Archive for January, 2012

Saffron Interactive is proud to once again be a main sponsor and exhibitor at the Learning and Technologies Conference, Europe’s leading showcase of technology-supported workplace learning. Visit us at Stand 33 to meet the team and try the Bribery Act Challenge! The exhibition is free to attend on January 25th and 26th  at Olympia 2, London, and there is still time to register for a ticket. Click here for more details.

We have exciting plans for this year’s event:

The Bribery Act Challenge Gamification – the use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences – is set to be one of the fastest growing areas in L&D this year. We’ve created a mobile app that brings together our ideas on serious games, best practice in mobile learning and delivering effective assessment, using the Bribery Act for illustration. Use your own mobile device to connect to the wireless network on our stand or use our mobile devices to take the challenge. You can even follow the leader board to see if you have the highest score!


Conference special guest speaker Jonathan Garrett, Head of Sustainability at Balfour Beatty, will explain how the organisation’s sustainability programme changed hearts and minds. Saffron Interactive’s ground-breaking e-learning which aims to persuade over 50,000 learners globally, speaking a variety of languages and from a wide range of backgrounds, to commit to a more sustainable way of living and working. Conference delegates can hear the Balfour Beatty story on floor 2, 26th January at 2pm. 


Visit us on stand 33 to see how our innovative approaches can change behaviours and improve performance at your organisation.

Competition: Win a Sony S Android tablet! “A top-quality tablet, with a thoughtful design and a host of useful software and extras” says PC Pro magazine. We have one of these game-changing tablets to give away to the winner of our ‘Gamification Survey’. Conference delegates will receive their entry slip at the start of the day with their welcome pack from the show organisers.

To be in with a chance of winning please hand these in to us on Stand 33.

Free seminar : Game On or Game Over?

Waiting to be convinced that gamification is right for your company? Or maybe you just want to find out more about the possibilities of this exciting new trend? In two seminars Alex Webb and Nick Baum from Saffron will conduct a live and lively debate on the pros and cons of gamification for workplace learning. Whether you’re a gamification guru or a complete novice, this promises to be an informative and playful session!


25th January at 12.15pm, Theatre 8, Learning and Skills Exhibition (lower floor)

26th January at 2pm, Theatre 1, Learning Technologies Exhibition (upper floor)

 If you would like to arrange a chat with us over the course of the event please get in touch. We look forward to seeing you in Kensington Olympia next week!

I’ll start with a shameless plug: Learning Technologies 2012, conference and exhibition, takes place on Wednesday 25th and Thursday 26th of this month at Olympia – and I’d love you to come and visit us on stand 33. We’ve brought together our ideas on serious games, learning on-the-move and assessment into a single engaging mobile app. If you haven’t yet registered for the exhibition, you can do so for free here:

Also, my colleagues Nick Baum and Alex Webb will be debating the pros and cons of gamification in workplace learning at a two seminars to be held on the exhibition floor, details online here and here. If you’re thinking “Gamification, what’s that?”, it’s the “use of game design techniques and mechanics to solve problems and engage audiences” (says Wikipedia). See also last year’s blog from Alex.

That’s enough plugging; let’s get down to L&D business. I’m a sceptical enthusiast for serious games. I’m enthusiastic because I think there’s much that we can bring from the compelling nature of games to the design of learning experiences. And I’m sceptical because there are challenges, both social and technical, that fellow enthusiasts seem keen to ignore, with accessibility and diversity of audience at the top of my list of concerns.

Let’s stick to the positive aspects for now. At Saffron, we’ve long held the belief that learning should be all about behaviour: ‘knowing how’ and ‘knowing why’ count for much more than ‘knowing that’. Which is why we say that e-learning should focus on the choices that people make in their day-to-day work: that way, the content is both obviously relevant and readily testable. A serious game can take that idea to the limit by using ‘branching’ scenarios such that the learner has to live with the consequences of earlier choices – just as in a game (oh and, by the way, as in life, too). The more realistic and plausible the choices are at each decision point, the better the opportunities to provide performance-improving feedback.

This style of e-learning design works particularly well when there’s a skill to be learnt and hence the game provides a safe environment in which to practise. But to be a success as a serious game, it has to be just as compelling as a game played for fun: the storyline has to be plausible and engaging; the rewards and penalties need to “feel right” as well as steering the learner in the appropriate direction; and there has to be visual appeal too (subject, of course, to those concerns about accessibility).

So what about that game-changing behaviour my title promises? First, I’d like to stress that gamification doesn’t simply mean designing and implementing serious games for changing behaviour and/or improving performance. There are many more, and possibly better, opportunities to use “game design techniques and mechanics” for workplace learning than that. And second, we all know that a step change in performance doesn’t come about simply from a blended programme of self-study, games, informal and social learning and so on.

There’s a lot of emphasis these days on creating a “learning architecture”. I’m not a great fan of the expression (but I won’t stop to say why now) though I’m fine with the sentiment. But we should always remember that bringing about behavioural change requires more than just learning, whatever forms it may take. We need an architecture that includes performance-related rewards and disincentives – reinforcement, as they say in change management: that really will be gamification in action!

We’re looking forward to welcoming you stand 33 at Learning Technologies 2012!

Looking back on last year, it seems that 2011 saw the English usage debate heat up, with plain English advocators angling their bayonets against the mountain of corporate jargon that permeates the modern workplace. And as an e-learning supplier, this is a matter close to Saffron’s heart.

National Plain English Day, which took place at the tail end of last year, saw The Plain English Campaign’s ardent members shredding jargon-filled documents to mirror the event which took place on Parliament Green in Westminster in 1979, at its founding.

Photo of original shredding, taken from

But it wasn’t only the Plain English Campaign that stepped in to defend us from the gobbledygook clotted annals of the public information machine last year. Indeed, back in April, one of the Saffron IDs blogged about Orwell’s six rules of simple English, providing tips for how to improve the language used in e-learning courses. Another of my colleagues sent me an article on the topic by Dan Pallotta, from the Harvard Business Review. Through the link, you can cast your vote for your ‘all-time worst business buzzword’- at the moment, ‘thinking outside the box’ is winning and it’s due to the ubiquitous use of terms like these that Dan bemoans how he doesn’t ‘understand what anyone is saying anymore.’ He’s not alone. More and more bloggers, journalists and TV presenters are starting to talk about the terrible state of language in the workplace.

Of course, this debate didn’t begin in 2011. The host of ‘tone of voice’ and writing consultancy firms that promise to banish jargon from your corporate culture for good haven’t popped up overnight. One Independent columnist wrote back in 2007: ‘I think my choice of word for banning would be "workshop."’ Other terms that get poo-pooed in the article are ‘elephant in the room’, ‘it’s not rocket science’, ‘push the needle’, ‘shoot the puppy’, ‘touch base’, ‘hit the ground running’, ‘mentoring’, ‘heads up’, ‘solutions’ and ‘get our ducks in a row.’ My favourite example of this trend towards jargon busting comes from a man quoted in a newspaper article on the topic, who shall remain un-named:

"Anyone who uses the word ‘workshop’ who isn’t connected with light engineering is a w***er."

Why does non plain English usage generate such hostility? Is it because it makes people feel stupid? Or is it because it divides people into in-groups (those who know the jargon) and out-groups (those that don’t)? Language certainly can be divisive. It was one of the catalysts for the Protestant Reformation, has caused controversy in Irish courts when defendants have asked for the right to give evidence in Irish and creates a lamentable division along social lines (think of the ‘common flower girl’ who passes as a ‘Lady’ by changing her accent). Whatever the reasons, I’m not sure that I agree that all jargon is meaningless and am uncomfortable with the Plain English Campaign’s ‘purification’ tactics or the idea of ‘banning’ words from our language.

Dan Pallotta is surely right when he says that the over-use of jargon in the workplace means that he, and perhaps many others, don’t understand a lot of what’s being said anymore. But jargon is only jargon if you don’t know what it means. The feeling of bewilderment that Dan describes in his blog is usually caused when people use language without considering their audience, as the Plain English Campaign rightly acknowledges in its aim to rid all public communication of jargon. Whilst we might not thank our doctor for telling us that the pain in our chest is caused by aortic calcification we wouldn’t object if our doctor reported a diagnosis of aortic calcification on the prescription that you’ll hand to the pharmacist.

But perhaps this is an unfitting metaphor. After all, aortic calcification is a precise term that refers to an equally precise problem. Business-speak’s many detractors would say that terms like ‘joined up thinking’ and ‘moving forward’ are general terms used precisely when people don’t really know what they mean or what they want to say. But I might have to disagree, at least in part. As cringe inducing as terms like ‘joined up thinking’, ‘pushing the envelope’, ‘deep dive’ and ‘off the shelf’ are, they do seem to mean something to the community of people who uses them. In which case, as long as it’s kept within the office, business speak might aid as opposed to hinder understanding.

Plus, is business-speak any more cringe inducing than some of the plain English that seems to be replacing it? Take Innocent’s brand literature as a case in point. Their fruit smoothie bottles tell you to ‘shake it up baby’ before drinking and promises to always eat its greens. I don’t want my fruit smoothie to have a personality. We’re grown ups and it’s belittling. Pret’s ‘hello I’m your new toastie, please eat me’ packaging is even worse.

I don’t disagree with the Plain English Campaign’s original complaint, but it seems that we’ve gone from one extreme to another when it comes to the language used in public communication. I don’t want to be spoken to by HMRC’s disembodied cipher or a personified toastie. Here’s to hoping that 2012 brings a new, more moderate, use of the English language.

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