E-Learning Alliance Conference (3) – BSkyB elearning and ‘serious games’

Kenny Henderson works in elearning with BSkyB. They have 40 bespoke modules and have delivered over 100,000 hours of learning.
He spoke of his own learning experience producing a 3D game based health and safety course. It won a national award but when rolled out to a wide audience they had to make quite a few changes in response to people who weren't so comfortable with gaming or even with PC use. An example was an exercise where you had to use the mouse to 'lift' a fire extinguisher and point it at a fire to put it out. Many just couldn't get the hang of point and drag. On reexamining it they noted that the learning objective had been to choose the correct extinguisher, so they made it just a point-and-click exercise.
Kenny also showed their bespoke LMS, which had an admirably simple and easy interface: three categories – books (a postal lending library), downloads (PDF job aids, articles and mp3s) and 'elearning and courses'.  There are no restrictions on what individuals can see, except for booking themselves on face to face courses. Selecting a title from any of the categories leads to a simple directory page  with the target audience and content. Whatever you select is tracked in your training record. One innovation is the ability for anyone to give a star rating and/or a review to every product.
Kenny was followed by Graeme Duncan of Caspian Learning who spoke of the thousands of 'disappointed and disengaged' learners and the low rates of completion of elearning. That elearning could be engaging and even addictive is shown by the popularity of 'Brain Training' games for Nintendo – which faced down critics within the gaming industry who laughed at its rudimentary graphics. 
Graeme's talk was centred on three lists.
Myths about gaming:
  1. it's new (flight sims have been used since 1910, role play since ancient Greece)
  2. it requires specific technical platforms and systems ( a web browser is enough nowadays)
  3. Second Life is a gaming environment (it's many things but not a game)
  4. it's prohibitively expensive (learning games can be produced for the same as high end e-learning – £30k in one case)

Who gaming is appropriate for:

  1. the disengaged
  2. the young
  3. the competitive
  4. the visual
  5. the fearful

What kind of content it's suitable for:

  1. dull, dry stuff
  2. risk mitigation
  3. people-oriented skills
  4. exploration
  5. decisionmaking and problemsolving.

Challenges for those working in 'serious games' include:

  1. procurement depts who can only think in 'how much per hour?'
  2. customers who want to over-engineer to make the game easier or more controlled

There's a lot more – including some games –  at Caspian's site

The final speaker was Stephen Downes, on a video link from Canada. He was talking about the online course he and George Siemens are running about Connectivism, where his aim is to practise what he preaches – the 'course' isn't a package but a technological scaffold on which the students – 1900 of them – can build their own materials, links, libraries and social networks. The audio wasn't always the best and it was sometimes hard to follow. For a non-techhy audience, I think Stephen spent too much time on the 'how' and not enough on the 'what' and 'why' but he is really breaking new ground, and we can attempt to catch up with him at his site.

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