Traditional training doesn’t come close to a game environment for feedback.
Ability to retrieve what we need when we need it Games are often repetitive in nature and repetition cements memory. Repetition builds mastery.In games, we often repeat the same sequence of steps over and over, with the level of difficulty escalating as we progress in the game. In games, we can also replicate real-world context without real-world risk. This replication gives us context, and context makes it easier to retrieve information later.

[i] Van Eck, Richard (2006). Digital Game-Based Learning, EduCause, Vol 41, No. 2:

[ii] Kapp, Karl (2012). The Gamification of Learning: What Research Says About Simulations and Serious Games. Keynote address for The Medical Device and Diagnostic Trainers Summit, Princeton, NJ

[iii] Gagne, R. and Driscoll, M (1988) Essentials of Learning for Instruction (2nd ed), Prentice Hall.

[iv] Clark, Ruth and Mayer, Richard (2003). eLearning and the Science of Instruction: Proven Guidelines for Consumers and Designers of Multimedia Learning, Pfeiifer,.

[v] Medina, John (2008). Brain Rules, Pear Press.

5 Ways Tin Can API Revolutionizes eLearning

Do these sound familiar?

“Brian watches a tutorial on how to fix a problem in Photoshop.”

“Jane emails a co-worker in another building to solve a work issue.”

“Lionel completes level two of a mobile learning game on sales skills.”

None of these experiences happened inside an eLearning course or classroom, yet they form a bigger picture of how we really learn at work… 90% informally and outside of traditional training. With the Tin Can API, all of these experiences can be tracked and accounted for. eLearning and training are entering a new age.

Tin Can API revolutionizes eLearning and mLearning

Image describing Tin Can from the Rustici website.

Tin Can API (or Experience API) is receiving a ton of buzz… and looks to make a big splash at DevLearn 2012 as the spec nears version 1.0. ADL commissioned Rustici Software to develop the specification, which looks to supplant SCORM as the go-to eLearning spec of the 2010’s…and then some. The beauty of Tin Can? It actually transcends eLearning…tracking activities we once thought weren’t trackable. At its core, Tin Can is really a series of simple statements: Tin Can delivers data in a Noun, Verb, Object format.

You get data like this —

Lionel attended “Sales Essentials: Intro Training” with an attendance rate of 100%. Lionel passed “Sales Essentials Written Test” with a score of 92%. Lionel completed “qualified lead sales call” with a result of “success”. Lionel completed “qualified lead sales call” with a result of “failure”.

All this data is reported to an LRS – or learning record store. The LRS sits outside of an LMS… but reports its data to the LMS. These diagrams from the TinCan website to explain this process-

Informal learning activities are reported to the LRS.

The LRS reports that data to the LMS... or multiple LMSs.

So yes… Tin Can API looks to change the way we think about eLearning… and learning as a whole. Here’s how:

1. Bring big data and eLearning together in ways that were never before possible.

Training tracks course attendance and completion, but research shows those activities make up less than .05% of most people’s time at work over the course of a year. Our needs for learning and support are much more varied, diverse, and constant than what formal training can fulfill. Tin Can API allows for tracking of the informal learning activities, both online and offline, that we are all doing every day… and brings them into the training picture as well. In a way, Tin Can brings “big data” into the Learning and Development world. We can track more details than ever before. With all this big data available thanks to Tin Can, who determines the “small things that matter?” Well, the L&D department of course.

2. Get a clearer picture of training ROI than ever before… by tracking more than ever before.

L&D departments are constantly fighting battles with upper management to preserve and protect their budgets — and too many of those are losing battles. Surely ongoing learning and knowledge management is an integral part of a healthy workplace culture! Thanks to all of the informal learning activities that Tin Can API enables us to track, L&D will finally have the hard facts and data they need to justify their budgets to higher-ups. Instead of just assuming people had positive results from a learning initiative, the numbers will prove it. When informal learning activities and usage of mobile learning solutions can actually have their results brought in to an LMS, the data can carry just as much weight as the completion percentage for that 5 year old eLearning course. Hallelujah!

3. Unchain the power of mobile devices.

Describing an “intangible” new technology like a new API is a tall order… and the folks at Rustici Software are doing a stellar job on their website. A recent post by Megan Bowe and Jeffrey Horne gives the clearest picture yet of how Tin Can works through a series of simple stories.  Past training efforts on mobile devices had a number of limitations, the biggest being that LMSs required the training to run through the device’s browser. Yuck! Mobile learning can, and should be better… and Tin Can allows that to happen.

“Tin Can statements are stored on the mobile device as activities are experienced. When there is a network connection, the collected statements are sent to an LRS (or several LRSs). And because there’s no need for a browser, activity creators can now use native apps for trackable learning. Some people are already doing it, and yes, it’s really that awesome.”

Native apps for trackable learning is a big deal… but its worth noting that web apps are also a powerful solution. Simply saving a web app to the home screen allows it to be used much the same as a native app, except it needs internet connectivity at all times to run. Just a factor worth considering when implementing mobile learning.

4. Learning games move from a fun trend… to a practical necessity.

Tin Can makes the activities and progress in learning games trackable and easily stored in the LMS. That means the data from games and other “engaging learning activities” can be put in the proper context… right alongside completion data from traditional courses. Gone are the days when a skeptical training manager can say “games are fun, but we need to prove that they completed it.” With Tin Can, you can do that… and more. We love the opportunities Tin Can creates for learning games, and we made our Knowledge Guru learning game engine the first Tin Can API compliant learning game.

5. Employees can more easily justify their value by directly tying eLearning they complete to job performance.

Okay… you completed your instructor led course. You passed an eLearning module with a 100% Gold star? No… that’s not enough. We need to know the ROI. We need to know how the business benefited and how you performed at your job as a result of what you learned. Here’s another excerpt from the Tin Can API blog:

“Perhaps the best part is that even after Adam’s training is over, his real-world job performance can be tracked. The Tin Can API can be tied in to the warehouse’s inventory system, and it can log whenever Adam loads or unloads a pallet. Supervisors can begin tying training to real-world performance and answering questions about training that they could never answer before. This is made even easier because all of this Tin Can data lives in one place, and in one format, inside a Learning Record Store.”

It makes perfect sense, really. You should get credit for ALL the learning you complete, and not just what the LMS can track. Thanks to Tin Can API, “trackable learning activities” now includes, well, everything. Knowledge Guru game engineTin Can API promises to have quite the presence at DevLearn 2012, which is just a few days a way. We will be there as well, promoting the Knowledge Guru. Come see how the game works, and how Tin Can API acts as a bridge between the game’s robust tracking capabilities and an LMS.

Serious Games…One example of great design

I love games. I love to play games; I love to come up with games for others to play…and I have created several. What I have not yet done is to design more than a rudimentary online game…but I’m really eager to do so. One of the most fun things at last November’s DevLearn 2008 conference (sponsored by E-Learning Guild) was its focus on games. It inspired me and made me oh-so-anxious for the client who will come to me and say, “I want a learning game!”

I also took back a message from “The Serious Game Zone” (hosted by Dr. Alicia Sanchez who is a research scientist with a LOT of knowledge about games). Motivation is everything in a game…if the learner isn’t engaged, they will not play. Period. So…a game can have great instructional intent but if it is not fun, learners will not play. In a serious game, the “game” part of it is as critical as the “serious (aka learning)” part of it.

I spent time today playing one of the games I saw at Devlearn – and I am really impressed by its instructional design and its “fun” design.  “Moneytopia” is a  game that is designed to teach teens and twenty-somethings (though just about everyone in America could benefit, I believe) about handling and investing money…and living within their means. I kept wanting to play…and increase my financial portfolio.  To do that, I HAD to complete the short learning pieces (housed within my financial statment) centered on financial management because that was a key way that I grew my money. And…I couldn’t shortcut out of them because if I did then I missed the money-making opportunities embedded within them. And…on the instructional side…all of the learning activities they had me do were absolutely relevant to the content.  I didn’t feel like they were dumbing anything down – and each learning presentation was really short (two or three minutes).

Check out this game for yourselves. Allow yourself at least 15-20 minutes to play it to really get the flavor of the game and the instructional design that went into it. Let me know how you’d rate it on a “fun” scale and on an “learning” scale. I can immediately think of all sorts of ways to mimic the design for other applications – and I feel confident that the design of it is not too sophisticated for a lot of good instructional designers to imitate.  It appears to be a Flash-based game design, which means it is within the grasp of many of us.

Click the image to check out the game for yourself. Again, let me know what you think!

Moneytopia is a role-playing game that teaches you how to manage money.

Moneytopia is a role-playing game that teaches you how to manage money.