The dark side of gamification

Posted 16 March 2015 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: game-based learning

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How well do you chop your cucumber?

It’s a ridiculous question, I know, but in the short film Sight the protagonist plays an augmented reality game that awards him points for the consistency in the thickness of his slices.

The scene irked me. The last thing I would want while preparing dinner is a computer judging me. Really, who cares how wide I cut the slices, and who judged that distance to be the perfect width anyway? It’s certainly not my idea of fun. And besides, it all tastes the same.

It’s a clear case of gamification gone too far – and of course that was the film’s message. The plot continues to delve into much darker uses of the technology, raising the spectre of what appears to be utopia on the surface hiding dystopia underneath.

Sight screenshot

In my previous post Game-based learning on a shoestring, I advocated the use of games to support learning in the workplace. I believe they have much to offer in terms of motivation, engagement and the development of capability.

However, I also recognise another side of games that can in fact impede learning. They may be downright inappropriate for several reasons…

1. Life is not a game.

Points, badges and leaderboards may be critical elements of game mechanics, but they have little bearing on real life. Firefighters don’t save people from burning buildings for 200 digital hats; soldiers can’t heal their shrapnel wounds with a beverage; and utility workers who die of asphyxiation in confined spaces don’t scrape into the Top 10.

So if you want your game to be authentic, dispense with the inauthentic.

2. Games can trivialise serious issues.

While serious games such as Darfur is Dying shine a light on worthy causes, sometimes even the best of intentions can backfire.

Take Mission US for instance. In one of the missions you play a slave girl in 19th Century Kentucky who tries to escape to the north. Prima facie it sounds like a way of encouraging young folk to appreciate the horrors of slavery. In practice, however, it’s gone over like a lead balloon.

3. Games may reinforce the wrong mindset.

The concerns that many people have over Grand Theft Auto are well documented.

What is less documented, however, is the undesirable influence that work-based games can have on your employees. Do you really want them to compete against one another?

4. Games can contaminate motivation.

Forcing those who don’t want to play a game is a sure-fire way to demotivate them. If you’re going to gamify my chopping of cucumbers, I’ll chop as few cucumbers as possible as infrequently as possible.

Even encouraging those who want to play the game might promote their extrinsic motivation over their intrinsic. This begs the question… How will they perform on the job without the prospect of external rewards?

5. Games will be gamed.

Regardless of the purpose of your game, or its sound pedagogical foundation, someone will always seek to game it. That means they’re focused on “winning” rather than on learning.

And what’s the point of that?


To conclude, I reiterate my belief that games have much to offer workplace L&D. But there’s a fine line between an engaging learning experience and an insidious waste of time. So before embarking on your gamely quest, take a moment to consider – and mitigate – the unintended consequences.

May the odds be ever in your favour.

Game-based learning on a shoestring

Posted 23 February 2015 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: game-based learning

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Game-based learning doesn’t have to break the bank. That was the key point of my presentation at The Learning Assembly in Melbourne last week.

Sure, you can spend an obscene amount of money on gaming technology if you want to, but you don’t have to.

Take Diner Dash for instance. In this free online game, you play the role of a waitress in a busy restaurant. As the customers arrive you need to seat them, take their order, submit the order to the chef, serve their food, transact their payment, clean their table, and take the dirty dishes back to the kitchen.

Leave any of your customers unattended for too long and they’ll walk out in a huff, costing you a star. When you lose all your stars, your shift is over.

It’s all very straight-forward… until the customers start pouring in and you find yourself racing to do everything at the same time. Straight-forward rapidly becomes complex!

Diner Dash screenshot

While Diner Dash is just a simple little game, it can afford an engaging learning experience.

For example, suppose you incorporate the game into a team-building workshop. You could split the participants into teams of 3 or 4 members, place each team in front of a computer with Diner Dash pre-loaded, and instruct them to score as many points as possible within a given time period.

Of course the game isn’t meant to be played in this way. Controlling the waitress by committee is awkward and inefficient. The participants will panic; they’ll snap at one another; someone will commandeer the mouse and go it alone; someone else will butt in; and they’ll all start to talk over the top of each other.

But that’s by design. Because when the game is over, you introduce Tuckman’s model of team development and suddenly the penny drops.

What Diner Dash has done is provide the participants with a recent experience of team building. Sure, the premise of the game was fictitious, but the dynamics among the players were real. So when it comes time to reflect upon the theoretical principles of the model, they don’t need to imagine some vague hypothetical scenario because they’ve personally experienced a highly charged scenario that very morning. It’s fresh in their minds.

Hands around laptop

Other themes that could emerge via a game like Diner Dash include time management, priority management, customer service, problem solving, decision making, strategic thinking, adaptability and learning agility.

Another is collaboration. If you were to put a leaderboard at the front of the room, I could almost guarantee that each team would default to competition mode and battle it out for supremacy. But wasn’t the objective of the activity to score as many points as possible? So why wouldn’t you collaborate with your colleagues around you to do that – especially those who had played the game before! This observation never fails to enlighten.

So, getting back to my original proposition: game-based learning doesn’t have to break the bank. With resources such as Diner Dash available for free, you can do it on a shoestring.

E-Learning conferences in Australia in 2015

Posted 3 February 2015 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: conference

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Here we go again with another round of awesome PD opportunities for e-learning professionals in the land down under!

While not all of these conferences focus purely on e-learning, the observant among us will discover components of interest.

Brisbane skyline

The Future of Learning in Higher Education Summit
• Where: Sydney
• When: 16-17 February 2015
• More info: Informa

The Learning Assembly Australia
• Where: Melbourne
• When: 17-19 February 2015
• More info: Ark Group

Learning Cafe UnConference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 18 February 2015
• More info: Learning Cafe

• Where: Melbourne
• When: 25 February 2015
• More info: LearnX

Intranets Strategy and Design Australia 2015
• Where: Sydney
• When: 4-5 March 2015
• More info: Ark Group

FutureSchools Conference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 11-12 March 2015
• More info: FutureSchools

Special Education Technology Needs Conference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 11-12 March 2015
• More info: FutureSchools

ClassTECH Conference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 11-12 March 2015
• More info: FutureSchools

Blended Learning Conference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 18-19 March 2015
• More info: Liquid Learning

Social Media in Tertiary Education Conference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 25-26 March 2015
• More info: Criterion Conferences

International Conference on Human Computing, Education and Information Management System
• Where: Sydney
• When: 27-28 March 2015
• More info: ICHCEIMS

Connected Education Summit
• Where: Melbourne
• When: 22 April 2015
• More info: Connect Show

CeBIT Australia
• Where: Sydney
• When: 5-7 May 2015
• More info: CeBIT Australia

THETA 2015
• Where: Gold Coast
• When: 11-13 May 2015
• More info: THETA Australasia

AITD National Conference
• Where: Sydney
• When: 13-14 May 2015
• More info: AITD

iMoot 2015
• Where: Online (Perth)
• When: 28 May – 1 June 2015
• More info: iMoot

Amplify Festival
• Where: Sydney & Melbourne
• When: 1-5 June 2015
• More info: Amplify

• Where: Brisbane
• When: 2-3 June 2015
• More info: EduTECH

MoodleMoot Australia 2015
• Where: Melbourne
• When: 6-8 July 2015
• More info: Moodle HQ

Forward Government Learning 2015
• Where: Canberra
• When: 23-24 July 2015
• More info: Ark Group

KM Australia 2015
• Where: Melbourne
• When: 4-6 August 2015
• More info: KM Australia

• Where: Adelaide
• When: 17-21 August 2015
• More info: Simulation Australasia

SimTecT2015 – Asia-Pacific Simulation Training Conference
• Where: Adelaide
• When: 17-21 August 2015
• More info: Simulation Australasia

Learning Cafe UnConference
• Where: Melbourne
• When: 19 August 2015
• More info: Learning Cafe

Leading a Digital School Conference
• Where: Melbourne
• When: 20-22 August 2015
• More info: iwbNet

Learning & Development Summit
• Where: Sydney
• When: 24-25 August 2015
• More info: Aventedge

LearnX 2015
• Where: Sydney
• When: 9 September 2015
• More info: LearnX

• Where: Canberra
• When: 8-9 October 2015
• More info: Moodleposium

Blended Learning 2015
• Where: Sydney
• When: 26-28 October 2015
• More info: IQPC

• Where: Sydney
• When: 27-29 October 2015
• More info: Association & Communications Events

If you are the organiser of one of these conferences, don’t forget to boil the backchannel…!

My Top 10 movers and shakers

Posted 20 January 2015 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: education, personal learning network

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I am humbled to once more be voted into Bob Little’s annual list of E-Learning Movers and Shakers for the Asia-Pacific region.

While I take these kinds of lists with a grain of salt, I do not deny that being acknowledged by my peers generates a warm and fuzzy feeling.

Now I would like to shine the light on some of my influencers in this corner of the world. Click the image below to discover my Top 10 movers and shakers in the Asia-Pacific region…

My Top 10 movers and shakers in the Asia-Pacific region

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a hat tip to a small selection of generous education professionals who think out loud and work out loud.

I learn so much from these people, and I dare say you will too.

Taking out the trash

Posted 5 January 2015 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: netiquette, personal learning network

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Happy new year!

I’m looking forward to 2015 as a time for exploring, building, experimenting, discovering, and learning.

Many of us like to make New Year’s resolutions in January – which rarely survive February – but this year mine are designed to last forever.

man taking out the trash

I hereby commit to the following five resolutions:

  1. No facey, no connecty.

    Humans have heads and names. If you apparently don’t, I won’t connect.

  2. Reject the hard sell.

    If your first message to me is sales oriented, you’re dropped.

  3. Do not feed the trolls.

    If you lack an open and collaborative mindset, I won’t engage.

  4. Do not feed the bullies.

    Bully-boy tactics do not lend credence to your argument; in fact they do the opposite. If you try to force feed me, the conversation is over.

  5. Shut the pop up.

    If a pop-up interrupts my reading of your article, I won’t bother quitting the pop-up. I’ll just quit your article.

Apologies if this seems like a negative way to begin the new year. However, by taking out the trash, I intend to let the light shine in.

What are your New Year’s resolutions…?

Thinking out loud

Posted 9 December 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: blogging, e-learning

Tags: , , , , , , ,

Well 2014 was another big year of thinking out loud for me, as evidenced by the range of articles that I blogged.

Some of them were real doozies, and I’m pleased that they attracted excellent comments to extend the conversation.

I’d be delighted if you were to take this opportunity to catch up on any posts that you may have missed, and extend the conversation even further…!

Word cloud of my blogging year

The 3 mindsets of m-learning

The caveat of the performance centre

Out of the shadows

An offer they can’t refuse

The triple-threat scenario

The point of compliance

The Comparative Value of Things

They’re not like us

I can’t use Facebook

E-Learning = Innovation = Science

The Average Joe imperative

Why I blog

The dawn of a new generation

Let’s get rid of the instructional designers!

Let’s get rid of the instructors!

The learnification of education

The grassroots of learning

The relationship between learning and performance support

Santa Sleigh with Kangaroos

Merry Christmas!

The relationship between learning and performance support

Posted 18 November 2014 by Ryan Tracey
Categories: informal learning

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This post is the third in a series in which I deliberate over the semantics of education.

I dedicate this one to Jane Hart whom I was delighted to meet in-person in Sydney last month. Jane is a renowned advocate of performance support in the workplace, and I wonder what she’ll make of my latest musing.

While much of Jane’s work exposes the difference between training and performance support – and implores us to do less of the former in favour of the latter – my post here does not. The difference between training and performance support proxies (at least IMHO) the difference between formal and informal learning, and I do not intend to rehash that which others such as Jane have already documented so well.

Instead, I intend to explore the relationship between learning and performance support, with the former considered in its informal context.

I hasten to add that while much of Jane’s treatment of informal learning is in terms of social media, for the purposes of my post I will remain within the scope of broadcast content that is published by or on behalf of SMEs for consumption by the masses. The platform I have in mind is the corporate intranet.

Business woman typing on computer

A healthy corporate intranet comprises thoughtfully structured information and resources to facilitate learning by the organisation’s employees. While this content is typically delivered in an instructivist manner by the SME, it is probably consumed in a constructivist manner by the end user.

Much of the content – if not most of it – is designed to be consumed before it needs to be applied on the job. Hence I refer to it as “pre-learning”. It is undertaken just in case it will be needed later on, and is thus vulnerable to becoming “scrap learning”.

But of course not all pre-learning is a waste of time; some of it will indeed be applied later on. However it may be quite a while before this happens, so it’s important that the learner can refer back to the content to refresh his or her memory of it as the need arises. This might be called “re-learning” and it’s done just in time.

To support the learner in applying their learning on the job, tools such as checklists and templates may be provided to them for their immediate use. These tools are called “job aids” and they’re used in the workflow.

However job aids aren’t the only form of performance support. Content in the ilk of pre-learning may be similarly looked up just in time, though it was never learned in the first place. These concepts may be so straight-forward that they need not be processed ahead of time.

Business meeting

To illustrate, consider the topic of difficult feedback.

James is a proactive manager who reads up about this topic on the corporate intranet, watches some scenarios, and perhaps even tries his hand at some simulations. But it’s not until an incident occurs a couple of months later that he needs to have that special conversation with a problematic team member. So he refers back to the intranet to brush up on the topic before going into the meeting armed with the knowledge and skills he needs for success.

Jennifer also explores this topic on the intranet while she’s in between projects. Some time later she finds that she too needs to have a conversation with one of her team members, but she feels she doesn’t need to re-learn anything. Instead, she’s comfortable to follow the step-by-step guide on her iPad during the meeting, which gives her sufficient scaffolding to ensure the conversation is effective.

George, on the other hand, has been so busy that he hasn’t gotten around to exploring this topic on the intranet. However he too finds that he must provide difficult feedback to one of his team members. So he quickly looks it up now, draws out the key points, and engages the conversation armed with that knowledge.

The point of these scenarios is not to say that someone was right and someone was wrong, but rather to highlight that everyone is subjected to different circumstances. Sure, one of the conversations will probably be more effective than the others, but the point is that each of the managers is able to perform the task better than they otherwise would have.

Venn diagram showing the intersection of learning and performance support at JIT

So when we return to the relationship between learning and performance support, we see a subtle but important difference.

Learning is about preparing for performance. This preparation may be done well ahead of time or just in time.

Performance support is about, umm… supporting performance. This support may be provided in the moment or – again – just in time.

Hence we see an intersection.

But the ultimate question is: so what? Well, I think an awareness of this relationship informs our approach as L&D professionals. And our approach depends on our driver.

If our driver is to improve capability, then we need to facilitate learning. If our driver is to improve execution, then we need to facilitate performance support.

Arguably these are two different ways of looking at the same thing, and as the intersection in the venn diagram shows, at least in that sense they are the same thing. So here we can kill two birds with one stone.


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