May 17th, 2024 by matthias
middle-aged bald man with glasses and a hoodie sitting on step chair
The game master will see you now

Long time (ago) readers would know that I’m mostly sharing my perspectives on career skills and digital innovation on these pages. Some will remember that I am also an avid player of table top role-playing games. Last year, I published a guest post on the fabulous Continuing Mission, the fan website for the official Star Trek Adventures role-playing game by the UK games maker Modiphius. In short – if I could make role-playing my day job, I probably would. In the meantime, it’s my mission to convince people that role-playing develops career skills.

Enter the new normal

During the pandemic, the hobby experienced its second boost in less than a decade. The first one was when Stranger Things popularised Dungeons & Dragons in 2016. The second came when role-playing (like everything else) moved online during the pandemic.

A lot has been written about the isolation people experienced during the lock-downs. I must admit that I never really felt that way. Suddenly, I could spend more time with my (in most cases) far away friends exploring strange new worlds online than I had in years before. I used to play every few weeks when either my players or I often made a considerable trip to get together around a physical table to play. Trips in and around London can be two hours one way for a few hours on a Sunday afternoon. To reach my German players – with whom I have played for decades – I would normally have to get on a plane.

Now, everything was open. I sent around a note in the first week of lock-down asking who would have time to play online over the next few weekends. I received a note from my pool of one and a half dozen players that they could play every weekend for the foreseeable future. So I went to work, running game after game, week after week. I felt like a production company: draft notes, run game, write up notes, rinse and repeat.

Role-playing saves lives!

At first, things were rough and ready. I had never played online that much before, and it was like relearning to play. So many things that worked at a table didn’t work online. People needed breaks – but what people clearly needed was community. Talking about it now in hindsight, I know that online role-playing throughout the pandemic has given me so much emotional support. So we stuck with the habit and still play regularly online. I get to talk to my far away friends about once a week, sometimes twice. I live now even further away from them, but I feel closer to them than I have for many years. It kept my friendships alive and gave me meaning. I have spoken to friends about this, and many feel the same.

Teachable moments

What are the takeaways here? As ever so often in my life, I learnt the skills I needed by playing. I wouldn’t have made the jump into remote work and Ed Tech had I not developed my interpersonal skills online. During career workshops for students and budding entrepreneurs I use the same presenting and storytelling techniques as in my games. I connected with academics who use genre-based play to teach sustainable development goals and enterprise skills. I ran a storytelling game at a virtual retreat for an Ed Tech start-up I work with.

Role-playing helps me tell stories about themes that matter to clients, customers, colleagues … people. Game mastering makes me a better moderator. Role-playing fosters empathy. It flows into the design thinking exercises I run with stakeholders to develop new solutions to problems they encounter.

I am the travelling game master!

If you want to have a taster of how role-playing develops career skills, why not join me at the UK Games Expo in Birmingham from May 31st to 2nd June? I’ll be running a set of sessions using the upcoming edition of the Star Trek Adventures rules. There is no need to prepare, just join in and learn about yourself while exploring strange new worlds, seek out new life, and … you know the drill.

Posted in Role-playing games Tagged with: , ,

May 23rd, 2014 by matthias

Last week I had the privilege to spend a whole day learning about MOOCs. Proversity had invited a number of heavyweights in the field – and little old moi – to discuss their proposition of using MOOC style delivery to support corporate onboarding (and recruitment) processes. They had secured the lively and quirky Google Campus, and set up a day of presentations and breakout sessions. Here’s the stuff I picked up (broken up in bite-sized chunks):

Laura Overton (@towardsmaturity) started with a great overview on her research of MOOC usage in the corporate learning world. The general usage of technology by learning & development providers is often failing many learners – and what sets the successful organisations apart is not the technology itself, but their attitude towards learning in their businesses.  Corporate learners react well to that by changing behaviours more quickly and more consistently. Overton postulated that a new learning agenda is needed, that allows corporates to react faster – driven by learners and their learning styles rather than an organisational agenda.

MOOCs in the meantime are transforming higher education [take note, HE sector!] – not necessarily a sector known for reacting quickly to student learning styles … or anything for that matter, really. Low completion rates (c.10%) are the norm for MOOCs – I would personally think that this is just a matter of time until someone finds a way to increase that enough for the model to become more stable; at which point universities will their industry-wide interruptive moment on their hands. Again – what do learners say (the question for HE in my view)? 88% want to learn at their own pace – not something that finds its way into academic calendars. However Overton thinks that the  academic world can really support the corporate world through MOOCs. Let’s hope we collectively wake up in time.

Her final point was that there is an overlap of good MOOC design with corporate learning. Most MOOC learners are engaging from the workplace, and thus the curriculum needs to reflect the demands of the workplace. Overton’s key lessons included:

  1. Create a framework: 75% learners are happy to engage online, but 1/3 don’t find what they need –  good design needs a good flow with clear instructions [take note, VLE designers]
  2. Design great learning: 45% of learners complain about uninspiring content – so the recommendation is to use multiple media, not just the lecturer. Also, the length of the programme is often a problem; shorter programmes have higher completion rates [do you see where this is going?].
  3. Support peer cooperation: staff willing to use technology like sharing what they are learning online – good MOOC design requires sharing tools, albeit this is often not encouraged enough in corporate learning and development.
  4. Assess effectively: staff want recognition for their online learning – only one in five L&D departments consider this.
  5. Scale up: MOOCs remove barriers, using cloud learning management systems.

Overton closed with the comment that the MOOC is not a new hype – its concepts and names may change, but good learning practice will prevail. Read up on her work at

End of part one

Posted in Education & Employability, Work life Tagged with: , , , , ,

December 30th, 2013 by matthias

This blog started out as ‘What I’ve learnt recently … in one short paragraph’. What I tried to achieve was finding my voice on a number of issues that interest me: (higher) education (policy), the impact of technology on (work) life, work ethics and my personal opinions on these topics – but always from the perspective of what I had learnt from the experience, and not with too much effort. Call it an exercise in reflection, or an oversharing of my thoughts, 2013 was really the year I got into blogging a lot more. This is not my only blog – I run one on my personal life as a German in a small town in the UK (yeah, I’m one of those pesky EU citizens who came here taking your jobs…), and one about my decades long commitment to sci-fi role playing games (yeah, so I’m a nerd).

The themes and respective blog posts that came up this year repeatedly were indeed my experience being a foreigner – oh wait, a committed European citizen living and contributing to the UK society and economy. The recent media rhetoric about (the wrong kind of) EU citizens on this  rankled with me on a number fronts – and I summed this up in my blog post about the gift of migration. What I learnt though was a bitter lesson – that in the current climate an anti-immigration argument will always win over an economic benefit in public opinion, and the benefits that international students bring to the country are no exception.

The other sad lesson I learnt this year is that there seems to be an endless well of pessimism towards ‘young people’ in general in the UK. This manifested itself in multiple forms, wherever I turned: I learnt about this when I volunteered at a local careers fair, when I commented on articles about careers advice in schools, and when I gathered the response to the OECD skills study published this year.

I know all this sounds rather pessimistic – however in the deepest time of sadness came a glimmer of hope: I was about to embark on my biggest and most painful personal lesson this year, when I was on my way to say goodbye for the last time to one of my oldest friends – it was one of those young people who showed me that this generation is not lost; they are just in need of the occasional help and advice, but they are perfectly able to find their way – which requires them to have professional careers advice. And this lead me to re-confirm my professional commitment to doing just that: helping others fulfil their potential, which I think lies at the heart of any careers and employability related work. And that’s not necessarily always about raising standards, expectations, or competitiveness – it’s often more about a realistic self-assessment and going for what young people want, not what they should want.

And I have seen many examples of good practice, both observing and speaking at a number of events, ranging from life science careers, the Gradcore 2013 conference, to the PlaceNet 13 conference.

What will 2014 bring? For me (and pretty much the rest of our economy), it will be all about learning to interpret and understand data. That’s my prediction – and I’m looking forward to seeing whether I will look back on my pursuit of this agenda in a year’s time.

Posted in Commentary, Education & Employability, Work life Tagged with: , , , ,

December 18th, 2013 by matthias

There’s an interesting article (and discussion) in the Guardian by Gavan Nadan, titled Should I persuade my son to study a serious subject at university?

To which I say Yikes! Probably double Yikes! Why? See my answer below – I’ve just posted this on the comments underneath the article:

The best piece of careers advice I ever got was ‘study what interests you, not what you (or your parents) think will give you a job a number of years later’.

Firstly, you will never be good at something you don’t care about. And if just you’re good at something when you’re 16, that doesn’t mean you’ll satisfied with it for the long time you’ll be in your professional life. I’ve seen this in my professional practice, with graduates coming back crying – thinking they were failures, after having aced all exams and gotten into the ‘right’ industry (mostly finance), but breaking down after a year out when confronted with the realities of having to do something for long hours every day that they were just not ‘built’ for.

Secondly, employment markets change really fast – and what is seen as ‘hot’ when signing up for a course, may be a disaster zone just three years later. This is precipitated by changes in technology, which enables companies to outsource and offshore first, and automate later. Yes, this affects even classic identifyable professions like e.g. law.

But just going back to what counts as interesting, and then ignoring the world around us isn’t the alternative we should be speaking about. I studied something that was deemed to make me unemployable for the rest of my life – but I spent my time during university working fairly systematically on my general employability skills (just in order to deal with the spectre of unemployment at the end), and I worked, worked and worked in a huge variety of sectors and roles to gain as much experience as I could. These skills helped me get my first ‘real’ job (while trying to help my friends who studied a ‘real’ subject and were unemployed for long stretches), while the knowledge I gained during my studies gives me the edge now when trying to understand the complex world of work around me.

In short – every subject in university can become serious, if you make it so.

PS: Needless to say, I’ve blogged about this topic before.

And I close with another Yikes! Just because this really hit a nerve with me.


Posted in Education & Employability Tagged with: , , , , , ,

October 9th, 2013 by matthias

… is causing quite a stir. I’m currently just taking in the news as it’s coming in. If you want a summary on the coverage as I’m reading it, you can follow my bundle on it, where I add the stories and write a comment or two.

The best article so far is in my humble opinion the one by Stefan Collini, who puts a sociological perspective to it, far from the sensationalist ‘told you so’ by what I perceive as the conservative press.

There’s more to come, and I’ll withhold judgement until I’ve got more info.

Click here for the coverage (this link will get updated over the next few days, so please come again).

Posted in Education & Employability Tagged with: , ,

June 3rd, 2013 by matthias

When I recently had a chat with a (German) 15 year old, he complained that the IT instruction at school was woefully outdated – all they learnt was Java programming. How’s that going to be useful, he asked? I nodded politely, and tried not to look outdated too myself. One of the most regular statements I hear about graduates, and ‘young people’ in general, is that they don’t have the most basic professional skills – or pretty much any skills at all. Following the stereotype, they are all constantly late (if they show up at all), half-literate due to using text speak, facebooking their future away by posting insensitive comments or inappropriate selfies. Somehow their Java programming skills must disappear into the same black hole my Latin did. Now, whoever reads this blog will know that I have a much more positive view of ‘young people’ than that – and it’s backed up by the CIPD’s excellent research on the topic. Let’s take attitude aside – of course they have skills gaps (it’s probably more about app programming than Java). It’s their job to have skills gaps. The pursuit of knowledge and skill is nurtured by recognizing these, and addressing them. Not via rote learning, Michael Gove style though. I’ve always reacted very badly to this approach (here you call it ‘Victorian’, where I grew up it’s the ‘Nuremberg Funnel’), and can understand any teenager well (and let’s face it, our first years in higher education are teenagers), who tries to subvert it by playing the system, or pushing back. But again – this is not about attitude. So back to skills and knowledge: @vonprond wrote previously in his excellent blog about the fact that you need a critical mass of knowledge in order to understand a topic, and make meaningful judgements about it. I agree, but I want to make clear that classic knowledge (and I consider being proficient in at least one other language than your own one of them) doesn’t have to be taught in a classic way (see above). In learning, as in life in general IMHO, form should always follow function: the how you do something should always be governed by the what you do. Literacy for example is a lot more than just reading and writing on paper – it encapsulates the ability to produce and interpret content; and let’s face it, this will mostly be digital now. To bring it back to ‘young people’ as mentioned above: their natural medium is to use their thumbs and a keyboard to bring their ideas to the fore – let’s not limit them by making them do something they rarely will ever have to do in the workplace (like hand-writing on paper), but help them learning how to produce good content. It might not turn text speak to poetry, but it might help ensure that what is written is understandable and effective. ‘Getting the basics right’ doesn’t mean taking their tools away, and then lambasting them for failing – I think it’s more about ‘us’ (the not so young people collectively) having a gap of understanding of what counts in the future workplace (often combined with a healthy fear of technology). The texting youths we complain about are our (future) customers, they will run the place (and miraculously to the same standard as we do now), and they will also be our carers – so let’s make sure we help them understand our world, and learn with them how it is shaped by technology. And finally, let me just bust a couple of myths about attitude and professional behaviours: people in the workplace now are late for meetings (if they show up – it’s academia, you can never be sure), typos abound in emails (handwritten notes are illegible), and they play with their smart phones in meetings. But overall, we’re still doing a decent job, don’t we?


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