Ep 051 JD Dillon from Disney to everyday learning with gamification

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JD Dillon is one of the most prolific authors and speakers in workplace learning today. With his practical approach, JD integrates science, technology, storytelling and pure common sense to enable employees, improve performance and drive business results.

For 20 years, JD has executed strategies for global organizations, including The Walt Disney Company, Kaplan, Brambles, and AMC Theatres. He is currently Chief Learning Architect with Axonify, where he partners with an award-winning team to solve business problems for leading organizations through modern learning practices and cutting-edge technology.

He is also the founder of LearnGeek, which provides advising and educational services.

JD is a corporate learning and operations kind of person, at least professionally. For the “downtime before the storm”, he sits to write for most of the day, where he gets most of the work done. However, he travels 50% of his time. A week before this interview he was in Toronto. He was giving multiple presentations, meeting after meeting with headquarters where he travels regularly for face to face.

His FAIL story happened very early in his career within learning and development (L&D). He was doing those typical eLearning “click next to continue”, he didn’t have any previous experience in teaching or education and that was what he knew how to do. What happened was that he came to work one day and 30% of the organization’s people were let go. He didn’t see it coming but worse than that, he didn’t feel that his role in L&D could have helped in any way to keep this from happening. He started to question what was the value of training if they couldn’t prevent this from happening, so he started to think of the way that they were doing things and how it actually related to the business. Most of the things he does nowadays are influenced by this “aha!” moment back then. I invite you to think within this mindset as well, in the sense of what and how to impact in the life of our students and which things we could change coming from this perspective.

The first time he had a glimpse into gamification goes back to when he was working at Disney. The project was the launch of a rebrand of the customer service in the organization. It involved many things, schedules and pressures in general. During this, JD realized that being part of the customer or guest service could mean something very different for each of the roles involved and he was needing to bring this all together. There it became clear that he might be able to harness the power of story, where better than in a place where it is all about the story. They created their own version of a Disney story with villains that were coming to destroy customer story. It was then customized for the different teams so with incremental challenges they would be able to defeat the villain! He was most excited when he saw people actually using things and ideas that came to life within the training, it had certainly impacted the way they were doing their jobs!

JD doesn’t think of his practice within a process but rather a set of sensibilities of the reality of the people he is trying to help. Something that helps a lot is the fact that he actually comes from operations especially in customer service. However, he still spends a significant amount of time in the actual operations of the companies he works with so it can be a lot better to their realities and needs. Otherwise, he feels it is really hard to give recommendations. Something he likes to do is start small but think big. That is, getting a sense of the larger problem and at the same time go for something small that can be tackled and bring you closer to a total or complete solutions, which is where testing and prototyping becomes essential.

A best practice would be not to focus on gamification itself but rather on motivations and reality. This helps to not put blinders on and just look at possible game mechanics either that came to mind or where proposed by a client or person in the organization and opens up the possibilities for much more. JD is not really a big-time game player but he is right now playing a lot of Spider-Man on his brand new PS4! And he has finished his first video game with Spider-Man. He normally plays brain-games (for the fun) and the games of Axonify (where he works as well!)

JD was going to say he wanted to have Karl Kapp on the show but he’s already been a guest! However, he’s happy to ask for him as a repeat guest. So far as books (besides of course Karl Kapp’s) he is going to recommend The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg.

His superpower is common sense. JD is normally able to not allow things to get too complicated, and that’s really important! The random question for this episode goes around the use of gamified apps for language learning and how to apply that in a face to face class of a regular language teacher. JD’s approach is certainly something you wouldn’t expect, so listen to it by pressing the play button above and listening in!

His final advice is to learn from other disciplines to incorporate them into our learning experiences, game design and gamification are certainly some of them, look at regular life as an opportunity to learn that is useful for your practice. Another recommendation is to listen to Professor Game to get ideas as well!

We can find JD on Twitter @JD_Dillon and his website is learngeek.co or Axonify.com. Until next time!


There are many ways to get in touch with us, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


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