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A Practical Example of an Instructional Alternate Reality Game (iARG) January 12, 2008

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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When you go to an industry conference, it’s fun to get excited and re-energized about your field. You often learn about new technologies, see great examples, and hear fresh ideas. The unfortunate reality is that you may only get to implement a very small percentage of this new stuff when you get back to work after the conference. At DevLearn 2007, I became really excited at the idea of instructional alternate reality games (iARGs). These games seem to take engagement to the next level; people live the experience, rather than just taking part in a mundane training activity. After DevLearn, I went back to work and tried for weeks to figure out ways to use iARGs. I just couldn’t think of a realistic scenario where they could work for us. Fortunately, the light bulb turned on this week.

I’ve written before about our upcoming PeopleSoft upgrade at work. It’s coming in the next few months, and it’s going to be a BIG project; we’re essentially upgrading the entire software platform for our whole organization. Our training department has been brainstorming ways to tackle this project. We came up with a new concept this week to draw in our users and keep their excitement level up, and holy cow, I think we may have stumbled upon our first instructional alternate reality game!

Here’s what we’ve got so far: We know we will be creating a large number of self-paced eLearning courses to deliver the material to the learners. Each of these courses will take approximately 30 minutes and will consist mainly of Captivate (and maybe Assima) simulations that show the learner how to complete a task, allow them to try the task, and then assess their ability to complete the task (show me, let me try, test me). Now, here’s the fun part: It looks like we’re going to wrap a contest/game around the whole experience. It’ll be called Crack the Code, and we’ll market this internally to our employees. We’re presenting them with a challenge: Once training begins, we will leave clues throughout our eLearning courses that the learners must track. We’ll come up with a standard icon that represents a clue (for now, let’s just says it’s a gold star). Whenever they see a gold star during training, they’ll know that they should investigate it to find a clue. (Of course, this clue could directly be linked to a learning objective or a key point in the learning.) We will build a companion web site where learners can go and "store" their clues. Each clue may be a single word, a phrase, or a number (we haven’t quite figured out the exact specifics of this part). On the companion web site, we will have a large image that slowly reveals itself to users based on the number of clues they find over a series of weeks; the ultimate objective of the game will be to figure out this image and crack the code. For example, the final image may be a simple cipher message or word scramble that must be solved. The first person to solve the puzzle will receive a big prize, perhaps $500 or $1000. We will also have weekly or monthly raffles for anybody who has recovered a gold star – so it’s a good incentive for them to stay on their toes throughout the training. We will probably keep a leader board that shows all top-ranked employees and how many clues they’ve recovered, too.

So far, what I’ve described is online-only, which wouldn’t qualify as an ARG. Here’s where it gets fun: Our company has hundreds of offices across the United States. We’ve discussed the idea of making gold star clues (ex. print a clue on gold construction paper and then laminate it) and then sending the clues to our office managers across the country. The managers would plant these clues throughout their offices where employees would stumble upon them. Employees would then go to the companion web site and enter their newly-found gold star clue. We’ve also talked about hiding gold stars throughout our company’s intranet site, and I’m sure we’ll come up with more ideas along these lines

Sure, this may not be as truly immersive as some high-end ARGs, but I believe this is a good start. Our employees will be on the lookout for clues, they’ll be more motivated to complete their training, and their attention-level should be heightened. And they may have a little fun along the way, too.

Free Whitepaper: Using Alternate Reality Games in Corporate Training December 27, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Enspire Learning has released a free whitepaper that outlines Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) and their role in corporate training. It’s an interesting read, and they present an interesting case study of an ARG they used internally. If you’re not familiar with ARGs, here’s a definition according to Wikipedia:

An alternate reality game (ARG) is an interactive narrative that uses the real world as a platform, often involving multiple media and game elements, to tell a story that may be affected by participants’ ideas or actions.

ARGs are games that you live; they are real-life simulations. As an example, if I am training to be an IT security consultant an ARG may be used to simulate a security breach that must be investigated resolved. It’s a way to train people without them thinking, "Oh great, more boring training…" And it embeds their learning in a scenario that is both likely and relevant.

I mentioned ARGs a while back in this post from DevLearn 2007. Check out the comments on that post. There’s good info there.

You can read more on the Enspire Learning blog, too.

DevLearn 2007 – Day 2 November 8, 2007

Posted by B.J. Schone in eLearning.
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Holy cow – today went by FAST! It was a blur but I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s a recap:

  • I began the morning by dropping in on a discussion led by Clive Shepherd on the use of Facebook and social networking applications in learning. It was a great discussion and Clive is quite knowledgeable on the subject. I don’t use Facebook myself, but I was surprised and encouraged to hear about the possibilities it presents. Just like wikis, Facebook allows learners to contribute their own information and collaborate with others, which shows good potential. We also discussed the fact that there’s still a definite generation gap with tools like this, but we believe that’ll fade with time. It was good to kick ideas around regarding social networking and learning. Many of us think there’s a lot to benefit from in this area, but I don’t think any of us know exactly how to use it in a training scenario (yet).
  • Paul Saffo gave an interesting keynote on the progression of media usage and how it may ultimately affect learning. He discussed a shift from media consumption (ex. watching TV, reading web pages) to media creation (ex. YouTube, Wikipedia, etc). Paul believes the eLearning world could strike big in this movement, especially as people begin to better understand the importance of learning-how-to-learn. He said our industry is "Standing on a whale, fishing for minnows." Hold on!
  • Later in the day, I attended Clive’s session, 30-Minute Masters for Subject Matter Experts (SMEs). Clive, along with Cammy Bean, came up with this concept, and I’m already a big fan. They suggest that we (training professionals) spend time with SMEs and teach them basic instructional design skills and then provide them with rapid development tools such as Captivate and Articulate. Granted, you can’t get too deep into instructional theory, but you can definitely give them some high-level design dos and don’ts. This way, SMEs are able to quickly create training and (hopefully) address the basic needs of most individuals within the organization. This frees up the training staff to focus on more complex training solutions, high-end courses, immersive learning solutions, etc.

    Later in this session, we began discussing the management of content (ex. training modules, job aids) generated by SMEs. Clive suggested that their content could be dumped into a large repository and we could allow users to search it, just like they search Google or YouTube. He also suggested allowing learners to rate the content (ex. 4 out of 5 stars). This way, higher-quality content (training modules) float to the top and are featured in the system. This approach would weed-out (or bury) poorer quality modules. I like this idea, and I don’t think it’d be that hard to implement.

    Clive set up a wiki for the 30-Minute Masters – check it out.

  • Silke Fleischer held a session where she covered several (Adobe) rapid development tools and showed excellent examples of how they can be used to create podcasts, eLearning modules, audio clips, and short videos. Some of the tools included Captivate, Visual Communicator, Contribute, SoundBooth, and others. My big A-HA moment came when she showed how Contribute can be used as an editor for writing and editing blog posts. How cool! I’ve never been happy with WordPress’ editing capabilities. It’ll be nice to use the Contribute editor instead; it looks very intuitive.
  • Finally, I attended a session on Instructional Alternate Reality Games (I-ARGs), put on by the folks at Exceptional Software / Media Edge. WOW, this is cool stuff. They covered the ARG concept in full, which is just SO cool, and talked about ways in which it can be used for training. These folks are the first ones to tackle ARGs in the education/training world. I think there’s major potential here… I’m going to keep an eye on this stuff.

    Here are a few links related to ARGs and I-ARGS:

Oh – and then I went out for drinks with several other eLearning bloggers. Good times! Now, it’s time for sleep. Good night!