A Conversation with Sharon Boller
The other day I had a chance to catch up with my friend Sharon Boller, she and I have conducted a number of workshops together and we both share a passion for games and game-based learning. In fact, we are co-facilitating a live online course for the eLearning Guild called simply, “Game Design.” You can learn about the Game Design Course here.
Sharon is President and Chief Product Officer of Bottom Line Performance.
In our conversation below, we don’t talk about the course we are doing together, instead, I asked Sharon a few questions about her company and what she is doing in terms of new product development and it’s kind of exciting. Here is part of our conversation.
Kapp: Can you tell us a little about your company, Bottom Line Performance. What do you do, how long have you been around and what is your primary product?
Boller: Bottom-Line Performance was founded in 1995 and incorporated in 1998. Until 2012, we were a 100% custom services shop designing large-scale curricula for things such as product launches, onbarding, product training, etc.
We did – and continue to design and develop – a ton of eLearning and blended learning solutions. We also design and develop custom game-based solutions. In 2012, we launched our first commercial product, Knowledge Guru, which is a game-based learning solution designed around the brain science of what it takes to help people build long-term memory: spaced learning, repetition, and feedback.
Kapp: Can you tell me a little more about The Knowledge Guru Product?
Boller: In 2012, we launched our first commercial product, Knowledge Guru, which is a game-based learning solution designed around the brain science of what it takes to help people build long-term memory: spaced learning, repetition, and feedback.
I honestly had experienced so many scenarios where clients would want to teach people product knowledge, industry knowledge, or procedural knowledge….but try to cram this into a single, unrelenting glop of stuff and I wanted to do things a better way. I wanted a learning approach that truly allowed people to play while they learned – and to remember what they learned for the long-term. I also wanted an alternative to an LMS system that could only mark someone’s status with a course as “completed” or “incomplete. ”
I wanted detailed tracking of what people were learning – and weren’t learning. So a team of us at BLP conceived of Knowledge Guru – a game-based approach to helping people build long-term memory by playing a game – and an approach that allows for much more detailed tracking of what learners are accomplishing or not accomplishing.
The “Classic” game is the initial product; we will soon launch a “Quest” edition and have plans for lots of cool, other derivations in 2015 and beyond. The Quest edition will give very precise control over spacing and also allow game authors to incorporate “performance challenges” as well as the knowledge component. All of them, though, will be based on spaced learning, repetition, and feedback – and will leveraged either a game format – or gamification of the learning – to help the learner get the info, build performance proficiency – and retain it long-term.
Kapp: What kind of success have your clients found with this kind of approach to learning? Does it seem strange to them since it is not a typical classroom approach?
Boller: It’s a lot less strange now than it was in 2012. Now more people have heard about “game-based learning” or “gamification of learning” so they come to the conversation expecting to see a game. They still get nervous if the aesthetics are too non-corporate. They worry that people won’t take the learning experience seriously. There’s a little bit of convincing to do in getting them to explore some of Knowledge Guru’s more fantasy-based themes (beaming up cows for space aliens anyone???)
We’ve made it really easy for users to swap between game theme packages to minimize risk to the game author. I tell customers to try the more fantasy-based theme and switch to a corporate one of learners don’t respond well. We don’t hear any stories of people having to switch back to corporate-looking themes. Corporate learners love the playfulness of Guru; the last thing they want to see is another view of an office interior.
Kapp: Interesting, where can someone learn more about The Knowledge Guru solution or even try out a demonstration of the product?
People can request a demo from our website. Once they submit a request, we’ll respond back that day or the next one and set up a live demo. After we give someone a demo, we’ll also set up a 15-day trial for them so they can create a game. Editor’s Note: You can play a demo of the game here.
Kapp: Do you have any advice for my graduate students in Instructional Technology who will be shortly entering the field?
Boller: The biggest piece of advice is to 1) Talk to actual practitioners as much as you can (attending conferences is an awesome opportunity if you can get student rates and school funding to do so). Ask those practitioners about their customers, the solutions they create, etc. and 2) Get an internship inside your targeted industry or environment.
If you want to work in a corporate setting, get an internship inside one. If you want to work for a consulting group, get an internship there. The theory you learn in the classroom is wonderful; but most real-world projects don’t mirror the theories 100%. An internship gives you some practical exposure to this fact.
Kapp: Thanks for taking the time to speak with me. Great stuff.
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