Taking on the challenge of mastering new tools

Mastering new tools for work will happen regularly for most of us today. I often try out new tools to see if they could be beneficial to me and if I like what they do, I will take on the challenge of mastering the new tool. For some tools this is a quick and easy process, for others, it takes you on a bit of a learning curve.

The tool I am mastering at the moment is Evolve Authoring, a well-priced e-learning authoring software. I have used Adobe Captivate before and that was a learning curve too. Like everything, the first time using it is about finding your way around and then playing around with the functionality in a bit of a trial and error kind of way.

I did look at their Academy videos to get me started in understanding the capabilities, but until you start using it, it is academic knowledge at best. What I like about the software is that it gives you live previews, so you can verify whether what you are doing is showing up as intended or not.

Originally I was going to delegate the task to the team and for a variety of reasons, then decided it would probably be useful if I knew the true capacity of this authoring tool too to create some good out of the box gamified content. Congruent with my learning gamification framework. When I master the content creation tools, I can also teach others and advise of functionality that may make learning more powerful.

I have to say as rapid authoring tools go, I am quietly impressed with Evolve Authoring. It includes branched scenarios out of the box, it allows for confidence testing up front, a multiplayer game and social elements at the course level, which is usually reserved for the learning management environment with other tools. It also includes a fairly logical structure for making content visually pleasing and adding progression mechanics easily. And it includes gamification mechanics out of the box too, so if your learning management system hasn’t yet gone that far, you can create it at the content level.

What I got stuck on is where titles go and when they appear, there are simply too many places where you can add titles. With the graphics theme set-up, I fumbled and still haven’t quite figured out how to get the logo to display in the theme somewhere. But I felt after a few hours fiddling with graphics, that maybe I needed to set it aside and start creating content and then come back to investigate what I am doing wrong with the graphics. It seems like the kind of authoring tool, where the order in which what was done, isn’t all that important.

In the initial stages of my journey to mastery, adding content and having it display as I intended was good to see. Then levelling it up to add more interactions and making the display of the content look better also gave me some inner motivational boosts. Testing out different interactive elements to see which one fits all the text best and how the related graphics and audio would work was another fun exploration.

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I haven’t managed to test it all, but my big reward objective is to create a first full module of a multiple part course in it before meeting a client later this week. If this then works well, we may use the tool to iterate quicker from concept to storyboard to fully created elearning. Most of the time we use storyboards to finalise the content in, but for one client this is proving troublesome hence testing this method.

It means from an operational perspective that I will need to find instructional designers open to doing rapid developing in the Evolve Authoring tool (If that appeals to you, do get in touch, it is freelance only at this point).

Journey to mastery

So as I am learning the various parts I also wanted to take note of how my journey maps out, to then test if it can be re-applied elsewhere too. I started by evaluating the tool for fit first with their trial license, I took all the levels in the academy before effectively starting to play around and experiment. For me, when I analyse it, that is my way of learning. If a tool is easy I may skip straight to trial and error. I think that’s how I taught myself Microsoft Office, before there were many help functions available, having come from Lotus tools the transition was not too hard. True mastery comes over time.

I also consciously wanted to check what motivated and frustrated me along the way, but to keep progressing regardless. Leaving the graphics to come back to for example is a case in point, I couldn’t work it out quickly so I did the basics and then moved on to create more content, which I was able to master much quicker. In most of my instructional design days, graphics and development were left to someone else, my work stopped at the approved storyboard and I verified the developed version to make sure the interpretation was as it was intended to be.

Seeing content come to life is definitely a motivator for me. I often found that with games too, once you have a playable version it starts to be rewarding to see it come together. I benefit from having Q&A people around to review and test all the fine details. It’s one part of the job that I have learned to delegate, especially when have been closely involved. I find over time I become blind to some of the errors, yet fresh eyes will give you that perspective.

I know I am nowhere near finished on my journey to mastery with the Evolve authoring tool, but I know at least I have started and that initial progress is promising. To me, that is happily motivational. Knowing you have more to learn, with the confidence that you will probably be able to handle it because the early indicators give that impression.

I didn’t set external rewards, in fact, the work in itself, the creation was enough to get me moving and to keep me going. Maybe after the initial big learning curve has been climbed, this may change.

Gamification considerations around how we learn

When you set out to learn a new tool, how do you start? What is your process? Which parts do you find frustrating and which parts do you find motivational? How do you handle frustrations? What do you do to keep going? Was the work in itself motivational or did you look for external rewards?

These are the types of questions I would ask when embarking on learning gamification projects. If the work is motivational within itself, then the setting of external rewards on top of it may not be necessary nor good for future sustainability. Self-selection of rewards and adaptation of rewards to our motivation level linked to different places of the learning curve we may be on, could prove to be more beneficial than one size fits all.


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Breaking the pattern as a way of adapting to new skills

Pattern interrupts can be simple events that interrupt what we were doing and get us to focus on something else entirely. Imagine you are having a conversation in a noisy coffee shop and all of a sudden somebody drops their tray. The noise level in the coffee shop will take a nosedive, some may scream or clap even and very likely you may not remember initially what you were talking about. Hence your pattern was interrupted.

In learning new skills, when you are brand new to a topic, you rarely have to eliminate a pattern, but rather you need to develop one. However, in changing habits such as for example instead of lounging in the sofa after work, choosing to go to the gym or go for a walk, we find it a lot harder to change our ways. Breaking with the od habit and creating a new, often works best when we build a new routine attached to some healthy old ones. But we do need to break the old pattern first.

Holiday break

What has me thinking about this, is the upcoming holiday I am aiming to take at the end of next week. Last year I had a project where I had to check in a little every day of my holiday to see if something had come up and I wedged the holiday around business travel to conferences. I have to say I didn’t feel I had any pattern interrupt that allowed me to recharge my batteries sufficiently. Besides the fact that the project I was checking in to, was a problem child and the people involved very unappreciative of the time and effort we were putting in. Thankfully we managed to turn them into a happy ending over time, but I certainly lost the break I really needed from a rough year in business. So with that still in the back of my mind, I am keen to this year make a solid break.

For the pattern interrupt to happen, I need to switch off completely from day to day work. To be honest for two weeks, it is a small amount of time in the larger scheme of things. What I find that larger organisation find this totally acceptable (at least those with healthy work habits) and the smaller organisations are the ones who feel their world will fall apart, even if on a good run they would take two weeks or more to get back to you.

What the break in daily grind does, is that it basically sets you up to change your routine and create an openness to something different. For some people the break may come easy, for others, it takes a while to get used to the new routine and fully relax. In my case, the best holiday breaks have been those where I switched off completely and managed to focus on totally different often new activities. Those actually recharge and give new energy to come back with.

Pattern interrupts in games

Games use pattern interrupts frequently to create the element of surprise and to force you to do things differently. New obstacles, new ammunition, different environments all throw you off the things you considered normal and got used to in a previous level or even the previous round for some games. Gaining skills comes from adapting to all these new situations and to keep levelling up or increasing your score.

In fact, I would probably argue that for some game types this is the thrill of the game and the very piece that makes the game so attractive. Other games only use the technique sparingly and are much more about regular similar patterns, such as puzzles for example.

Why is it not prevalent in learning?

In a lot of learning design, the course is created from the viewpoint of the novice gathering this information for the first time. However, in most organisations, people come with some base knowledge on most topics especially in the soft skills arena and possibly a lot of others too. Yet we send them down the same track as the people who know nothing?! If this was a game, you wouldn’t play it for very long.

I have never really understood why this happens. Is it because instructional designers start with a set format of sharing information? Or is the rapid authoring tool structure? Or is it the way the subject matter expert thinks the information needs to be conveyed? Or is it just the way it was always done?

Granted, it will take longer to dream up relevant pattern interrupts and to create storylines similar to the work grind. Often the budget and time doesn’t allow for that, but then I would also question whether no change in any behaviour was what you really aimed for?

Pattern interrupts for learning

In my internal trainer days, I often got invited to address problems a certain team was experiencing. I remember one team, who invited me to their kick-off retreat with the whole group which ranged from senior managers all the way to new starters. This group had a technical remit but often had to present solutions, the feedback on their presentations had been relatively poor across the board. So the head of the department asked me to give them something useful in 30 minutes in a plenary setting format.

The only way, I could make it meaningful and relevant was to pick on some of the bad habits I had seen people do. From the guy with a hand in their pockets creating a very visual bulge, which I had one person volunteer and caused massive laughter but made the point. The rattling of keys, coins or clicking of pen heads and tops, again classic, super funny when exaggerated but also spotted for real. The ice bear walk up and down a stage, the becoming the projected image, etc. All very visual, memorable and for the volunteers, these were real pattern interrupts.

In order to embed the changes, you would need to take away some of the things so people could get used to let’s say speaking on stage without movement. Standing with your hands beside your body on one spot and delivering your talk with just words. Then little by little allowing a bit more movement, such as one impactful move in the first 10 minutes. Would it make you more conscious about when to use what move? Absolutely!

In online learning, starting with scenarios or quizzes or quests, where the learner will have to make some difficult and hard-to- get-right choices will create an awareness of needing to learn something more. Allowing them to then learn just that, is equally important.

Starting with the fact that learners will have base knowledge is good and in today’s world probably assumed normal. Asking them which habits they are utilising or guilty of is also a fun starting point, then showing them the implications of those in the safe learning environment can be very powerful.

Imagine in a healthcare environment, you have a nurse admitting she often just lifts someone up manually quickly herself when really best practice tells you equipment should be used. Telling her she did it wrong, has little impact, she probably knows anyway. Showing her the impact it has on her body and that of the patient may wake up the attention to learn. Then showing how to build a new habit linked to an existing one, is a good way of giving easily transferable ways. Then catching them doing it, in reality, the right way, when praise then follows is the embedder of that way of working.

The purpose of the pattern interrupt is to grab attention and focus people on something new or different. I personally feel pattern interrupts should be as prevalent in learning gamification as they are in games.



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Are you tracking your goals?

Maybe it is my marketing training that has me tracking all things business related, but then I already created all sorts of fun trackers as a kid. I wonder sometimes if it is just me or whether more people work like this? Do feel free to comment and let me know what you are tracking and why?

For me, the prime reason for goal setting and subsequently tracking them is to see if I am making progress. I tend to set goals for what is important to me. So for example, growing the business turnover is one goal, adding new customers, creating new leads, setting up information funnels, website and social media performance etc. Most things in business can be tracked and I enjoy watching the results or progress happening, I also on the flipside do my best to steer results in a positive direction when they aren’t going to plan.

On occasion, it happens to not hit a goal right on target and then the decision is whether to change course, to explain why it happened and learn from it and consider learning progress. This year for example, with the upcoming fiscal year end for year 6 in the business, I know we have the 6th consecutive year of revenue growth, which is good. However, I  am not happy with the current results, as they are way lower than my goal target. There are some good reasons for this including some contracts not going ahead, postponing and other good reasons.

When the year-end accounts are all filed, I tend to take some time to reflect and set new goals for the next financial year. I have some exciting news already, which will kick off the next financial year in a positive with a big contract win. Enquiries are going up again and some are close to closing, so the future is definitely optimistic. We have learned a lot from the past two years.

Earlier today, I was talking to a marketing tool supplier about how to set up a marketing campaign in their funnel system, so that I could track goals. As it turned out I wanted way more information and functionality than the system provided. It is why I love gamification because I can track virtually everything and build in milestone rewards.

In my personal life, I also set goals. From fitness to reading, writing and even doing fun stuff. I don’t know if you do, but it has been so ingrained in my world that I wonder if that is just me?

We even created a goal setting plugin for our gamification academy to help people achieve their objectives. I personally come from the school of what gets measured gets done and data gives you feedback. After the facts, you can’t change it, but if you are aiming for something, you should for sure know what would be the telltale signs of progression and the direction it is going in.

It brings back a lovely sailing analogy. I used to sail competitively in a “Class 1 X33” boat for those of you in the boating world that will mean something, for everyone else it is a boat where you need a few people as crew to make it run well. I joined the crew knowing relatively little about sailing and the helmsman who used to train Olympic teams explained that one of the things you needed to watch was the telltales on the mainsail for feedback. He advised they should all be aligned in the same direction to know whether you were for sure cruising. In modern boats, you have way more equipment that tells you lots of other things too, but for me, that stuck as a great analogy for how I use goal tracking to see if my course is set to cruise or not.

I also always wondered why my workplace systems were not set-up to track against performance and telltales. Hence we are affiliated with some tools that can help you do this for businesses. The system shows you in dashboards and traffic light colouring whether an individual, team, department and company is on track and who is struggling and may require assistance. As a business grows or with remote teams, this becomes an essential part of running a successful business.

What does good gamification feel like?


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Gamification design, game design, instructional design, it’s all easy, or?

There is a misconception that game design, gamification design, learning design, instructional design, user experience design is easy. Mastery in any of the types of design will make the craft seem easy and because everyone has played games and taken courses, so surely it can’t be that hard to make something. A lot of the time when people want to buy a service, they reckon we can just mash something together in a couple of hours and hey, presto the job is done. In my years of working in all of the above, I have found the reality to be slightly different.

For me coming up with ideas and concepts is the easy part, communicating them and translating them into meaningful experiences and content that is the harder part. Once we have the high-level concept approved, we then expand and work on storyboards and more detailed designs (oh and that is after we have spoken to the target audience).

It is at that point, some of our clients feel they are now also expert on the type of design and they want to make changes. Now, if it is superficial and small stuff, we tend to go with it. But when the core design, whether it is gameplay, delivery channels and methods change, then we tend to throw in our expertise and explain the impact of those changes. In gamification and game design, we tend to find it will then be accepted and we agree typically to let the data drive future changes.

When it comes to learning design, everyone these days seems to think they can make an effective course and they know stuff about learning and instructional design. Just because we now have the tools with which we can create content on the fly doesn’t make them of good instructional value. There are some formula’s and recipes to follow to make your content useful to learners. From what I see coming from homemade or in-house on the fly, it doesn’t seem to be as easy as people think.

I reviewed a number of on the fly videos recently, which had taken several days to be created and a number of edits, so the true on the flyversions probably were worse. Anyway, here are a summary of errors: they missed why what they were explaining was important or even mattered. Actors and explainers blocked what they were trying to show with their body and when there was a second actor in the video to demonstrate something, they were basically left sitting looking mighty bored.  As a real motivational clincher, in some videos, the people were told off for doing it wrong too often. Background noises included someone actively interrupting the recording, banging of doors and other equally fun noises, etc. Needless to say, we advised against using these videos completely.

So if you are the DIY kind and really want to make your own instructional video, the 4 MAT questions are a good starting point:

  • Why
  • What
  • How
  • What if

When you watch people play games on live stream, you will often hear the commentators explain why they may have chosen that move, what it is they are doing or trying to achieve and they also explain a lot of what if scenarios and what they would have done in the player’s shoes. The how question is answered if you get a player to actually show you how they do what they do. YouTube is full of ‘How to” videos for lots of questions, so those videos are worth making.

Is it easy, well actually getting it right tends to take a number of tries and from years in the field of learning, game and gamification design I can tell you it tends to take iterations and a base of knowledge to put meaningful content together. For a start, I would recommend reading and learning the base knowledge of the kind of design you want to do. After that practice and putting it to the test with the public will give you the best feedback and learning.




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Don’t let age be a deterrent to gamification

For some time I have been saying that from our evidence, we find that older age groups in the workplace tend to respond better to gamification than for example Millenials, who are often the main reason why companies buy gamification. Research by TalentLMS around the use of gamification in learning found that in fact, over 90% of employees of over 45 years of age would find that gamification may make them more productive. I will say it again don’t let age be a deterrent to gamification.

We have noticed for some time that older age groups tend to respond just as well and often more to gamification in the workplace. For a lot of younger employees, it is in fact expected that workplace tools have similar feedback mechanisms as social media and games for example. For the more mature group who were used to workplace solutions that didn’t include any stimulus to help them perform better, this is indeed innovative and helpful.

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We also find that if given a safe and private environment to test out how you are doing with instant feedback on performance tends to attract more frequent visits from experienced employees to test out other ways of doing the same thing. For a lot of the less experienced workforce, the first step is still mastering a skill and then practising it in real life for feedback, before they will return and test new theories. For me, these results confirmed what we already had anecdotal evidence for.

Gamers are more receptive to gamification

This may not be a surprise to anyone but the same research found that gamers actually responded better to gamification than non-gamers, or at least they said so in a survey. I often find that if you ask someone if they will like something more or let them experience what both feel like, may come to different conclusions. I don’t know how it was measured other than a survey, so we can’t really comment there.

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What the survey results also mentioned that 42% of the over 45’s play games every day in comparison to only 31% of the 18-24 age group. I think it is great to see that age is no longer something to worry about when it comes to gamification. I had a hunch a long time ago that the perception was slanted towards the younger age groups because of video games, but in fact crosswords, sudoku and solitaire have been mighty popular with the older groups. The reasons we play and what motivates us in gamification will also change over time, competition is still higher in younger age groups and personal satisfaction in completing the challenge is more prevalent in older workers.

I think the research carried out by TalentLMS is great and definitely worth exploring. I have followed it for a number of years and often used it to assist clients in making decisions towards gamification one way or another.

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