- How personal stories help learners and organisations grow and change together
- Monday, June 10th, 2013
Having been raised in a household of oral storytelling, stories have been in my life blood since the day I could understand language and narrative. Being able to explore human behaviour and cultural differences through stories has always fascinated me. So when
I listened to a webinar involving Pat Kenny, a national e-learning manager from the Health Service Executive, that discussed using storytelling in e-learning it, it made me think.
According to Clarke & Rossiter, in adults there are three ways to learn through stories: stories heard, stories told and stories recognised. Here is how I interpret each one:
Stories heard – Should more content include personal stories and experiences?
The connection I make to stories is through a character, a word, a situation or picture that evokes an immediate attachment through familiarity. It is not my story, but there is something familiar – something I know or have experienced that forms an instant connection.
When designing e-learning solutions we should not only use scenarios but extend this to personal stories. The webinar discussed how patients’ complaints and stories of being cared for were instrumental in allowing healthcare professionals to understand their experiences and so change the way they delivered care. By empathising with patients the healthcare professionals found a new motivation to change their way of working.
Stories told –Try incorporating learners’ stories into e-learning
I view my life as an encyclopaedia of people, places, interactions, smells and sounds which I bookmark as stories in my head. Our life stories help us to construct meaning whenever we experience something new. We all share our stories. We share them in the pub, in the classroom, at home, at work – everywhere we go.
Sharing stories is a social interaction. There is a familiarity, a shorthand, a space for a cultural exchange. It often feels a necessity to do so because it’s an indispensable way of forging bonds between people. We should use this behaviour to improve learning programmes. Why not incorporate learners’ stories in the storyboarding process?
Stories recognised – The key to behaviour change
Finally, the key to getting successful emotional engagement through storytelling is self-recognition. A feedback survey on our mental resilience course for TfL illustrates this. It showed that 85% of individuals found the scenarios realistic or could personally relate to the scenarios used. This is what helped 70% of individuals to implement long term change.
This quote from Octavia E Butler’s story The Parable of the Sower encapsulates the effect that experiential stories can have on individuals and organisations.
All that you touch
All that You Change
- Beyond winning points: reflections on ‘gamification’ (Part 1)
- Wednesday, May 29th, 2013
Like most of Londoners, I rely on tube transportation to travel around the city. When on the tube, I usually spend my commuting time playing video games on my smartphone. When I look around I realise that many others, like me, are immersed in trying to solve puzzles, escape from zombies, shoot pigs, and so on.
Games have been around for hundreds of years and video games are today becoming the preferred form of entertainment. If we look at the most recent statistics about online gaming, we learn that:
- The average age of a gamer is 30 and he/she has been playing for an average of 14 years
- 47% of gamers are women
- 42% of game players believe that computer and video games give the most value for their money, compared with DVD’s music or going out to the movies
- 59% of parents spend time with their children playing videogames at least monthly
In addition to that, according to recent research carried out by SDT, time spent playing online games is increasing and mobiles and tablets are catching up to PC gaming.
There’s no doubt that game mechanics have a fundamental role to making an experience ‘fun’. But that said, what is it that makes the experience meaningful to the player? What is it that makes the player play and want to play more? Is it the points we accumulate? Is it the fact we can see our name at the top of a leaderboard, or is it badges we crave for?
An interesting answer to this question comes from the field of psychology. Video games are so powerful because they have the potential to satisfy three basic psychological needs, namely autonomy, relatedness and competence. So, an activity that meets these criteria is likely to be received by players as engaging and fun.
In the past two or three years, the word ‘gamification’ has emerged in the field of business. As the word suggests you would think that it must have something to do with games. Right? In fact, ‘gamification is the use of game thinking and game mechanics in a non-game context in order to engage users and solve problems’.
In other words, gamification is not about designing games – it’s about applying the mechanics of games to solve a specific objective.
Gamification is rapidly spreading and it’s estimated that by 2015, 40% of the top 1000 global organizations will use gamification as the primary mechanism to transform business operations. Points, badges, and a leaderboard are the preferred games mechanics used in gamification.
But do they work to solve a specific problem? Are they enough to determine a desired behaviour change? Maybe not and interestingly enough, Gartner estimates that by 2014 an astonishing 80% of gamified systems will fail their business objectives due to bad design.
It’s not as simple as imitating a video game or app. For a successful gamified system a great deal of thinking is required: that entails combining rewards that can foster people’s external motivation and meet their basic, intrinsic psychological and emotional needs. I’ll continue looking at game mechanics and learner motivation in more detail in Part 2, so stay tuned.
To find out more about game mechanics, emotional investment and see some of the latest methodologies in action, visit Saffron Interactive at Stand 20 at the upcoming Learning Technologies Forum and attend our seminar.
- Why emotional outcomes matter just as much as learning outcomes
- Wednesday, May 22nd, 2013
This article is an edited extract from the upcoming June issue of Inside Learning Technologies and Skills magazine.
Last month, Nicholas Baum explained some of the principles of something called ‘me-learning’. He outlined the mechanics of how an e-learning course can become a space in which learners can visualise new behaviours in action: ‘Here’s where I am; here’s where I could be; this is what I need to do to get there’. Personalised input and personalised output via emotionally charged content is another way to put it.
The approach has been proven to work in courses such as that developed by Transport for London on mental resilience, where qualitative and quantitative evaluations drew a direct line from meaningful emotional engagement to massive return on investment. So how does it work? Where does the why really come from? What ‘buy-in buttons’ should those who design learning (and learning platforms) be pushing?
A revolution which has been gathering pace in the field of behavioural economics is highly relevant here. It’s changing the way that we are shaping the online world more generally, and e-learning needs to sit up and listen.
Traditional economics has treated the human as homo economicus, who is ‘Sovereign in tastes, steely-eyed and point-on in perception of risk’. The problem with this model is that ‘homo economicus is a rare breed.’ I would go further and say that the self-interested, calculating human doesn’t really exist at all. In fact, our brain chemistry motivates us to make decisions that aren’t necessarily rational or even self-interested.
Our memories are structured around emotional peaks and troughs, not averages or a steady accumulation of benefits. The ‘endowment effect’ means, for example, that we’ll place a much higher price on a teacup that is ours, than on an identical cup which isn’t – and we even hold on to shares long after the point where it made sense to sell them. A sense of belonging is the trump card.
This complicates our thinking about motivations for learning, and explains why the addictive learning environment can’t be as easily manufactured as we perhaps thought. It might make perfect sense to you why a learner would naturally engage with a learning intervention because it has social and game-based characteristics – that’s what creates a sense of reward, right?
But your course or platform is an imposter: it doesn’t carry with it the same emotional highs or the sense of belonging as the experience you based it on. It is a feature, emptied of emotional benefits.
To make e-learning better at changing behaviours, it’s time to start seriously asking where the e-learning course or platform that you have planned fits into the emotional narrative of your learners’ lives. What mood state are you going to capture and utilise? Most importantly, how are you going to make a learner feel like it belongs to her? In this sense, perhaps it’s time to start including emotional outcomes, as well as learning outcomes, in your next project specification.
Find out more by attending Saffron’s seminar on emotional investment in learning at the upcoming Learning Technologies Summer Forum. You can register here for free.
- Square pegs and round holes: How to make e-learning more mobile responsive
- Friday, April 26th, 2013
A few days back I was browsing my favourite website on my sister’s new smartphone. Even though I made sure I was accessing the mobile version of the site, I still wasn’t able to see content I could see when browsing the same site on my PC.
The impact on the user experience that just a small impediment like this makes is huge. Rather than try and force a square peg fit in a round hole, when something isn’t compatible, we prefer to leave.
So are you providing the right shaped space for your learners? Mashable has already declared 2013 as a responsive web design year, and rightly so: responsive web design for e-learning courses is something of a specialty at Saffron Interactive!
The basic idea is that all the hard work of designers and developers doesn’t get messed up when viewed on devices with different screen resolutions. This is becoming easier and easier because of the advent of CSS3 and its design techniques such as fluid grid layouts, media queries and flexible images. Media queries are used to figure out what resolution of device is being used by the user while flexible images and fluid grids then resize correctly to fit with the screen accordingly.
Ethan Marcotte was the person who coined the term “Responsive Web Design” in 2010 on his “A book apart” website. Since then many of the best projects have been developed using his Responsive Web Design techniques. Some of my favourite sites that use this approach include:
So how do we apply these ideas when we’re developing e-learning? Before you start designing courses or portals according to responsive web design (RWD) principles, there are a few technical things you need to consider:
- Most mobile devices are not compatible with CSS media queries;
- As RWD works on image resizing, the full image is downloaded on a user’s device and then resized to fit the screen, potentially taking time and impacting on performance;
- Though RWD aims to resize content for any device, there still will be few devices out there that won’t give 100% optimized user experience due to unusual resolutions; and
- Not all browsers (i.e. IE) support CSS3.
For those interested in exploring the topic in more depth, check out the following resources:
- How to waste millions on an LMS by confusing features with benefits
- Tuesday, April 16th, 2013
These days, whizz-bang platforms in the world of e-learning are aplenty. The problem is that great content isn’t. In fact, the typical experience of e-learning content remains so negative that to many outsiders the word itself seems somehow doom-laden and ill-fated. (Forget this preconception at your peril, by the way.)
Now imagine an empty Facebook – no friends, no comments and no memes – and you are imagining the actual appeal to the learner of that shiny platform which looked so good at the Learning Technologies show. (Or you are imagining the final years of Friendster, MSN Spaces or Bebo … !)
Yet the continuing assumption that platforms somehow replace the content in them is what drives vendors to invest millions in developing clever platforms (and put them on sale at prices which are not so clever) whilst ignoring the most important person: the learner. She is not interested in features, but in benefits.
And real benefits are derived from content. Think about Wikipedia. That simple combination of useful learning and easy collaboration is the explosive formula you should be aiming for. Now think about search engines before Google arrived. That overburdened, ‘desperate to be useful’ mess is what you are not aiming for.
My point is that all features really do is facilitate the smooth delivery and discussion of content. Some features are indeed revolutionary, but mimicking those won’t redeem a poorly planned content strategy. And be economical – a feature which is cool but not used may as well not be there at all.
The uncomfortable truth which LMS vendors don’t like to mention is that spending your pennies wisely on an affordable open source option can do this facilitating just as well as spending millions on a proprietary one. Let the content sing – and make sure it can sing. That’s your why. The platform is just the how.
It’s all about conversation
Understanding the ‘why’ before you get to the ‘how’ is another version of the features / benefits problem. A case in point is mobile learning.
The putative ‘how’ of mobile is becoming easy. Most authoring tools now publish in html5. But will html5 redeem courses which are non-interactive, overlong and poorly designed? No. Will dull content become interesting just because it is on a smartphone? Maybe, but not for long. The delivery mechanism is a feature – not a benefit.
The real ‘why’ behind m-learning is the pressing need to create learning which competes with the far higher standards of availability, accessibility and user experience we have come to expect from e-content. This applies to any device.
Above all, you are aiming for a user experience which holds a conversation and rewards the learner for her participation. The first prerequisite to holding this conversation is to speak in her language. The second prerequisite is to have something worth saying.
Technology can help deliver on these prerequisites, but it won’t redefine them out of existence. And if you fail to accomplish either, you may as well have stuck a post-it note to her desk.