Robert Coates

Gamification – It’s More Than Keeping Score.

As our previous posts have alluded to, gamification is the current hot topic in training.  And there is real power in well-designed, effective gamification in other aspects of life, as David Hutchens mentioned last week. Many people are now discovering the power of gamification combined with social networking to make positive changes to their weight and health through apps like LoseIt, and Fitocracy. Even insurance companies are developing apps to take advantage of the power, such as UnitedHealth Group’s OptumizeMe, an app that allows people to participate in fitness-related contests with their friends.

Building an effective game or engaging training experience that uses game elements is more than just adding score keeping, and challenges. Jesse Schell in his book, The Art of Game Design. A Book of Lenses, suggests that effective game design is all about creating an engaging experience – one that draws players in and that they would want to repeat. As training designers we need to consider not “what game elements can I add,” but what will make this experience memorable, unique and engaging. After all, retention of the experience (and thus the learning) is the real goal.

As David mentioned in his post, at Blueline Simulations, we combine the elements of play, competition, and feedback to enrich our designs. We enhance the power of these elements by placing them within unique visual and story contexts to make them both more engaging and memorable. Whether it is a one-of-a-kind Blueline Blueprint ™ (learning visual), rich with visual metaphor and client specific detail, or one of our custom eSimulations, the story and content always come first. They provide the context, rationale and “stickiness” that bring the training to life and make it effective at generating results.

Give us a call, and we’ll explore not just how to gamify your learning programs, but how to build engaging experiences that change behavior and get business results.

Coaching Still Just as Important, But Harder Now

Research by Mary Broad and John Newstrom, as reported in their book, Transfer of Training, establishes how critical the manager’s role is to newly trained skills actually being used on the job. The authors assert that what the manager does before and after training occurs is even more important than what the training designer or the facilitator does.

One of the most critical roles the manager plays is reinforcing new skills through coaching. Just like developing new habits, becoming proficient at new skills takes place over time. Good coaching provides not only necessary feedback, but keeps the skills in focus long enough for new habits and patterns to become established.

However, there are a number of trends in the 21st century work force that make good coaching opportunities difficult to find. For most, gone are the days when everyone worked in the same office and you had small spans of control. How do you coach people in new skills when you have few interactions with them and rarely if ever see them live to evaluate their use of a new skill?

Fortunately, the same technologies that have made possible the shifts to a more virtual workforce also provide potential solutions to this coaching need.  For example, we are able to build avatar coaches right into our elearning training programs. And these same virtual coaches can be programmed to provide timed reminders to learners after the training to review material, answer questions about a key skill, or take an “on the spot” assessment to keep the learners focused on a new skill long enough for new patterns to become established.

A growing number of our programs have asynchronous coaching options in which the learner can use video or audio to capture their skill practice session – and share it with their manager for review and feedback. While this may not have the same spontaneity of a manager walking up and observing in real-time, there are new benefits. In fact, we have found that most learners will practice a skill several times to get it right before sending the sample to their manager for review. So what it lacks in immediacy, it makes up in practice repetition and ultimately, mastery.

In the past we were often asked to create a “How to Coach” program to accompany new training. In today’s world, learning designers have to assume more of the coaching responsibility by providing the learner and the manager with the tools and opportunities for good coaching to occur.

Have questions or want to brainstorm potential strategies for putting these exciting new coaching strategies to work  in your organization? Blueline is here to help!

Mobile is a Different Medium

A number of tech writers have said that with its introduction of the iPhone, Apple didn’t create a smartphone but a pocket computer that can operate as a phone. Given everything that people do with their smartphones now I think they are right. The function I use the least on my iPhone is making phone calls.

So, if today’s smartphones are really computers, and are nearly as powerful as laptops of just a few years ago, it should be easy to just move your Computer Based Training over to them, right? Not really. Learning on a smartphone is very different from learning on a computer. Mobile learning is really a new medium. One that has advantages and limitations, just like any other medium.

The main advantage is pretty obvious; people have their phones with them almost all of the time. So they can access training at any time and nearly anywhere making it ever more convenient to access elearning when and where it is most needed.

The limitation that people mention first when discussing elearning development for a smartphone is the phone’s small screen. While I agree that your mobile learning design needs to take the smaller screen into consideration, I don’t think that is the most significant limit of smartphones. The real limitation in moving your existing elearning course to a mobile platform is how people use and interact with their phone. To be effective, your mobile learning program needs to build on the natural habits that people have developed for using their mobile device.

A number of studies show that people spend quite a bit of time throughout the day interacting with their smartphones. Most of that interaction though, is in short bursts, rather than over sustained periods. They read and respond to a text message, check their email, look up some information on Google, or post to a social service. All of these are tasks that they spend only a few minutes on at a time. For mobile learning designers that means we need to think in terms of much smaller modules.

Smartphones may be powerful, but they are not good platforms for completing a typical 45-minute elearning course. They work better for delivering small, focused amounts of training that the learner can easily access in short bursts, and preferably just when they are most interested in the material. Think about a sales representative practicing critical elements of a customer dialogue in a simulation on their phone the night before a meeting with a critical customer. Then reviewing the simulation again the next morning in the parking lot just prior to going in to meet with the customer. From a learning and retention standpoint this is a good thing. Smaller amounts of material that are accessed and reviewed over time increases retention.

What is an appropriate amount of material? How long is the ideal mobile learning module? We can gain some insights by looking at popular media that is accessed on smartphones – YouTube videos and blog posts. The top 25 YouTube videos run on average less than four minutes. The readers of one social media blog report “getting antsy” if a video runs more than five minutes, even if it is “an entertaining” video. Statistics from other popular blogs indicate that people will only spend 3-4 minutes reading a blog post before clicking away, even if they haven’t completely finished it. If we use these findings as a guide, our mobile learning modules should be less than five minutes long.

So, how do you deliver extensive training or complex information in five-minute chunks? I’d suggest that the real power of mobile learning in most cases is as part of a blended learning solution. Computer based training or classroom sessions should be used for delivering the overall framework, and then mobile is used to reinforce or provide practice for specific bite-size elements. For example, a good onboarding program delivered virtually or in a class will provide new employees with a strong grounding in an organization’s culture, structure, and key processes. Then a mobile solution can provide new employees with rapid access to information on a particular policy they need to reference or provide practice in handling challenging tasks or interactions. By using a well-designed blended solution you can take advantage of the strengths of each medium rather than being overly constrained by their limitations.

Smartphones do offer exciting possibilities for effective training delivery – even engaging simulations, but they are just another medium in the designer’s palette. Like any other medium, it should be matched to the need, the audience and the content to be used most effectively.

Author Moves us Closer to the Promise of the iPad

When the iPad was introduced three years ago many in the community wrote about its potential use in corporate training, including me. Since then, many organizations have begun to take advantage of the iPad’s portability, constant connection through WiFi or cellular networks and engaging interactivity to create custom training solutions for their workforce. Unfortunately, the tools to really tap the potential of the iPad were not readily available or accessible to most designers. Training solutions on the iPad meant creating custom apps and that meant hiring programmers to bring the module to life.

Apple recently changed all that. With the introduction of Author and iBooks 2, Apple has opened the door for instructional designers and developers to create rich, engaging, interactive training without the need to learn programming skills or hire a programmer. While Author and iBooks 2 were introduced as Apple’s answer to expensive, heavy, out-of-date-by-the-time-they-ship textbooks for K-12, it can be used for much more.

In case you missed the announcement, Author is a new Mac program for creating highly interactive books and is available for free on the Mac App Store. With a What-You-See-Is-What-You-Get interface it allows creators to just drag and drop elements of a book onto the creation screen. Take a Word file of text, add images, movies, Keynote presentations, even interactive 3D animations and Author will automatically create a layout ready for the iPad. It has built in testing features, and makes full use of the iPad’s gestures for zooming, tapping to expand or launch a movie, etc.

It’s easy to imagine a number of elearning modules being adapted for deployment as an iBook 2, which means greater portability, easy reference at the point of need and personalization. In the new iBook format you can easy highlight information and then review it. Imagine a Human Resource Representative, who highlighted key passages of new policies or governmental regulations, being able to quickly and easily reference those noted areas weeks or even months later when a relevant need arises.

I also imagine that sales organizations will be developing product training that can also be used for doing demonstrations for customers.  As new product information is reviewed, the salesperson can highlight those sections most applicable to their particular customers’ needs. Then when on a sales call, just pull up the noted section and tap on the accompanying video to demo it for the customer.

When it was introduced, the iPad was a revolutionary product that eliminated much of the complexity and learning curve involved with using a computer. I believe in time we will see Author and iBooks 2 as the next stage in that revolution that brings the creation of compelling, interactive content to a wide population. And this is just version 1.0. Apple’s history suggests that they have many other capabilities and features in mind that we will see over the next couple of years.

Over 20 years ago desktop publishing software provided affordable tools that allowed almost anyone to create a brochure or newsletter, but that did not do away with the importance of good design skills. Now Apple has introduced tools to allow almost anyone to create an interactive training in the form of an iBook 2, but that won’t do away with the need for good training design skills. Though the tools just became more accessible, effective and engaging training will still rely on great design. Let the award-winning designers at Blueline Simulations help you explore how you might deploy interactive iBooks to meet your organization’s objectives.

Increase your EQ (Emotional Intelligence) through Simulation

In some of our recent blog posts we’ve explored the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and how your EQ may be even more important than your IQ at predicting success. So, is your Emotional Intelligence Quotient like your Intelligence Quotient — you have what you are born with and nothing is going to change that? Fortunately, the answer is a resounding no! You can very much develop and increase your EQ long past childhood.

The question is how? And within the context of business, how can I use EQ to increase success for my organization and me?

It all begins with the three keys to enhancing your EQ — Awareness, Observation, and Reflection.

The first step is to become aware of the dynamics of EQ and how they operate. Self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management provide the critical bedrock for your observations and reflections. Basic awareness can be established in simple ways: by reading a book about EQ, doing Internet research or completing any one of a myriad of training programs.

But being aware is just a first step.  Just like any other muscle in your body, EQ must be exercised to grow. No one’s biceps ever got bigger by reading a book on weight lifting. And the best way to exercise your EQ is through observations and reflections.  These require life experiences. The basic premise is that you must observe yourself (and others) and look for patterns, insights, and lessons that you can apply in similar, future experiences. As you apply the insights and lessons you learn, you raise your EQ.

From a business perspective this can be a bit of a problem. How do we help people develop their EQ without them having to “learn from experiences on the fly?” Is there a way to exercise the EQ muscle “safely” rather than in a critical team meeting or during a call with a vital customer?

Actually, this can be accomplished through well-designed simulation experiences that provide realistic opportunities to practice observe and reflect. Obviously, for these experiences to provide real value, they must model realistic scenarios. For example, a salesperson needs to practice observing and reflecting after a simulated call on a customer, and a manager needs to practice observing and reflecting on simulated supervisory and leadership scenarios

Blueline is effectively using custom simulations to build awareness, and to provide opportunities for rich observations and reflection in “safe” environments. Here critical insights, lessons and behaviors can be developed and even practiced before they are needed in high-stress, mission critical situations.