I’m a gamification skeptic

I am an avid gamer, and have easily accumulated more than 10,000 hours playing games so I feel that I can talk about them with some expertise.  Gamification gets mentioned in almost every elearning article, blog post, conference talk, or tweet I see. I’m enthusiastic about the use of games in learning, but I’m skeptical of gamification. It seems in the earnestness to utilize the learning benefits of games, that gamification uses just the trimmings of gameplay and as such is just a stupid fad.

Gamification fails when you slap badges and points on an already finished lesson and call it a game. A good game has to be intentionally designed, not an afterthought. As a gamer I see it as a lack of respect for the medium itself. It’s similar to someone recording audio over a PowerPoint presentation, adding some next and previous buttons, and calling it elearning. If you want to design a good learning game, you should follow these serious tips, learn how to provide an environment where it’s safe for the learner to fail, and understand that not all gamers are motivated by the same things. In fact, in the same way that there are different learning styles, there are different gamer personalities as famously described by the Bartle test.


The test is focused on MMORPGs (take the quiz yourself) and describes the different motivations of gamers. I’m an Explorer, I like to discover new things, gain a deep understanding of the game lore and mechanics, and then share that knowledge with others. I’m not motivated strictly by earning points or badges, so slapping those on a lesson doesn’t do much for me.

All in all, the point I’m trying to make is that a good learning game takes a lot of thought and design and can’t be created as an afterthought. I look forward to learning more about game design and helping the field grow. Extra Credits is an excellent YouTube show talking about game design and it provides a lot of good advice for aspiring designs. What do you think about #gamification? Is it a fad or elearning’s future?


Animated GIFs: Not just for dancing hamsters

Animated GIFs: Not just for dancing hamsters

While working on eLearnings, I realized that animated GIFs are wonderful for demonstrating simple concepts. They can explain a concept more concisely than a still image with a paragraph long caption and they work across all browsers and platforms, unlike flash or even video. I’ve been working on a course about GPS and steering for precision agriculture, and below are some of the animations I’ve created.

Multipath GPS errors occur when the GPS signal bounces off a nearby structure and the receiver can't differentiate which is the "real" signal.

Multipath GPS errors occur when the GPS signal bounces off a nearby structure and the receiver can’t differentiate which is the “real” signal.

I drew the graphics in Inkscape and animated them using the Gimp. It works like a flip book, in that you have to create each individual frame of the animation. In the eLearning courses only one animation would appear per page, so it’s less distracting. So what do you think? Do they help demonstrate the concepts? Hopefully even without a lot of context you understand the gist of it.

Working on e-Learning projects

Working on e-Learning projects

I have been quite remiss in posting, and my proposed site redesign obviously hasn’t been completed. Honestly, the main drive behind updating and redesigning my site was to find a job when I was unemployed. After I found full-time employment in September I lost my main motivation to blog. Now that I’ve been working in that job for a few months I’ve learned some things worth sharing.

I currently work for a precision agriculture company and my role is to create the online training materials to educate their dealers. Precision agriculture was totally new to me when I took the position and it’s actually a really fascinating field. Today, however, I’d like to focus on what I’ve learned about designing and publishing e-Learning content.

I don’t know if this is true for everyone who designs e-Learning courses, but since I am THE e-learning person at the company I must have a diverse skill set. Throughout a normal week these are some of the titles you could attribute to the work I do:

  • Instructional Designer – The most important part of my job is making sure that the student engages with the material and comes away learning the key points we want them to understand. I figure out the overall approach for presenting the material and everything else in this list is necessary to support this end goal.
  • Graphic Designer – I find (Open Clip Art Library or Flickr), edit, or create graphics and illustrations using GIMP and Inkscape. Create visual layouts for pages and content.
  • Writer / Director – I script the course and supplemental videos, then direct the screencast or video.
  • Voice Actor / Sound Engineer – I record myself doing the narration for the course content, then remove noise, normalize the volume, and trim clips using Audacity.
  • Video Editor – I edit video clips, add audio and soundtracks, and incorporate still images and callouts using Camtasia.
  • Animator – Many concepts are more easily explained with short animations. I create these using PowerPoint for short WMV files, or GIMP for animated GIFs. (I plan to upload some examples in the near future.)
  • Web Designer – I use a software suite called Lectora to create and publish the overall e-Learning course. The pages are published as HTML and JavaScript, and my understanding of both languages has made the process easier, especially when designing interactive games and quizzes.
  • Web Administrator – I upload the final product to Absorb LMS, our Learning Management System. Configuring the LMS is much like using Drupal or other content management systems. You can get by without knowing much of the behind-the-scenes tech, but understanding and introducing a solid information architecture will make long-term management of the system easier.

I’ve found that I can really thrive and enjoy this role as a producer of online training content because it incorporates so many of my interests, especially uniting education and design. Do you or anyone you know create e-Learning content? How many of these responsibilities do you have?

Site redesign in the works

Site redesign in the works

Since I’m currently between jobs I am expanding my skill set by taking Treehouse courses in the hope of making myself a better job candidate. Up-to-now I’ve been entirely self-taught in web design, so I knew there were gaps in my knowledge that I should fill. Most of the HTML courses have been review, but the CSS classes are blowing my mind. There’s so much I didn’t learn about selectors and combinators, plus best practices for writing stylesheets. Once I finish the HTML/CSS classes I plan to learn some Javascript, PHP, and possibly Ruby. If you’re interested in some self-guided learning, I’d definitely recommend Treehouse. It’s only $25/month for unlimited access to all of the course videos, quizzes, and projects and you can use my discount code so your first month is 50% off.

After learning some new tricks, I’m inspired to redesign my portfolio and website. Unfortunately, since this site is hosted on WordPress.com I’m limited in how much I can customize it. Thereore it will take some time for me to sign up for a new host and get everything transferred over and customized. I realized that this would also be a good chance to demonstrate some UX skills, so I’m documenting the process from the rough sketch < low-fidelity mock-up < high-fidelity prototype. See all the steps below for my new homepage design.  The featured image at the top show’s my high-fidelity prototype created with HTML/CSS.

Sketch done on graph paper with a pen. Outlines the various sections and their relative sizes.

Sketch done on graph paper with a pen. Outlines the various sections and their relative sizes.

Low-fidelity mock-up created using Basalmiq. Shows rough UI design using placeholder text.

Low-fidelity mock-up created using Basalmiq. Shows rough UI design using placeholder text.

Notice that some revisions have been made between versions. That’s expected as the design evolves. Let me know what you think! I’m working hard to implement the new site design as soon as I am able.

How many clicks?

How many clicks?

In healthcare IT “click counts” are a big deal to physicians. They literally cheer if you announce that you’ve updated your interface so there are 20% fewer clicks to complete a workflow. Every time I hear someone talk about number of clicks I can’t help but roll my eyes. Clicks by themselves are a meaningless statistic, and really have nothing to do with usability. A user might click around many extra times if the interface is clumsy and they have no idea how to complete their task.

Anyway, rant aside, all of the talk of “how many clicks” brought to mind the old Tootsie Roll Pop commercial from my childhood. I thought it would make a funny t-shirt for software testers to show Mr. Owl destroying a computer with just 3 clicks. Here’s what I came up with using Inkscape. Maybe I should look into getting it printed, I think it turned out pretty well!

Motion Graphic: My Career Path

I’m working on expanding my portfolio, so I put together this motion graphic as an example of my talents. I created the pictures of “me” and my various work attire using Inkscape. I was really impressed with how much I’ve picked up on editing vector images. The brunt of the work, including animation was done in PowerPoint. I realize that PowerPoint isn’t the ideal tool for creating high quality motion graphics, but it’s the tool I currently know how to use. I hope that it demonstrates that I understand some fundamental aspects of creating animated graphics, and that I have a good eye for layout and design.

It’s a two-for-one win as far as my portfolio goes because it shows an example of a motion graphic I created and it explains about my background and interests. Here it is:

So what do you think? And do you have an recommendations for a more robust software option? I’ve heard of Synfig Studio and Processing as  free, open-source options, but I haven’t had a change to play around either. Or is there really nothing out there that compares to Adobe After Effects?


Gamer Wedding – Recap

In my original post about how my husband and I had a gamer wedding I promised to upload more photos and video. Well here you go! I made a series of three videos to showcase our wedding (don’t worry, the longest is only 5 minutes). They took me a while to finish, but I wanted them to have a high production quality. I had fun making them and got to learn/practice a variety of skills. You can watch them in any order since they all begin with a 10 second intro that provides context.

Tools that I used

  • Gimp: Photo editing, resizing, recolor
  • Inkscape: Create the “Couples that play together stay together” logo.
  • PowerPoint: Believe it or not, I created the majority of the videos using PowerPoint animations. With 2010 you can just save it as a .wmv file, including sound and animation.
  • Audacity: I haven’t done much with audio editing before, so it was fun to learn a few tricks. The most complicated part was the timing for the slideshow of games in part 1.
  • Windows Movie Maker: I used it because it’s free. Definitely not the most robust tool for video editing, and it suffers from some annoying usability problems, but it got the job done for the right price.

I’d love to hear your comments, both on the quality of the videos and on our geeky gamer theme.