Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

30 March 2006

Will Wright on game design

Clark @ 4:42 PM

In Gamasutra (free registration required, I believe) there’s a summary of Will Wright’s Game Developers Conference Keynote. Will Wright is the genius behind Sim City and The Sims, and is now working on this next magnum opus (how many can he have?), Spore.

The talk wove together astrobiology in talking about the required research, but what comes out is the tuning required to go from principle to finished game. Will’s told me that despite the simply awesome programming of Sim City, it was only 10% of the work, and 90% is tuning. Some quotes:

“How and when research should be done: even before preproduction begins”

“this initial research led to simulation prototypes, which were just simple apps showing some of the underlying science principles visually”

“many science prototypes needed to be built in order for some of these to become interesting”

and “research should be useful in four areas: innovation, risk, fun and deep messages”

but you’ll have to read the article to find out how research helps these. In short, there’s a lot of work doing the work to ensure that your design integrates a great experience and real outcomes.

Universal Learning Design

Clark @ 12:25 PM

Back when I was building an adaptive learning system that presented content differentially based upon the individual’s characteristics as a learner, I came across the concept of ‘universal learning design’. It sounded like a great idea, but there wasn’t really any useful guidance at that time.

I was recently reminded about it by a talk announcement and went back to the CAST site (Center for Applied Special Technology). There I found more guidance, particularly in the form of a book on the subject.

Their core notion is to have multiple representations of the content (which I already support as an instantiation of Rand Spiro’s Cognitive Flexibility Theory), multiple forms of assessment (which is why I support eportfolios), and multiple forms of affective support. It’s the latter that resonates for me currently, as I’m recognizing that at least some of the power of engaged learning comes from addressing the affective/emotional components of learning.

Their specific thoughts on this are found in this chapter, and there’re some examples to make it concrete.

I am still trying to go further, and incorporate attitude change into the learning process as well, recognizing that equipping the mind isn’t sufficient if the behavior change requires an associated attitude change. Also deciding when you need major change and when it’s just the right ‘nudge’ that’s necessary. However, those are topics for other posts I reckon.

There’s also the

29 March 2006

Marketing & Learnlets

Clark @ 8:46 AM

In the ‘about‘ page (to the right there), I mention the other meaning of learnlets besides my learning on learnings. That is, little interactive applications that can teach you something specific.

I think that there is a considerable opportunity in marketing for such learnlets. Good marketing is, really, customer education. What, then, would be the possible applications of learnlets?

Interactive opportunities support several types of mental activities that static content, or even dynamic but passive content don’t: they let us explore relationships, and make decisions and observe the consequences.

A word on terminology: simulations are models. When we put the simulation in a particular state, and ask someone to achieve a different, goal, state, and wrap a story about why we’re doing that, I call it a scenario. When we tune that interaction to get an experience of what I call engagement, I call it a game. Let’s consider each separately. On the topic of terminology, I may use learner or customer, in this case they are interchangeable.

A simulation lets us explore relationships. This can be good for understanding, but it requires a self-directed learner looking to gain knowledge. A product simulation, for instance, might let a learner interested in a particular device’s capabilities, play and determine whether the feature set or control system is sufficient.

In many cases, however, the learner may not know have a goal to learn what it is you think they should know. Then, you need a scenario, where you set up a storyline that provides a plausible setting and a meaningful goal. In the course of achieving the goal the learner will need to understand the principles behind the correct decision.

Of course, based upon the framework in Engaging Learning: Designing e-Learning Simulation Games (chapters 2-4), we really want a game, not just a scenario. That is, we want to tune the experience to get engagement rather than just the necessary decision. That is, we want to ensure challenge is at the optimal level, we have thematic coherence, multiple choices enacted through appropriate action mechanisms and consequences made manifest through appropriate feedback, etc.

Here we might have them understand why a particular suite of knowledge is necessary (e.g. selling skill sets such as negotiation or project management), why the particular features are desirable (why you do want ABS brakes), or tradeoffs between different versions.

I’m writing up these notes since someone’s asked what might be the applications of learnlets, and I’d love to have your thoughts.

24 March 2006

Nintendo’s 4 I’s

Clark @ 3:39 PM

I’m not attending the Game Developers Conference (I did several years ago) but Mark Oehlert remarked in his mobile talk today at the eLearning Forum (which should be available later at their site, courtesy of Avaltus) that he was there. So I googled and found the transcript of the keynote by Nintendo’s president, Satoru Iwata. In it he mentioned Nintendo’s benchmarks for games that I thought were not only interesting but potentially useful:

We call these standards the Four Is. First, is it truly innovative – something different from what has come before? Second, is it intuitive? Do the control of the game and the direction of gameplay seem natural? Third, is it inviting? Do you want to spend time in this world? And finally, how does it measure up in terms of interface? Can the player connect in new ways?

I’m not sure that the interface and intuitive aren’t highly correlated, but I always like nice mnemonic guides, that are, well, inspiring. So maybe that’s the fifth I…

Regardless, I think these are pretty good criteria you might use to evaluate your design

23 March 2006

Emotional article

Clark @ 12:34 PM

Gamasutra’s got an article worth reading on emotion in games; I particularly like the point about mixing up different types of fun. I promote ‘hard fun’, being the term I use to talk about the correct mix of challenge but this needs to be balanced. Check it out.

22 March 2006

Some times you just can’t win…

Clark @ 4:57 PM

So I’m at a client site, and talking about their client. I worked hard with my client to develop a document detailing the enhanced learning design we wanted to implement on the behalf of the secondary client, well justified in cognitive science, detailed about use of media, specifying lean and punchy prose, etc., all the stuff everyone from Michael Allen to myself suggests is necessary to make traditional instructional design work for elearning. Which the secondary client agreed to and signed off on.

So, of course, this time I hear a story about how this secondary client took some draft content, ripped out the instructionally designed prose, and dumped in a bunch of technical material; not written for reading on the screen, using too much jargon, and so on. Of course, my client pointed out that this material violated the design guidelines, was inappropriate, etc. And the secondary client agreed but insisted it had to be kept in.

There’s a lot of bad instructional design out there, but not all of it is due to bad design, some of it is due to reasons that are political, social, organizational, and who knows what else. Some times, even when you try your best, you just can’t win…

20 March 2006


Clark @ 5:36 PM

Last summer (at the eLearning Guild’s ID conference), I heard Will Thalheimer talk about two different types of learning objectives. One is the familiar, Mager-style objectives we, as designers, use to guide the development of learning. The other, Will opined, is the objective you present for the learner. He articulated a thought that seemed obvious to me, but fortunately he’s got the data to back it up.

I say fortunately because it’s apparently not obvious to everyone that the objectives in the elearnign experience should be written for the learner! I continue to see objectives that as a learner, would immediately make my eyes glaze over and essentially diminish if not completely eradicate any benefit of the subsequent experience.

So, please, take a look at the objectives, rewrite them so that the learner ‘gets’ why they should care, and make sure you use language appropriate to the learner, not to the marketer or whoever else mires these in ‘bizbuzz’.

Emotional Closure

Clark @ 5:29 PM

Once again I’ve seen a draft scenario, and as soon as the learner makes a wrong choice, the ‘external voice’ comes in and says why it’s wrong. Even before the response from the person you’re talking to (in the scenario)!

Now, this is a storyboard, and I’ve had the chance to provide feedback to the designer, but it’s a bigger problem. I claim that even your multiple choice questions should be written as mini-scenarios (e.g. “your usual customer comes back with a surprisingly low budget on a project you may not have time for anyway, so you…”, instead of “the correct response to a low bid in a situation of high trust and low need is…”), but I want to suggest that whatever their choice is, let it play out in the scenario before the external voice comes in.

The reason is to provide emotional closure on the investment in the scenario before the voice. Yes, this is opinion, as I know of no empirical studies (and would welcome it), but in lieu of data, I’ll stick to my claim. There certainly is all the evidence that the experience matters…

So, please, complete the event before you bring that little voice (“This response could lead to lowering the relationship with the customer, instead…”).

14 March 2006

Constructivist contamination

Clark @ 12:46 PM

I think I’ve gotten infected. I’ve always been a fan of the constructivist philosophy (and I’m taking a broad interpretation here, meaning learners actively engaged in guided activities to faciliate developing their own understanding), but more in theory than practice. I’d felt that in the constraints of higher education and industry, where timing is critical, overt constructivism was a luxury for K12.

Last fall, Bobbi Kamil (of Cable in the Classroom fame) suggested to me to, effectively, ‘have faith’, and I recalled that while I’d struggled with the uncertainty my learners had in my project-based assignments (way back when I was teaching at UNSW), at the end they seemed to ‘get it’ better than I’d expected given their struggles.

It was reinforced during my recent attendance at NASAGA’s annual conference last fall, which despite the name (Simulation and Gaming Association) really focuses (at least at the conference) on creating lively learning interactions. Again, at Training 2006, I listened to Meier, one of the gurus of ‘accelerated learning’, and it was all about active learning (ignoring other elements I’d heard of including music, ritual, etc).

And now I’m beginning to thinking differently when I design learning. It’s part and parcel of my approach to game design, but getting mapped out to face to face interactions also (probably the reverse of most folks). As with game design, I suspect it’s a ‘habit of mind’. I’m interested in seeing what effect it has on my own forthcoming workshops!

On principle I want to push it since just as we find it easy to drop down to knowledge presentation in so much of what we do (I’ve just been reviewing some elearning), we also tend to present rather than support discovery. I’ll encourage you to do the same, and let me know what barriers you perceive.

8 March 2006

Everything bad *can be* good for you

Clark @ 2:39 PM

Yesterday at the Training 2006 conference (sorry for the break, but Disney’s internet plan is too silly, and Sprint’s new upgrade is too restrictive) I heard Stephen Johnson (author of “Everything Bad is Good For You”) make a compelling case for the thinking skills required to successfully play computer games. His argument is that playing such games develops new and necessary skills like systems-thinking and systematicity (both of which I support as curricular items).

I agree that such games require them, but not that they develop them. I cited two data points in a question to him: that there’s much evidence that kids ask around for solutions rather than solving the problems, and normally reflective kids will turn ‘twitch’ in the presence of a computer game. He responded well that they’ll only ask about the tough questions, and (I hope I’m recalling correctly) that there are some concerns about twitch but you can’t succeed well in the complexity of modern games without reflection.

Both true, but they sort of avoid the point. I’m willing to wear that (some) kids will develop such skills, but I also want to suggest that they won’t develop and transfer without support. Parents/mentors have to be involved until we build problem-solving coaching into the games (and we can, but that’s another story).

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