Gamification: Exploring Narrative

The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.” Muriel Rukeyser

Narrative is a part of the fabric of life and has been used as a teaching tool in all cultures. In early civilizations, stories were passed down generation to generation and these stories contained information and wisdom the people needed to survive and grow. Story continues to be a big part of our lives, whether it is the stories of the people around us or fictional stories. They are a key component in information and ideas we have learned and according to a study done at North Carolina University, narrative has an impact on motivation in learning.

Narrative is also a key element in game design. Think of games you enjoy, many of them involve quests or narrative. Game quests generally fall into types such as delivery, find, destroy, collect, master a skill, escort/defend. Between a web seminar and blog post by Allen Partridge and starting to play Wizards 101, the idea of narrative and gamification has been in my thinking.

ScreenHunter_96 Sep. 27 13.01Currently, I have  scenarios for the learner. These scenarios are typical job situations, from the scenario, the learner has to collect information and then they are given a tutorial on how to accomplish the tasks needed. This is followed by opportunities for them to have practice and then there is an assessment of the goals. The quest, so to speak, is to complete the task for the customer (in this case back ordering material).

From my recent experiences, I have been inspired to consider how I can use embed narrative throughout the lesson, beyond just presenting a scenario. One of the key ideas to keep in mind when doing this is to make sure learning objectives and game-play objectives are aligned. Gamification needs to add learning value, not just to take the learning and place it into a random cute scenario.

I realize that wrapping up my scenario at the end will also allow me to show customer feedback and the role of customer service and the employees ability to perform tasks efficiently to improving the bottom line. I look forward to weaving this and other narrative feedback into the storyboards I am currently working on.

Some keys to remember:

  • The narrative objectives need to fit the learning objectives. In the end, it is the learning that needs to take the starring role.
  • Narrative can help provide a framework and a scenario that allows you to provide feedback elements.
  • The “quest” doesn’t have to be complex to be engaging.

Finding Inspiration: In New Tools

inspiration-design-ideas3754[1]Where do you find inspiration for your work? If you ask 100 people I suspect you would get many different answers. I find inspiration in a number of different places, but today I want to focus on finding it in new tools.

The beauty about a new tool is that it can inspire you to take another look and evaluate how you do something. Changes can come out of it, not only that utilize the new tool, but from the fresh look you are taking. Since a new tool changes your workflow, it becomes a point of new insight and inspiration, so take advantage of this and be inspired.

The Thinking My New Captivate Version Inspired

Two weeks my upgrade for Adobe Captivate 7 arrived. I had been working with 5.5 and so this gave me access to all the improvements and features of both Captivate 6 and 7. Let’s look at some of the inspiration it provided me:

  • Notes to build Engagement – One of the new features is the ability to take notes. I see this as a way to build course engagement. To have my learners interact more and take responsibility for the information in the course. In my previous courses, I have often wanted learners to hold information learned at the beginning to be used later on. Some of this is procedural and some of it is scenario context. I know my learners are not always sitting at a desk in a typical learning setting so in the past, for the scenario context information, I found myself having to provide it on screen later in the course when it was needed. The addition of course notes will allow my learners to collect this information on their own and use it when necessary and give them more control over this aspect.
  • Web and YouTube Interactions to add Enhanced Resources – Some of the new interactions of Captivate 7 are the ability to bring web pages or YouTube videos right into the course. This alleviates the need for learners to leave your course to have access to this information or having you embed them into the course, making the file (and course loading times) smaller. I see this as a way to connect my learners to more resources. I have avoided adding these kinds of things in the past but as new training initiatives for our department include product knowledge and soft skills training, outside resources become more important. I am inspired to keep an eye on that in future development and take advantage of existing resources right through my course. For example, when talking about a generator, I can easily bring in a YouTube video explaining generators done by one of our vendors. My course becomes more of a collection of resources framed by me instead of something I have to completely create.
  • Data Interactions to include more Exploration – Many of the interactions now available in Captivate were added in Captivate 6 (but are still new for me because I never had this version) and they are ripe with opportunities to add more exploratory options to learning. I see these as opportunity to make my courses even more exploratory in nature. Learners are provided with charts. diagrams, or images that allow them to take control over exploring and discovering information. Previously in order to create these experiences, it required my to use advanced interactions and variable to create these and I was having to design the framework myself. This limited the amount I could take advantage of for time and resource reasons. These new interactions will free me up to create these opportunities when appropriate without having to weigh them against development time and cost.

How My Current Project was Improved

Now I had just finished designing three lesson modules that were ready for development and I decided to do that in Captivate 7, while exploring the features and functions. Let me share with you a few of the ways it impacted the development of my current project:

  • Using Characters – My company does not subscribe to any image services and I either have to find free images at places like or I have to take them myself (fortunately I am a photography buff and have fairly good photography equipment and resources). I have developed a set of images of people engaging in different activities that I can draw of for my modules but I did not take them in front of a green screen so that i can remove the environment. The characters now available in captivate allowed me to replace some of the photos I would have used with characters that look and feel like they are a part of the slide as opposed to a photo added to the slide. This also allowed for some consistency in use and I will probably develop a few of the characters as standard “characters” in my training since they come in a wide variety of poses and expressions.
  • Interactions – Oh, how I have pined for some prebuilt interactions. I have been hacking together more complex interactions using variables and advanced interactions but having a set of prebuilt, smoothly operating interactions is a real time-saver. I was able to replace a few of my intended interactions with one of the ones included ion Captivate 7. I still left some of the interactions I had designed and intended, but where those offered provided an equivalent substitution, I made the change and saved myself a bunch of development time.
  • Themes – Recently I developed a new look for our courses. This had been focused on the lesson slides and interactions. With the new themes available, I was able to find a complimentary one to my new design that allowed me to fill in the gaps, most noticeably in my quiz slides. This became a timely enhancement and made a huge difference in the overall aesthetic of the course.

This is just a few of the ways this new tool has fueled my thinking and motivation. I am sure as I use and work with more of the features of this tool, I will be inspired further. And tools are just one of the ways to inspire your work. I plan to write about others in future posts.

Learning Beyond the Session

Anticipatory set…follow-up…extend the learning. These are just a few of the ideas that run through my brain from my days an an elementary school teacher. But as I plan my upcoming training session in Chicago, I am reminded that these aren’t just for kids. Building your training session beyond the actual event, increases retention of information and engagement.

Let’s look at how that will be incorporated in my upcoming session:

The Scenario

I am heading to Chicago to do two full days of training, one for stores managers and one for branch managers. The training will cover different tools in the company’s proprietary software that can help them accomplish important aspects of their job. Most of the participants are new hires in the last six month. So basically, I have each group for a seven hour day, and lots of information to cram into it. My plan is to use different techniques before and after to:

  • Increase engagement in the session
  • Improve information retention
  • Reduce the amount of new material covered during the onsite training
  • Build confidence in the new material

What Comes Before

Thinking about extending the learning began right in the planning session for the training. As I discussed the needs and goals for these learners with their managers, I was already thinking about what steps I could take before I arrived in Chicago to prepare them for the session. While there are many things that can be used, for this session I am going to:

  • Selected appropriate on-demand learning to be completed before the session. I create a number of eLearning modules which cover basic aspects of our proprietary software and I selected a few that were relevant to each groups’ specific job responsibilities. By having them do these before the session, I am making sure they have the basic building blocks covered, so that I can build off of them instead of starting from scratch. This gets them thinking about the tools in the system and ensures they are familiar with how it operates. Since they will have covered some material in advance, I can draw on this common experience in the session and use it to do some followup activities on that material spread throughout the rest of the session. Another side benefit that has come of this is that because our LMS is new, many of the learners are experiencing it for the first time and as they have questions about logging in, etc, I have been able to talk and connect with many of these employees that I have not met before.
  • Get them to come to the session ready to share a current challenge they face. Several days before I fly out for the session, I will be sending each group of learners an email inviting them to write down one of their greatest job challenges and come to the session ready to share it. This gets them preparing themselves to receive answers and solutions at the session. They start thinking about what they are hoping to get out of the session and when I have them share these at the beginning of the session, I will also know what their goals are. Many of these I will be able to directly connect to the different topics that are already planned or I will be able to weave them in. For the one or two that don’t connect in, I will be able to use those in the follow-up sessions. During the session, engagement is increased because the participants are listening for the solutions to there challenges and they feel they have had a role in shaping the direction of the training.

What Comes After

It is never a good idea to dump information on learners and run. Certain questions will come up during a training session, but until participants put it into practice, all questions won’t be answered and the participants need to know they can still get answers. Of course I always provide contact information and welcome questions, but I also have planned follow up:

  •  Post Session Coaching Sessions. During the weeks following my trip I will offer two webinar coaching sessions for each group. This will allow us to deal with any questions not answered from the sessions and provides an opportunity to follow up on how implementation is going and address any additional questions or issues that have arisen. Offering this accountability and forum builds confidence for the learners in the material and their ability to use it. Additionally, this provides a space for this group to gather again and create further bonds that encourage them to reach out and support one another.

Let’s Review

Let’s just review how engagement and retention will be increased through these activities:

  • Participants are exposed to material before the session and have time to reflect on it
    • They have foundational knowledge
    • They are ready to receive the type of information to be presented in the training session
    • They have common experiences that can be used to for examples during the on-site session
  • Personal connection has been made with the learners and a bond of credibility and respect is being built
    • Participants know that I (the trainer) is already invested in their success
  • Participants come thinking about what they can and hope to gain from the training and engage to hear the answers
    • As common goals are shared, bonds are created among participants developing into a potential support network
  • Participants have a role in shaping the training and their goals become the focus
  • Participants report on their implementation of the learning, providing accountability
  • Space is provided to ask follow-up questions as the learning is being used
    • The group nature of this means that discussions remind participants of more topics and ideas than would be individually thought of
    • Participants hear others’ success stories and challenges and are able to use the material more effectively and confidently

In the busy life of an instructional designer/trainer, it is easy to fall out of the practice of maximizing your training with pre and post activities. We need to remember that preparing participants for a session, getting them focused on the topic and how it directly affects them and then following-up on sessions to make sure learning is put into practice has a huge impact on the ROI for training. The goals are constant, while the methods that work for different organizations vary.