The poverty of curriculum based teaching

This blog entry by Katrina Schwartz reveals how the Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia is one institutation that has remodeled its approach to teaching along interesting lines that take us beyond the notion of teaching to the test.

A lot of the best and most creative work in education today is focused on how to reframe the role of the teacher, who should be the key player in stimulating and guiding the processes of emerging learning. That means gardening and nurturing it, rather than teaching the curriculum. Curricula are built like a series of named places on a map, to the point that we forget that the territory around each name might be of more interest — in terms of its geography and history — than the spot that gets named. Curricula are designed as “points of knowlege”. Making sense of each spot that gets named requires building familiarity with the territory and having a sense of the multiple characteristics that surround it.

Knowing that Chicago, St Louis, Joplin, Oklahoma City, Flagstaff, Kingman, Barstow and San Bernardino and L.A. are on Route 66 is easy if you listen to the famous song recorded by Nat King Cole, the Rolling Stones and many others, especially if you go beyond listening and actually learn to sing it.

Learning the song might both be fun and help a student pass a test, but it won’t produce much understanding, insight, wisdom or practical skills other than music, which of course is important for other reasons but doesn’t require memorizing place names. Yet that is how the system is structured: teachers are responsible for making sure the learners can reproduce those names on the test plus possibly a few other random associated facts. So they will lecture or in some cases teach the song to help learners pass the test. But imagine a student who gets so interested in Kingman, Arizona she starts researching it in depth and discovers the flow of history around it, going back to the pre-Columbian times. That level of learning wasn’t on the curriculum, so not only won’t the effort and intensity be rewarded or even acknowledged, but they may have distracted her from learning the other names, which is what the curriculum requires.

As the article says, “The focus should be on providing student-centered experiences that bring out qualities in students that aren’t necessarily measurable.” The teacher’s role will be to pre-define or pre-design the framework of those experiences and play the role of coach, adviser, friendly critic and even the consumer of the outcome of each experience. It is indeed a role and requires certain skills associated with coaching, criticism (e.g. peer reviewing) and acting (staying in one’s role), skills that are not associated with traditional teaching. It also means learning to suppress the instinct to spout information or instruct or at the very least to disguise such spouting as advice and encouragement.

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Linking 2 questions: “Who tells you what to teach?” and “What does it have to do with what learners need to learn?”

I would imagine that any professional educator should at some point want to explore this pair of questions. I find it extraordinary that the defense attorneys of educational systems have succeeded in banishing this line of questioning from the courtroom of intellectual endeavor as “irrelevant”. The answers for them are givens: to the first question, it’s the curriculum. To the second: its…er…the curriculum. A curriculum isn’t even a human being, with whom you can debate. It’s a state of nature. It’s a (fictional) world of crystalline simplicity, where strategic thinking, even of the lowest order, is never required. It’s Oz.

In the training world it appears to be different and the answers are well known. To the first, “I do. I’m the expert”. To the second, “It’s the learners’ employer,  who understands that what I do is related to what they need to learn”. This may sound simple and efficient, but it’s complex and ambiguous and, in the end, no less arbitrary and poorly focused than in the world of education.

Let’s return to this world of education for a moment. The curriculum dictates everything to everyone. Teachers have to know it at one level (the overall logic and all the important details written into the curriculum) and learners are expected to acquire it, detail by detail, without necessarily attaining the same level as the teacher. There are of course rare cases where a brilliant student demonstrating insight that is not built into the curriculum can go beyond the level of pure understanding of his or her teachers. Happily for the teacher, this level of understanding is outside the curriculum, not really testable, and, what the hell, geniuses exist! Everything’s accounted for. Life can go on. So, once again, the system happily avoids the question of what learners really need to learn.

There are also cases of brilliant teachers whose level of understanding and insight is such that they see the curriculum for what it is, an arbitrary framework for presenting a sanitized account of an area of human enquiry they have identified with. But even those brilliant teachers, who might want to convey the secrets of their personal enthusiasm and deeper feelings about the subject to the students, are required to stick to the curriculum and judged on their capacity to do so. And here is the key to the whole quandary: if we admit that a subject matter is indeed “an area of human enquiry”, a curriculum, by definition, can only be a shabbily poor representation of it. Areas of human enquiry are just that, open spaces where surprises and discoveries are possible, where terms can and indeed often must be redefined, where motives for achieving understanding are complex and related to diverse cultural phenomena, where shifts in understanding regularly occur because people are passionately involved in digging deeper. Schools don’t like complexity because it isn’t testable. They don’t like to recognize cultural or intellectual diversity because it leads to untestable alternative interpretations and possibly even to discoveries that contradict the frozen premises built into the curriculum.

So let’s return to the world of training, where the trainer is free to decide what to teach, or indeed whether to teach or rather how to get the learners to learn. The constraints are indeed fewer, but there remains a significant one. It appears in the second question in my title: what do the learners need to learn? The real problem is that outside of purely technical subjects where knowledge can be efficiently catalogued, the question of what learners need to learn is rarely explored. The way it is handled in most cases is this: “what do employees need to show they know?” Showing what you know has very little to do with exercising the skills required in the job, unless your job is to teach others! But “showing what you know” is what schooling has always been about and because schooling is about learning, our HR luminaries are convinced that they are dealing with the real learning requirements.

And here we find the similarity between education and training. They share the same “knowledge is everything” culture of which the first axiom is, “only knowledge can be taught” and the second, “only knowledge can be tested”. The advent of e-learning should have led to greater learner autonomy, a more open space for learning and developing one’s skills. Paradoxically e-learning triggered the rise of the LMS, which has effectively turned professional training into a system modeled on that of education. In the pre-e-learning days of corporate training you attended a course and absorbed as much as possible. You were not tested. With e-learning and its enforcer, the SCORM compliant LMS, you are tracked, which in many ways sounds far more sinister than being graded. And in relation to what will you be tracked? To a curriculum, of course!

Many trainers think that they have gone well beyond this knowledge-based system of predefined curricula when they claim to teach “know-how”. But know-how, for all its implicit relationship with skill, is still dominated by the idea of knowledge, knowing how. Know-how typically breaks down into sets of memorized procedures: “do A, then check B and only then proceed to C”, or “use technique D with tool E to accomplish F”. But if understanding how is the real goal rather than just knowing how, what the learners need is to enter into an “area of human enquiry”, to identify with it and become creative contributors to it through their future actions. Along with know how, and perhaps even before it, they should be acquiring see how, sense how, feel how, be how (in the French training community we do talk about savoir être but those who do so usually bypass the perception side – seeing, feeling, hearing, sensing, physically reacting, being attuned to  —  which is the key to being*).

And this brings us back to a final point: a major debate in education, especially in the political arena where funding is the issue, now concerns whether schools and school curricula are doing enough to prepare students for the professional world. Many say the ultimate and possibly unique purpose of school should be vocational. What this frequently amounts to is a rejection of whatever vestige may remain of education’s historical “commitment” to advancing the notion of human enquiry. So the paradox comes full circle: the corporate world has increasingly aligned its human resource policies on the academic world’s notion of a knowledge-based curriculum to define training needs rather than focusing on effective ways of developing productive professional skills. And technology, which has the power to provide disruptive answers leading to creating truly effective models for skill development, has contributed to this perverse trend. At the same time education increasingly aligns with what it supposes to be corporate goals, forgetting its own historical vocation of broadening the perspectives of students and inviting them implicitly into the widest range of areas of human enquiry. Were Dwight Eisenhower still around we might be calling this the glide towards dominance of the educational-corporate complex. The only difference with the military-industrial complex is that in this case both sides are losing rather than gaining an advantage through their cumulative power: education has lost its way in the darkness by accepting to be guided by the notion of shareholder interest (the ultimate determinant of corporate purpose), and enterprises by neglecting and therefore impoverishing the human potential they need to develop their own economic advantage.

* The dominant French intellectual and philosophic tradition reduces being to the question of identity or the set of ideas one has about oneself. Sartre’s Being and Nothingness is a good example. It reflects France’s characteristic individualism. Descartes’s cogito ergo sum set the tone for the entire culture. Being is thinking (about oneself).

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Teachers and trainers as executive producers

We are about to launch Chatscaper, a tool that allows anybody to create visually in minutes (or hours, or weeks, for a complex project) a fun and exciting game built around non-linear (branching) logic. We’re actually looking for creative-minded beta testers, trainers or teachers who are interested in:

  • ways of motivating learners,
  • ways of getting them to invest seriously in the learning.

We expect these trainers to be prepared to remodel their way of doing things. And to accept a more relaxed, collaborative and creative way of working with learners.

When we look at what learners can do with Chatscaper we discover a range of activities and inputs. It leads us to define the learning activities as identical to certain key jobs in a film production:

  • screenwriting
  • acting
  • directing
  • producing
  • and even distributing!

These are the things the learners would be doing, and in so doing, structuring their learning. So what will the trainer or teacher be doing? The answer: playing the role of executive producer! The trainer will of course be involved in all those activities, at least as a guide, but with the task of hiring (and of course coaching) the “specialists” who will be collaborating on the full project.

How it works

Imagine you launch the project of creating a fairly complex game meant to illustrate and develop an understanding of and a feeling for the different ways of handling a problem or situation. Some of those ways may be excellent, some valid, some less valid, others very questionable, leading among other things to opportunities for humor.

The subject could be for certain trainers or teachers:

  • conducting a sales interview (sales training)
  • conducting a disciplinary interview (management training)
  • understanding a philosophical concept (philosophy)
  • critiquing a book (English literature)
  • learning banking English, French or Chinese (foreign language learning)
  • understanding how to create a business relationship with a Japanese partner (intercultural training).

To conduct this type of project, a number of phases are required, just as in a serious film project:

1. Development or initial decision-making

  • What situation?
  • What characters?
  • What context?
  • What specific ideas or themes should be included?
  • Research

2. Pre-production

  • Strategic design: defining the multiple outcomes of a scene that will orientate the decision-making along the way, emotions to be revealed
  • Stylistic choice: tone and dramatic effects (e.g. comedy or melodrama for the “poor choices” in the scenario)
  • Screenwriting: this is where Chatscaper is the main tool that allows for developing ALL the ideas of a scene, exploring multiple hypotheses of decisions, actions and interactions. The story develops in parallel threads and always poses new questions and choices. Exploration is both imaginative and analytical as links in the repartie must be justified.
  • Storyboarding: Chatscaper requires associating pictures with each node. In other words, it is by definition a storyboard. The pictures are typically the face of the character speaking with an appropriate attitude, but they can also be specific illustrations of the scene (original pictures).
  • Casting: Because the text-to-speech function automatically simulates the multimedia game, it is possible to be satisfied with the immediate result. But a complete production will use the recording function that allows the learners to supply the right voice with the right style and intonation.

3. Production

Working with Chatscaper, production is essentially experimental screenwriting, acting and avatar management.

  • Screenwriting during the production phase is of the equivalent of on set dialogue writing or rewriting. The director adjusts the dialogue to the needs of the scene.
  • Acting is the voice recording that will replace the text-to-speech output.
  • Avatar management means selecting or producing the images of the character that correspond best to the dialogue, the context and the emotions of each point in the scene.

4. Post-production

No post-production is necessary because Chatscaper outputs a complete executable game or scene simulation at any given point of elaboration. But Chatscaper projects can be exported into Gamescaper and produced with more elaborate media and more sophisticated game logic. The game itself can be packaged for publication on the Worldscaper website.

4. Distribution

Chatscaper or Gamescaper projects can be packaged and published for sharing or for sale. At the beginning of a project, time could be taken to imagine who will be playing the game and what they might be expecting from it. This puts a marketing angle into the project, which can be used as a guide to the criteria for quality throughout the phases of production.

Sounds complicated… but it isn’t!

Now this may sound complicated, but the only skill required for the trainer or teacher is to know how to organize this kind of project and allocate the tasks. The only tool required is Chatscaper itself, which is accessible to everyone and incredibly easy to use. Much of the work of creating can be done outside of the training room. Other tools can be introduced and exploited, such as graphics software to vary the storyboard or model the characters and their emotions. The game itself could be linked to other learning software.

So what are the learners doing as the project develops?

Apart from learning to work together on something that other people will be invited to use — a rarity in education and training — they will be actively acquiring the following skills:

  • Having engaged in research for different aspects of the content in the development phase, they will be refining their research skills and examining critically the content they are responsible for.
  • Writing with purpose (i.e. with a notion of appropriateness to context and awareness of techniques of communication and the impact of style and formulation). This includes, by the way, getting the spelling write right.
  • Analyzing ideas, specific aspects of content, contradictions, mistakes, best and worst practice, persuasion, humor, etc.
  • Making reasoned decisions about alternatives. It’s worth noting that the branching structure means alternatives can be developed and compared rather than treated as good and bad, right and wrong.

Now the question we have to ask ourselves is this: does this kind of practice have its place in education and training? Many will see it as anarchic or a waste of time.

What do you think? … and

What will you think after you’ve tried it?

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The motivation gap: doing something about it

It’s no secret that our systems for provoking learning – what we usually call education and training – have some serious problems. Some speak of an existential crisis. Most people recognize that if effective learning doesn’t always take place in spite of our efforts, lack of motivation, or at least of appropriate motivation, is a big part of it. Which is why many are tempted to turn to gamification as the solution. But we ought to be very careful with this. Motivation isn’t the simple desire for a reward or social recognition. We should start thinking at a deeper level.

One good place to start is simply to look at how we define the roles in the  “drama of learning”. In any context of training or teaching, there are two easily recognized roles and probably a few others that either aren’t recognized or are voluntarily left out of the picture. To simplify things and to remain consistent with the values of our materialistic society, I would suggest calling these recognized roles supplier and consumer. We have all sorts of names for the supplier: instructor, trainer, teacher, coach, facilitator, author, to name but a few. On the other side we have learner, student, participant, trainee, coachee and pupil. But the idea is clear in all cases: one is there in an ownership role to provide the content to the learner, the other to receive that content and do something with it. Put in those terms, if we can agree on that formulation, we should already notice a clue to what needs changing in our current models: “doing something with it” is potentially far more interesting than the usual practice of “proving you have retained – at least for a brief moment — what was formally taught” through some sort of test or control.

So what are the roles we fail to recognize? To start with, we can easily identify the institution behind the learning experience. It could be a corporate training department, and therefore the corporation itself, or it could be a school or university. We might even add parents, for schoolchildren, and bosses in the corporate world.  With a little effort, they are also recognizable and their influence on learning can be easily apprehended.

Social reality and learner motivation: much more than friends on Facebook

But there are yet other roles, ones that are rarely recognized and that may turn out to be even more important. I’m thinking in particular of peer groups and society as a whole. Beyond that, there are also the various communities, real or virtual, that we identify with consciously and unconsciously. For example, a teenager at school may have classes, friends and family, but may also have the ambition – realistic or fantasized – of becoming a musician, actor, boxer, chess master, painter, gang leader or gymnast. This creates a space of identification that may be either public (shared with others) or private (the “fire within”). When a learner identifies with a group defined by its skills and cultural role, this becomes a factor in any learning process.

Why should we care since these factors of identification that we are often aware of but which we consider to be peripheral and largely irrelevant? Simply because they are potential factors of motivation that can, in the right circumstances, be mobilized to accelerate and deepen learning. Our institutions don’t like to waste time on these unmanageable “personal things” and since we don’t like anything that isn’t “manageable”, we do everything we can to leave them in the hall locker or at the classroom door. That is, by the way, an eminently rational choice, far more efficient than the idea sometimes encouraged of getting everyone to “express themselves and share their interests with the others”.

So the choice has been made. It’s what the system wants. The fire within may be what most guides a learner’s personal plan for success in adapting to the social and economic environment, but it can’t be exploited in a context of learning.

Or can it?

I maintain that it can, so long as it isn’t identified as the issue. To do this, we need to encourage a positive climate for creativity focused on seeking to realize socially coherent goals that have their own logic. Passing a test has no social logic. If anything it has an antisocial effect, pitting all learners one against another. Building something that makes sense only in the classroom or training room is a step forward. It could be a science project or a business game, with a discernible and analyzable outcome. But it also risks being seen and felt as an artificial and ephemeral event. And in terms of motivation, it is often only the “leaders” – those who have the most social clout, the strongest personality or particular knowledge of the domain — who put enough effort in to get something out of the experience.

Multi-level motivation

When we began building Chatscaper as a fun way of creating meaningful sequences of dialogue or stories in the form of an open-ended game thanks to the contribution of an entire group of learners, we saw it as another somewhat different type of group project, like a business game. It gets the learners involved in a process that becomes more and more complex, demonstrating principles through unexpected outcomes. But it quickly became evident that what was being produced was a game object that other people could actually use. It might therefore have meaning even after the end of the course or seminar. Moreover, as a non-linear game – with the open logic of an adventure game or certain video games – it should have entertainment value, i.e. it aims at motivating other people to use it, on the condition that it contains the right psychological and aesthetic qualities.

To do that requires looking into what motivates the people that might end up using it, which means that we are going beyond the motivation to learn and working on several different levels:

  • The motivation to have enough mastery of the subject matter to produce something coherent (as in a traditional science project)
  • The motivation to motivate others, and therefore to think about what is important as well as what is effective.
  • The motivation to finalize a project rather than just finish it.
  • The motivation to understand what is interesting, both for the producers and the eventual users.

This means thinking about motivation in depth and actually mobilizing it for the learners because it has a meaning beyond that of provoking learning. It also means appealing to different types of talents that may correspond to elements of the fire within for certain learners. Because there are various kinds of actions to do along the way – imagine a context, create the drama, write the text, record the dialogue or narrative, possibly invent the avatars and create them visually – it allows the variety of hidden talents in the group to contribute to the final quality of the product.

That is why we have insisted on making it possible to publish, share and even propose for sale the productions that learners may have contributed to or entirely build themselves. Instead of being consumers of learning, they become suppliers of the learning they themselves are engaged in.

Finally, what can be more motivating for the traditional suppliers – trainers and teachers – than a framework for guiding learners to become the creators of their own learning? To succeed, they will need help and guidance; they will need to do their research, critique and test their own production, self-organize as a production unit, define and redefine their own goals, with the continual assistance and guidance of the trainer.

It means one more thing that is often neglected in our traditional learning programs: the actual work involves formulation and reformulation, clarity of thought and expression with regard to the content, assessment of logical connections and transitions.

Chatscaper is just one tool among others, but we believe it can provide a unique service especially on the level of motivation.

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The soft border between teaching and learning

The best teachers, if they’re honest, admit that it’s their students who teach them their art and science. Of course, most students don’t know that they’re teaching their teachers, which is probably a good thing. Just as the analysands (sometimes abusively referred to as patients) in psychoanalysis don’t know that they can only only cure themselves and the analyst is there just to get their unconscious to talk.*  After all, if learners did know that they were teaching their teachers, they might ask for a revision of educational pay scales!

And of course teachers who don’t recognize it are less likely to be good teachers, or may simply be dishonest with themselves.

But what do I mean by students teaching the teachers? Actually, there are several answers:

  1. A good teacher is in permanent interaction with students as their learning is taking place or being constructed. An observant teacher will constantly be monitoring what works and doesn’t work, what produces an effect and what falls flat. As with any public artist, the teacher’s performance skills will improve through interaction with the audience.
  2. A good teacher is dealing with transmitting or preparing four things: knowledge, understanding, certain output skills (manual, verbal, etc.) and, ultimately, accountability in the sense of  helping students to “acquire the ability to account for what they are learning”. This means students are (or should be) actually performing in multiple ways and the originality of their performance will at times add original insights or understanding that contribute to the teacher’s own mastery of the subject.
  3. A good teacher implicitly belongs to a community that consists of other teachers and all learners. Communities create cultures that contain a wide variety of dynamically constructed notions, ideas, associations, perceptions, as well as the “bits of knowledge” traditionally associated with curricula.

If these three things are true, the interactions they imply are a permanent source of learning for the teacher. But what have our system and our traditions done to these three ideas… apart from banishing them from most pedagogical discourse? Let’s have a look:

  1. Teachers’ own interaction with students: some teachers are acutely aware of this side of their art, often because it’s part of their personality and at the same time felt to be a productive talent. Many are not. And our systems almost never require it. Teachers who don’t grow this ability to interact with students and judge the effect of those interactions will spend their careers interacting only with themselves and getting little out of the time spent with students.
  2. Teachers’ awareness of the diversity of skills learners are acquiring: for traditional teaching institutions formal knowledge is the only “measurable” acquisition (thanks to tests) and the only skill eventually taken into account is style (usually a particular type of approved academic style). Knowing this, a lot of teachers don’t realize that developing multiple skills will be instrumental in consolidating the knowledge learners will be tested on. And so, because it isn’t required, it’s easy to forget about it, losing the opportunity to learn from what the students actually do.
  3. Finally, the notion of community, though real wherever people spend time together (provided there is some freedom of interaction), is easily neglected in a system predicated on competitive scoring. Thanks to the social web, it is now possible to envisage communities of practice for teachers. With the emergence of the flipped classroom and MOOCs we are now beginning to understand that learners can also be members of a community, though their classification as “learners” makes it appear as if their only goal is to perform well in the course, not necessary engage in the life of a community. 

The Skillscaper team and many of our friends and relations in the wide community of thinkers and doers in the field — connected as we are through so many groups and events — believe that all this is changing, that we are moving towards a world where:

  • teachers and trainers understand they have performance goals structured by their interactive behavior and not just by institutional criteria,
  • learners actually can continuously contribute to the knowledge and skill sets the teachers are supposed to master,
  • communities – and not teachers alone or their institutions – provide the cultural basis in which the “things to be learned” acquire meaning and transformative power.

So, should we just preach change and teach a new generation of teachers and trainers what they “should be doing” and how they should be thinking about themselves. Doing so, means to some extent falling into the same pattern of error.

According to Adobe’s study of creativity in schools published in June of this year, one of the key factors for achieving any goal associated with creativity is having the appropriate tools. Our imminent release of Chatscaper on our Worldscaper website – which will be available freely to teachers and students alike – constitutes a significant step in this direction. It’s a unique piece of software that makes it possible to get learners totally involved in learning through the creative process. It mobilizes multiple skills and implies permanent constructive dialogue in the teaching-learning process. Because using it immediately implies creating a functional (interesting and fun) game or simulation, without having to use any specific production tools, it is both motivating — creating a game is exciting for anyone — and invites both creativity and critical reflection.

In other words, we see Chatscaper as a tool that softens the border between teaching and learning.  The beta of Chatscaper HTML5 (with limited functionality) is available here for anyone who wants to try it. Serverside management (an essential feature for storing, sharing, retrieving and publishing) will be available once the platform is set up, before the end of November. Those interested in joining a community of beta testers and users should contact us at Skillscaper.

* I hope my Freudian friends will forgive this crass oversimplification.

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Double flip or flip and twist

So the flipped classroom is all the rage. I remember first implementing in 1983 when we built resource centers and had our learners get their instruction on their own (we didn’t have the Web, of course). They would work on content in the resource center and come to our seminars to do something active with it, to build their skills, experiment behaviors, make it social.


How about the double flip? If we say, as some do, that “the flipped classroom inverts traditional teaching methods, delivering instruction online outside of class and moving ‘homework’ into the classroom”, what do we call it when we take it one step further?

First of all, what else can you flip? How about content provision? In the traditional classroom, the teacher or trainer provided the content. The flipped teacher or trainer now publishes it online. But the double flipped provider does it another way: by flipping responsibility for content to the learners.

“Can they do it?” any traditional trainer will ask. But they will be surprised by the answer. “Of course they can.” It’s true, because we’ve flipped something else. In the double flipped classroom (or the “flip and twist” classroom), we’ve made content production a social process. The teachers partner with the learners to produce content that makes sense. And they produce the context for that content, adding perspective, another new concept in education.

And what does that mean “makes sense”? Well, that’s what’s often been missing in education and training. The content makes sense both to the trainer and the learner. They negotiate the meaning by producing something viable together.

That’s why we built Chatscaper. It’s the platform for creating shared meaning and doing it in a coherent context. “Coherence”, “credibility”, “personal impact”, “social meaning” and “context appropriate” become the new criteria of quality replacing “authoritative discourse” as the reference.

A flipping good idea if ever I’ve heard one. Especially if the process is based on the fun that surrounds the creation and playing of games (another flipped principle: the players become the authors).

Any good idea is worth sharing and building on, so let’s share it and build it!

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Gamification is manifestly the theme of the moment. A lot of people are struggling with defining the term itself. At bottom, it’s all about using techniques associated with games and gaming to create motivation. The question then is, motivate to do what? But that can mean a lot of things depending on the context:

  • motivate to buy?
  • motivate to think?
  • motivate not to think (for example, impulse buying)?
  • motivate to go deeper?
  • motivate to stay inside the box?
  • to go out of the box?
  • to understand?
  • to memorize and repeat? etc.

The cynical common denominator would be: manipulate rather motivate.

Then there’s the typology rewards. Some experts have suggested as many as six types of reward mechanics:

I would suggest a typology of five contrasting types of actual reward. Here are the first four:

  1. monetary or merchanise rewards (loyalty discounts, etc.),
  2. vanity rewards (points, badges),
  3. ranking rewards (where am I in relation to the others?)
  4. social rewards (how does this put me in a relationship with others?).

I would suggest that for learning the last two are the most important, especially if they are combined under the banner of collaboration.

A lot to think about in terms of strategies for learning. This is just the beginning, so why don’t we all get started together thinking about where this can take us (call that a “socio-professional incentive”).

Then there’s the fifth one which I don’t see many people talking about:

5. creativity rewards

Actually it can be instrumental in consolidating reward types 3 and 4. What I mean by creativity rewards is the emotion associated with having accomplished something that is original and has permanent value. Mastering a game means progressing with what someone else has designed. Creating a game (or anything else) takes us to a different level, especially when it involves collaboration, sharing of tasks and collective decision-making.


An example of the beginning of a Chatscaper dialogue.

That’s precisely why we created Chatscaper as a learning tool.

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