Thursday, October 28, 2010

Tandem Learning at DevLearn 2010

The Tandem Learning team is gearing up for next week in San Francisco at DevLearn 2010. By now you may have heard some of the buzz about what we'll be up to at the conference, but here's a complete list of where you'll see us at the conference. Hold onto your hats, everyone! Tandem is bringing the learning to the city by the bay...

Do this now:
  • Sign up for the alternate reality game (ARG) that we are running - Dr. Strangelearn: 
  • Download the DevLearn 10 app for your smartphone. Its amazing!
Wednesday 11/3:
  • Visit us at booth 410 in the Expo Hall.
  • Register to win an Extreme Makeover: Learning Edition! at our booth
  • Check out our "Why in 5!" Five-minute information sessions at our booth, where we'll be introducing new, emerging and exciting learning technologies and WHY you should be thinking of integrating them now.
  • Come find out more about ARGs (and maybe find some clues) at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Station (next to the Serious Game Zone)
  • If you haven't already, definitely sign up to play Dr. Strangelearn - it's not too late to see what all the excitement is about!
  • 4:00 - 5:00 Understanding Alternate Reality Games and Why They Work in Salon 4.
Thursday 11/4:
  • Visit us at booth 410 in the Expo Hall.
  • Register to win an Extreme Makeover: Learning Edition! at our booth 
  • Check out our "Why in 5!" Five-minute information sessions at our booth
  • Come find out more about ARGs at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Station 
  • If you haven't already, definitely sign up to play Dr. Strangelearn
  • 11:00 - 11:40 am Come hear me talk about Emerging Social Learning Ideas at Mark Oehlert's Social Learning Camp
  • 12:00 - 12:40 pm Come hear me talk about Emerging Game Technologies in Alicia Sanchez's Serious Game Zone
Friday 11/5:
  • 7:15 - 8:15 am Dr. Strangelearn: ARG Debrief is a Breakfast Byte in Nob Hill AB
  • 9:45 - 10:45 am New and Emerging Learning Technologies session in Salon 14-15
We are all really excited about the conference this year! Besides the activities listed above, there will be some onsite announcements and surprises as well. Stay tuned and see you at DevLearn!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Design considerations for conference alternate reality games

If you've been following along, you've probably heard that Tandem Learning is running an alternate reality game (ARG) at DevLearn 10. Dr. Strangelearn is our sophomore ARG at DevLearn, and we're excited to get everyone involved and playing. (If you're going to DevLearn, you really should sign up now. Really. Do it now. I'll wait...)

As I've been writing about ARGs for learning, I hoped to make some correlations between our conference ARGs and the ARGs that we've designed as learning experiences. But there are distinct design differences between the two types of ARGs because of the different play contexts, and for people investigating the use of ARGs for learning, its important to understand these differences.

In no particular order:
  • At conference ARGs, the ARG is not the main attraction. Unless the event is designed around the ARG, the game is likely to be a supplement to the conference. In these cases, people are there for some other reason...and typically, the reason is to interact with the other people at the event. Because of this, its important to design conference ARGs to supplement, not take away from, the main event. If you don't, people will abandon the game play to focus on the main attraction.
  • When designing ARGs for learning, presenting complex problems to be solved is part of the learning. For conference ARGs, complex problems seem like work. Designing for simplicity of play at events is critical...if the game is too complicated or the puzzles/challenges are too difficult, players at an conference are more likely to give up or stop playing.
  • Learning-focused ARGs can challenge the players to follow a path, or to find hidden information. For conference ARGs, give players LOTS of opportunities to play and join in on the fun. If the path to play or win is too linear, players are less likely to join an conference ARG if they feel they joined too late or can't keep up.
  • For conference ARGs, keep the content light, with opportunities to take-away content from the game to review after the event. Although there may be learning opportunities during the event embedded in the game, sparking a learner's interest and providing great content that can be explored after the conference is a more successful strategy than trying to actually train people at the event. For learning ARGs, the training is an important part of the design and the expectation is that players will have much more time and attention to focus on the content as they play through the game experience.
There are lots of other subtle design considerations that make conference ARGs different from ARGs for learning. The main focus of ANY serious ARG design should be the basic question: what do you want people to learn by engaging in the experience? After that, understanding your audience, the context of the game play, and the resources you and the players have available are the parameters within which you design. 

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

FINALLY some research! Games improve corporate learning results

For years, the serious games industry has danced around the questions of whether games are better for learning. We've pushed past objections about something being too "game-like" or "fun." We would come up with other words for games, like "competitive environments." All the while, we have held our conviction that well-designed games really DO improve learning outcomes.

And now there's some research to prove it.  (Source: and article link here)

A University of Colorado Denver Business School study found those trained on video games do their jobs better, have higher skills and retain information longer than workers learning in less interactive, more passive environments.
"Companies have been designing video games for employees for years but so far it has all been done on a hunch. They suspected the games helped but they could never actually prove it," said Traci Sitzmann, PhD, assistant professor of management at the Business School whose study will be published in the winter edition of Personnel Psychology. "We now know video games work, and we know why they work."
Sitzmann spent over a year examining 65 studies and data from 6,476 trainees and discovered those using video games had an 11 percent higher factual knowledge level, a 14 percent higher skill-based knowledge level and a 9 percent higher retention rate than trainees in comparison groups.
I only hope there will be more research and data where that came from.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What can alternate reality games do for you?

I've written a lot in the past about design considerations (here and here) and lessons learned (here) for alternate reality games (ARGs) for learning, but another important question to address is: what are ARGs good at teaching?

This is a multi-layered question, as ARGs are complex learning experiences and most are not designed as a simple linear process like you would see in a typical e-learning module. Because ARGs are storyline driven and depend on learners to engage with the content to complete the game tasks and/or inform their game decisions, it is important to consider two key questions when determining whether an ARG is an appropriate learning activity.

1. Does learner interaction with the content positively impact the learning goals?

This is a basic, but important question. Sometimes you just want people to know something, or do something differently. Company policies, learning a new process...these are training initiatives that are important, but they don't necessarily require learner interaction nor are they subject to interpretation. There are a lot of topics, however, where learners actively engaging with the content is critical to learning it. Think about topics like leadership development, project management and team communication, sales strategy, or quality assurance review. In all of these training areas, learners get better by practicing and engaging with the content. Designing an ARG that encourages critical thinking and learning by doing is a great application of an ARG.
2. Is it difficult to get learners to engage with the content effectively in other formats?
Sometimes its difficult to motivate learners to engage with content. Most training professionals don't like to admit this, but we all know its true. Training exercises can feel forced, and often it depends on each learner's personal motivation to get something out of the training. One reason for this may be that the delivery mechanism of the training isn't appropriate or creates barriers to learning. For example, can you develop a sales strategy for your customers after watching a PowerPoint presentation on developing a sales strategy? Can you lead a team after an e-learning module on leadership skills? Will you know who to contact or where to find the information critical to your job after sitting through your HR orientation? Probably not. And that's because the format of the training doesn't provide you with the proper opportunities to practice or the motivation to engage with the tasks. ARGs can be designed to address almost any topic or content in a way that allows for more interaction and with an overlying competitive element that provides additional motivation to learn and engage. 
ARGs allow for flexible design that can encourage problem-solving, communication skills, leadership skills, information gathering and critical thinking skills. Do you have a need within your organization to help learners practice these things? An ARG can help.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

The Obvious Ninja: a key to successful alternate reality games

I was recently at a conference and noticed the conference photographer. Yes, already you may see the problem. Photographers are supposed to blend into the scene. They document an occasion but aren't supposed to be the attraction themselves. Well, not this photographer.

Its not that she was trying to draw attention to herself. In fact, what I noticed about her was that she was trying SO hard to be sneaky that you couldn't help but notice her. Exaggerated sneaky walking. Sudden ducking and swinging the camera around. Watching her during one session caused us to break out into a fit of giggles.

That's when I named her "The Obvious Ninja."

Ironically, this concept is important for serious alternate reality game (ARG) design. Traditionally, entertainment ARGs have been very subversive, attracting a small group of players that invest significant time into figuring out the puzzles of the game in order to win. There are two problems with this type of design: "small group of players" and "invest significant time."

One of the most basic things we know about learning game design is the need to reduce the cognitive overhead and barriers of entry to play. At first glance, this seems counter-intuitive given that most ARGs are puzzle-based. But good ARG design relies on balancing making the game obvious and easy to use and keeping it challenging (because if there's no challenge, there's not much fun).

So if you're planning an ARG and are aiming to involve a broad audience, think "obvious ninja." And tip your hat to my favorite conference photographer.

Monday, October 11, 2010

SIEGE ARG Post-game debrief

Back from Atlanta, I barely had time to catch my breath before jumping into the next project, but wanted to share out some of our lessons learned from the latest alternate reality game (ARG) that we ran at SIEGE!

First, a HUGE thanks to Silly MonkeyGetting Girls in the Game, and Design Marbles for inviting us along for the ride. Not only was the ARG fun to put together, but it was a pleasure to work with such talented folks and I can't wait until our next adventure!

A few notes on ARG design coming out of the conference:

  • The augmented reality (AR) features in this game were new, and really got people involved in game play in a different way. We had QR codes that served as many of the clues and it was great to see how people were interacting with them. One important note for AR though--make sure your audience members have the technical capabilities to access the clues! I was surprised at the limited number of smart phones on site, but it was awesome to see people working together (and finding people with smart phones!) to access the clues. 
  • Just because they're gamers doesn't mean they'll play your game! Think about it...gamers don't want to waste their time on a game unless its fun and engaging--just like anyone else. Its absolutely essential that you design your game for engagement, understanding your audience, and providing ample information to get people involved in the game early. Subversive game play, even for gamers, seems like work when you're in the middle of a conference. Keeping game elements obvious and instructions simple goes a long way.
  • Get some celebrity endorsements. We were fortunate to be able to post our clues on the keynote podium, and Nolan Bushnell even wore a clue on his back one night! It always helps to get some prominent players involved to peak interest and get people playing.
  • Design as you go. I can't emphasize enough the importance of the puppetmaster in ARGs. As you see how people are engaging in your game, its critical that you are thinking of how to make dynamic adjustments to tweak and improve the game play experience. ARGs are not a static experience, and their execution should be as fluid and intentional as the nature of playing them. 
For more information about the SIEGE ARG, there was a really nice write up by Nettrice Gaskins for the National Alliance for Media Art +Culture (NAMAC).