Here you'll find the latest thinking of The Firefly Group on topics such as learning, the use of interactive strategies, group participation, and how to become a continuous learner. We invite you to read and send your comments to directly.

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We Use Games
Whether it's new-hire orientation, strategic planning, leadership development, or performance improvement, we use games, simulations, and other interactive strategies to deliver content, inspire thinking, or make a point. There are lots of reasons to use games. Here are just fifteen excerpted from our standard list of "Twelve Reasons Games are Great for Teaching."

Twelve Reasons Games are Great for Teaching

1. Games are fun. They enhance interest and spark motivation in learners.

2. Games are disarming. People are drawn into the play and begin learning before they have time to let their inhibitions about learning kick in.

3. Games build teams. In the activity of play, people create bonds that extend to the workplace.

4. Games provide practice and feedback. People can rehearse procedures and see the immediate results without serious consequences.

5. Games let people try out different roles. People can experiment with different leadership styles before using them in the workplace.

6. Games are memorable; they enhance retention. Games provide a context for what is being taught that is easy to recall.

7. Games have an emotional impact. When emotions are involved, learning is deeper and has a longer lasting impression.

8. Games fulfill multiple needs. They can be used to assess what people need to learn, solve problems, generate ideas, and evaluate what people have learned.

9. Games make abstract concepts more concrete. They provide an in-the-moment application of the ideas being taught.

10. Games teach decision-making skills. Both individuals and teams learn techniques to evaluate data and make strategic decisions.

11. Games encourage holistic learning. You can use games to transfer information and knowledge, to practice skills, or to change attitudes.

12. Games provoke thought on multiple levels. Games can teach factual information but they can also encourage thinking on the deeper levels of "How?" and "Why?"

13. Games provide reinforcement and reward. People can gain immediate satisfaction and accomplishment in their learning.

14. Games appeal to different learning styles. People who read, write, draw, or learn through movement can find an outlet in games.

15. Serendipity! With a well-designed and well-run game, you always get more than you expected!

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One Hundred Thousand Teachers

My Spanish teacher is leaving! How will I ever find someone to replace him?

Those were my first thoughts when Giovanni, my friend and tutor, announced he was going to take a job in Brazil. Several years ago, I was living in Quito, Ecuador and learning Spanish. Over a period of more than seven months, Giovanni had taught me all the Spanish grammar and we spent several hours every week in both practice conversations and practical use of the language. He was a resourceful and creative teacher but now he was leaving.

My initial concern was that he would be hard to replace and that I would quickly lose the skills I had worked so hard to gain. In addition, what I needed most was practice. Who could I ask to listen to me speak on a regular basis? Could there ever be anyone as patient with my constant mistakes in word choice and pronunciation? The prospects seemed grim.

Then, while riding a crowded bus through stalled traffic one day, I realized something important. I may be losing one Spanish teacher but, living in the largest city in Ecuador, I am surrounded by several hundred thousand Spanish teachers! Everyone here speaks Spanish! All I needed to do was start speaking to the people I meet every day. If I were to make a plan for what I wanted to learn, I could easily try it out with a dozen people. Then, with a little analysis of what I did right or wrong, I could improve my speaking on my own. I wouldn't need a formal teacher telling me what I needed to learn. I could decide that for myself whenever I discovered something I didn't know.

My challenge became putting this idea into practice. For me it was difficult because I am not naturally a talkative person. I tend to listen more than speak. But I surprised myself by what I was able to say in a conversation as well as what I was able to understand. I stretched both my language ability and my personal comfort zone.

So, what's the point? How is this relevant for designers and facilitators of learning? Simply this: if our goal is to improve workplace performance and develop learning organizations, we cannot rely upon classroom training to do it all. We've got to help our participants realize that they can learn from each other. They don't need to wait for the right workshop taught by an expert or the latest version of an on-line course to do their jobs better. The speed of business is fast enough that workers need to fine tune their skills and increase their knowledge on a daily basis. And some of the best teachers they will find are the people they encounter every day: coworkers, managers, administrators, people from other departments, and of course, customers and vendors. All they need to do is make a plan for want they want to learn, try it out, analyze what worked and what didn't work, and try again.

The key is debriefing. Most facilitators have their list of questions to help participants debrief games, simulations and other activities. That's where the real learning happens, right? Why not apply this to the workplace? Let's teach our participants the process of questioning and encourage them to use it to analyze situations on the job. There is something to be learned from every situation if we take the opportunity to analyze it.

My challenge for you, then, is to teach your participants the process of debriefing along with the workshop content. Encourage your trainees to apply debriefing to their daily lives. If you aren't sure how to do this, start with yourself. Stretch the limits of both your knowledge and skill. Go beyond your comfort zone. If you think you know everything, pretend you don't and make a goal to learn something new about what you do every day.

And, of course, if you ever get stuck, frustrated, or confused, there will be at least a dozen (if not a hundred thousand!) people you can ask for help!

-- Brian Remer

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Changing the Tone through Motivation

My daughter, Tilden, is learning to play the clarinet and our house has been filled with squawks, squeaks, and groans for several months now. But, all that noise is not coming from her musical instrument. It's coming from my daughter! You see, she doesn't want to practice. She squawks and squeaks about what she would rather do and my wife and I groan about how we are going to motivate her to put in a little effort.

For my daughter, I'm sure it must be frustrating to make music come out of a clarinet - especially when you are new to it. When I tried, the "blat" that resulted was one of the rudest sounds I'd made in a long time! It takes a considerable amount of practice to even begin to feel competent playing the clarinet. Who would want to do something they don't do well? No wonder Tilden would rather be doing something else.

Another factor affecting Tilden's motivation to practice is her autonomy. The idea to practice is never hers. There is always someone else telling her what, when, and for how long. Other people, her parents, are in control. If she had more autonomy, more opportunity to make her own choices, she could be the responsible person in control.

The third influence on Tilden's motivation is a feeling of safety, and connection to other people. Usually she practices in her room, protecting the rest of the household (and the neighbors) from the worst of the offensive noises. But who wants to sit all by themselves doing something they didn't choose and can't do well? Misery loves company, and so do the rest of us - all of us! We are all social beings and we derive satisfaction from our connections and relationships with others whether we are enjoying the task of the moment or not.

Psychologist Richard Ryan has incorporated these three factors, competence, autonomy, and relatedness, into a theory about motivation. Through his research, Ryan found that when people felt competent at the task, when they were able to make choices about it, and when they had a strong connection to another person, their intrinsic, internal motivation increased. In short, the more competence, autonomy, and relatedness the person felt, the more likely they were to do the activity on their own. Rewards and punishments don't even need to enter the picture.

Experimenting with Ryan's ideas has changed the tone - both literally and figuratively - of Tilden's clarinet practice. As parents we now make a conscious effort to tolerate the squawks and give positive feedback in order to improve her sense of confidence and competence. We create opportunities for her to make choices and experience some autonomy. For example, she might choose to practice twenty minutes today or ten minutes today and ten minutes tomorrow. And we capitalize on the power of relatedness. One of us might sit next to Tilden just listening to the music as she makes it. The result has been much more enjoyable for everyone.

The implications of Ryan's research on motivation are profound. Whether we are parenting a child, supervising staff, or leading a cross-functional team, we can have a bigger effect on the motivation of others by building competence, offering autonomy, and supporting relatedness. In fact, Ryan has found that handing out punishments or offering rewards diminished intrinsic motivation. Though they may seem effective in the short term, punishments and rewards actually hurt motivation over the long term. I can't imagine any punishment - or reward - that would motivate my daughter to become the next great jazz clarinetist. That kind of motivation has to come from within her.

You too can turn squawks and squeaks into beautiful music by focusing on motivation. Just consider: what are the ways you can build competence in the people you supervise or collaborate with? How can you encourage those people to experience a sense of autonomy while accomplishing the many things that have to get done? And how can you do all of this in a way that makes your relationship with them, and their sense of relatedness to each other, stronger?

For more ideas about motivation and its importance in your workplace, The Firefly Group. You'll find that the workshops we lead and the facilitation we do is designed to promote people's competence, offer them opportunities to exercise their autonomy, and maximize relatedness to their colleagues and the goals of your organization.

You can also read a number of articles about the work of Richard Ryan at There you can see the effects of competence, autonomy, relatedness, and motivation on education, organizations, parenting, and heath care.

-- Brian Remer

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