Our mission statement, copyright notice, and cast of characters.

Making the CASE for the Use of Training Games
Remember this easy acronym.

Simulation Game
An exploration of downsizing.

How To Conduct Live E-Learning Training Sessions
Six E-Learning workshops designed and delivered by Thiagi.

Guest Innovator
An Interview with Martin Dougiamas
A short talk with the creator of Moodle.

Online Strategy
Happy New Year!
This month's OQ.





To increase and improve the use of interactive, experiential strategies to improve human performance in an effective, efficient, and enjoyable way.

Editorial Roster

Editor: Sivasailam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Assistant Editors: Raja Thiagarajan and Matt Richter

Associate Editor: Les Lauber

Editorial Advisory Board: David Gouthro, Diane Dormant, Julie England, Kat Koppett, Steve Sugar, and <type your name here>

Copyright Info

The materials in this newsletter are copyright 2004 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc. However, they may be freely reproduced for educational/training activities. There is no need to obtain special permission for such use as long as you do not reproduce more than 100 copies per year. Please include the following statement on all reproductions:

Reprinted from PLAY FOR PERFORMANCE. Copyright © 2004 by Workshops by Thiagi, Inc.

For any other use of the content, please contact us ( for permission.

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Making the CASE for the Use of Training Games

At the beginning of my workshops on training games, I distribute index cards to all participants and ask them to write their concerns about the topic of the workshop. In every workshop, the majority of participants are concerned about resistance to games.

You can go a long way toward reducing resistance by making sure that your training games meet certain criteria and by clearly communicating these criteria to others. Based on the research on factors that increase the acceptance of change, I recommend that you build a CASE for the use of games. The acronym CASE stands for compatibility, adaptability, simplicity, and effectiveness. Here are details of these four factors.


You can reduce the resistance to change by making sure that the new approach is compatible with the values of the group, the cultural values of the users, and the way things are done in the organization. With a training game you have to question its compatibility along these three factors and make suitable modification.

Is the training game compatible with the values of your group? For example, if trainers in your organization value being in control and if your game puts participants in charge, revise the game to return the “power” to the trainer. Begin the game with a briefing by the trainer. Have the trainer select and read the question cards instead of participants at different tables selecting and reading their own cards. Empower the trainer to impose suitable time limits and to judge the accuracy of the answers given by different teams.

Is the training game compatible with the cultural values of its users? For example, if trainers are from a culture that treats learning as a serious activity and if the game is flippant and produces too much laughter, adjust the structure and the language of the game. Stop calling the activity a “game” and refer to it as a “modified Delphi technique”. Make the activity simulate the seriousness of the real world. Encourage participants to reflect on their strategies and reward thoughtful responses that meet stringent standards. Replace artificial scoring systems with expert critiques.

Is the training game compatible with the way things are done in the organization? For example, if the organization traditionally uses lectures as the primary mode of communication, do not attempt to suddenly replace them with participants sharing their experiences and creating their own content. Instead, use interactive lecture techniques where most of the primary content is delivered by the trainer and the participants use game elements to process, analyze, and apply this content.

Remember, this is just a beginning. You may feel righteously indignant that the organization is using inefficient and antiquated methods. Personally, you may prefer freedom, laughter, and active participation. However, this is not about you, but about reducing resistance and getting your game accepted. Once you have introduced the basic procedure in its most non-threatening form, you can gradually work toward reaching your other goals, one step at a time.


You can reduce the resistance to change by making sure that the new approach is adaptable to the local requirements. By flexibly adjusting your game to suit the training content, the participants, and available resources, you can increase the chances of your games being used on a long-term basis.

Can you adapt the game to suit the training content or the performance outcome? You can do this by using framegames, which, as you know, are designed to permit the easy removal of the old content and the insertion of new. In recommending a framegame to others, emphasize that it can easily accommodate any content. In addition, check the flow of the game and its scoring system. Make necessary adjustments to reward the mastery of job-relevant performance outcomes. If the job requires cooperation, do not use a competitive strategy.

Can you adapt the training game to suit different numbers and types of participants? Your game is rigid if it requires a specific number of players at the same initial level of performance. Make your game more adaptable for play by any number from 1 to 200+. Make this modification without altering the basic structure of the game or changing the expected outcomes. Also, adjust the game so it can be played by people at different levels. Organize participants into heterogeneous teams to encourage “experts” to teach “beginners”.

Can you adapt the training game to suit the available time, equipment, facilities, and materials? If your game requires 7 hours to play, a computer for each player, and a large ballroom equipped with an LCD projector, the chances of it being accepted are rather slim. Analyze your game and modify it for play within different periods of time, in a variety of physical settings, using equipment and materials that are easily available.


The KISS principle (Keep It Simple, Stupid) is an important guideline for achieving positive change. You can reduce resistance to change by reducing the complexity of the new approach. By making your activities easy to understand, easy to communicate, and easy to use, you can increase the chances of your game being welcomed by trainers.

Is your training game easy to understand? Most popular games have few simple steps and rules. Game designers keep refining their prototype version not by adding more rules but by removing all superfluous rules and ending up with a lean version. Take a look at your game and critically examine each step, each rule, and each piece of game material. Keep whittling down your game until you reduce it to its simplest form.

Is your training game easy to communicate? After you have reduced your game to its simplest form, practice explaining the rules to a 7-year old. Then describe the key elements of the game in fewer than 50 words. Draw a simple diagram that captures the flow of the game. Use popular games as metaphors for your game. Use all of these devices to prepare a 99-second explanation of your game to potential users.

Is your training game easy to use? If your game is easy to understand and to communicate, it is probably also easy to use. Review your game from the points of view of typical trainers. Modify the game so that trainers don't have to spend a significant amount of time to set it up. Adjust the mechanics of the game to achieve smooth flow without constant supervision and intervention by the trainer. Conduct another review of the game, this time from the point of view of typical players. Make your game player-friendly.


People welcome a change if it effectively achieves important goals. You can increase the chances of acceptance of your game by making sure that it clearly and effectively helps everyone achieve relevant goals in a tangible fashion.

Does your training game effectively achieve goals related to business strategies? Can everyone see the direct relationship between the play of the game and improved job performance? If not, remove external elements from the game to highlight its application to the workplace. Follow up the game with targeted debriefing activities that require participants to plan how to apply their new skills and knowledge back on the job.

Does your training game produce tangible results? Carefully examine the outcomes of the game. Improvements in participants' skills, knowledge, and attitude are good, but a concrete action plan or specific set of strategies that can be implemented immediately are better. Modify your game to add specific take-home products.

Is your training game more effective than other alternatives? If trainers can achieve the same goals through other techniques such as lecture presentations or computer-based lessons, you have a potential problem. Demonstrate that the use of games add value to the process and reduce the cost. You cannot convince people of the value of your game unless you take the time to identify its advantages and measure and demonstrate their value.

In A Word...

We can capture the most critical element of the CASE criteria in a single word: flexibility. To reduce resistance, remember that you must not only play within the rules of your game, but also play with its rules.

Simulation Game


Instructional puzzles can be incorporated into simulation games to act as metaphors for the realities of the workplace. Survivor is a simulation game that uses cryptogram puzzles.


To explore different aspects of teamwork, productivity, inclusiveness, and downsizing.


Six to forty.


30 to 45 minutes.



Form groups. Organize participants into groups of five to seven participants each. Ask members of each group to sit around a table.

Appoint a Game Warden. Select the tallest member of each group to play the role of a “Game Warden”. Explain that the other members of the group will work as a team to solve a series of puzzles, but the “Game Warden” will not participate in this activity. Instead, the Game Warden will ensure that the team members follow the rules of the game.

Explain how to solve the puzzle. Distribute copies of a sample cryptogram puzzle to different teams. Demonstrate how to solve the puzzle by walking the participants through the process.

Begin solving the first puzzle. Distribute a copy of the first puzzle to each team. Ask team members to collaboratively solve the puzzle. Ask the Game Warden to let you know when the team has solved the entire puzzle.

Conclude the puzzle solving activity. After all teams have solved the puzzle or after 3 minutes, blow a whistle to indicate the conclusion of the first round. Announce the correct solution. Identify the team that solved the puzzle first (or the team that solved the most items in the puzzle) and congratulate its members.

Explain the downsizing move. Announce that as a downsizing move, each team has to eliminate one of its members. The winning team is not exempt from the elimination. Ask the Game Warden to distribute pieces of paper to each team member. Ask team members to think back about the contributions of different people during the puzzle-solving activity, secretly write the name of the person who contributed the least, and fold the piece of paper to hide this name. Emphasize that team members should write the name of the person who should be eliminated from the team.

Eliminate a team member. Ask the Game Warden to collect the pieces of paper and place them on the middle of table, exposing the names. The person whose name appears on most pieces of paper is eliminated from the team. In case of a tie, ask the Game Warden to choose one of the tied names to identify the team member to be eliminated. Ask the eliminated team member to stay at the table and observe future activities, without participating in them.

Process the second puzzle. Distribute a copy of the next puzzle to each team. Repeat the process of asking teams to solve the puzzle, concluding the session after 3 minutes, announcing the correct solution, and identifying the winning team.

Eliminate the second player. Ask the Game Wardens to repeat the process of distributing pieces of paper and eliminating the least-contributing member of each team. (The person who was eliminated during the earlier round does not participate in the “voting” process.)

Repeat the activity. Continue with additional puzzles and the elimination of more players, one player per round.

Conduct the final elimination round. When the team is reduced to just two players, announce a modification in the elimination process: During this round, all ex-members of the team (those who have been eliminated during the earlier rounds) participate in the “voting” process.

Congratulate the survivor. Identify the person who did not get eliminated during this round. This person is the winner.


To ensure maximum learning from this activity, conduct a debriefing discussion. Encourage everyone to think back on their experience, come up with insights about teamwork, and share them with each other. Begin by asking the survivors how they feel about their current situation. Follow up with these types of questions:


How To Decode Cryptograms

In a cryptogram, each letter in a message is replaced by another letter of the alphabet. For example,


may become this cryptogram:


In the cryptogram Y replaces L, Z replaces E, F replaces T, and so on. Notice that the same letter substitutions are used throughout this cryptogram: Every E in the sentence is replaced by a Z, and every T is replaced by an F.

Here are some hints for decoding a cryptogram:

Letter Frequency

The most commonly used letters of the English language are e, t, a, i, o, n, s, h, and r. The letters that are most commonly found at the beginning of words are t, a, o, d, and w. The letters that are most commonly found at the end of words are e, s, d, and t.

Word Frequency

One-letter words are either a or I. The most common two-letter words are to, of, in, it, is, as, at, be, we, he, so, on, an, or, do, if, up, by, and my. The most common three-letter words are the, and, are, for, not, but, had, has, was, all, any, one, man, out, you, his, her, and can. The most common four-letter words are that, with, have, this, will, your, from, they, want, been, good, much, some, and very.

Word Endings

The most common word endings are -ed, -ing, -ion, -ist, -ous, -ent, -able, -ment, -tion, -ight, and -ance.

Doubled Letters

The most frequent double-letter combinations are ee, ll, ss, oo, tt, ff, rr, nn, pp, and cc. The double letters that occur most commonly at the end of words are ee, ll, ss, and ff.


A comma is often followed by but, and, or who. It is usually preceded by however. A question often begins with why, how, who, was, did, what, where, or which. Two words that often precede quotation marks are said and says. Two letters that usually follow an apostrophe are t and s.

Sample Cryptogram


--- -- -------------:


------------ ----- -- ------


--------- ---- --- --------.

Cryptogram 1


--- -- --------- --------:


------ ---- --- -----------


-- ------- -------- ------


-- ----_------- --------.

Cryptogram 2


--- -- ------ --------:


------ ---------- --------


---- --------- -------- ----


------- --------- -- -------.

Cryptogram 3


--- -- -------- --- --------:


-------- ------ ------


------ ------- --------


-------- --- --------.

Cryptogram 4


--- -- -------- ----------:


--- -------- ------ -- ------


-- (--- ----- --) ---


---------- -- --- -------.

Cryptogram 5


--- -- ----------


-----------: ---------


------ ----- --


--------- ----.

Cryptogram 6


--- -- ---------: ---------


-------- -- -------- -- ---


-------'- ---- --- ----.


Solutions (for facilitator's eyes only)

Sample Cryptogram

Law of reinforcement: Participants learn to repeat behaviors that are rewarded.

Cryptogram 1

Law of emotional learning: Events that are accompanied by intense emotions result in long-lasting learning.

Cryptogram 2

Law of active learning: Active responding produces more effective learning than passive listening or reading.

Cryptogram 3

Law of practice and feedback: Learners cannot master skills without repeated practice and feedback.

Cryptogram 4

Law of previous experience: New learning should be linked to (and build on) the experience of the learner.

Cryptogram 5

Law of individual differences: Different people learn in different ways.

Cryptogram 6

Law of relevance: Effective learning is relevant to the learner's life and work.


How To Conduct Live E-Learning Training Sessions

Since the early days of live e-learning (also known as virtual classrooms, synchronous learning, or webinars), I have designed and conducted several training sessions. My focus has been on increasing meaningful interactivity in these virtual sessions—just as I have been working on interactive strategies in face-to-face sessions for several decades now. I have used a variety of products from such vendors as PlaceWare, Interwise, Centra, Communicast, WebEx, and Elluminate.

During the past two months, I have embarked on a project to explore interactivity in live e-learning and adapt different face-to-face interactive strategies to this intriguing arena. I have had the good fortune of working with my old Aussie mate Harvey Feldstein and my new New York buddy Jonathan Finkelstein, both of whom provided me with crash courses on the virtual classroom technologies. As a result of this project, I have created a series of six workshops to help new and experienced virtual trainers with improved interactivity that results in increased motivational and instructional impact.

I invite you to join me in this series of workshops.

List Of Workshops

Here are the six workshops included in this the series. You may take one or more of them. We hope that you will take the entire series:

  1. Interactive Lectures combine the control and structure of lectures and the motivation and interaction of game-like activities. Convert passive presentations into interactive experiences. Insert interesting interludes in the middle of your lectures.
  2. Structured Sharing activities preview main points, orient participants, introduce them to one another, form teams, establish ground rules, set goals, reduce initial anxieties, or stimulate self-disclosure.
  3. Interactive Storytelling involves different forms of fictional narratives. After listening to a story that incorporates key concepts, participants take part in a debriefing discussion. They also create, rewrite, narrate, and analyze stories that incorporate principles, procedures, and steps in their plot lines.
  4. Jolts deliver a powerful wake-up call. They force participants to re-examine their assumptions and revise standard procedures. A jolt typically lasts for a few minutes but provides enough insights for a lengthy debriefing.
  5. Textra Activities combine the effective organization of well-written documents with the motivational impact of interactive activities. Participants study content on a website and play games that use peer pressure and peer support to encourage recall and transfer of what they read.
  6. Openers and Closers add powerful beginning and endings to your training sessions. Specifically, openers preview main points, orient participants, introduce them to one another, form teams, establish ground rules, set goals, and reduce initial anxieties. Closers review main points, tie up loose ends, plan application activities, provide feedback, and celebrate successful learning.

Workshop Structure

Here's the training sequence that I am planning to use in each of the workshops:

Orientation. Prior to the session, participants are encouraged to attend a “learn-how-to-learn-online” session to familiarize themselves with the learning environment and the use of relevant live e-learning tools.

Briefing. Facilitator welcomes participants, establishes ground rules, and shares expectations. Also introduces the type of live e-learning technique featured in the session.

Demonstration. Facilitator conducts a live e-learning session on a typical corporate training topic using the selected live e-learning technique. Participants play the role of corporate trainees; facilitator plays the role of corporate trainer. The first part of the demonstration is in real time. Later parts are “fast-forwarded” to highlight key procedures.

Deconstruction. With participants' inputs, facilitator separates the technique (“frame”) from the content. Gives several examples of how the technique can be re-applied to teach a variety of technical and interpersonal topics.

Application Exercise. Facilitator randomly selects a participant, uses her as the subject-matter expert, and applies the technique to this person's content to design a live e-learning session. Other participants follow along, offer comments, and help the facilitator with appropriate questions and suggestions.

Rationale. Facilitator explains the instructional and psychological rationale for the VC format.

Adjustments. Participants suggest gloom-and-doom scenarios with obstacles, constraints, and things that can go wrong when they attempt to apply this technique to their topic. Facilitator suggests suitable modifications and work-arounds.

Follow-up Exercise. Each participant begins working on a personal application for using the technique to teach a personal topic.

Transition. Facilitator explains additional resources available in the follow-up website and invites participants to make full use of this resource.

Follow-Up Website

The follow-up website for each session will be available for 2 weeks. Here are some of the items available in this website:

Archive. The archive of the live e-learning workshop for review.

Job aids. Printable checklists and worksheets to help design a live e-learning session using the technique demonstrated in the session.

Playground. Web-based interactive games to review and reinforce the steps of the live e-learning technique presented in the session.

Lobby. A structured discussion forum that features open questions related to the application and modification of the technique demonstrated in the session.

Design Showcase. Additional samples that show the application of the technique to different training topics and objectives. Some of the samples are designed by the facilitation team. Others are contributed by participants.

Field Reports. Reports from participants (and facilitation team members) on real-world applications of the live e-learning technique.

Additional technique. Detailed instructions for the use of another live e-learning technique that belongs to the same type.

For More Information

We invite you to participate in a free introductory workshop on Thursday, February 5, 2004. The first workshop in the series will be presented on February 19, 2004; subsequent workshops will be scheduled for every other Thursday.

For more information about these workshops, visit .

To register with a special "Friends of Thiagi" 10% discount for Play for Performance subscribers, please visit .

Guest Innovator

This column features interviews with outstanding designers and users of interactive experiential activities. This month's guest innovator is Martin Dougiamas, who is the lead developer of Moodle and the website He's been working on Internet stuff since 1986, and therefore, thinks most people tend to see him as an “Internet guy”. In particular, most of his experience has been in education at a tertiary level. He was Webmaster of a large university and manager of a WebCT system for many years after that. He has postgraduate degrees in Computer Science and Education and, shortly, a Ph.D. entitled “The use of Open Source software to support a social constructionist epistemology of teaching and learning within Internet-based communities of reflective inquiry”.

This interview was conducted by Assistant Editor Matt Richter.

An Interview with Martin Dougiamas

Matt: Martin, who are you, what do you do?

Martin: Ah, the easy first question (!). I'm 34 with postgrad degrees in computer science and education. I've had a few interesting “lives” in the past but it's all led to me being the instigator and now lead developer of the Moodle project.

Matt: What is Moodle?

Martin: It's a course management system: software for enabling teachers to run online courses. It's also a project that brings many people together from around the world to work on improving the software and improving themselves as implementers of online learning in their own local contexts. Moodle University, in a way. :-) Moodle is also a funny word that originally had an acronym. Lastly, Moodle is a time-sucking obsession that my wife has every reason to complain about (but somehow she doesn't :-).

Matt: Martin, how did you get yourself into this?

Martin: I was a system administrator in a large University and for a number of reasons became dissatisfied with the software we had bought for online learning. I was always interested in human communications, but my interactions working with staff around the campus helped me see I could do something to improve how online education was done. I did a few prototypes before settling on the current architecture, and Moodle grew from there.

Matt: One of the things we love about Moodle is it is open source and essentially free. How do you eat? How do you plan to still be in business ten years from now?

Martin: A year ago I was still planning to become an academic somewhere and work on Moodle in my spare time. Now I make the same wage I would have as an academic, but totally through my own efforts in supporting and developing Moodle. My business,, supplies hosting services, support, consulting and also does custom development for people who need new Moodle features. From here I'll continue to hire people and expand the company along the same principles.

Matt: You've talked about Moodle as having “a strong social constructionist pedagogy.” What do you mean by this and why is it a good approach for organizations to take when designing a course management system?

Martin: Well, it's really a simple idea once you're familiar with it, but it can be difficult to absorb if one isn't familiar with this kind of idea. Basically it focuses on activity based learning, on learning-by-constructing-for-others, on shaping experience through software structures, on connecting with others by promoting empathy and understanding. See for more details.

Matt: The other nice thing about Moodle is that it is comparable to or better than the other CMS products out there. How is this possible?

Martin: Well, we try. :-) I think the philosophy behind Moodle combined with the modular programming structure is a big part of this.

Matt: In what industries or fields has Moodle been used?

Martin: When I started I was focused on higher education, because that was what I knew. Since then I've seen Moodle being used in Colleges, High Schools, Primary Schools, and even home schools with one-student classes! It's been used for company training in various fields, and even some religious groups have adopted it as their platform. People use it to publish documentation, and I'm using it to publish my (interactive) Ph.D. thesis. What has surprised me most, however, is the number of independent teachers out there, with no affiliation to any organization, and often with little teaching background, just having a go, getting out there and teaching others what they know. It's fascinating.

Matt: How did you gain acceptance for the use of Moodle and many of the interactive approaches embedded in it?

Martin: Well, I think it speaks directly to teachers familiar with trends in educational theory. I have a paper about constructivism that gets an insane amount of hits, mostly from teachers in training who are writing essays about it. The “courses” on are also a good example of how this stuff actually works.

Matt: What do you think is the most important characteristic of a CMS?

Martin: Simplicity and stability, and something that fits into the existing environment of documents, servers, databases etc. Ideally it should also encourage teachers to create and guide interesting and worthwhile courses.

Matt: How has the Internet and web-based learning changed education?

Martin: It's faster, but deeper. Dialogue online can often get very deep, yet move fast. With a good teacher, learning experiences can be extremely powerful. It's not replacing other forms of education, though, and a good face-to-face session is still a terrific thing. Depending on the field, learning with your hands and eyes and ears is obviously still very important. I see the two being blended appropriately to suit any education setting.

Matt: What do you see as the future of web-based learning?

Martin: Well, the push for standards in content-sharing and learning design is very strong, and I think we'll all see an improvement in interoperability among systems (think of how standards like JPG and HTML simplified the mess we had before that). As the technology for making these tools evolves I think we'll also see an opposite trend where development fragments and proliferates even further. Anybody with a few skills can hack this kind of software and experiment, particularly if it's open source. This is good too—we always need to have people pushing the envelope and breaking out of the mainstream.

Matt: What are some of the things that you dislike about online learning?

Martin: The current focus on learning objects and the general military-flavored approach to learning. Yes, they can be useful, but for some people this approach is all they are interested in. The student might as well be a computer being programmed with data and tested using quizzes. For me resources and quizzes are just two tools in a much larger toolbox available to students and teachers.

Matt: What is your favorite game?

Martin: Well, I like virtual reality games with teamwork. In the past I was heavily into MOOs, MUSHes and MUCKs. More recently I had a bit of an addiction to an Unreal Tournament mod called Tactical Ops. It's a straightforward “realistic” team shooter with chat, but when the teamwork was humming then games could really be fun—I used to play a lot on a Singapore server (I'm in Australia) with people from all over Asia. Nowadays Moodle satisfies all my needs in that area and I hardly play games at all.

Matt: Do you have any book recommendations? Web-site recommendations?

Martin: A few interesting books sitting by my bed at the moment:

Web sites? Phew. +


Online Strategy

Happy New Year!

Here's a challenge to test your creative abilities: Come up with a new year's greeting for a trainer or a facilitator.

Here are a couple of messages that I came up with:

May all your trainees surpass you in their skill levels.

May the feedback at all four levels of evaluation be highly positive.

Not very creative. I am sure that you can come up better greetings than these.

Go to this month's OQ page and record your new year's greetings. Put your name in parentheses after you contribution. Click around to read other people's greetings.