Archive for April, 2007

Too odd not to be true

OK, so those of you that know me, know I love gadgets and technology toys, but sometimes designers go too far. I saw this post on one of the blogs I read (Creative Cow) and thought for sure that it was a hoax. One of George Foreman’s latest grills has an integrated MP3 connection with an amplifier and speakers. I verified the product on George’s site and the Salton store which, I think, actually makes the products as well as hosting the online store.

I’m all for product integration and ubiquitous computing where it makes sense, but do we really need a grill with an MP3 hookup? Doesn’t that defeat the “tailgate” part of tailgating?

Who are these people anyway?

In the last two posts, I’ve been talking a bit about immersion and ways to represent it. As industries grow and mature, they borrow language and frameworks from other related and not-so-related industries. Sometimes borrowing helps expand the thinking more quickly, and sometimes it limits it to an old ways of doing things. In this case, we’re talking about perspective in narrative. Let me just head off the debate here, is there such a thing as a game with a story, or a story that is truly interactive? Lots of really smart people like Jim Gee and Chris Crawford (no relation) have weighed in the topic. I don’t know that we really know the answer yet, at least not with our current way of thinking. Either way, narrative perspective is at least a helpful framework from which to think about getting the participant involved (immersed?) in the simulation. So, that being said, back to our early literature classes:

1st Person
The narrator is a character in the story. Pronouns like “I” and “we” are prominent. Since the narrator is a character in the story, they often don’t know all of the facts because they only know what they have experienced so far. Sometimes, authors use flashbacks, time shifting, or other devices to allow people to know more than they would normally know in this perspective. In video games and some simulations, this perspective also takes on a visual representation. Since the character is the player, the player often only sees their hands or what’s in their hands such as a tool or a weapon. The only way to see themselves is to look in a mirror or other reflection. This format is most often seen in First Person Shooters (FPS) which despite the unfortunate name, don’t necessarily have to involve shooting.

2nd Person
2nd Person is a much less common format. The narrator is not a character in the story. Pronouns such as “you” are prominent since the narrator is describing the participant’s actions. Since the narrator is outside the story, they can provide facts from the perspective of a sage or a guide.

3rd Person
The narrator is not a character in the story, but sees the story through a character (often the protagonist). Pronouns such as “she” or “he” often get interchanged with ones like “I” or “we” due to the close relationship between the participant, narrator, and character. This view can be thought of as an “over the shoulder” look at the story. In fact, this is exactly the view that video games use to represent this perspective. The character is usually seen from behind and slightly above. This perspective allows more knowledge about the surroundings than is possible in a 1st person perspective. The difference is particular stark when comparing 1st & 3rd person perspectives from the same racing game (Project Gotham Racing 3 for Xbox 360). Notice how much more information the player gets in 3rd person, yet how much less personal it feels.

Why should learning care about narrative perspective?
Many games in the last several years have allowed the player to switch between 1st and 3rd person perspectives since 1st person allows a much more personal view with significantly higher ownership. It increases the feeling that the player is actually there taking the actions (i.e. it increases immersion). However, sometimes the ability to step above the fray is necessary (almost like an out of body experience) in order to take in the entire scene or set up the best strategy.

Given that we’re trying to create ownership (read my post on the Levels of Interactivity) over new knowledge, skills, and capabilities in our learners, the use of 1st person perspective can be a valuable tool in learning by doing. Certainly the other perspectives can also be used to great dramatic effect and have an impact on learning. However, learning designers should be making conscious choices about wording (“I” vs. “s/he” vs. “you”) and about visualization, just to name two things. At least now we know who these people are and how we can put them to use.

How Real Is ‘Real Enough’?

Don Clark, in a recent post on his blog takes on the topic of fidelity in simulations. In posts several months ago I said I was going to come back to this topics. It took a while, and a bit of prompting by Don’s post, so here it is. Here’s a quote:

‘Physical’ and ‘psychological’ fidelity
An underlying problem in military training is the failure to recognise the fundamental difference between ‘physical’ and ‘psychological’ fidelity. So, how real should simulations be? It’s a mistake to think that physical fidelity is an absolute virtue in simulations. A stripped down version of reality will often suffice, and in fact can often provide greater focus for the learner. The important consideration in making such decisions is to be selective in a way that focuses on the psychologically significant aspects of the situation in a way that highlights the learning objectives.

While I bet after a discussion we might totally agree, his words here only seem half accurate. I agree that, especially in today’s gaming environment, we have focused too much on visual fidelity at the expense of game play, story, and, as Don terms it, “psychological fidelity”. Take a look at the success of the Nintendo Wii. They went the opposite direction. The graphics are frankly weak. Instead they focused on the game play and moving it closer to reality. Think about tennis or bowling not by button mashing like most games do, but by actually moving your arm and your hand. Talk about fidelity. (On an awesome side note, retirement centers all across the country are buying Wii’s so that seniors who couldn’t think about lifting a bowling ball again can get back out on the lanes. How cool is that?) Alternatively, I don’t want to say how many times I’ve crashed my car in Project Gotham Racing 3 (PGR3) for the Microsoft‘s Xbox 360 because I was staring at the incredibly realistic scenery with shadows, reflections, tire marks, and dents from previous impacts. (Note the picture at the right. The top image is Tokyo, and the bottom is Tokyo in PGR3. Truly amazing visual fidelity.) However, did those incredible graphics impact game play? Actually, at least in my case, they hindered game play. Impressive, yes…necessary to achieve the learning objective, no.

Where Don and I start to deviate is in his last sentence where he says we should focus “on the psychologically significant aspects of the situation in a way that highlights the learning objectives.” In my recent American Idol post, I talk about the importance of good decisions and good feedback in simulations which are a certainly part of the “psychologically significant aspects”. So while I agree, it’s only half right. Physical fidelity should be considered when physical fidelity matters to the business objectives. For example, in the a simulation of a conversation, does physical fidelity matter? Well, it depends. If the goal is to teach the participant the right words to say, then no. However, if the goal is to diffuse a tense situation such as an angry customer, body language and facial features matter. Sure, sometimes exaggerated, cartoon-like features can suffice, but it’s the business objectives that determine the level of physical fidelity as well. As another example, take a flight simulator. If a pilot is being trained, I want the virtual cockpit to be identical to the real one not only in visual fidelity, but also in haptic and tactile feedback so they know what it feels like too. Does the fidelity of the landscape matter to the learning? Only if the skill flying over/through the landscape is part of the business objectives.

So while, I agree that psychological fidelity is important, when designing simulations we also need to determine the level of visual, physical, haptic, and tactile fidelity based on the business objectives for the session.

1 Comment more...

What is Immersion?

First a few quick definitions from the ever popular and sometimes maligned Wikipedia on a over-used, possibly misunderstood buzzword, immersion.

Immersion is the state where you cease to be aware of your physical self. It is often accompanied by intense focus, distorted sense of time, and effortless action.

It strikes me as I read that it also sounds amazingly similar to what people refer to as “being in the zone”, but more on that shortly. It’s also important to note that immersion doesn’t require realism or a 3D environment. For example, consider reading, a good novel can have characteristics of immersion too. So, sure it’s nice to know about immersion, but why do we even care?

Immersion is one of the key parts to true interactivity. In an one of my first posts, I described Chris Crawford‘s (no relation) model of interactivity being a six-part (listen-think-speak-listen-think-speak) process. To make that happen, the participant must take on the role of one of the “listen-think-speak” pairs. In other words, they must be immersed. On the levels of interactivity, while immersion can be involved at the first level of observation, it becomes more and more essential through the higher levels such as action, agency, and ownership. So, if designers want to create a truly interactive exercise or module, they must think about immersion as one component of that.

We also know that “learning by doing” may actually be the only way to achieve real learning. So if, interactivity is learning by doing and immersion is key to interactivity, we must understand more about immersion.

Thankfully, recent research in the gaming community at the University of Helsinki’s Nokia Research Center by J. Takatalo and J. Hakkinen gives us some insight into the key factors necessary to create immersion. These factors then point a way for us to deepen the levels of immersion throughout all of our learning. Here are the 8 factors indicated by their research with their definitions:

Role Engagement – Captivated and enclosed into the role provided by the storyline and narrative
Attention – Time distortion, focus on the game world instead of the real world
Interest – Interesting, exciting as well as lively
Importance – Meaning, relevant as well as close, personal and sensitive
Co-Presence – Feeling of sharing a place with others, being active in there
Interaction – Speed, range, mapping, exploration, predictability of own actions
Arousal – Active/stimulated vs. passive/unaroused
Physical Presence – Feeling of being transported into a real, live and vivid place;

So what can we do with this information? Well, in whatever learning we’re designing (online or offline, synchronous or asynchronous), we can look at each of these factors and see if there are ways to increase immersion. Here are several ideas:

  • Drive importance by making the “What’s In It For Me” apparent to the participant
  • Drive importance by creating and communicating the burning platform (BTW, if there isn’t a burning platform, why is the learning being done anyway?)
  • Drive co-presence through small group discovery, activity, and discussion
  • Drive interaction and arousal by having the participant apply the content rather than listen to it

Please, please comment on this post or send me an e-mail. Do you agree with the 8 factors? How would you describe/define them? In what ways can we improve immersion in learning? Is this discussion even relevant?

Lessons from American Idol

OK, so I’m a closet Idol watcher. To redeem myself a bit, I’ve never voted and if I miss an episode, I don’t feel lost. In many cases, thanks to Tivo, I’ll even scan through the songs/performers I don’t like and just catch the key moments. As I was reflecting on the show recently, I realized there were a few lessons from American Idol that could be useful to those of us in the learning space:

1. The decisions the contestants make matter

Making the right song choice each week is key. Does the range of the song match their voice? Does it show off their voice? Can they identify with (or, better, “own”) the message/story? Do they listen to the advice of their vocal coach and guest coach? Did they learn and grow from the previous weeks?

In simulation design, it’s easy to focus on the right choices and build them first. Then, all too often, little time is left or spent on designing the “distractor” options. When, in fact, the distractors can be the most important part of the design. Good decision points have a few characteristics: realistic options, all options are available that a participant might want at that moment, and no throw away options. The decisions should be hard and should have consequences (some known and some unknown–or at least non-obvious). For the particularly hard decisions (as determined by the participant not the designer), a coach should be available to help guide the decisions. The coach doesn’t always have or provide the right answer, but can provide guiding thoughts about how to think about the problem. In the end, the decision should still be up to the participant.

However, the learning doesn’t really occur in the decisions…

2. For learning, the feedback matters almost as much as, and maybe more than, the decisions

The best part of Idol is the judges. Randy generally does “keep it real”, Paula almost never gives useful feedback, and Simon is almost always dead on (in my opinion). Even when Paula’s comments are coherent, they rarely provide substantive feedback. It seems that while Simon’s comments are harshly accurate, Randy looks for a way to soften what Simon says, but then provides the substance that Paula lacks.

All too often in simulations, feedback is either too soft or too hard. Writing good feedback is difficult. I’ve often heard quoted that learning comes through failure, but that statement is only half right. Learning comes through internalizing the quality feedback that comes out of failure. Failing isn’t enough. If the player fails at a task in a well-designed video game, the game provides feedback on how to succeed. The feedback in the middle of the game is often, but not always, tacit with the direct feedback held until the end. The same is true with Idol. The reaction of the judges and the audience during the song can allow for minor adjustments while the direct feedback at the end can be used to help with the next decision. The key is making both forms of feedback useful to the decisions and not about how nice the participant looks.

3. “Know who you are” and “Make it your own”

All three judges have said this so many times, they must be tired of it by now. I know I am, but it’s still true. A classical musician singing country probably won’t sound genuine. An opera star singing heavy metal comes off like a Saturday Night Live skit with Will Farrell. While extreme examples, it’s true for most musicians. Knowing who they are and what styles are available to them is essential to success. Lots of things can guide a musician’s choices such as vocal range, vocal tone, technical capabilities, personal style, and even personal preference among many others.

Over the past few months, I’ve been talking to a lot of the suppliers in the learning industry. LMS companies thinking about getting into custom content. Custom content companies thinking about getting into the LMS business. Web conferencing companies thinking about virtual worlds. Content developers thinking about becoming tool developers. It’s interesting for me to watch. Certainly everybody’s looking at ways to grow sales, and that’s important. However, what I think they’re missing is who they are as a company. Each company has a DNA that’s made up of corporate culture, people, and even organizational structure. These things are hard, if not impossible, to overcome.

For example, LMS companies aren’t suited to custom content. Their business is set up to sell big price tag software with an annual maintenance agreement. That’s a very different business from flat-fee, 2-3 month development cycle, ever-changing content topics. If an organization is currently successful, it’s likely because their DNA is supporting that success. Yet it requires different DNA to do custom content. So, the same DNA that is making them successful now as an LMS company is preventing them from being successful in a new venture. A custom content company requires characteristics such as innovation, creativity, broad content knowledge, solutions selling, and very strong project management skills. Where as a tools company requires product sales, broad platform support, strong technical support, and semi frequent update/release cycles. Sure every company requires these skills to some extent, but the emphasis for each is different and that’s where the DNA will either support or limit the success. Trying to be something that they are not comes off as disingenuous and will limit their success in the new market and even to some extent in their core market.

Virtual Worlds from Other Perspectives

About 7 days ago, I wrote a post about ProtonMedia‘s Protosphere. It generated a lot of interest and, I’m humbled to say, even got picked up by gaming guru Raph Koster.

One of the more interesting outcomes was a tie to the universe outside learning. Sven (csven) Johnson added an interesting point to the virtual world discussion. To be really effective for business uses (just as much for fun), virtual worlds must have some sort of content creation or content import tool. Why do none of the virtual worlds allow the import of the various standard 3D formats? Why do none of the typical 3D design tools allow the creation of objects for the virtual worlds?

Take a look at our brief discussion on his blog. While you’re there take a look at the rest of his blog too. It’s a nice parallel to a lot of the discussions we’re having in learning from the perspective of a professional in the 3D space.

Powerful Research Tool

For those in the learning space, there tends to be a lack of quality research on the current shape of the industry and trends. Well, the e-Learning Guild has stepped in to fill that gap with their Research offering which is managed by Steve Wexler. He demo’d the latest version at the meeting in Boston last week.

Probably the single most unique thing about the research is that members are doing their own live searches. No more out-of-date reports, biased interpretations (except for your own bias of course), or irrelevant data. Live queries into the research implies lots of great things for learning practitioners such as:

  • Access the most current data at that moment in time
  • Watch the trends (such as product market share or satisfaction) change over time
  • Apply filters to slice the data any way you like (the new version remembers the filters and applies the to all of the reports automatically…apparently this is Steve’s favorite new feature…he mentioned it a lot)

They have lots of great reports available such as Salaries, Methodologies, Market Share, Product Satisfaction, and many others. Higher levels of membership get more reports and more functionality in the research. If you’re not accessing this data as part of your decision making process, you probably should be.

A Virtual Surprise

Frankly, I’ve been getting a little worn on the hype over virtual worlds, especially for learning. So, when I had the opportunity to take a much deeper look at ProtonMedia at the e-Learning Guild conference in Boston, I was pessimistic, at best. Here are some of the things I found surprising, and interesting:

Virtual World as Web Conferencing & Collaboration Tool – They’ve integrated their own audio, whiteboard, chat, application sharing, and other web conferencing features.
Con: Most companies already have a web conferencing tool that don’t require as much overhead
Pro: Great for collaboration on the design of 3D objects, intuitive break out rooms (just walk to a different room), can replace the proprietary web conferencing with whatever tool a company is already using

Virtual World as Social Networking Space – They’ve built their own profile management and search to help people find each other.
Con: Many companies are implementing other social networking systems that don’t require as much overhead
Pro: Integration with 3D objects, web conferencing, self-publishing and learning design makes this something that can’t be found elsewhere, can replace the proprietary social networking with whatever tool a company is already using

Virtual World as Simulation Space – Integrated branching simulation capabilities
Con: Only simple scenarios can be created
Pro: Inclusion of computer-controlled characters, more intuitive way to interact with characters (walk to their office)

Virtual World as Learning Space – Integrated course launching and tracking capabilities
Con: Almost all companies already have more extensive LMS capabilities
Pro: Integration with web conferencing, social networking, and self-publishing allows for one location for learning related needs

Virtual World as Publishing Space – Integration of blogs and wikis
Con: Many companies are implementing other self-publishing systems that don’t require as much overhead
Pro: Integration with web conferencing and learning design makes this something that can’t be found elsewhere, can replace the proprietary blog and wiki with whatever tool a company is already using

Overall, there are a few things that I think make this solution stand out. First, it works in a corporate environment. Most of the other virtual world solutions either won’t run inside a firewall or force a port to be opened to access the world outside the firewall. Neither of which are possible for most organizations. Second, the overhead that it takes is lower than other virtual worlds. Maybe most importantly, it’s easier to use than Second Life or many of the others. Given the skills of the broader corporate audience, this is a very important thing. On their own, there are more powerful solutions in each of the categories such as web conferencing and social networking. However, none of them are integrated. Plus, a company who likes a different tool can still use it in this environment.

While ProtonMedia still has some areas to grow such as the ability for user (or even expert) content creation, and extended capabilities for scenario development, they have created an integrated platform that extends the common tools with the use of 3D visualization. For groups such as designers, manufacturers, claims adjusters, and others that need 3D, this is the easy choice.

For a look at a number of other virtual worlds, check out Raph Koster’s article on Alternatives to Second Life, and the original source article from Onder Skall.

Learning = Fun

I’m just getting settled back in from my trip to Boston last week for the e-Learning Guild Meeting. While I’ve been a member for 6 or 7 years, this is the first time I went to the annual conference. Conferences and conference sessions can often feel redundant for those who travel the conference circuit as a vendor, speaker, or attendee. At this conference, though, there were far fewer misses than there were hits like ProtonMedia’s solutions, some great thoughts on immersion, and the Guild’s new research tool. I’ll try to write about them over the coming days.

However, last year I began to understand that the conferences are not about the sessions at all. The real work and, yes, the real learning almost always happens outside the sessions…in the hall, eating lunch, over dinner, and most certainly solving the industry problems over a few drinks. I’m honored and humbled to be able to hang around the brightest and best in the industry. Many thanks to Tony, Tony, Judy, Mark, Brent, Lance, Jay, Gabe, Linda, Adam, Ron, and all the rest for challenging my thinking and providing new insights to our little corner of the world. I learned a lot and that certainly equated to a lot of fun. I can’t wait to do it again.

Special thanks goes out to ProtonMedia,, and an extra special thanks to NexLearn. Without them, the trip and all that went with it wouldn’t have been possible.

Really Old School Learning

I don’t subscribe to many e-mail lists. My inbox gets full enough as it is. (Thankfully feeds have helped with that even more). However, there is one I still get…A Word A Day. Yes, it’s old school and has been in the classroom much longer than the tear off calendars have been on desktops. I love getting the new word and trying to find a way to fit it into a conversation that day. (It’s one of the only ways I’ll actually remember).

Even more old school is the etymology of the various words and what other words those sources spawned. For example, did you know that bowyer is “a person who makes, sells, or uses bows? Even more interesting is that the root word, boga which came from bheug (meaning “to bend”), is also the root source of the words bagel, buxom, and bog. I find it extremely helpful when I travel since I can often deduce the gist of written words from what little I know about their origins. It’s not perfect, but when it’s all you’ve got it can sometimes help.

In some ways, etymology is like the genetics of language. It’s fascinating to watch how words have merged and evolved over the centuries. As our understanding of genetics grows, hopefully we’ll be able to examine the same development.

A.Word.A.Day with ads is free. The ads are minimal and text only, but they also have an ad free version for $25/year. Sign up today to go a bit old school.

Copyright © 1996-2010 thcrawford. All rights reserved.
Jarrah theme by Templates Next | Powered by WordPress