Leaders in HPT – IDT 830 Assignment

Introduction

When tasked with this assignment I was tempted to simply go with Bloom, Gagne, Kirkpatrick, Mager or Skinner. Each of these people I am already quite familiar with but haven’t necessarily taken a deep dive into their work, most likely because I feel their work is brought up all of the time in the IDT realm. While I don’t mind Top 40 music, I’m normally more of an indie music kind of guy and I feel this assignment was an excellent opportunity for me to find some new artists that are worthy of a listen, rather than going back to the greatest hits.

I did not choose my two leaders randomly though; I specifically went out looking for anyone in this list that mentioned gaming. Thankfully there was one, Sivasaliam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan. The other leader was a bit more difficult to choose as I do have interest in several other elements of IDT/HPT. One thing that stood out to me in Table 1.2 of the text (Van Tiem, D., 2012) was an often-used buzzword that I think I have been mentally ignoring any time I’ve seen it for the past few years, Systems Thinking. But in the list of leaders there it was and for whatever reason I wanted to know exactly what systems thinking is all about and thus my second choice in leader is none other than Peter Senge.

Sivasaliam (Thiagi) Thiagarajan

Thiagi is what Dr. Thiagarajan goes by and due to spelling and time restraints I’m going to go with that too. According to Thiagi’s website (“Our Team—Thiagi,” n.d.) he started his research in earnest in 1976 and his publication history backs that up. An author search on Web of Science revealed that Thiagi has published twenty-three peer reviewed articles, two book reviews, and received an editorial credit. Additionally, his website provides links to twenty books that he has authored or co-authored on. Lastly, what those numbers fail to include was his long tenure as President of the International Society for Performance Improvement which spanned 27 years.

Thiagi’s academic work is largely focused on games and playfulness within instructional settings. Specifically, the use of games and game design to enhance person-to-person interaction and to leverage fun as a performance intervention. A number of his books and articles center around a key concept called “Frame Games’. If you aren’t familiar with the term frame games don’t worry because you certainly have experience with it. Thiagarajan & Stolovitch, (1979) gives the following examples; A grade-school teacher proudly demonstrates innumerable variations of Bingo games designed to teach addition facts, matching of words with pictures, initial consonants, and the like; a social studies teacher uses a Monopoly-like game to teach the process through which a legislative bill becomes a law or about life in communist countries. The basic premise here is for designers to take an already existing game; it’s content and structure, and reframe it into a new educational context while leveraging the game’s already existing structure. Thiagi uses this concept in a number of writings even to this day, as it can still be found being discussed on Thiagi’s monthly GameBlog.

I’m happy I chose to research Thiagi because in some ways this concept of ‘frame games’ is one that continues to both help and hinder games’ use in educational contexts. In my personal experience if I bring up using a game at work, the first thing people jump to is something like Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit. This phenomenon is discussed thoroughly throughout James Paul Gee’s (Gee, 2013) work as an example of the use of game’s going wrong. Ironically, Thiagi in his original article (Thiagarajan & Stolovitch, 1979) identified this as a specific limitation to the use of games. He’s got this very beautiful quote at the end of the piece when he’s discussing the use of the game ‘slap-jack’ in settings that vary from Kindergarten students’ learning shapes and color recognition to the crews of a nuclear submarine learning to discriminate sonar-blips; “There is nothing more damaging to an innovation than looking for suitable problems to apply it to, and nothing more disillusioning than the rigid appreciation of a flexible tool.” I’ve found this to a somewhat unfortunate lasting impression that perhaps Thiagi’s work has perpetuated even to this day.

In my experience, out in the marketplace instructional designers are in the position of constantly having to prove their worth in an organization, to show a solid line between instructional intervention and profit or revenue. When games are brought up there is an inherent lack of seriousness associated with it, and to some extent I think you can see why that could be derived out of Thiagi’s work. Frame games are educational games that are games reshaped from games like Rummy and Monopoly, but the initial goal of Rummy and Monopoly is fun and entertainment not education or training. Even today I can see my business partners thinking CandyCrush as soon as I bring up making a game in the boardroom. You can see in the gaming literature that designers have attempted to distance themselves from this concept, you’d be hard pressed to read an article about gaming without the term ‘serious gaming or games’ being used. And what are serious games? Connolly, Boyle, MacArthur, Hainey, & Boyle (2012) in their systematic literature review of serious games defines them as games that have been developed for the broader purposes of training and behavior change in business, industry, marketing, healthcare and government NGOs as well as in education. I think this is an overreaction, and in both cases (frame games and serious games) we are missing the actual point a bit here. (Alexiou & Schippers, 2018) in their conceptual framework discuss that games’ aesthetics, narrative elements, and game mechanics are the true driving reason behind a game’s success regardless of context. I think this explanation gets to the root of why games are effective in instructional settings, it’s not because they are inherently fun, but it is because they are naturally engaging regardless of context. As you might be able to tell I could talk about this all day, but I have a word count we are trying to hit here and I’ve got another person to write about.

Peter Senge

Peter Senge is a repeated underachiever. This statement is true only if you’re looking into his history of playing professional basketball, of which there is none. What there is to be found about Peter Senge is his clear impact in organizational management and the development of a concept known as the Learning Organization.

An author search on Web of Science revealed that Senge has published seventeen peer reviewed articles, one book review, and received four editorial credits. But to only look at his academic work would be folly. Peter Senge is most notably known for his book, The Fifth Discipline which is a New York Times best seller and was recognized by the Harvard Business Review as “one of the seminal management books of the last 75 years.” (“Peter M. Senge,” n.d.) The book is a continuation of his academic research with a bent towards very practical application. The two central concepts that Senge introduces in the work are; Learning Organizations and Systems Thinking.

According to Senge a Learning Organization is “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together” (“Peter Senge and the learning organization | infed.org,” n.d.). Senge’s basic concept is that in order for organizations to improve, perform, and change you cannot rely on a single visionary at the top. More rather you need to establish an environment that allows free thought so that collectively you can push towards a shared vision. The thing that separates Senge from other business and social platitude makers, is his pragmatic approach; it’s a departure from systematic mechanical leadership made popular in the 1930’s and 40’s when scientific management was started and too away from the transactional management styles made popular by the advent of computer modelling and efficiency experts. Senge’s five principles are akin more to a craftsman level workmanship.

The critical practices he calls for in any Learning Organization include; Personal Mastery; Mental Models; Shared Vision; Team Learning; and Systems Thinking. I’m not going to take a huge dive into each of these, he’s done a very good job of that already in the book itself. What I will say is that you can tell the focus of any Learning Organization is largely internal. Personal Mastery, is mastery of one’s self, an eternal process of personal improvement not for the benefit of the company or organization but for the self, not in a selfish well but in a self-less way, really more of an admission that you’ll never truly arrive at mastery; there is always something one can be learning. Mental Models paraphrased greatly is another form of empathy which leads immediately into forging a Shared Vision with other individuals whom are too on this path of continued self-improvement. So, in these first few steps we see the continual growth of the self to now expand into the potential thinking of others, and once you are beginning to think not just in terms of personal gain you can think how others would feel about things and begin to learn as a team. Once the team is learning, both adapting to realities and generating new ones, the team can then think beyond the organization, beyond the next quarter, and beyond the immediate impacts of their day to day actions. This gives the power to effect change in both the individual and the whole. Which is where we come to in Systems Thinking, where the individual and whole’s goals are in unison towards a shared collective vision of the future both inside and outside of the organization. I work in industry and I relate heavily with Senge’s call to action.

References

Alexiou, A., & Schippers, M. C. (2018). Digital game elements, user experience and learning: A conceptual framework. Education and Information Technologies, 23(6), 2545–2567. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10639-018-9730-6

Connolly, T. M., Boyle, E. A., MacArthur, E., Hainey, T., & Boyle, J. M. (2012). A systematic literature review of empirical evidence on computer games and serious games. Computers & Education, 59(2), 661–686. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.compedu.2012.03.004

Gee, J. (2013). Good video games good learning collected essays on video games, learning and literacy (Second ed., New literacies and digital epistemologies ; v. 67).

Our Team—Thiagi. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2019, from The Thiagi Group website: http://www.thiagi.com/about-1

Peter M. Senge. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2019, from MIT Sloan website: https://mitsloan.mit.edu/faculty/directory/peter-m-senge

Peter Senge and the learning organization | infed.org. (n.d.). Retrieved September 24, 2019, from http://infed.org/mobi/peter-senge-and-the-learning-organization/

Thiagarajan, S., & Stolovitch, H. D. (1979). Frame Games: An Evaluation. Simulation & Games, 10(3), 287–312. https://doi.org/10.1177/104687817901000305

Van Tiem, D. (2012). Fundamentals of Performance Improvement [e-book] A Guide to Improving People, Process, and Performance.

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