Monthly Archives: September 2015

Autonomy, Collaboration, Collaboration Platform, EdTech, Enterprise Collaboration Platform, Informal Learning, Online Learning, Social Media, Virtual Learning Environment

A Research Based Collaboration Platform Blueprint for Organizations

Autonomy, Collaboration, Collaboration Platform, EdTech, Enterprise Collaboration Platform, Informal Learning, Online Learning, Social Media, Virtual Learning Environment

Organizations are increasingly supplementing formal learning methods with informal learning initiatives. This is because we face a highly dynamic workplace, where each day, we deal with problems that we may never have encountered before. Traditionally, companies relied on employees’ past experience and special Research and Development teams for innovation. However, now survival skills include the ability to adapt and to collaborate formally and informally with individuals from diverse domains to arrive at solutions to complex, unprecedented problems.

Before beginning to design a collaboration platform for an organization, it is essential to understand how collaboration happens and what it can facilitate.

In an informal network each individual comes with a particular skill set, and an internal drive to learn from and to contribute to the network. When people with diverse backgrounds join forces, they bring out different sides of a problem that lead to richer and quicker solutions.

As Steven Johnson, the author of Where Good Ideas Come From says, “When ideas take form in this ‘hunch’ state, they need to collide with other ‘hunches’. Often times the thing that turns a hunch into a real breakthrough is another hunch that’s lurking in someone else’s mind, and you have to figure out a way to create systems that allow those hunches to come together and turn into something bigger than the sum of their parts.” Given this background, we look at a structured framework for collaboration within organizations.

A Collaboration Platform Blueprint for Organizations
Shawn Callahan, Mark Schenk, and Nancy White provide a framework for building collaborative workplaces. According to them, organizations can foster three types of collaboration:

  1. Team collaboration—the members of the group are known, there are clear task dependencies, expected reciprocity, and explicit time-lines and goals 
  2. Community collaboration—there is a shared domain or area of interest, but the goal is more often focused on learning rather than on the task
  3. Network collaboration—starts with individual action and self-interest, which then accrues to the network as individuals contribute or seek something from the network

Any platform for collaboration should be designed based on a deep understanding of the collaboration philosophy and a defined framework. The platform should cater to individuals’ personal learning interests, give them ample opportunity to express themselves, and allow them to interact with people from diverse fields and from across borders. 

The tables below show how success criteria for each type of collaboration can be translated into a blueprint for a collaboration platform.

Success Criteria for Teams

Blueprint of the Collaboration Platform

For teams to be successful, members should have:

  • Common purpose or goals
  • Complex problems that a single person could not resolve on their own
  • An explicit process of getting things done
  • Knowledge of each other’s work, communication, and work styles
  • An admiration of the skills and abilities of fellow team-mates
  • Ample resources
  • Social and trust building activities


The collaboration platform should provide:

  • A place to post problems
  • An area for users to respond to problems
  • Capability to archive ideas
  • Capability to easily add or delete team areas
  • Capability to share documents that can be edited by multiple team members
  • Capability to rate solutions
  • A discussion forum


Essential Skills for Employees
Collaborating across domains and diverse cultural backgrounds
Capability to draw connections between unrelated sets of data


Success Criteria for Communities

Blueprint of the Collaboration Platform

For communities to be successful, members should have:

  • A topic that members care about
  • A coordinator
  • Social activities
  • Opportunities to practice and gain experience or learn from stories of other practitioners
  • A core group
  • Connectors in the community that help people find each other
  • Regular meetings
  • Appreciation of the silent peripheral people
  • Related communities


The collaboration platform should provide:

  • A place to describe the purpose of the community
  • A place to write blogs and articles
  • A network of community sites or blogs that can be accessed from a common place
  • The capability to assign different roles to users, such that one user can take on the role of a coordinator
  • A place for users to comment on blogs and articles
  • A chance to post quick messages
  • The capability to tag relevant content
  • A search tool
  • The capability to identify the people on the periphery who contribute comments
  • A capability to strongly monitor and moderate the community to keep it focused


Essential Skills for Employees
Capability to lead a community
Capability to moderate and contribute to a community
Reflective thinking and writing


Success Criteria for
Network Collaboration

Blueprint of the Collaboration Platform

For networks to be successful, members should have:

  • The technology to store and retrieve information
  • An appreciation of social technology, such as bookmarking
  • Connections between teams, communities, and their
    larger networks as source of new ideas
  • Related communities


The collaboration platform should provide:

  • Personal space to individuals
  • The capability for social bookmarking
  • A space to share personal interests
  • The capability to display an individual’s network


Essential Skills for Employees
Capability to skim through a lot of information and identify what you need
Capability to join the dots and make new connections


Another important consideration while implementing a collaboration platform is the launch. How you launch your organization’s collaboration platform can mean the difference between success and failure. A well-planned launch can make people engage with your platform. Some tips on how to launch a collaboration platform for your organization. 

Research Reference: Full Circle Associates, Shawn Callahan, Mark Schenk, and Nancy White:

Image Reference:

Gamification—Pitfalls to Avoid

Organizations wish to leverage gamification for marketing, sales, process training, motivating people, bringing behavioural change, promoting innovation, training employees and so on. I’ve seen many people ask questions typically in the form of:

  • We want people to collaborate more with each other. Can we add points for collaboration and reward them for it? 
  • Not enough employees are interested in taking our learning offerings, can we gamify the process of course enrolment?
  • They make too many errors in the data entry process. Can we gamify the process of data entry?

Gamification can certainly resolve some of these issues. However, as the hype subsides, there are many voices that speak against it. 

Game Designers
Gartner had predicted that 80% gamification projects will fail, primarily due to poor design. Gartner claims that it’s lack of game design talent that plagues the industry.

On the other hand, some of the most vociferous detractors of gamification are leaders and theorists who hail from the gaming industry. They accuse gamification of “instrumentalization” of games that are otherwise supposed to be a cultural form of expression and art or entertainment. 

They compare points and badges to the use of food for training rats. The behaviourist approach to manipulating human behaviour is considered inappropriate by many game designers.

Others argue that gamifying everyday work is like conducting tests to make students study. Tests make students coach to ace the test, instead of making them study to quench curiosity. Similarly, people learn to game our gamified systems. 

Despite what many may feel, games and game elements have seeped into our lives through frequent flyer miles, redeemable loyalty points and so on. It’s also true that shorter feedback cycles, smaller goals, comparative scores can change behaviour (at least temporarily). Yet, while designing game based solutions, it’s easy to fall into classical mouse traps that are a result of gamification done wrong.

What are some of the pitfalls of gamification that we should avoid?

Focusing Too Much on Extrinsic Rewards

We should ask ourselves—If I remove the external reward, does my solution still stand ground? Would people participate in the absence of rewards?

Playing a game of chess is its own reward. A game of snakes and ladders doesn’t need badges/gifts/food coupons at the end. A gamified solution should provide a healthy balance between intrinsic motivation and extrinsic rewards. If your gamified solution relies a lot on external rewards, chances are that the solution will fizzle out fast. 

A Positive Example
Microsoft launched Windows 7 in multiple languages. This meant working with testers in many vernacular languages, lots of repetitive work, and high chances of errors. Instead of assigning the work directly, Microsoft opened the task up for employees through a gamified environment. People had to find as many errors as they could and their offices competed with each other.

The initiative saw tremendous success. They had more than 4,500 voluntary reviewers who worked on more than 500,000 screens in their own time. 

What’s interesting is that there were no extrinsic rewards. Microsoft paid not a dime for this work. According to Ross Smith, the Director of Testing at Microsoft, “It touched on the intrinsic motivation that this is a version of Windows that will go back home to family and friends or relatives, so let me make sure it’s of high quality.”

All around us we see examples of people contributing and actively participating for no extrinsic rewards. Wikipedia, Quora and many such forums go to prove that there is an internal drive that leads people to do things. 

How Can We Drive People to Participate Without Extrinsic Motivation?

Daniel Pink in his book, “Drive” shows us how Mastery, Purpose and Autonomy drive people. He also explains how monetary rewards can actually lead to worse performance: 

Through games humans seek pleasure, mastery, competition, learning, collaboration, conflict, meaning, problem solving, and so on. 

The Spirit of Games may mean different things to different people, I think that a game with a soul will include: 

  1. Playfulness/fun
  2. Low stakes/Freedom to fail
  3. Gradual mastery and repetition
  4. Emergence of play, emotion, meaning, interaction and so on
  5. Winning and losing—usually an end to the game 

External motivators too could have a Meaning or Purpose. We can connect: 

  • Game points to a cause. For example, for every point you score, we’ll donate some amount to your favourite social cause. 
  • Gamified solutions to something fun. If you play well, you get to participate in a mega gaming tournament at the end of this campaign. 
  • Game point to something intangible like recognition, extra responsibility, an opportunity to lead, opportunity to solve a real world problem, and so on. (Check as an example)

Keeping the Stakes High

This point is in a way an extension of the previous one. If the stakes are high, the freedom to make mistakes and to lose a game will be gone. 

Monetary Rewards
I’ve seen many people think that other rewards won’t work, but monetary rewards definitely will make gamification work. 
Monetary rewards don’t let games be games. One wouldn’t call gambling a game, or we wouldn’t call our jobs a game—we’re paid to do our job, and the money is not something we “win”.

Relating to Performance Reviews
Another common request is to connect game points to performance reviews. This has the potential to steal the soul of any gamification project. That’s because connecting anything to a performance review or an appraisal takes away the freedom to fail, makes it high stakes, and in turn kills playfulness. Doing this is sure to make the environment highly political and stressful for all involved.

No one wants to live inside a game. It’s a high emotion, high adrenaline environment that is balanced out by only one thing—low stakes. If you up the stakes, a gamified environment will cause havoc with people’s nerves. That’s the opposite of what games are supposed to do.

Gamifying Core Work
Gamifying core work of employees will lead to competition and will again make the stakes high, even if the scores aren’t overtly related to performance; employees will end up comparing scores.

Disney put up a counter with points on it for their clothes washing staff. This was related to monetary rewards and punishment. The staff started getting very stressed. They would not take any breaks to speed up their output, because they could compare their scores on the big screens, with that of their peers. The initiative got dubbed as “the electronic leash”.

How Can We Drive Behavioural Change When the Stakes are Low?

We have to choose our battles carefully. One cannot gamify everything and expect to succeed. According to Ross Smith, the Director of Testing at Microsoft, one should gamify:

  • Good Citizenship Behaviours 
  • Work of the Future

This will keep the stakes low and will involve a purpose to drive people to get involved. This doesn’t mean gamifying for the sake of gamifying. What it means is that we need to evaluate whether a situation lends itself well to being gamified.

Letting the Purpose Take Over the Game

While game designers look at games as art/entertainment/a medium of self-expression and so on, those who are outside the core gaming industry wish to “utilize” game design to meet an end objective. This dichotomy of purpose brings in more issues than the “gamification” camp acknowledges. Here’s what we end up doing when we design games for a purpose:

Presenting Content in a Game
As learning game designers, I’ve seen many times that we’re asked to put in “content” as content in the game. There’s rarely room for presenting bullet points/paragraphs/detailed explanations in a game.

Learning is in the very fabric of games. Learners themselves should be the creators of their own meaning, be motivated to reflect, learn and implement new things rather than “consume content”. Content should either emerge from play or it should be the context of play. It could be constructed by the player and formalized as the game progresses. 

Not Giving Up Control
Many times learning designers are averse to letting people construct their own knowledge. They want to “ensure” that people learn what they’re meant to learn, not a thought different, not a word extra. 

For example this article refers to Tell them what they will learn – Play Game – Tell them what they learned approach to game based learning:  

The problem with such an approach is that it reduces games to an instructional silo with very little room for exploration. I am NOT implying in any way that we should not have objectives for a game. In fact we should have very clearly defined objectives. Only stating them upfront and in the end may mean we’re leaving no room for people to “construct” their own learning. 

I’d change the approach (but not restrict it) to:

  1. State the rules of the game. 
  2. Let players play the game.
  3. Ask reflective questions (that facilitate “meta-cognitive” thinking, reorganizing of thoughts, reconstruction of existing knowledge etc.) as the game play is on/Provide frequent feedback through gameplay which leads to learning.
  4. End by allowing players to state what they think they learned from the game/Extend what they learned to the workplace. 

When I start playing an online game, I don’t even wait to learn to use the interface. I want to learn to use the interface by playing, not by listening to instructions. That’s doable because it’s a low stakes environment.

Games are about “exploration” through interaction with an ever changing environment that responds to our actions. Most of the times, the constant in-game feedback that results from the environment is enough for us to master new things. 

As we gamify, let’s design games with goals and objectives and not games with agendas. Keeping the spirit of games alive, let’s use them as tools for high intensity involvement with what we love doing. Let’s keep gaming!  



Gamification, Game Based Learning

Puzzles/Question Engines & Game Based Learning

Gamification, Game Based Learning

Take this super fun quiz on food.

Why is it a Quiz and Not a Game?


Play this game called "Google Feud".

 Why is it a Game and Not a Quiz?

In this blogpost we'll compare Puzzles/Quizzes and Games to try and understand Game Based Learning better.


A Point About Points and Badges—Points Don't Make a Game a Game

Adding game points/badges etc. doesn’t make a game. There are no badges in snakes and ladders and there are no points in tic-tac-toe. On the other hand, there are points in a quiz and yet quizzes are quizzes, not games.

Badges, Points, Gamification, Game Based Learning

Having said that, it’s not easy to define what makes a game a game. So let’s begin with the difference between puzzles/quizzes and games.


Difference between Puzzles/Quizzes & Games

Here are some key differences. (Caveat: There may be overlaps. We may end up thinking of examples that may be borderline cases (like the Rubik's Cube itself). However, we are looking at these differences to be able to understand the types of elements of play that can be induced into our game design.)

A Puzzle:

  • Is played only once. You resolve a crossword, and you won’t do it again. You may want to resolve another crossword, but not the same one. 
  • Has a definite and single outcome. There’s only one solution to a crossword. Only one set of answers is correct in a quiz.
  • Is rarely social. We curl up in a couch, take that “me” moment out and try to solve a puzzle.
  • Is usually non-interactive. The system of a puzzle doesn't respond to players' actions. It doesn't modify based on player moves. 

A Game:

  • Can be played multiple times. We get hooked to games and we can play them again and again and again.  
  • Games have multiple outcomes. Tried playing chess the exact same way twice?
  • Is usually highly social. We compete, co-operate, collaborate, compare notes, argue, help etc. in a game. Even in single player games we tend to think socially. For example in Google Feud (given above) we think “How would others think? What would the majority search?” In other single player games we may ask—“How much did others score?”
  • Is interactive. The system of the game modifies as a result of player interaction. It responds and modifies itself based on how players interact with it. 

Both games and puzzles involve play and we can use a balance of game elements and puzzle elements to design our game based learning. 

Games can be Puzzling
Instructionally, it is important to keep in mind some of these differences while creating your game/puzzle design. This is because design will affect behaviour.

For example, creating a crossword and adding badges for each response will get boring quite fast. We'll need to add more "game" elements to it beyond points and badges. If a game is heavily like a puzzle, it will lose its value after all the puzzles have been solved.

On the other hand, a puzzle in itself may be very engaging and your content/situation may not need more elements of a game at all, depending on the need of the learning solution. 

If we do decide to create a game, we need to ensure we’re actually developing an invigorating and challenging learning game. To do this, let’s look at some basic characteristics of a game.

A game will usually have:

  1. A set of rules
  2. An element of play that emerges from the defined rules
  3. A larger context 

Let’s take Google Feud (given above) as an example and break it to understand why it is a game, and not a puzzle:

Rules of Google Feud: 

  1. Provide a phrase. 
  2. Allow users to guess how Google would complete the phrase. 
  3. Restrict to four guesses. 
  4. Allow as many rounds as players want to play.

There may be more implicit rules that we're not covering here.

Winning Criteria: How close the player’s response was to a top search completion that Google would show. 

(Since this game can be played infinite number of times we don’t lose the game ever and that can become boring after a while. Without comparative scores, and with repetitive options, this game might see a sharp fall in the number of attempts soon.) 

Play: When we play this game, we try to think like the way most people would think. We try to generalize our thought on to others, because we assume that Google would pick data filled out by most.

So if they asked “The Oscars are…” we try to think like the world around us and complete it with “rigged”.  This may not be our own thought, but this is what we think that most people would think and search for. Thus play “emerges” from the game. Also, there is no "one" correct answer. 

The game gets repetitive after a few rounds, and the element of play may subside.

Context: Google search and the four categories set the context for the game (Someone who doesn’t know how to conduct a Google search or knows nothing about American culture, people and so on may find the game meaningless). 

Before we sign off, here are some tips on quizzing the vendor to select a good one for your game based learning solution. 


Quizzing the Game Based Learning Solution Provider

When shopping for a gamified solution or game based learning solution, ask these questions:

  • Will you play-test this game with our audience?
  • Will you contextualize the game for us?
  • How does learning “emerge” from the set of possibilities given in the game?
  • Can and would learners want to play this game multiple times?

Here’s the minimum you can demand from a game based learning solution:

  • Intense learner to learner interaction
  • Use of content as part of play or as the context of play 
  • Addictive play, such that the more the learners play, the more they learn
  • Content that gets formalized in the learners’ mind as game play emerges
  • Several outcomes through which learners can explore multiple possibilities

I think it's time the industry totally got rid of “Kick the football to answer a question” kind of “games”. Some game based learning providers these days add points and badges to questions and call it a game. Or they add scenarios and multiple questions and call that a game. For them: “Learners are not rats. And points/stories are not food pellets.”

A puzzle for you - Is a Rubik's Cube a game or a puzzle? Do share your thoughts in the comments box. 



Image of Rubik's Cube: By Acdx (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( or GFDL (], via Wikimedia Commons