A Practical View of Learning Science

I’m working on the final illustrations for the Learning Science Guidebook this week: some are ‘informational’ to portray the content in a clearly sequenced manner, and others are more about aesthetics, to make the book beautiful. The latter of which has been something of a challenge. If i am to avoid the obvious analogies of brains, cogs, test tubes and bespectacled scientists, i will have to come up with a creative cover solution.

This illustration will sit right at the front, and really sets out the purpose of the book: to guide the reader on a journey, to understand how science works, and to make a material step forward in our personal professional practice.

Few of us can hope to become experts in every field of science, and most of us have busy day jobs that take up most of our time, so this work has be be both interesting, but also highly practical and hence pragmatic.

The key aspects of learning are to hold a simple language about ‘how science works’, to understand the scientific process, and how it ensures validity. To understand just what a vast range of areas are explored under the banner of ‘Learning Science’, and then to accept that our personal focus must necessarily be narrower. To really build a confident view of validity, how evidence is best used, and how we measure everything. And to leave the book with a clearly stated view of our personal scientific discipline.

I hope to have this work completed in January, to be published in Q1 this year.

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The Use of Games in Learning

Today i am sharing an illustration around the use of games in learning. It’s not intended to be definitive, but rather a snapshot view of four applications of game dynamics and mechanics: Quests, Rehearsal, Problem Solving, and Engagement.

Quests are examples of full game dynamics used to create a complete experience: they allow us to address decision making, to explore planning and consequence, and concomitant reward, they involve diagnostic skills, and the recognition and management of risk. Often they are founded in curiosity and an ability to explore a situation.

Within those, or alongside it, games are used for Rehearsal: to prototype new skills or behaviours, to support (or provide foundational capability) to move these things into new real world applications. They hold staged consequence, so you learn to be right, and help us to take chunked knowledge or understanding and build it into functional routines and capability. Rehearsal spaces in games are places of safety.

We use games for Problem Solving (which can of course be part of a Quest, or Rehearsal): we can build gated sequences of narrative that require successful problem solving to progress, as well as demonstration of diagnostic skills, and an understanding of the underlying schemas, or patterns, that create the issue.

Finally, games are often used to drive Engagement: they may be fun, can be competitive, involve recognition of excellence, and often reward of that. Their very interaction can be engaging, and if the rules are known, they can be easily accessible (but as per yesterdays post, if the rules themselves require knowledge or mastery, they can be rendered inaccessible).

This post is part of #WorkingOutLoud as i design the module on ‘Games and VR’ for the Modern Learning Capability Programme’.

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Games in Learning: a #WorkingOutLoud post

I have started work on Module 3 of the Modern Learning Capability Programme, which covers ‘Games in Learning’, and then ‘Virtual Reality’. Today i am sharing an early sketch, which concerns the use of games in learning. This is a relatively short module, running for four weeks, so i need to keep it focussed, and have started with this simple grid.

I will use this to do two things: to centre the work around games, and to act as a practical planning tool when gamified elements are requested.

Broadly in this work i am differentiating between game approaches, or the use of gamified elements e.g. the difference between a ‘quest’ as a learning experience, or simply the use of e.g. badges or scoreboards.

The Purpose for which we use a game approach – to develop specific skills, to either build new knowledge or surface existing knowledge, to change behaviour, to review opinions, to shift perspectives etc

How we hope to achieve specific Outcomes – to do something that is measurable, to ensure the outcome is valid in a specific real world context, to ensure abstract learning is shifted to application, to be foundational (as the first step to developing subsequent capability), or to be holistic (the outcome of the game is the end in itself)

Ways that we provide a novel or engaging Experience – to be magnetic for users and drive completion and success rates, to be engaging in itself or drive broader engagement as a result, to be fun and/or to support aspects of social cohesion and strength, to be challenging either to drive specific outcomes or to foster engagement and social spirit, to be inclusive to anyone (not just the competitive), to be competitive in itself (or as an outcome in itself), to be open for anyone to play (through known rules and known interaction dynamics), to be closed (requiring mastery of new rules or new game dynamics)

The specific choice of Mechanisms of play – the specific form of gameplay as a complete experience, the selection or use of aspects of game design to supplement broader instructional design. Game as outcome, or enabler of outcome.

This is shared as early stage work, part of #WorkingOutLoud.

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Community Building: Developing Vocabulary

Building an engaged Community probably requires us to consider two central ideas: firstly, that we do not actually ‘build’ it, and secondly, that there is no one ‘big’ thing to do. At best, we can create space for Community to grow, and at best we can take many small steps that nurture, develop, and safeguard it. Essentially the role of the Social Leader is not to own, build and control, but rather to open, protect, and nourish.

Yesterday i shared the ’Community Star’, a simple five point tool to help shape individual action on a daily basis: today i share a simple calendar view, to indicate how we may take action over time to build individual vocabulary around each of the five areas, as well as developing a view of our own areas of focus.

I use this term ‘vocabulary’, because mastery of any subject or technique is less about parrot style duplication, as much as it is about art and nuance. Taking an idea and making it your own: hearing a story and retelling it in your own words.

The framework i share here indicates how one may use each of the five points across a single week, and all of the five points multiple times across e.g. four weeks. But come the fifth week, we should seek to introduce our own new ideas. Essentially, to keep introducing new words into our Community vocabulary.

As with much of our exploration of Communities, there is not one ‘big’ answer, beyond saying ‘do good things consistently over time’. Act with humility and fairness, and learn to trade in the social currencies of the Community.

The Community Builder Guidebook

As a reminder, if you are interested in Community Building, i have two other free resources you can use: the Community Builder Guidebook is available as a free resource, and i am #WorkingOutLoud to develop the Community Builder Action Cards.

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Community Star: An Activity Tool

The Community Star is a simple tool to frame your actions around your core Community each day: these five areas are not specific actions, but rather shape the broad thrust of the action. For example, on a ‘smaller’ day you will try to make a difference to one person, whilst on an ‘Open’ day you are trying to create new conversations. The principle is rather like that of conducting the orchestra: you are not making the music yourself, but are nudging performance, and holding the group together.

The Community Star

Smaller – on this day, interact at a smaller scale. Speak to one person, to make a tangible difference. Share one thing, wisely, with context wrapped around it. Thank one person, with clear direction why. Represent one person in a space that they cannot hear you. Focus this day on the personal, the kind, and the human.

Listen – on this day, listen for breadth of voices, and be mindful of how many you hear. If all you hear is agreement, broaden the space, or consider where challenge may be useful. If all you hear is noise, help the Community to find a signal. If all you hear is observation, move the group to action. If all you hear is challenge, be open about support.

Open – on this day, open a new space, a new conversation, or be open to change. If something is on your horizon, create a conversation around it. If something seems intractable, create a space to explore it. If you feel comfortable, open yourself up to change. All of this can be at a very small scale: the principle is that of 1% change: if you can change yourself, or others, through learning, or through action, just one percent, but you can do that in a systemic way, then you may learn to out compete the competition at scale.

Carry – on this day carry a conversation into a new space, bring in a new person, or carry someone forward (in their space or understanding). If you are having a productive conversation within your group, consider who else would benefit, and either share to them, or invite them in. If you see someone who is fixed in one position, carry them into a space of difference. Encourage, or challenge them to be more than they are today.

Review – on this day, reflect and review: how relevant is the activity of this week to your mission? Are you inward facing (discussing known challenges, or reworking old problems) or outward facing (seeing what the wider world is discussing, or identifying new challenges) – and is this position flexible, or do you always do the same? Is your group observing challenge, or resolving it? Where will you go next, and how will you remember what you have learned already?

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The Socially Dynamic Organisation [‘Domain to Dynamic’ Pt 7]

This is the last in a series of articles that explore the context, and shape, of a new type of Organisation, one that is adapted to the reality of the Social Age. I call this a Socially Dynamic Organisation, and set it up in contrast to the Domain Organisations that came before. In the previous articles i have provided an overview of how that legacy structure came to be, and the forces that require it to change. Today i will provide an overview of the Socially Dynamic Organisation, and the rationale behind it.

Guided not Governed’ – a central realisation is that our future Organisations will be less about the governance of hard power, and more about the invested engagement, discretionary effort, and willing support, of the workforce. Essentially those Organisations that thrive will do so because of the engagement and energy of a highly connected population who have elbow room and space to operate. In that sense, the role of leadership will shift from predominantly one of governance, to one of facilitation and enablement. Or guiding. We could argue that good leaders have always done this, which is true, but in aggregate the experience of employment has typically and ultimately, been one of subservience to the system. Whereas in the future it is more likely to be predominantly about choice and investment.

Trusted and Trusting’ – two very different aspects of this complex social force: Domain Organisations have excellent structures of formalised trust, through contract and hierarchy, but are not necessarily trusted at scale, and do not necessarily demonstrate trust in their actions. Or at least do not do so with consistency, which is a requirements of trust for many people. The Socially Dynamic Organisation will excel at trust for several reasons. Firstly, it will trade in multiple social currencies, not just one financial one (understanding Social Currencies is central to understanding the social Organisation). And it will understand that trust is contextual, and held primarily through authentic action: so it will excel at creating space for authentic action!


Interconnected Beyond Hierarchy’ – within the Domain Organisation, hierarchy carries power and control, but can separate us tribally and globally. Interconnectivity is an important notion to follow, the ways that we engage not simply into known spaces, but unknown ones, and not simply in comfortable ones, but across our differences too. The word ‘interconnectivity’ is one of the most important ones to explore in our efforts to understand and build more Socially Dynamic spaces. It is through stronger interconnection that we can build social movements, and unlock Individual Agency at globally local scale.

Strong Social Leadership’ – i have described how our challenge is to keep the best of the old, and unlock the best of the new. So alongside the formal power that allows us to achieve effect at scale sits the social authority that enables us to safely invest. Social Leadership is reputation based authority: the Socially Dynamic Organisation will have both. Strong formal leaders who earn high social reputation, and strong Social Leaders who carry no formal power at all. A reason for this is that to build this new Organisational design will require us to give up a lot of the current things that we own: power, position, resource, control etc. We will have to hold people safely as we do so, and it is Social Leaders who will enable this to happen.

Lightweight and Reconfigurable<’ – our future Organisations will be less overweight than our current ones: most likely they will employ fewer people, but perversely touch more people to be effective. Through distributed networks and stronger associate and affiliate arrangements, and within the arms of broader communities. The Social Age represents an age of community, and it is likely that successful Organisations, certainly globally successful ones, will operate something akin to a citizenship model in this space. And reconfigurable because they will not simply construct a new Domain, but rather retain a constant ability to change.

Constantly Curious’ – this ties into the notion of the restless Organisation, one that does not seek one mode of operation then codifies it into system and process, but rather develops a deep seated ability to solve complex problems in diverse ways. Essentially whilst the Domain Organisation was effective through simplification and codification, the Socially Dynamic one will be effective through iteration and innovation, remaining in constant motion. To do so it much harder than it seems, as really excellent Organisations become constrained simply through the accretion of system and process around things, which bogs them down over time. Being restless, constantly curious, is hard. And will most likely involve a methodology around curiosity that enables it to scale.

Fair by Default’ – most Organisations are able to act fairly when they wish to, but the Socially Dynamic one will be fair by default. In other words, it will have to go out of it’s way be hurt people because the mindset, and authentic power, will be held accountable by the communities that it serves. That may sound like some liberal and aspirational statement, but in the world of interconnection, trust, and social authority, it’s vital. By creating a culture of fairness, we are better able to hear weak voices, better able to engage, and just simply to invest in our society rather than be a cost to it.

Resilient through Humility’ – i am linking two disparate concepts here: resilience, and humility, because it is through our willingness to be wrong and learn from it, to engage in spaces of difference and dissent, and to reach out to carry heavy weights with others that we can develop a greater Organisational resilience. Resilience not in the hard construct of infrastructure and network, but rather in the social ones of culture and ideas. The humble leader is one who puts others first, invests even when they have little, and shares widely.

Changeable by Design’ – whilst Domain Organisations change through pain, the Socially Dynamic one will be able to do so by design, simply because it will never fully root itself into the current space. This is one of the hardest tricks to fulfil: social systems inherently nest in formal spaces, forming tribes and enclaves. If we avoid nesting, we can be changeable by design. But it’s more than that: it’s about a recognition that true change is co-created, and allows everyone to both envisage, and invest in, the future state. Which really relates back to the first point of ‘guided not governed’.

These are just a light scattering of the traits that we see in a Socially Dynamic Organisation, and none of them are that hard to build in isolation. But isolated strength will not suffice. It’s about a systemic pattern of adaptation, which is what makes it so hard to build.

My own work is simply a sketch of this space, with a focus on the practical ways that we adapt: but nobody is going to give you your answers. Each individual, each Organisation, each leader, and each community, will need to find their truth. My premise it taken from models of evolutionary biology: as the ecosystem changes (the full context of the Social Age comes to bear), we must either adapt, or fail. Better to adapt.

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The Community Builder Action Cards: Prototype #1

The first prototypes of the Community Builder Action cards are ready. This is just a fun idea, based in pragmatic action: a deck of cards that can be played in small teams to prompt conversations, reflection, and action.

I will be using these with a number of different groups: some formal teams within Organisations, some social groups (communities of interest), and some mixed groups (strangers). From this i will finalise the rules, some of which are still open e.g some cards can be traded back to the dealer if you do not want to carry out the action, whilst others can be played then traded forwards.

I typically try to push something through three full prototypes before settling on a final design, so expect these to continue to evolve in 2020.

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