Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning

Welcome to stop #3 of The Karl Kapp Games, Gadgets, and Gizmos Virtual World Book Tour.

I've grown up with the mentality that it's cheating if I don't read a book from cover to cover. But I have to admit that I used a few cheat codes to read this book. (I just didn't have a lot of time given that I was stop #3 on the tour!)

I suspect the concept of cheats is going to resonate a lot with Boomers and Gen-Xers as a foreign, but thrilling concept. (See Chapter 5: Cheaters Never Win...Or Do They?) It sure did with Tom King over at stop #2 of the book tour....his was just the clever approach I was going to take in beginning this book review. Tom beat me to the punch.

I'm a linear reader in recovery and have been actively learning how to skim books and not feel guilty about it. For this exercise, I was a good doobie, and I read all of Chapter 1, which gives a great background on Boomers, Gamers and the differences between the two.

Then I read the descriptions of each chapter and decided on which ones I would focus. I circled Chapter 6 (moving from creating rigid course structures to small, easily searched nuggets) and Chapter 8 (gamers' expectations of bosses/teachers).

My plan failed me and I just started reading Chapter 2: It's in the Game. (Hey, I can only stray so far from my linear, conforming roots!)

Be sure to read Chapter 2 if you're about to start a new project and need some juice before you start brainstorming. Lots of practical ideas and examples for turning basic teaching points into learning games -- from casual games to teach facts and concepts, to detailed simulations that teach procedures and problem solving. Although I'm not in active instructional design mode for any projects right now, I did jot a bunch of ideas.

Then I started jumping ahead and reading the summary of each chapter. The summaries usually intrigued me enough to go back and read/skim the entire chapter.

Ultimately, I think I actually did read the entire book. Cheat codes and all.

Here's some more thoughts....

Are You a Gamer?

If you were born anytime after 1960, then, technically, you are a gamer.
"A gamer is someone who has grown up in the generation influenced and shaped by video games and technology." (p. 14)
It's not whether or not you played games or still do, it's simply the fact that you were shaped by a popular culture that was shaped by video games.

Karl chunks groups out based on year of birth...roughly a decade at a time. Gamer 1.0s were born between 1960-1970. That's me. But I really don't feel like much of a "gamer." Compared to a Gamer 4.0 (those born between 1991-2000), I'm a bit of an ape (no offense to apes, mind you).

Gamer 1.0ers overlaps with Generation Xers (born between 1965-1979). I was born in 1968. I'm a Gen Xer and a Gamer 1.0er.

Gen Xers are digital immigrants; they did not grow up with the dual technologies of the Internet and video games. But then Karl says this:
"The first generation to be fully immersed in video games and the Internet is the gamer generation." (p. 28)
So, Karl, am I of the gamer generation or am I not?

I feel like I'm floating in this liquid generational gap between the boomers and the gamers...

Workplace Change
"So even if boomers do not leave the workplace en masse, they will most likely be leaving your organization, taking with them a vast amount of knowledge and possibly costing your company dearly if you don't prepare now." (p. 6)
This strikes me as completely foreign. At my current company, I am the OLDEST employee at 39. No boomers here. We're a small company, founded by a couple of Gamers 2.0ers. I'm the Gen Xer who can hardly work a video control to save her life.

Just ask my CTO, who was recently peering over my shoulder as I struggled to figure out how to play a Flash Game. "Wow, you're really not very good at this, are you?"

Cheat Codes & Gaming the System
"But to gamers, cheat codes are not cheating. They are more like help codes." (p. 158)
Bending the rules is fine, if it's not strictly disallowed.
"Successful people learn the unwritten rules of engagement and push those rules, work around those rules, and subvert those rules until they are highly successful." (p. 153)
I agree. And some of them also go on to do illegal and highly unethical or questionable things.

It's a fine line, and Karl makes sure to mention that management must also guide the use of corporate cheats to the ethical benefit of organizations, employees and customers.

Karl recounts a workshop he ran one summer to teach business concepts to middle school kids using the game Railroad Tycoon. The first level objective was to build a park with high customer satisfaction ratings.

One group's satisfaction ratings were through the roof. It turned out they were drowning the unhappy guests, which the game allowed them to do. "It was a little disturbing to me, but to them it was part of the game." (p.157)

Gamers learn to play by the letter of the rules and not the intent. But they're still playing by the rules.

OK. Well, I think "bending the rules" is good. Thinking creatively is good. Working at the edge is good.

But my god. It's bad enough having a boomer in the White House.

Implications for Instructional Design
"Games have a different expectation. They desire instant (or almost instant) learning delivered in an informal manner. They do not want to log into the corporate learning management system, navigate to the desired course, and then page through forty screens to find that one desired piece of information." (p. 165)
Hallelujah! So when can I stop writing these courses? And yet, I'm scared to admit that I don't know if I've got what it takes to do what this generational shift requires. That's way more creativity than I may have in me.

Can someone just write me a page-turner of a course to teach me how to be an instructional designer for the new millenium?

Corporate training departments are set up for the old-school boomer approach to training. Selling a different approach is hard. "We don't have the budget for that." "That's not in our plan." These are actual objections I've heard from clients when I've tried to discuss some alternatives.

And, hey, many e-Learning vendors are vested in the "old boomer" model of training. It's primarily what pays my salary and keeps my company in business. At least this year.

It's a big shift for instructional design. We're no longer talking about designing "courses"; instead we need to talk about helping companies design different strategies (and using games, blogs, wikis, instant messaging -- the gamers' learning tools), about crafting a strategic approach to learning and performance support throughout an organization.

I think we'll need to just send this book along to any prospects before we head out on a sales calls.

Some More Things You Should Know

This book is not just about gadgets, games and gizmos. It's also about using blogs and wikis and other collaborative tools for workplace learning and knowledge sharing.

This book isn't just for learning professionals. Managers, HR, recruiting officers, and consultants working with clients on organizational change initiatives should read it. Karl's provided some great roadmaps for implementing a Knowledge Transfer Process within an organization (see Chapter 11: Getting to the Next Level), with lots of specific examples and practical tips.

The Future

Knowledge Transfer will be an ongoing issue. As the boomers fade away and are completely replaced by a workforce of gamers who change jobs frequently, there will be a constant knowledge drain. It'll be essential that companies have systems in place to capture knowledge as it's being created.

You can read more about Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning at Karl's website. And be sure to buy a copy (or better yet, have your company buy it) for your collection.


Update: As soon as I published this, I saw a post in my reader from Richard Nantel, CEO at Brandon Hall Research: The Myth of Boomer Retirement. If boomers aren't going to be retiring and leaving the workforce in droves as predicted, then will the knowledge transfer gap be an issue? Do we actually have a lot more time to figure this out?


Karl Kapp said...


For someone who had planned on “cheating” her way through the book…I think you did it an amazing amount of justice. Your summaries of books, webcasts and webinars are always so thorough.

To answer your first question about whether or not you are in the gamer generation…since I wrote the book I have done some more thinking about the age categories in the chart on pages 16 and 17, I’ve had a little readjustment of my thinking thanks, to a conversation I had on my blog with Christy Tucker.

My thought now about Gamer level is more focused on the types of games a person has played and the questions they are forced to consider when playing the game (the “thought process” row of the chart.

For example a Gamer 1.0 who plays games like Pong thinks about questions such as “where do I move my white rectangle so I can hit it past my opponent”. For Gamer 2.0 with games like Space Invaders, the thought of the player is geared more toward pattern recognition, “what pattern are the invaders following” and “how do I disrupt the patter?” For Gamer 3.0 the thoughts were focused on things like “where should I explore” or “how do I solve this mystery” and for Gamer 4.0s who play online role-play games with others, the thoughts are “can I trust this person” or “how can I earn more points through cooperation.” Different levels of questions. Different thought processes…different learning.

So, the “real gamers” or the ones with the most differences from boomers and Generation Xers are the kids born after the Internet was named “Person of the Year” in 1994 and who are now 13. When these kids hit the workforce, they will have a large impact…larger than what we’ve seen so far in terms of different learning expectations.

In terms of the boomers controlling the workforce and subsequently leaving in large numbers, it might be a little more industry focused than across the board. When I talk to people involved with utilities, healthcare or government services…they are highly concerned about the exodus of baby boomers…these are grey industries and the ages of the more experienced people on those jobs are getting higher every year.

As one quote from the Wisconsin Hospital Association indicated “Retirements within the hospital work force will coincide with the growing demand for health care services by the aging population and cause a shortage of workers.”

Also, an interesting blog posting titled Retirement Changes Dramatically over the Years
stated, the age of retirement in the US is actually dropping from age 74 in 1910 to about 59 in 2006. So people do seem to be leaving their long time job sooner…however, they do seem to be not entirely retiring but taking on other roles. However, if they leave your company after years and years of experience and doing something else like consulting, your company no longer has that knowledge…it has left.

It is probably better to prepare for the exodus then to hope it doesn’t happen then not prepare and scramble if it does.

I also believe very strongly that good game design and the use of blogs, wikis, gadgets and gizmos needs to have elements of instructional design. The basic instructional strategies work, they need to be leverage in this knowledge transfer process regardless of the technologies utilized.

Thanks for being a great blog book tour “stop.” Cheers

Cammy Bean said...

Phew. Karl, your response was a post in and of itself. And perhaps requires a full post or few in response.

Many of the changes we're starting to see may or may not be about the specific games people have played, but as you said, the popular culture around that. IMing, wikis, Google, cell phones -- these gadgets are changing the workforce, regardless of the games one has played.

Labels are just labels. So perhaps we just need a different label than "Gamer". Perhaps it's just "digital natives" -- that covers a lot more territory.

Of course, I agree that good instructional design principles need to be applied to blogs, wikis, gadgets, gizmos. So instructional designers need to move beyond being able to design courseware....

On a final note, I forgot to mention how much I got out of your book!

In fact, this morning I was out on a sales call and talked with our prospects about the traditional boomer approach to training vs. designing for gamers. Eyes lit up. I mentioned your book and notes were taken and your name written down.

Cammy Bean said...

Back to who is a "gamer" -- I know 39-year olds deeply immersed (they might call it addicted) in World of Warcraft. Although they are immigrants, I would say they are gamers nonetheless.

Karl Kapp said...


I agree that there are a lot of exceptions (and a degree of danger)to associating age with being a Digital Native or a Gamer with many people that don't fit the mold, however, the overall trends are clearly in favor of cutoffs at certain ages. And a difference in Web use and game playing at certain ages.

As an example, I point to the What People Are Doing Chart by BusinessWeek which does show certain cut offs at certain ages and clearly illustrates a difference in web use based on age.

But really, the ultimate goal is not to label people as "gamer" or non-gamers but to highlight differences that people may attribute to other factors that may, indeed, have to do with a certain world view (that may come from playing video games, constantly surfing the internet and having a cell phone at age 5).

On another note, I am glad you got a lot out of the book, my goal was really to provide a level of awareness and to provide solutions to many problems people have been discussing.

I don't like it when authors or others just present problems with no solutions so, hopefully, some of the examples will provide helpful to instructional you indicated about Chapter Two.

Christy Tucker said...

OK, clearly I should have read the comments here before commenting on the Guild Master Ceiling post. I linked to the same chart as Karl did.

I do see the gamer labels as being more about the specific experiences people have had than strictly about age (as Karl and I have discussed in the past). There's definitely trends based on age, and someone who is younger is much more likely to be an active gamer and blogger and social networker than someone who is older. However, they are just general trends and you can definitely find examples of older gamers and younger non-gamers.

I think that may be part of why many people resist the digital native/digital immigrant distinction; it is based very much on age and not experience and participation.

Brent Schlenker said...

You do an amazing job summarizing key points clearly and concisely. karl and I are trying to get together for the next installment of my podcast segment reviewing his book. I want you to be a part of the conversation.
Actually, I'd love for ANY and/or ALL of the book tour stop participants to join us.
I'll set up a Talkshoe schedule and we will go for it. More to come.
For the next episode however, I may just bring everyone in on skype.
Nice job!

Summer (Harling) Morris said...

I want to thank you for this recap of Karl's book. I am an Instructional Designer (by education and experience) and I have recently just landed a contract position at a company where instructional simulations are the bread and butter. During grad school I learned more of the page turner type of instruction and need a little guidance and brainstorming ideas on how to create effective and sound instruction for simuations. I am finding that I have a good foundation with the basic theory of ID but, instead of being confined to no more than a white board in a classroom as it use to be, the world is now my classroom fashioned in lines of code on a computer screen.

I was a student of Karl's at Bloomsburg University almost 10 years ago and excited to read this book. Thanks again for the insight and I look forward to reading more blogs from you and your colleagues on how to expand my thought-horizon when designing instruction for Gamers.

Cammy Bean said...

Hey Summer,

Glad you found the post helpful and good luck with everything! Karl's a great resource and usually has lots of interesting tidbits on his blog.

Also be sure to check out my post "Essential Reading for IDs" which you can find on my blog's sidebar. Some other great resources in there to get you away from the click next to continue model. I especially like Michael Allen's books.

Lori VanGilder said...

Thanks for a great article. I had previously read about the "millennial’s" but I had not thought about "gamers" and "cheat codes" and "work around’s," yet it all makes perfect sense.