Thursday, December 9, 2010

Adult Learning Theory in Games and Simulations

This week I have a guest blog post on the LEEF (Learning and Entertainment Evolution Forum) blog. Visit the blog to read about how adult learning theories align with games and simulations as learning design strategies. Then, check out the rest of the blog and see what LEEF 2011 has to offer!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

In the Clouds

Many of us at Tandem work remotely. This benefit poses some unique obstacles when it comes to the technology we use. We have had to find tools to help us to work smarter, while not disrupting our work flow.

Everyone has seen those Microsoft commercials airing recently where people "Go to the cloud." Well, we've gone to the cloud for most of our technology solutions. SaaS (Software as a Service) options make the most sense for us. For example, we don't have an IT department to help us maintain something like a physical server.

Before I came on board the company tried to maintain a Sharepoint system. It ended up being too complicated and just too much for what we needed. We then tried Basecamp. Though Basecamp is the cool kid of file sharing and works for some teams, we weren't taking advantage of its collaboration features and instead were trying to use it like a file server, which it is not.

We're now using a cloud file system called Egnyte (Velma to Basecamp's Daphne). It has a few features that really work for us. You can mount it like a drive on your computer, which helps with adaption for people who don't want to use the web version. It has file versioning, file locking (making a document read-only), FTP-like file sharing features, the ability to upload large files through an FTP, and has a feature that easily allows you to back up your computer. It has also allowed us to get rid of a separate cloud server where we housed really large media files that we weren't able to store on previous file servers.

Egnyte, however, is not a collaboration tool. We didn't use the whiteboards available on Basecamp, and though we are on Yammer, we don't really use that as a collaboration tool either. It turns out that we like to meet face-to-face to collaborate. Since some of us are on the West Coast, we've been able to accomplish that through our use of Skype.

Skype recently released a Group Video Calling beta that we've been using on our conference calls. Since we're rarely physically together, seeing each other through Skype has helped bridge the gaps. We finally have visual cues as to when it is ok to speak without stepping on someone else's comment, and we're held accountable for any eye rolling or fantasy football stats we're checking while on a conference call. (I can see you typing!)

We also use SaaS solutions for our Outlook/Entourage email through Mailstreet, and we are trying out a time tracking solution online through Toggl, which offers both desktop and smartphone widgets.

It turns out that keeping our head in the clouds was a pretty smart decision.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Achieving Flow in Learning

I have to admit… I’ve been harboring a professional crush for Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi since grad school, and only partly because he is a fellow rock climber and he has a name that’s fun to pronounce. The other (more significant) reason is because I am interested in his flow theory work. In short, flow is the state of mind/being in which one is completely immersed in the task at hand. Think about when you’re thiiis close to finishing that really hard song you’ve been working on for a week in Guitar Hero, or [insert a relevant task that is of interest to you]. That complete focus, concentration, and sense of exhilaration is flow. (For more information, check out Csikszentmihalyi’s talk on TED and this article from Fast Company)

Now, imagine what our learning initiatives could achieve if learners are in a state of flow! Flow is not something you can provide to another or instill in someone else, but rather something that must be achieved through one’s own participation in an activity. As designers of learning experiences, let us ask ourselves this: is there anything we can do to help support learners in achieving that state? How can we design learning experiences to optimize flow in the target audience? Here are some ideas:

Motivate Your Audience: Before becoming engrossed in an experience, learners need a reason to enter the experience in the first place. The first step in helping learners achieve flow is through motivation, and we can look to our old friend the ARCS Model from Keller (which is nicely outlined here)

Set the Tone to Minimize Distractions: Provide an environment where distractions are minimized as much as possible. For example, state ground rules during a workshop that requires electronic devices to remain off for the duration of the session. If you’re designing an online experience, set expectations for time requirements so that learners can plan accordingly and dedicate the time necessary to complete the exercise.

Reduce Cognitive Overhead: Just like a buzzing cell phone can interrupt a state of flow, so too can complicated workshop logistics and inelegant e-learning interfaces. Simplify your designs to ensure that learners are fully able to focus on the learning activity rather than logistics or navigation.

Tell a Story: Try storytelling, using deep character development and compelling plot lines to draw your learners in. It doesn’t need to be complicated or tech-laden, just interesting to your target audience.

Given the choice between disengaged learners who are required to click a next button every once in a while to learners who are engrossed in a learning experience, I’d take the latter every time. Let’s help our learners achieve that state of flow!