Archive for February, 2012

As the approver-in-chief of our blog is an Arsenal fan, I’m unsure that this entry will ever make it on to our website, but here it goes anyway.

This Sunday (26th February), Spurs will make the short journey to face neighbours Arsenal, in a fixture commonly referred to as the North London derby. Historically, Arsenal has been the better side, winning 61 of their meetings in contrast to Spurs’ 48. Yet the recent form of both teams this season has led many commentators (and indeed Arsenal fans) to publically share their opinion that this fixture is Tottenham’s to lose. And most have credited this reversal in fortunes to their manager, Harry Redknapp.

I’m not so naïve as to believe that Redknapp’s success hasn’t been due to a combination of factors – notably that he seems to do rather well in the transfer market. However, what’s commonly cited as his predominant strength is the value he places on simplicity of instruction. “People say it’s a complicated game now,” came Redknapp’s voiceover in a video the BBC ran last week, “but the last time I checked there were still two goals and the ball was still round, so it can’t be that much different.”

It may be a blunt assessment of the modern game, but the statement perfectly espouses Redknapp’s instructional philosophy; to encourage behavioural change, you don’t have to make learning needlessly complicated.

Capello, Ranieri, Scolari, Ancelotti – the dogma of the beautiful game had it that if you wanted to be the best, your club needed a manager who was the football equivalent of a chess Grand Master. These managers would graft their technical vision and tactics onto their players; make them run the lines that they wanted them to run on the pitch. “Players” wasn’t really an accurate term for members of these squad; “puppets” is perhaps more apt, if rather cynical.

An example of some more elaborate football tactics

When Redknapp took charge of Spurs, they were bottom of the Premier League. Without being too reductive, what he did was to give the team the freedom to play without technical and tactical restraints. Most managers would have been terrified by the thought – but what Harry was doing was to let his players play. His success in this approach is evidenced in the fact that one year later Spurs had qualified for the Champions League. Results aside, his players have given his approach the greatest endorsement, agreeing that Redknapp makes the game enjoyable for them.

Instructional design that focuses on unnecessary technical aspects is akin to the ultra-tactical approach to football management – you might get the result and encourage the behavioural change you’re after in the long term, but it will take longer to embed the knowledge and will be a struggle for your learners to adapt to. You also find that as soon as a situation alters from your predefined “gameplan”, or the process you’ve outlined step-by-step-by-yet-another-step, your learners won’t be able to adapt.

At the very strong risk of resorting to cliché and treading old ground, the best instructional design encourages behavioural change by allowing learners to relate information to frameworks they know already, a process of rediscovery and revision; not redesigning the wheel. More importantly, it tests them first, and only steps in to give corrective feedback if required. Let learners prove what they already know before adding to it if necessary; don’t burden them with unnecessary statistics or feedback.

 His tax affairs may be complex but when it comes to instructions Harry keeps it simple

So, how can we adapt Harry’s instructional style to design a process learning course, for instance? Well, give the learner the objective of the process (put the ball in the goal), their role in the process (play on the left, halfway up the pitch), and let them know the way to go about achieving the objective (shoot, or pass it to a player wearing the same shirt as you who can).

Does it need to be much more complicated than that? In some circumstances, maybe, but I bet if you think hard about it there’re a lot of subjects that come to mind that are currently befuddling learners in their complexity that can be put in uncomplicated terms. This then gives scope for learner creativity and improvisation, something that Nick Simons has discussed in his previous blog (

It’s not about dumbing down content – it’s about having the courage to be clear and trusting what your learners already know. That’s what ‘arry ‘as recognised – what’s the least you need to tell them?

In the last few weeks at Saffron Interactive there has been a lot of talk about gamification. For those that attended the recent Learning Technologies Exhibition you may have have seen one of our seminars debating the pro’s and cons of looking to videogames to provide an example for increasing engagement in L&D. We have also developed a new mobile assessment game based on the Bribery Act. This lead to a lot of interest and also a lot of questions on what makes something an example of gamification and what practical steps can we take to bring this increasingly popular theory into the training mix?

So, shameless self-endorsement over, let’s talk about gamification! In previous posts I have attempted to provide an overview of what the term means, but the problem is that gamification can actually be quite hard to define. It doesn’t really have an OED-worthy succinct explanation, as it’s a constantly evolving collection of ideas and design theories rather than a concept with fixed parameters. But with gamification rapidly becoming a buzzword in e-learning, now seems a good time to go back to the basics and get to grips with how gamification applies to our industry. As the pro gamers preach to e-learning professionals to think more like game designers, exactly what inspiration should designers and developers be taking?

When you break it down, the structures of gamification rely on design techniques or “mechanics” taken from popular games, which have then been applied to other sectors such as social media, advertising and e-learning. This doesn’t mean that we have to embrace a ‘shoot ‘em up’ style of systems training, but instead developers can use this collection of ideas to pick and choose the best mechanics to achieve their goals.

I am going to share with you some simple game mechanics and suggest how they might be applied to e-learning, or even to other business situations. Hopefully by the time you’ve finished reading you’ll be able to start implementing your own gamification experiments (it’s a lot easier than people think!)

Here are my 3 simple gaming mechanics:

The Appointment Dynamic

“Be at a certain place at a certain time and you will receive a certain result”

This may not sound very game-like at first, but in fact this simple concept is used almost constantly in games, and lots of other places too. When you think about it, our daily routines have conditioned us to expect certain things to happen at certain times, whether that’s our morning train pulling into the station or Eastenders coming on around teatime. Game developers have used this fundamental idea in hugely successful games such as Farmville where at regular intervals player need to complete activities in order to maintain the upkeep of their virtual farm (this game currently has over 70 million players). Another example some people may remember are the Tamagotchi toys a few years back which had people waking up at all hours of the day to pick up virtual dog…well you get the idea! It is this simple expectation of time managements that keeps people subconsciously coming back and developing regular behaviours.

Idea – When asking staff to do timesheets instead of allowing them to be filled in any time only open the programme in set windows during the day? Often the difficulty with enforcing an area like time sheet compliance is that people don’t condition it as part of their daily routine. Obviously there may be a period of pain with clashes when this gets introduced but over a few weeks habits and compliance will occur.

Achievement Badges

Games use a variety of achievement based rewards to keep users playing. This ranges from digital medals in ‘Call of Duty’ to exclusive character upgrades in ‘World of Warcraft’. This is one of the more widely recognised gamification mechanics and is used very effectively by services such as Foursquare to provide motivation for users to take desired actions. This technique works best when it’s overlaid onto a social platform, or an online game like Warcraft, as the main performance driver is not that the user can see their achievements, but that they know others will.

Idea: Why not reward positive behaviours on your company intranet by allowing employees to display achievement badges on their profiles?

In case you missed the seminar I also looked at how Accenture have been using this simple idea you can find the full story here.

Rate of variable reward

This is a concept that originated long before gamification was ever heard of. It’s also one of the most effective, as proved by its longevity. Research has shown that humans are susceptible to scenarios where there is a degree of the unknown: the best example of this is gambling and is the main reason why it can be so addictive. Some of the games that currently have the highest levels of user playtime and engagement are built around this idea. It is illustrated very well by titles such as Star Wars “ The Old Republic” which uses a sliding scale of probabilities to randomise rewards that players receive whilst playing the game and often carrying out highly repetitive tasks. So, for example, when you open a chest containing items there is a high likelihood you will receive an average one, but a slim chance you will receive something better than you expected and a minute chance that you get something amazing!

When combined with other mechanics such as progress bars this keeps players absolutely hooked, even when doing more mundane aspects of the game, because there is a chance that something extraordinary might happen. The other great thing about the game environment is that it provides developers with almost constant feedback on a mechanic like this as they can analyse the habits of players in this virtual setting, which they manage. This means they can estimate the best probabilities to keep people engaged to the highest level possible without devaluing their rewards.

Idea: If you are trying to increase participation in filling in timesheets when they are due; why not track completion rates within a certain time period (appointment dynamic) and offer a prize draw for those who have completed and passed within the window (variable reward). You could even go a step further and award each of the users who have made it into the draw a badge to display on their intranet profile…All of sudden timesheets are the talk of the office!

So, gamification isn’t just about having fun, it’s a valuable way to engage users and achieve serious business or learning objectives. The mechanics that I have talked about here are just some of the more common techniques that those sneaky game designers use to keep people coming back time after time. There are many more elaborate ones but hopefully these are enough to get started!

Stay tuned for more ideas around gamification and have a look at some in action from our latest show case at Learning Technologies "The Bribery Act Challenge"

The Bribery Act Challenge Login

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