Friday, April 29, 2011

The Play-Doh Principle: Engaging Kinesthetic Learners

A little peek inside the LearningWare office space reveals a creative secret: We keep Play-Doh in our conference room.

At any given meeting, brainstorming session, information de-brief, etc., you'll find at least one LearningWare employee kneading Play-Doh (if not sculpting something similar to the dragon/dinosaur/ambiguous creature seen here).

Some visiting our office have asked about the Play-Doh, wondering if it wasn't more of a distraction than an aid. It's a fair point that can be asked of providing trainees with any sort of kinesthetic plaything in a training session. Some presenters are uncomfortable without the eye-contact-attention of their audience.

However, most trainers know that learners don't all learn the same way. The very basic learning styles can be broken down into auditory, kinesthetic, and visual. Auditory learners need to hear the information spoken. Kinesthetic learners need to touch and feel and move while learning. Visual learners need to see the information presented (or read it) in order to learn.

It makes sense, then, that a company dedicated to engaging the three types of learners with game show software would have Play-Doh on their conference table. Our founder, Dan Yaman, was one of those students who just couldn't learn in a traditional way. School was frustrating, but things like games (spelling bees, etc.) were fun. Thus, Gameshow Pro was born. It engages learners in auditory, visual and kinesthetic realms.

What are some other ways to engage kinesthetic learners?
  • Have hands-on demonstrations of new products
  • Have students engage in activities that get them moving around the room
  • Incorporate frequent breaks
  • Use toys (like Play-Doh) on the tables for students to interact with (in a non-distracting way)
  • Make sure there are places to take notes (some people need the action of writing notes, even if they never refer to them)
  • Game shows, of course!
  • Encourage activities that require physical manipulation (i.e. word-match reviews, assembling a plan-o-gram from cutouts, etc.)

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Question Bowl: The Underutilized Game Show

Gameshow Pro has 7 game show formats, and by far the most popular is the Jeopardy!-style "Categories" game. (This is with good enough reason; it's easy to use, easy to understand, culturally ubiquitous, accommodates many categories of content, etc.)

However, the reason there are 7 game formats instead of one or two, is that different formats will accommodate different content and purposes. For instance, a Classroom Feud game is great for content with multiple steps or any questions with multiple correct answers.

One of the best, and also least-played, games in the Gameshow Pro arsenal is Question Bowl. This highly theatrical, versatile game is plays like a College or Quiz Bowl and is great in both the classroom and at events. Here are three reasons why it should get more use:

Variable question types: There are three question/round types in Question Bowl:
Toss Up--This is a question format similar to those used in Categories. A question is displayed and teams "ring in" to get the opportunity to answer the question. (Note: this can also be toggled so that teams take turns answering the toss up questions.)

Follow Up/Bonus--These questions optionally follow a toss up question. They can only be answered by the team that answered the toss up question. This is a great way to elaborate on a topic. A trainer can add as many follow up/bonus questions as they'd like...or none at all.

Speed Round--Teams must answer as many questions as they can get through in a set amount of time. If they're quick to respond, this can be a great way to rack up the game points. These questions can be toss-up/ring in or take-turns.

Leisurely or Fast-Paced, Competitive or Collaborative game: The way a trainer sets up the game can make it useful for extended play (with lots of toss-up/follow-up questions) or can facilitate quick bursts of energy within a training session (speed rounds). The game accommodates multiple choice or short answer questions, and trainers can choose whether teams are ringing in to answer questions, or whether teams take turns to answer questions.

Flexible rounds: Questions can be used in any combination of rounds. For instance, a trainer could have 3 toss-up questions (with our without various follow-up/bonus questions) then two speed rounds, a take-turns question round, a toss-up question round and then end with a speed round. These rounds can be combined in any order and at any frequency--making the variety in game play almost infinite.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Badges, Barons, and the Game of No Prizes

We've stated before that prizes aren't really a necessary payoff to doing well in a game show. People tend to receive this statement with mixed reviews; on one hand, it's fun to give prizes. On the other hand, prizes can be difficult to come by, blow your budget, and tricky to price (too high and scrutiny and cheating go through the roof--too low and why bother?).

Never was the lack of a need for prizes more clear to us than when everyone here at LearningWare went to lunch together. Two of us immediately got out our smartphones and "checked in" to Yelp. "Ha!" one of us exclaimed triumphantly, "I'm now the duke of this eating establishment!" A non-yelper asked us what we got for being a duke or getting a badge.

"Well. We don't get anything. Except to be the duke."

Then it occurred to us; the currency of involvement in many social media outlets--from foursquare to the aforementioned Yelp--isn't any kind of prize or currency. These groups garner tremendous investment and involvement from participants simply by engaging their sense of competition and collection. They want to have the most badges, be the mayor or baron or duke of a place or even a be king of the hill.

The same principle works with game show competition--and it's why you don't need prizes. In this fast-paced world of Millennial trainees and social networks, people are used to playing for bragging rights. This may also be why leaderboards can be incredibly effective--especially when you play a series of game shows, or keep the competition going through an extended period of time (a training session, a few days, a week, a month or even a quarter). Acknowledgment of success over one's peers can be a powerful motivator.

If you'd like, you can even give out your own game show badges. Just for fun, a little brainstorming:

Fast Finger: For the person quickest to hit the slammers every time and ring-in.
Know-it-All: The person with the most correct answers overall.
Wicked Wagerer: The person taking big risks in wager games or on final questions.
Team Titan: The person most helpful to their teammates.
Short Answer Sherpa: The queen or king of the short-answer question.
Multiple-Choice Maven: Either by guess or by guile, this person owns the multiple-choice question.

...or maybe we'll just stick with scores, leaderboards, and the natural appeal of competition.

Friday, April 1, 2011

When Contestants Cheat

We recently developed a custom game show experience for a pharmaceutical company's annual sales event. By all accounts, the event and the game were incredibly successful--keeping participants engaged, motivated to absorb presentation content, and keeping the event energy high.

However, we were amazed to find out that whenever the teams could, they were trying to cheat to get ahead or win. (Our sense of game show fairness was appalled!)

The kicker? The content was all about rules and regulations within the industry: how they couldn't bribe, cheat, make false or leading claims, or imply incentives in trying to sell their drug into the medical industry. The content? About not cheating in the industry. The game show participants? Cheating. And shamelessly, too.

When we were writing our game show book, we sent an advance copy to fellow training game guru Thiagi. We had included tips on how to prevent cheating (though we never imagined it on this grand a scale), and Thiagi commented: "Advise trainers to think: What does cheating say about the culture of their organization?"

And what *does* cheating in a mere game show say about the mentality of the audience? It's not all bad:
  • They're invested in the game 
  • They want to win
  • They're highly competitive
  • They may break rules to get to success

In this case, the highly competitive sales force in a very lucrative field just didn't want to lose. In their industry there are multi-million-dollar penalties for subverting the rules. Because the cheating was happening on such a grand scale in the event, there was no way to fairly enact penalties--the teams that "weren't" cheating just weren't getting caught, and at some point one must be careful that the host doesn't devolve into scolding and penalizing above conveying information.

The cheating was allowed to continue, but only because the following elements were in place:
  • Low-value prizes. The higher the value of the prize, the more people will be at each other's throats about cheating and the enforcement of the rules. 
  • The contestants were getting the information--and in some cases were reinforcing the information more through their cheating ways than would have normally occurred. We didn't mind that they were looking up answers in their materials in some cases since it was still reviewing the information.
  • The host was willing to go-with-the-flow and game play was not interrupted significantly by the teams' antics.
  • Judges were used to keep the host out of the fray.

If the prizes had been great, the content had been taking a back seat to winning, or the event was being disrupted then penalties or a pause in the game would have had to be enforced.

There are a few ways that one can help minimize or prevent cheating--though we find that if a team is determined to cheat it is very hard to fight against that drive successfully and come out looking like a positive host.
  • Keep prizes small. In most cases, we find that winning is a prize in and of itself and contestants don't even inquire about what they're going to "win" when they get into the game.
  • Have judges. Judges can spot infractions and enforce penalties without the host having to sully their hands.
  • Clearly explain the rules beforehand--this way when one is broken, everyone acknowledges the reference/rule.
  • Enact small penalties for rule infractions. You don't want to turn into "bad-cop" trainer, but knowing BEFORE they cheat that there will be a penalty for that behavior can prevent cheating. 
At the end of the game, the point isn't to win--so some rules of civilized game play can be discarded or treated with a light touch. As long as contestants are engaged and involved with the content (accomplishing the game's purpose of aiding and abetting learning) and are in good spirits about the game play, a little cheating doesn't always significantly harm the game.