Making a game of task decomposition - just in time for Halloween

An eventful week! Upon considering how to best design the Learning Object for a hypothetical client university, I decided to start by looking at the prospective tasks to be completed in the interface (and beyond). I took this route as I was pondering personae and realised that without tasks, in this particular case it felt like a chicken and egg situation. As a result of this process, I now feel more able to come up with robust personae based on each of the groups identified in my earlier post.

On a related note, yesterday I attended the first ever Brighton Gamification meet-up. The event had a focus on the use of gaming strategies in sports wearable IoT systems. Bearing in mind that my other project is looking at sports wearable devices and the systems they reside in, this could not have been more apropos! For full details of the event, including the list of speakers, see the page.

Key points and observations from the event

Paul Nuki - CEO of StepJockey (a fitness app)

  • Recommended the MINDSPACE project as a resource. MINDSPACE was the result of a research project commissioned by the UK government in 2010. It features pragmatic advice about how to implement gamification strategies. As Paul said, some of the recommendations as part of MINDSPACE, seem obvious but they can be very helpful to use as a check-list when working on any gamified project. Here is a bit more information about MINDSPACE from the gamified UK site. As a side note, a nice feature of the gamified UK site, is that that they include an estimation of how long it will take to read the post (e.g. “1 minutes (ish)” sic). I need to make sure that I include this in my interface design, so that it is clear how long each activity will take.
  • If you haven’t heard of StepJockey before, check out the signs on the stairs in Watts Building at Moulsecoomb campus; someone has already rated our staircase. It is such a good idea!
  • Another point that Paul made is that when it comes to engaging in corporate wellness programmes and fitness initiatives people are often time poor (don’t have time to engage), skills poor (in this instance, not accomplished at a sport, thus climbing stairs, although that can be a sport) or self-conscious. It occurs to me that these same conditions apply to learning about technology and ultimately what is the incentive, as it isn’t like you become more svelte as a result of doing it. One to dwell on.
  • Paul also suggested some good strategies to deal with awarding prizes. Apparently material prizes work best, but all prizes skew behaviours (brilliantly outlined by Daniel Pink (2010) in his book Drive, which I devoured recently). This will be tricky as material prizes are hard to provide in an academic environment, however I think that random or ‘spot prizes’ have a lot of potential and could be awarded based on certain types of engagement with the system and delivered via email.
  • When I have run gamification activities, there is a tendency for a ’top of the class’ factor to emerge. This is when a small group of people, who are highly competitive accrue a large amount of points in a small amount of time leading to the disenfranchisement of other competitors. Paul had some good suggestions to counteract this issue, such as putting these people into their own super leagues (which may not be visible to other users). Also, you can personalise messaging and views of their data, focusing on the positive for users who tend to be less engaged. Furthermore, he suggested rewarding consistency and the idea of making the ’top of the class’ players “champions” to encourage others. Finally, I will take heed of his advice that small teams work better than big ones, so perhaps my plan of having people contribute to their school score is too abstract. What about a by-campus building score instead?

Toby Beresford - CEO of

  • I have used the RISE leaderboard tool recently (see blog post for details) and found it to be very helpful in a situation where you want to define your own metrics and create an enticing leaderboard.
  • I found Toby’s thoughts on the subject of using scoring dashboards particularly insightful. The highlights…
    • Toby’s working definition of dashboards: “Engaging, actionable feedback that triggers timely, behaviour change.”
      • So dashboards can be used to:
        • Learn something new, or
        • Get better at something we already do
    • What is the business objective? This is where Toby made an excellent point: managers measure and players/coaches keep score. How can I emphasize this in the design? It is about self-betterment and group-bettement; not keeping tabs on people.
    • Reward strategies: as Toby said (and this is another thing that I learned from reading Drive), rewards can turn play into work. So micro rewards are the way to go. Also he showed the example of Nike+ app, which unlike other gamification apps has no rewards or badges; I had never noticed this in the years when I was an avid fan of Nike+!
    • Who do I compare myself with? This is a crucial question. I prefer a measure, like a mark, or a grade with clear criteria rather than a straightforward comparison between people. Toby showed a dashboard with a single score and I really like this idea, because I think that it mitigates the possibility of cognitive overload brought on by too may dials/measures/stats.
    • Then most importantly, the distribution channels for the dashboard need to be thought through. If people want to share their scores, how do they do that? If people are doing well or need encouragement how do you stimulate engagement so that they come back to the board, or the activity, with which it is associated? The key is multichannel distribution and getting the balance right.

Hierarchical Task Breakdown: What Fiona did…

I believe in learning from ones mistakes and so I have kept my initial hierarchical task breakdown below. When I first published this post, I declined to notice that the numbering system of the task list below had not worked properly in the saved version. However upon noticing this and attending class last Friday, I also noticed that I hadn’t completed the breakdown correctly and was making this WAY too complicated for myself again! In fact each of the topics listed below would make a good learning object on their lonesome. When I reviewed the user personae that I have created (see a future post) I noticed that the common denominator was that all the users would definitely need to create documents (academic staff, other staff, students, external and even support staff). This helped to re-focus my efforts on the design of a learning object dedicated to creating accessible Word documents. Simple yes, but a nice structured place to start.

————-What I did————–

So bearing all of this in mind, I have come up with a task plan below, starting from a future menu page in the learning object. The main question for those who engage is… “What would you like to learn about first?”. NB. Steps in grey occur outside the Learning Object

Click on a topic to select what to learn about

1. Topic: Organise materials [Plan: 1 first, if 1 complete then 2 to 6 can be selected, if 2 to 6 complete then 7 and 8 unlocked]

1.1 Initiation: Read description. Setting the scene; how it is done already written description with images

1.2 Process: Complete interactive activity. True/False with images…This layout works well! True or False

1.3 Enter challenge word awarded for completing the activity and submit

1.4 Termination: user returned to topic list

2. Topic: Format materials: Word

2.1 Initiation: Read description. Setting the scene; how it is done already [Plan: if user has MS Word then 2.2 – 2.6, if not then 2.2. then 2.6 clue option)

2.2 Process: Watch video for exercise

2.3 Download the Word document

2.4 Open the document in MS Word

2.5 Change the background colour to reveal secret message

2.6 Enter the secret message in textbox and submit

2.7 Termination: user returned to topic list

3. Topic: Educational tools

3.1 Initiation: Read written description of available tools

3.2 Process: Play the EdTech or Dreck game

3.3 Visit the padlet board, follow the link to find the object

3.4 Enter the name of the object in textbox and submit

3.5 Termination: user returned to the topic list

4. Topic: Audio/Visual Materials
[Plan: if access to BOB then 6.1, 6.2, 6.4-6.7, if no access to BOB then 6.1, 6.3 -6.7]

4.1 Initiation: Read written description of major tools

4.2 Process: search for a video on BOB using a specific keyword

4.3 Process: search for a video on YouTube using a specific keyword

4.4 Read instructions

4.5 Confirm that video found

4.6 Enter clue found in video in textbox and submit

4.7 Termination: user returned to topic list

5. Topic: Final game, complete the quote with your object clues.

5.1 Initiation: Show written list of objects collected

5.2 Process: Use visual key to match the word to the gap in the sentence and submit

5.3 User shown congratulatory image for solving puzzle

5.4 Termination: returned to list

6. Topic: Finale: Produce certificate
[Plan: if university user then 8.1, 8.2, 8.5 if external or anonymous user 8.3-8.5]

6.1 Login to university proxy page

6.2 Download aesthetically pleasing university certificate

6.3 Click on completion certificate option

6.4 Download generic certificate

6.5 Termination: well done and credits

7. Topic: Format materials: PowerPoint

7.1 Initiation: Read description. Setting the scene; how it is done already
[Plan: if user has MS Word then 3.2 – 3.6, if not then 3.2. then 3.6 clue option)

7.2 Process: Watch video for exercise

7.3 Download the PowerPoint document

7.4 Open the document in MS PowerPoint

7.5 Change the slide background colour to reveal secret message

7.6 Enter the secret message in textbox and submit

7.7 Termination: user returned to topic list

What Fiona did next…

I went back to the drawing board and created the new hierarchical task breakdown shown below.

Thanks for reading my ramblings and reflections!


Pink, D. H. (2010). Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us. Edinburgh: Canongate Books.

Fiona MacNeill

Fiona MacNeill

Learning Consultant & UX Designer

Passionate about creating inclusive and accessible experiences, tools, and services for learning and doing.