We had quite the heated discussion today on a project I’m working on, and one of the emergent issues was whether ‘the expert’ dictates the objectives, or whether the developer could change them. I recognized that this is not only an issue in our process going forward (read: scalability), but it’s also a larger issue.
In this case, the design that was presented by the developer to the expert (this is a simplification, our team process is more complicated than this :) ) didn’t match the expert’s expectation. (This was an artifact of a bad choice of language at the beginning that confounded the issue.) However, the expert expected to present the objectives, and the game would be designed to achieve that objective. Which I would agree with, but with one caveat.
My caveat is two-fold. First, experts aren’t necessarily masters of learning. Second, they may not actually have access to the necessary objectives: expertise is ‘compiled’ and experts don’t necessarily know how they do what they do! (An outcome of cognitive science research, it’s something I talk about in my ‘deeper elearning’ talk and also my white paper on the topic, .pdf) In this case the experts will be instructors on the topic, so presumably they’re both aware of content and learning design, but we all know courses can be too much knowledge, not enough skill.
Now, as Sid Meier said, “a good game is a series of interesting decisions”, and my extension is that good learning practice is a series of important decisions. I claim that you can’t give me a learning objective I can’t make a game for, but I reserve the right to move the objective high enough (in a learning taxonomy sense). Similarly, I can see that an expert might bring in an objective that’s not appropriate for any number of reasons: too low a level, not something individuals would really have difficulty with, or not important in the coming years, and the developer might not recognize it as wrong from the point of view of domain expertise, but when mapping a game mechanic onto it would realize it’s wrong because it’s an uninteresting task (or they’re more closely tied to the audience, often being younger, more tech-savvy, etc).
So, I believe (and it’s been my experience) that there’s of necessity a dialog between the source of the domain knowledge, be it expert, professor, whatever, and the designer/developer/whatever. When it comes to objectives, once the expert understands the developer’s point, they do get the final say on the necessary task & skills, but they need to be open to the developer’s feedback and willing to work with them to produce a design that’s both effective and engaging. My book is all about why that’s a doable goal and how to, but in short the elements that make learning practice effective align perfectly with the elements that make an engaging interactive experience (and so say many authors, including Gee, Prensky, Aldrich, Johnson, Shaffer, the list goes on).
Similarly, the developer has to design the game experience around the objective, and while the expert may provide feedback about aesthetic preferences or information helping to establish the audience, at the end the developer has final say on the engagement. With good intentions all around, this will work (with bad intentions, it won’t work regardless :).
Which is, of course, where the team ended up, after an hour of raised voices and frustration. All’s well that ends well, I reckon. Are your experiences or expectations different?
Kerry McGuire says
My experiences have been pretty similar… SMEs want to design the content because they “know” the content. I’ve started trying to set the expectations of roles & responsibilities by recognizing that I’m not an expert in their content, they are. But, I am an expert in workplace learning. So, if melt together our two skillsets, we’ll be able to “create” a course that teaches the participants what they need to know and is easy to learn from.
Most of our clients get that. Although I have worked with some that just don’t agree. In those cases, we negotiate, offer examples of where our process works, and eventually find a balance. It’s not always the balance I prefer… but rarely, if ever is it far off.
Kerry, yes, most of the time reasonableness prevails. However, sometimes folks who wouldn’t think they could be a graphic designer, believe writing’s easy (or vice versa), rather than recognizing the specialist knowledge. Similarly, believe they can design an interactive experience because they have an experience concept (usually linear). As you say, you just have to be willing to work together to find a workable end solution.
Matt Trupia says
I’ve definitely experienced this! To address this difference in professional opinions, I’ve noticed that conducting a series of brainstorming meetings with the SMEs goes a long way to get their support and buy-in on a design concept. If the developer team is able to address SME concerns, build on and enhance their ideas, and guide them through a more collaborative phase at the beginning of the project, it might lead to a solution that is still creative and gives all parties a sense of ownership. Also, have lunch catered in. It’s hard to argue when there are delicious sandwiches involved.
Matt, brainstorming’s great as long as you can get SME time. I definitely agree that buy-in is very helpful.