Moe Ash is the Alchemist of Gamification | Episode 339

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Moe Ash is a learning architect dedicated to the notion of designing learning experiences. He holds a BSC degree in Human Resources Management and a minor in Economics from Sadat Academy for Management Sciences, a Master’s degree in International Development from the American University in Cairo. A CIPD-HR associate (level 5), Certified Instructional Designer HRCI, Certified Competency Matrix Developer, Certified Assessment Center Analyst from Middle Earth HR, and a diploma in Community Psychology from the American University in Cairo. A brand ambassador to the Genially authoring tool. Moe is currently looking into acquiring his degree in business psychology aiming to blend gamification and performance management in a tight cohesive mold. Moe is the founder of The Catalyst, an instructional design consultancy focused on the sole purpose of creating impeccable learning experiences.

 

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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)

Rob:
Hey Ian Gagers, and welcome to another interview with the Professor Game podcast. And today we have Mo ash. But Mo, we need to know before we do anything else, are you prepared to engage?

Moe:
Definitely. I’m all in.

Rob:
Let’s do this. We have Mo Ash who is a learning architect and he’s dedicated to the notion of designing learning experiences. He holds a BSc and degree in human resources management and a minor in economics from Sadat University for Management Sciences, master’s degree in international development for the American University in Cairo and he’s also an ACDHR associate level five certified instructional designer, HRCI certified competency Matrix developer, Certified Assessment center analyst for Middle earth HR, and a diploma for community psychology from the American University in Cairo. He’s a brand ambassador to the Geneale authoring tool and he is currently looking into acquiring his degree in business psychology, aiming to blend gamification and performance management in a tight, cohesive mold. He’s a founder of the catalyst and instructional design consultancy focused on the sole purpose of creating impeccable learning experiences.

Rob:
Mo, we’ve said plenty. You have plenty of certifications, but I’m sure we might have missed something. Is there anything you want to add to all?

Moe:
We shouldn’t have even mentioned all of that, but yeah, thank you for that.

Rob:
I’m guessing certifications are very important in your world. So you have plenty of them. You have them. I don’t know if all. You never have all the certifications, right?

Rob:
There’s always the next one.

Moe:
I wanted to do what I wanted to do. I took those certifications. If I knew, I wouldn’t have.

Rob:
Good stuff. Good stuff. So, Mo, before we go into sort of the hard questions, we would like to know, what is it like to be Mo nowadays? What does a regular day with Mo ash look like?

Moe:
Well, since I’m an instructional designer and an owner of my own establishment, if I’m not home reading or studying, then I’m definitely at the office. I’m working as a designer, or I’m actually still working as a trainer as well, for our own programs. So the next four days would be me in class, and then in the afternoon I’m here working on designs for clients.

Rob:
Amazing. Amazing. Good stuff going on with you. So, mo, let’s dive right in. How about we talk about a story of a time where you had what we like to call your favorite failure or first attempt in learning.

Rob:
We want to be there with you. We want to take those lessons away and we want to take some lessons. We want to understand new things.

Moe:
Well, there has been a lot of failures. I wouldn’t say that it’s something that doesn’t happen almost every day. It’s very hard to pick and choose which one should be telling. But one of the things that did resonate with me is that we’re working on a project. We’re trying to gamify something that is related to a cultural program in the United Arab Emirates.

Moe:
And I’m going to say it’s not a failure, but it’s a learning. It’s a huge learning.

Rob:
Good, good.

Moe:
The learning is that you should seriously specify that you’re doing a game, and people really need to understand that it’s a game, not a training, not your usual e learning. And because of that, you’re dealing with a lot of subject matter experts that you need each and every time to explain to them what it is. So the learning here is you need to do a holistic meeting with everyone that is responsible and make sure that they’re all responsible for the project. No new responsible people will be coming up and let them know we’re doing a game. We’re not doing your usual e learning because of that.

Moe:
Every time someone just comes up and you need to re explain the entire thing. Because although we’re at a time with the word gamification and game based learning is pretty well known in a way many people never heard of it, and you need to re educate them each and every time and set the stage for it.

Rob:
Huh. So the big barrier was actually people accepting that what you’re doing is gamification. But did you manage to pull through after explaining 150 times? Just curious.

Moe:
It did. And a project that should have been done in six months. It’s been a year and a half, and we’re not done with it yet.

Rob:
Nice.

Moe:
Yeah.

Rob:
Exciting. Very exciting.

Moe:
So, sounds like a great pain. Yes, it is.

Rob:
I’m sure. I’m sure there’s a lot of wasted resources, especially on both sides, I’m sure. Yes. Let’s actually turn it around. How about we go actually for a success?

Rob:
Something that you are proud of, something you did, you created, and, you know, you actually may talk about some of the factors of that success. I don’t know. We want to. Again, we want to be there in that story with you. We want to dive deep and get into those lessons as well.

Moe:
Okay. On the flip side, there’s this specific project that, I must say, it garnered so much winning reward financially, and a learning and everything was one that happened right before COVID We were approached by the African Union, and we were part of a big developmental program that will be there to engage people that are working in human resources. So the problem is that you have a lot of subject matter experts working. They’re the hire people. And when they’re hiring them, they’re not following CBI, which is competency based interviews, because they’re not aware of it.

Moe:
And it makes the process so daunting. For example, I’m going to be hiring Rob, so Rob can get into the interview. And then usually you should be hearing about you’re passing or not within, what, a month, two, three months? It can actually take up to 18 months, which is a huge problem, because two questions will pop up. Do you actually still need that position?

Moe:
And the second thing, will rob be still interested in that position? So.

Rob:
Indeed, yeah.

Moe:
Imagine waiting a year and a half for a person to let you know you passed and you got the job or not. And we’re not talking about your usual institution here. We’re talking about the entire African Union. So it’s a. It’s a huge issue to the entire system of a continent that involves people that should be working in sensitive areas.

Moe:
So our part was to educate the HR directors, the people that are working with the CDC, with the Committee on Drugs and Crime, with people working in the parliament, people working in justice, so many different professionals about how to pick and choose, making sure that you’re not falling into biases, and also trying to get the best talents for the continent. And what happened is that. The beauty of it, that’s why I’m saying on the flip side is that we went straight to the subject matter expert. They understood the concept of making a game based learning that can help with this and that can really help them do the job, given that we’re giving them also the necessary resources for them to even learn and continue on developing after the program is done. So our first kickoff happened right before COVID We trained around 60 people in a game.

Moe:
That game would take three days straight that we were going through the game. The game was called Le Mans, after the city Le Mans in France. And if anyone’s interested in racing cars, they might know about it. So we simulated the actual race to teach people about how to pick and choose the right talent, how to understand the needed tenants of what human resources is all about. Selection is all about biases, cultural diversity.

Moe:
The best practice in choosing people using competency based interview techniques. And that was before COVID Fast forward. Here we are. We have trained over 250 different employees from ambassadors, ministers, directors, subject matter experts in five different subsidiary entities other than the African Union itself. And we’re still working on the same project with the same tenacity.

Moe:
And it has garnered so much success that it’s becoming a staple, the African Union, that if you do not have that program, if you’re not certified in it, you cannot do the job. And because of it, the hiring process became from 18 to 60 month to now it only takes around from five to six months and people get hired. So that’s huge. That was pretty huge. And it’s possibly one of the best projects that we’ve ever worked on.

Moe:
And it took us months to prepare for it, to do the testing, and here we are.

Rob:
Sounds like a brilliant result for sure. Reducing that time significantly is making a difference in a lot of people, as you were mentioning. So thank you for sharing that experience. Mo, is there, is there anything that you would perhaps say like, oh, this went super well, and this or that was actually one of the factors that helped us get that far, so to speak?

Moe:
Well, the huge factor is that people did believe in what we’ve been trying to approach. They gave us the space, they give us the time. And I think the biggest factor was the novelty of how we delivered this program. They’ve never had a training like the one that we’ve delivered. They never had a design of sort, and everything was practical.

Moe:
So the game based experience that we’ve created made each and every aspect of what they do is practical. And that’s the thing that worked. That’s the thing that helped, because we even went on and we trained some of the people that came out of the program to even cascade the program to others. We did capacity building so they can take it on to others. And it’s the practicality, it’s not just a game.

Moe:
It’s a game that really helped you practice every nook and cranny of the process, and it made it better for them.

Rob:
Good stuff. Good stuff. Thank you for sharing that, mo, and with the experience that you’ve had. We’ve been sort of connected for a while, and until recently, we came for this interview, and I know you’ve been doing stuff for a while. You’ve shared already two of those experiences.

Rob:
I’m sure that when a problem comes up, you do a series of things, right, that you have some sort of process steps. I don’t know however you want to call it. Can you share us how that works? If we were to start tomorrow with you, like, what would be the things that you would be doing?

Moe:
The first thing that I would do is action mapping. I am old school in this. I follow the book by Kathy Moore and map it. We do an action mapping meeting. We set the stage for, specifically, what are the activities that you want people to do?

Moe:
What are the high priority actions that you don’t want this experience to be done with? Unless it’s there, it’s done, and it’s grasped fully with the people. And after you do the process of action mapping, and you set an understanding of what are the activities. This map of activities, this map of certain things that people would do, is how we lay over our process, is how we lay over our games. Because games come in one of two, let’s say extremes.

Moe:
It’s either a game that is completely abstract, highly dependent on numbers and stats and calculations, or you’re going through a game that is absolutely narrative based, completely dependent on a story. Like what a serious game would be, has nothing to do with the calculation. It’s pure literature. Now, the way we see it is that game based learning is something that goes in between both of them. Because with the abstract part, you can still put a strategy, and with the narrative, you can put the purpose, you can put the form of relativeness, and letting people see how their mastery can grow one step at a time.

Moe:
So by doing this, we actually have our own framework. So to say, we have a framework that we call the framework of alchemy, how to turn a learning program into a game based learning program. And we have five main elements that we play on. Yes, we actually have our own framework. We built it over time.

Moe:
Fun fact, I’m actually writing a book about this. It’s called the Alchemist as the Alchemist framework. But it’s. I’m not. I mean, I’m halfway there still.

Moe:
It’s going to take some time, because I need time to write a book. Yeah, this is the first time I say this in a podcast. But yes, I’m halfway going through the book, and hopefully speaking maybe in a year or so, I’ll be taking that book to light. But yeah, the alchemy framework is where we’ve putting. We’re putting five main elements.

Moe:
We have the element of purpose, where we are putting all of the mechanics of epic meaning, avatars, an understanding of a calling, something that you want to do. And we’re setting this as a mechanic that people would get affected by. And we need to match it inside of our system so as to speak. It would reach us to the activities that we’ve been mentioning from the action mapping. We also have another element that is called structure.

Moe:
And here we’re setting init mechanics of strategy, using technology, using a specific process that we need to capitalize on. Also, we have the element of water, and that element is where we’re looking into. What is the progression system that we want to use? What form of curiosity that we want to utilize? How can we set an information cascading theory into this?

Moe:
How can we make sure that people are getting embedded assessments into the game that can help them grow and level up? How can they get proper feedback for it? And then we have the element of air. And in air, we’re looking into autonomy. We’re looking into agency.

Moe:
How. How can we let them work together or work alone? Any forms of social status, any forms of loss aversion. So it’s autonomy with and against autonomy, something that we can utilize to make people feel that they’re urged to take a decision, their urge to take a decision, to learn and to grow in the game itself. Then we have the last element, which is the element of spirit.

Moe:
So the element of spirit is where we’re using. Is this a game that would have mechanics of fun once? Fun always. Should we put them into teams? Is this based on cooperation or competition?

Moe:
Is it competition and collaboration? What kind of mechanic are we using? And the way we put it is that we should be using out of those mechanics, not less than three mechanics from each and every one of those five elements, and no more than five mechanics. We’ve put up a ratio. And you have seven cards, seven mechanics in all of them.

Moe:
It’s like a deck of cards. I wish I could show it to you, but maybe I can send you a couple of pictures of it so you can see what I’m talking about.

Rob:
You can definitely send those pictures, and we’ll put them in the show notes or if you have a document or anything. We can always link on the show notes.

Moe:
And to us is the deck of cards, is how we brainstorm the game, and also how we test if the game works or not. Because if we’re going beyond the ratio, we’re doing something wrong and less than what the ratio is. Again, we’re doing something wrong. So it helps us in testing and prototyping and to make sure that we’re going through this in the most righteous way possible. And the way we’ve worked this out is that we’ve built the entire framework on the self determination theory by Ryan and Deshi.

Moe:
So as to speak, we’re trying to motivate people to continue on the experience, doing what is needed while growing in it and getting to a final purpose that can make them get to the performance that was demanded by the client or by the institution, something that they need to do, and they need to take that decision to do it on their own, not being forced by it. And not that they. They’re pushed to go into an experience. They actually want to do it. They actually want to learn.

Moe:
We’re trying to create an experience that can encapsulate them and help them grow without any judgments, without any. How can I put it? Without any form of. I’m trying to find the right word here, because usually in trainings, you’re pushed into it. You’re.

Moe:
You think that maybe you’re going there to waste some time, but here, people go in because they like it, they want it, and they want to continue on with it. And thank God, over the six years that we’ve been working so far, we never had, and I’m very grateful for this, we never had a negative experience, because people come out of this at least achieving one of the, I’m not going to say sometimes all of them, but one of the high priority actions that were demanded by the experience itself. So, yeah, we use the alchemy. That’s the alchemist framework. We use alchemy for this.

Rob:
So we can almost call you the alchemist of gamification. We’ll look into that, maybe for the title, this episode.

Moe:
As a matter of fact, in the book, the book is built on a story that is where the alchemist supreme creates the framework. So, yeah.

Rob:
No personal references?

Moe:
No, no, no. Not at all.

Rob:
So, mo, if you had, like, again, your experience, you’re writing a book, you have plenty of stuff that you could be saying. Is there something that you could call maybe a best practice, one of those things that you use it in your gamification project, and at least is going to be better than if you didn’t use it before.

Moe:
You mean like a shortcut or something or what exactly?

Rob:
Shortcut. I mean, I don’t want to say silver bullet, because then people will expect, like, oh, do this, and everything goes great. It’s something that actually helps you. Some people would think initially of, oh, use this mechanic, and it always works. We kind of know that’s not the way.

Rob:
But is there something that if you do this, it’s going to be better? If you don’t do this, it’s not going to be a disaster. It’s not going to be as good as it could be. Perhaps again, best practice is the best way.

Moe:
Best practices. Okay.

Rob:
Yeah.

Moe:
If someone never went into gamification before and they want to get into this. And the main issue all the time is ideation. We cannot really teach ideation, Rob. It’s pretty hard to teach people how to get an idea out, but there are ways where you can ideate. There are ways where you can, you know what?

Moe:
Good designers borrow, great designers steal. And it’s okay as long as when you’re done with your design, no one would know that you actually took it from somewhere, and it became a new novel experience that you created and you tested for different purposes. So based on that, most game designers, or learning game designers to say, do one or two things, they either start with a narrative or. Or they either start with mechanics. There’s no right or wrong here, but in learning, it’s better off if you can start off with mechanics that are based on the activities that came from the action mapping.

Moe:
There are mechanics that can help you create a strategy that is innate to the learning process you want people to practice and then lay whatever the story that you see fit that can help people get immersed, get engaged with those mechanics. True that. Sometimes we would start with a story and we see that, you know what? This kind of story is the best. This kind of story offers so much.

Moe:
And I believe stories do help, narratives do help. But to take it into a shortcut, go to BGG, the board game geek. And once you’ve understood that you want people to carry out specific activities, go check out those activities on boardgamegeek. And once you do that, each and every game that you would find that are related to those mechanics on the website, I want you to go and read how do they play it, how it’s being done. And one of the ideation processes or the brainstorming processes is that you can take more than one mechanics from three, four different games and Frankenstein them.

Moe:
Or you can take one core mechanic that you cannot, like, substitute or dispense in any way and amplify it and find a game that highlights it and see how you can dial it up. That’s another way. The third way is that sometimes you can take an actual story from life and see how you can simulate it to make it fit for the problem or the learning problem that you’re going through. For example, there was a game, I’m not gonna say that I created this game, but I helped in later on, developing it further for a strategic level. It was built on a team of project managers that failed in a company.

Moe:
And now you guys are the new project managers that will come and change everything about this company. So the entire game was actually built on the mechanic. That is called valuable failure experience. Every time they do something, there is something that is missing. They learn.

Moe:
We give them the process, which, for example, could be work breakdown, structure and project management. And then they take it up to do the next phase. And then the third phase is an accumulation of what happened in phase one and two, and then phase four and five. And the game is basically run over five phases. The game is so good because at each and every phase, they’re practicing core activities, which later became core mechanics of the game.

Moe:
It has nothing to do with anything that you can find a board game geek. It’s a complete simulation to what happens in real life. It’s a business board game simulation. So, as I said, you can start with mechanic and then theme or narrative? You can start with a theme, and from that theme, it can present to you the mechanics.

Moe:
You can go to board game geek and then find mechanics where you can mash them up, Frankenstein them, or you can get one mechanic and build the entire game on it. Like maybe worker placement, maybe it’s card elimination. It could be turns, it could be dexterity. Come with me. And then the last but not least is that you can find a story from real life business processes and build a game around it and find what could be a loss here and make that the loss average aspect, what could be a winning here and make that the final purpose and the final reward that people should go to see how the process goes up from one point to the other, and that will be your progression system and so on.

Rob:
Amazing. Thank you very much for that. Extensive, best short practice, we may say. In that case, thank you for that. And moving.

Rob:
You’ve now heard, you know, plenty of the questions. You kind of have the vibe of the podcast. When you were answering the questions, did somebody come to your mind or now that I’m asking this, if I say, who would you like answering these questions in the future? Is there a future guest? Somebody would like to listen to their answers to these questions?

Rob:
That makes you curious?

Moe:
Carl, all the way. Carl Klopp.

Rob:
Karl Kapp. Definitely past guest for sure. He was absolutely fantastic. Definitely a very good choice.

Moe:
And Roman as well?

Rob:
Roman Rakwitz. Yeah, yeah, for sure. Two fantastic past guests, definitely. If you had to recommend a book to the engagers, this audience of people who are interested in using gamification, what book would it be and why?

Moe:
I have so many books that I would recommend, honestly, I would say, can I say more than one book, because it’s never one book in this.

Rob:
Okay, let’s go for. Let’s go for two.

Moe:
Let’s go for two. Okay, two books on gamification. I would say actionable gamification by Yukai Chao. That’s definite. And learn to play by Sharon Bowler and Carl Kao.

Rob:
Very good ones for sure. Love those books in every possible way. Moving. If we were to ask you now, what is your superpower in gamification? That thing that you do, at least better than most other people, is that.

Moe:
I don’t call myself a gamification expert. And I don’t think the thing that got me into gamification was gamification. I was never that. The avid gamer. I believe gamification, Rob, is the system engineering.

Moe:
So I think the superpower is never to look at it as a game. Look at it as a system. Input, output. Artificial conflict. There’s input.

Moe:
There’s an artificial conflict, and there’s an output. Input by the players. Output. That’s the outcome, the final learning objective. And in the middle, you need to create the artificial conflict.

Moe:
So what we do is creating conflict. How can you create it? You need to understand more about system engineering. So the way I like to see it, my superpower, is that I love systems, and I like to dabble my way into systems.

Rob:
Absolutely brilliant. Love it. Mo, if we were to ask you this very difficult question, and this time there’s no cheating, there’s no two answers, okay. What would you say is your favorite game? What would you go for?

Moe:
Well, I am a big board game lover, so that it fell hard to pick one. You know what I would say there is one game that I love to play because I. I’m a sore loser sometimes, and I like to win every time when I’m playing it. Yeah, that’s a confession. That game would be splendor with all the variations.

Rob:
Can you repeat the name? I didn’t catch it.

Moe:
Splendor. It’s a board game.

Rob:
Splendor. All right.

Moe:
It’s a game that is built on systems thinking. I love it. I love it for the beauty and the simplicity of a system.

Rob:
Hmm. That’s a good one. I think. I haven’t played it. Doesn’t ring any bells, so I’ll probably be looking into that in the future.

Rob:
Running out of time. So before we let you go and do continue doing your stuff, you’re saying you’re just arriving to the office right now? You almost didn’t make it to the office as well. Before the call. We want to let you do your stuff.

Rob:
But before we do that, anything else you want to say, any final words, any piece of advice, anything you want to go for, and of course, let us know where we can find out more about you, about the maybe, hopefully the upcoming book and your work and anything, anywhere you want to send us for sure.

Moe:
Okay. My advice is that I am not a person, that is the gamification expert. I work in the field of learning and development. So if you’re a person that wants to go into gamification, of learning, please, please, please learn first about instructional design before you get into gamification. Otherwise, it would be pretty hard for you because you need to understand the system before you understand how to make the system better using gamification.

Moe:
And if anyone wants to know more about what I do, well, obviously I’m very reachable on LinkedIn. Just reach out to me. And I do have a newsletter that just came up two weeks ago. It’s called Eureka and our website is the catalyst experience. And if the book came, came out, by all means possible, it would.

Moe:
It would.

Rob:
What do you mean if? What do you mean? If you’re on the process, you’re gonna have a book? Come on, mo, let’s go for it.

Moe:
The framework took almost three years and a half for it to be done, and the book idea, it’s been in the making for like two years. So yeah, I’m taking my sweet, sweet time in it. But if it came out, when it comes out, when it comes out, it will come out through the website and it will definitely come out through the newsletter.

Rob:
That would be definitely the place to find out more about you and about your upcoming, upcoming book. Upcoming, upcoming. Maybe it’s in the next couple years, three years, four years, five years, who knows? We don’t know. We’re talking in 2024.

Rob:
Audience if you are listening to this in 2030, hopefully you’ll be able to pick up that book for sure. Hopefully before that as well. So, mo, thank you very much for coming to the office almost just for this interview. Hopefully you’ll get some productive time today in there as well. For all the insights that you’ve shared with the engagers, your experience, your ups, your downs.

Rob:
However, engagers. However, Mo, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Engagers, thank you for listening to the Professor Game podcast and if you want more interviews with incredible guests, please go to professorgame.com subscribe and get started on our email list for free. We’ll be in contact you’ll be the first to know of any of our opportunities that arise or that are already existing, and we will have them available just for you. Please remember before you go on to your next mission, before you click continue, remember to follow or subscribe whatever that looks like on your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of professor game.

Rob:
See you there.

End of transcription

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