Tuesday, 29 October 2013

g-Learning: Is this the learning term that we have been looking for?

In a previous blog (A Games Based Learning Manifesto: 10 Thoughts for Discussion), we stated “Use the “G” word sparingly”. Using games in the title is great if we want to sell to the innovators and early adopters, which as developers we probably are doing. But - and it is big but, I won’t lie - is that innovators and early adopters often need to get buy-in from others who don’t quite get it.

At pixelfountain, we have been selling games since 1998 and have needed to avoid the G word. In the early days we used the term Virtual Training. This seemed to fit nicely with what we were doing which were exploratory adventure style games where users interacted with characters and objects in simulated organisations and sites. As it happens, we now use Situated Training for this type of product / pedagogy as it is built on the theory of Situated Learning. By the early noughties, we had started developing resource management games or simulations. Thus, we started using the term Learning Simulations. To date we still use this term for this type of game, but the problem is that it is a subset of all learning games of which there is no overall nomenclature in the way there is for entertainment games (simulations, first person shooters, platform and so on).

In a terrible spoiler, I have already stated my preferred term g-Learning in the blog title - note to self, must create more suspense if I am ever to make it big as a novelist. But, let me appraise the current contenders, before announcing g-Learning as my winner (doh, I’ve done it again).

Games Based Learning: For me, this term conjures up education and includes the G word. We called our blog Games Based Learning as we had originally planned to just talk about education, but we have partially drifted away from that narrow focus.

Serious Games: “Serious Games” has gathered some traction but is somewhat of an oxymoron - games are supposed to be fun. I appreciate it is the outcome that is serious not the game, but that is not clear from the term. Also confused with serious games meaning hardcore commercial games.

Learning Simulations: As previously stated, this is my preferred term for simulations (obviously) but it doesn’t encompass the array of game styles.

Learning Games: Too vague (doesn’t imply digital) and contains the G word. So in the tradition of judging recent UK Eurovision song entries; that will be nil points from me.

Gamification: The term of the moment, but it is too encompassing describing everything from badges, leader boards through to complex simulations.

The case for g-Learning:
  • It only sneakily hints a games - it is the Assassins Creed of learning terms.
  • It sounds like advanced e-Learning, which I guess it is.
  • It fits in with the learning nomenclature: e-Learning (electronic learning), m-Learning (mobile learning).
  • It sounds techie and sounds like a category (see bullet above).
  • It is succinct.

So, I Googled g-Learning to see what I could find: a few people are using it in the same way that I am suggesting; there is a training company in the UK trading with the name (they don’t do games); a blogger is using g-Learning as in Google learning and another is using it to mean Green Learning. So with that little amount of research, I don’t think there is a reason why we shouldn’t annex the term, what do you think?

Saturday, 19 October 2013

The Role of Learning Simulations in Learning & Development Strategies

In September, we (pixelfountain) held a workshop in partnership with Virtual College.  The delegates were professionals from a wide variety of sectors who were invited to discuss the role of serious games/games based learning in learning and development strategies.  For more of an introduction and to see footage from the day (and to appreciate more how our workshops work), watch the video below.

After playing the learning simulation, the delegates discussed using serious games for learning and development.  Various applications were suggested, including:

  • Inductions
  • Management training
  • Partnership working and relationship building
  • Staff engagement days/away days
  • Stakeholder collaboration
  • Team building
  • Assessment centres
  • Training needs analysis
  • Community/resident groups

Barriers to adoption were also discussed.  These were fewer in number, but included:

  • The term ‘game’ and misconceptions about games for training
  • Access to technology
  • IT literacy
  • Cost

One of the main aims of the day was to discuss the delivery method of the games and the positives and negatives of different methods.  For example, workshop-based, facilitator-led, collaborative delivery as opposed to individually played, online delivery.  There was a bias in favour of the games being workshop based, but that is likely to have been because the simulation used on the day was designed for that purpose, which could have skewed opinion.

The delegates had a fantastic day and really loved our newest simulation, Planit-Housing, which was developed in partnership with The University of Northampton.   For more information about Planit-Housing, click here and to learn more about our other products and how our workshops work, click here.

To download the full Virtual College report, click here.

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Friday, 11 October 2013

A Games Based Learning Manifesto: 10 Thoughts for Discussion

The following manifesto is some thoughts that have cropped up over the course of this blog and some new ones. We would welcome your thoughts, and together maybe we can create some guiding principles that might help move the technology forward.

1. Use the “G” word sparingly. 
In education you might be able to get away with games based learning, but in the commercial sector it is usually better to stick with terms like learning simulations. “Serious Games” gathered some traction but is somewhat of an oxymoron.

2. Don’t believe the hype (or more accurately understand that clients might believe the hype)
“The minute they see me, fear me
I’m the epitome - a public enemy”
Don’t believe the Hype, Public Enemy.

Games bring with them a lot of baggage. Titles such as Grand Theft Auto are controversial, but games in general are seen as trivial and time wasters. Sell to the believers (innovators and early adopters) and provide them with the ammunition to succeed in their mission of gaining buy-in in their organisation.

3. Don’t sell the sizzle, sell the WHY.
While selling benefits rather than features might be perfectly sensible for products that have become commoditised, that is not the case with innovations. As Simon Sinek says we should “start with why” - . What inspired us to develop games based learning? Sell that why. Tell that story. Inspire others and create a movement.

4. Learning design trumps game gimmicks
If (for example) 3D graphics and a first person perspective help the learning, then use them; if they don’t, then don’t use them. Not only do they add to the cost of development, they are aesthetically tied to entertainment games and make games based learning look trivial and so on.

5. Real enough, not really boring
Whilst the simulation “models” a situation, it is not a model in the strictest sense. A learning simulation needs to be real enough to allow learners to quickly explore a situation without getting too bogged down in detail.

6. Don’t crowbar games into the solution
Just because we can develop games doesn’t mean that they are the correct solution to a particular problem - apropos games.

7. Games = game changers
Games can reach the parts of learning other methods can’t. We need to look for intractable learning problems. Complex issues that are hard to explain with traditional learning methods fit the bill, as does the need to engage large numbers of people. Death by PowerPoint won’t work in these situations.

8. Gamification and serious games / simulations are not the same thing
As Andrzej Marczewski points out, gamification shares some aspects with games such as scores, leader boards, badges (rewards). But, serious games / simulations incorporate game play. And serious games / simulations differ from entertainment games, which are only played for fun. This fact has design and marketing implications and is more than a simple semantic issue ‘about names’.

9. Glammed up quizzes aren’t really games
They are tests in disguise. Games take many forms but they have traits such as problem solving, narrative approach, situational reference (simulations), challenges, jeopardy, interactivity, engagement etc. While a quiz might be engaging if there is a potential to win a million, they are not going to expand learning much.

10. Fads can become mainstream
"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out." -- Decca Recording Co. rejecting the Beatles, 1962.

The law of Diffusion of Innovation (Everett Rogers) shows how innovations are taken up by innovators, then early adopters, then come the early majority, the late majority pile in and finally the laggards turn up. Games based learning is still in the early adopter phase and we should be marketing to these types of customers. But to go mainstream, as Geoffrey A Moore states, we will need to cross the chasm, by building momentum and creating a bandwagon effect that the pragmatists will take notice of.


Crossing the Chasm, Geoffrey A. Moore (1991, revised 1999)
Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, Simon Sinek (2011)
What’s the difference between Gamification and Serious Games? Andrzej Marczewski
Game Mechanics in Gamification, Andrzej Marczewski

Sunday, 6 October 2013

10 Resources on Creating your Own Learning Game

Image Courtesy of Ian Dick on Flickr.
I hope you all enjoyed our previous post (our very own infographic: “Quick Guide to Developing a Learning Simulation”).  I thought I’d follow up this week by sharing with you a list of resources to help you further in designing and developing your own learning game.  The resources cover cognitive flow, feedback loops, making games engaging, common usability testing mistakes and so on.  The list is obviously not exhaustive and some of the more academic papers may warrant something closer to ‘skim reading’, but these are just some of the best and most useful articles, papers etc. that I have found.  The first one is particularly interesting and definitely worth a read.

  1. Cognitive Flow: The Psychology of Great Game Design 
  2. Improving The Way We Design Games for Learning by Examining How Popular Video Games Teach 
  3. Learning Game Design Series, Part 1: Play and Evaluate Games 
  4. Creating Flow, Motivation, & Fun in Learning Games 
  5. Designing Learning Games That Don’t Suck 
  6. Designing Mobile Games For Engagement and Learning 
  7. Games For Learning 
  8. ‘Narrative’ in Serious or Learning Game Design Research 
  9. Feedback Loops in Games and Learning 
  10. Five Common Mistakes in Game Usability Testing and How to Avoid Them 

And for good measure, you might want to have a read of our post “Three ‘Games Based Learning’ Development Tools Explored”, if you are thinking about developing your own learning game.

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