Enjoy John's free articles, which promise practical insights and brain-tickling intrigue. Use the links to jump to the start of each article.

The Meaning of Life is to Learn


One of humanity's greatest unsolved mysteries is the meaning of life. Typically, the answer to this question is treated as elusive and undefined. I do not believe the answer is out of reach. In fact, I feel that I have come to a clear conclusion on the purpose for which we exist.

The meaning of life is to learn.

By learn, I do not mean to become smarter, study facts, and earn degrees as in school, or merely to change over time. Rather, I like to think of everyone as having a purpose to fulfill in life. Often, we do not know exactly what that purpose is. Further, it doesn't have to be a single thing. There may be many things for each of us to learn in a lifetime.

Thus, the discovery of meaning in your life requires you to reflect on what you are here to learn. Once you understand your purpose, you are able to take control of your learning and achieve fulfillment. Moreover, you can execute numerous cycles of learning. Over time, you grow through many experiences to achieve a truly fulfilled life.

Today, more than ever before, humanity is lost. Disengagement, drug epidemics, and suicides, among other ails, are at all-time highs. It is harder than ever to find meaning. There are many distractions working against us.

Let's consider an example. Professionals are exiting the traditional workforce in record numbers. They are leaving steady paychecks behind to juggle numerous gigs simultaneously or venture out on their own. From a traditional perspective, most people cannot fathom that one would leave a well-paying job with no special monetary wealth in hand. Unfortunately, much of the world is deluded by the trappings of materialism and consumerism. When you look at the actual amount of money required to live comfortably, you find that it is very little. Most professionals make far more than they need in salary. Then, they go on to spend even more than they have on frivolous belongings that subtract value from their lives, rather than add. Falsely equating monetary wealth with happiness, meaning, and fulfillment is the most widespread and damaging error in judgement humans have made since the 20th century. Yet, it is but one of many distractions that make discovering the meaning of life a tremendous achievement for modern people.


Consider this. There are some philosophies that believe our spirits return to this world time and time again. They say once we die, our spirits are reincarnated inside a new body. This reincarnation can occur over numerous lifetimes. One idea behind why we get sent back is that our spirits are here to learn a lesson. Perhaps we keep failing to learn and are therefore returned to this world for another attempt. Perhaps we have many lessons to learn and are therefore returned to this world until our spirits are fully enlightened.

I cannot say whether you get but one life or will experience many. However, I believe the concept that our spirits undergo a gradual process of refinement reflects a deep connection to the meaning of life. Therefore, it may be useful for us to see ourselves as spirits who exist to learn and improve over the course of our lifetime.

Now you can see why money is not the answer. Money doesn't help you learn. Furthermore, it is only valuable in this, the human world. It has no place in the spirit world or what other universes may lie beyond. This is why people who seek money, power, or other worldly pursuits can attain much fame and fortune among humans, yet live a life unfulfilled. Simultaneously, a homeless person, stay-at-home parent, or one whose life is cut tragically short by illness, can achieve fulfillment despite appearing to have nothing. Indeed, it is our spiritual mindset and choice to pursue true meaning, rather than our human status, that determines whether we will achieve fulfillment.

Practice this Cycle of Fulfillment and you will discover the meaning of life.

  1. Recognize that you are here to learn.

  2. Assess your current situation.

  3. Ask what you can learn from it.

  4. Determine the best way to learn this lesson.

  5. Actively pursue learning until you fulfill this purpose.

  6. Repeat the cycle to continue your learning.

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Challenge Hint Solution:

12 Principles of Evidence-Based Learning Design


On the first day of class, I was greeted by a group of nervous, fearful freshman design students. This was their first computer programming class and my first time teaching it. They had heard the stories of their elders: the things you learn are pointless, nothing makes sense, you will fail. Many told themselves that there was no possible way they could learn or enjoy our class. We hadn't even started, yet they were already prepared to give up on their dreams.


To begin class, I loaded up a complete video game I created. As I demonstrated the game, their sense of wonder returned. They happily named the game character Luna. I explained that they would be using their own coding skills to make a game world like this one. Each day, they would determine what Luna is capable of doing and what adventures she would have. Gradually, over the course of the semester, the students successfully learned to create their own games. Along the way, they were empowered to rewrite their personal stories: I can code, I can succeed, I love making video games.

This was the situation that inspired me to dramatically change the way people learn. I worked with a variety of talented learners, but also empathized with the pain and anxiety they felt. I refused to allow traditional, systemic follies destroy their passion and rob us of successful future professionals. That's why I created the Challenge Hint Solution (CHS) learning method. 

Challenge Hint Solution (CHS)

The CHS approach consists of these three phases:

  1. Challenge: Begin by introducing the learner to a challenge. A challenge can take many forms, such as a problem to solve or goal to achieve. Briefly explain the context behind the challenge. In addition, provide any supplementary resources available to assist the learner. Subsequently, list the challenge requirements. These requirements should describe a successful resolution to the challenge. They identify what the learner is expected to achieve, but do not dictate a specific approach. Complex problems tend to have a vast array of potential solutions and problem-solving approaches. Hence, it is up to the learner to develop an appropriate problem-solving method and to create a personalized solution that achieves the requirements.

  2. Hint: Gradually introduce hints that contain small chunks of key information that the learner can leverage. Hints can take almost any useful form. For example, a hint could be an explanation of a new concept, a reference to prior learning, or a visualization. Regardless of the format, hints should be brief and to the point. They act as a small bridge between the learner's current state and being one step closer to solving the challenge. There can be a few hints or very many of them. However, each hint should be spaced out in time. The time before, after, and between hints is filled with important learning processes, such as reflecting on concepts and forming relationships. Give the learner time to exercise these processes by using hints effectively as supports and scaffolds.

  3. Solution: Ultimately, the learner should arrive at a personalized solution that meets the stated challenge requirements. At this point, it is appropriate to share an example solution. Note that this does not suggest a single correct or expert approach. The example is merely a demonstration that the learner's own solution can be compared to. In the case that an expert provides the example, it likely demonstrates proficiency according to domain-specific experience. However, example solutions could also be shared through peer review, in which case they are alternatives of varying quality that provide insights into others' problem-solving processes. Either way, through exploring an alternative solution, the learner gains a deeper understanding of their own approach.


12 Principles of Evidence-Based Learning Design

CHS embodies 12 evidence-based design principles that have been synthesized from high-quality research in the learning sciences [1]. It has been applied extensively in my own works [e.g. 2, 3]. By applying these principles to learning design, we are able to achieve better learning outcomes. 

  1. The Principle of Context: Situate learning within authentic contexts that are meaningful to learners and reflect the experiences of real-world experts.

  2. The Principle of Expert-Level Challenge: Challenge learners with complex, expert-level tasks that are beyond their current ability level and for which they have yet to acquire the requisite knowledge and skills.

  3. The Principle of Expert Performance: Help learners apply the same processes and practices that experts use.

  4. The Principle of Demonstration: Model effective performance for learners by demonstrating processes, practices, and outcomes.

  5. The Principle of Guidance: Provide guidance in real time as learners progress through a task.

  6. The Principle of Clarity: Clearly identify the desired outcomes of a task and assess learner performance according to explicit criteria.

  7. The Principle of Tangibility: Encourage learners to create tangible artifacts that demonstrate their learning and expertise.

  8. The Principle of Metacognition: Support the development of learners' metacognitive awareness and self-regulated learning.

  9. The Principle of Community Comparison: Engage learners with experts, peers, and community members whose work can be compared to their own.

  10. The Principle of Personalization: Encourage learners to explore ill-structured problems through personalized goals, strategies, and solutions.

  11. The Principle of Scaled Challenge: Gradually increase the complexity and diversity of tasks to match learning demands.

  12. The Principle of Focused Scope: Introduce learners to the overall structure of a task, then guide them to execute its individual components at the appropriate times.


It is on rare occasion that excellent research and practical implementation meet. Together, we can bridge the gap between research and practice to create learning experiences that transform lives. As a leader, educator, or designer, people rely upon your expertise to drive meaningful outcomes. By applying CHS and evidence-based learning design principles in practice, you can make a more powerful impact on your learners.


[1] Sawyer, R. K. (Ed.). (2014). The Cambridge handbook of the learning sciences. New York: Cambridge University Press. https://www.amazon.com/Cambridge-Handbook-Learning-Handbooks-Psychology/dp/1107626579

[2] Quick, J. M. (2016). Learn to Code with Games. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. ISBN: 9781498704687. https://www.amazon.com/Learn-Code-Games-John-Quick/dp/1498704689

[3] Quick, J. M. (2017). Learn to Implement Games with Code. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press. ISBN: 9781498753388. https://www.amazon.com/Learn-Implement-Games-Code-Quick/dp/1498753388


How to Design a Game-Based Learning Simulation

Games are powerful learning experiences. They are especially useful for exercising complex and difficult-to-teach skills like critical thinking, systems analysis, decision making, and collaboration. While you may not currently think of yourself as a game designer, the truth is that anyone can create a good game-based learning simulation. It only requires an understanding of the learning context and the ability to model it in a meaningful way. Let's review the process of designing a game-based learning simulation.



In his book, Serious Games [1], Clark C. Abt explained that "a game is an activity among two or more independent decision-makers seeking to achieve their objectives in some limiting context." Notice that Abt italicizes a few key components in his definition. The first is activity, which implies that behaviors are being performed and interactions are taking place. Second, the people performing these actions are decision-makers who represent different perspectives and select from multiple potential choices. Third, the decision-makers have objectives that motivate their actions and choices. Fourth, the limiting context suggests that decision-makers have access to resources and experience obstacles that impede the progress towards their objectives. All of these components are essential to the design of game-based learning simulations.

Design Process

Building upon Abt's definition of games, we can derive the following step-by-step process behind designing a game-based learning simulation.

  1. Define the context.

  2. Identify the decision-makers.

  3. Provide objectives to the decision-makers. 

  4. Analyze the activities performed by the decision-makers.

  5. Give the decision-makers limited resources to achieve their objectives.


Step 1: Define the context.

Begin by defining the context for the game. You should identify the exact system that you will model through gameplay. Indeed, much of game design involves analyzing a complex system and simplifying it into a model that players can understand and explore. The design process helps identify the most critical elements that need to be modeled. Defining the context establishes the overall game world and sets the stage for all of the things that will inhabit it. 


Often, in the case of learning, we want to model a real-world or authentic context. For instance, we might want to learners to experience being executives in an important strategy meeting or astronauts journeying to Mars. However, the potential contexts are many and varied. The context need not literally represent a particular learning topic. For example, negotiation skills could be learned equally well as the human ambassador to aliens who just landed on Earth or as an employee discussing a job offer with a human resources manager. 


Regardless of whether the context is more realistic or more phantasmal, it should support the overall purpose of the game-based learning simulation. The context establishes a game world in which you are confident that learning goals can be achieved. When attempting this design process for the first time, it may be helpful to pick a more literal, realistic context. It is generally easier to conceptualize a context with real-world references than one that has to be entirely imagined. 


Step 2: Identify the decision-makers.

Next, identify the different decision-makers in the context. Ask yourself these questions: Who are the important characters? What different perspectives can be taken on the situation? Who should the learner become in the context? Your decision-makers represent these different roles and perspectives.


Depending on the purpose of the game-based learning simulation, you may only select a single role for learners to experience. For instance, you may want preservice teachers to experience what it is like to be a high school math teacher for a day. Alternatively, your game may have learners participate in a variety of roles. For example, you may want preservice teachers to gain a well-rounded view on the conflicts between students, parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, and voters by experiencing all of these roles. Nevertheless, not all potential roles in the system need to be portrayed through decision-makers. They may appear in the design in a different capacity later on or they may not be relevant to the intended learning experience. 


This is a good time to think about what key roles you want to drive the learning experience. These roles should be emphasized in subsequent design steps. For your first attempt, try selecting one decision-maker role within your context that the learner will adopt. Focus on how experiencing this role will support the learning process.


Step 3: Provide objectives to the decision-makers.

After defining your decision-makers, you can establish their objectives. Much like learning objectives, these are best listed in 3 to 5 concise, specific statements. To determine the objectives, ask yourself these questions: What are the goals of each decision-maker? What does each decision-maker want to accomplish? What is the ideal outcome for each decision-maker by the end of the scenario? Answering these questions will help you identify the motivations and desired outcomes for each decision-maker in the context of your game world. 


Naturally, different decision-makers will have different objectives. During an initial meeting, a salesperson might be interested to develop a trusting relationship and secure a second meeting to discuss details. Meanwhile, the client may be pressured by executives to implement a new system as fast as possible and have little patience for casual discussion. Indeed, the difference in objectives among decision-makers is an important factor in what makes games compelling to play. Placing multiple decision-makers in the same limiting context leads to interesting emergent interactions as they all try to achieve their objectives. Once you have determined the key objectives for each decision-maker, proceed to further detail your design. 


Step 4: Analyze the activities performed by the decision-makers.

Following, analyze what each decision-maker does in the context. Objectives motivate each decision-maker to participate and guide their behaviors. To identify the activities of each decision-maker, ask yourself these questions: What choices does the decision-maker make? What does the decision-maker do? What actions are relevant to achieving the decision-maker's personal objectives? What actions support, inhibit, or otherwise impact other decision-makers' actions? 


In this phase, you are designing the bulk of the activities that take place in the game-based learning simulation. You are establishing what people do when they play. Often, these actions are referred to as game mechanics. For example, in a game about baking, you might have mechanics like measuring, mixing, and cooking, which support the objective of creating a birthday cake. In a basketball simulation, players would have actions like shooting, passing, and defending, whose execution lead to the objective of winning the game. 


At this stage, it is important to pick out the most relevant actions and interactions that you need to support learning in your game. You may brainstorm a large list of actions for each decision-maker. However, you need not represent all of them in your game. In fact, one of the key challenges of game design is to model a complex system in a simple, workable form. Therefore, you should retain only the actions that are most necessary to create the intended learning experience.


Step 5: Give the decision-makers limited resources to achieve their objectives. 

Lastly, consider what resources are at the disposal of each decision-maker and the ways in which these resources are limited. Resources consist of anything that helps the decision-makers achieve their objectives. In a stock-trading game, money would undoubtedly be a resource. In a project management game, team members and time would be important resources. Meanwhile, limits represent anything that impedes decision-makers. A limit could be another decision-maker with contrasting objectives, such as in the case of two debate teams taking different sides on an issue. Another type of limit could be something in the environment, such as a mutual opponent of all decision-makers (like a snow storm) or a naturally limited resource (like oil). To help identify resources and limitations, ask yourself these questions: What resources help each decision-maker reach personal objectives? What obstacles or challenges does each decision-maker face? What conflicts arise between decision-makers? What motivates the decision-makers to cooperate? How are resources limited, shared, and distributed between the decision-makers? How can decision-makers earn and expend their resources?


Limited resources introduce obstacles, challenge, cooperation, and conflict into the game-based learning simulation. The manner in which resources are limited, along with the objectives of the decision-makers, should be used to design effective interactions between players. Based on how you limit resources, decision-makers are encouraged to cooperate, compete, choose, and act in different ways to achieve their objectives.


At this point, you should have a viable outline for the creation of a game-based learning simulation. You have identified the key design components, including the context, decision-makers, activities, objectives, resources, and limitations. Your follow-up task should be to ensure these components work harmoniously in a holistic system that supports your learning goals. One good way to do this is to draft an initial version of the game and playtest it with members who represent your target audience. Take their feedback into consideration and revise the design of your game. Iterate through this process a few times until the game is refined and ready for implementation. 


Using this fundamental process, you can design game-based learning simulations for any variety of contexts. When deciding on the context for your next project, focus on an area with high potential for meaningful game-based learning. For instance, look to game-based learning simulations when you want people to engage in collaborative problem solving, make difficult decisions, and think in terms of complex systems.



[1] Abt, C. (1970). Serious games. New York: Viking Press.

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Laughing Buddha:

The 11 Characteristics of Enlightened Leadership

Buddha arrived at dawn, just as the sun began to rise. A pale glow fell over the dusty streets. The sun cast a jolly shadow upon the ground as Buddha walked. The shade of his bald head bobbed up and down while his protruding belly swayed side to side. Over his shoulder, he carried a worn cloth bag that contained all of his worldly possessions. Only the dogs and vagabonds took notice. They awoke from their slumber to begin their listless lurch. 


Upon arriving at the city center, Buddha stopped. He looked up at the grand fountain. Its foundation was cracked. The walls were covered with rust. The majestic figure in the center was missing an arm and an eye. No water flowed through the fountain. A once marvelous structure had been left to decay. 


Buddha smiled.


Buddha turned back to face a city that had yet to wake up. He dropped his cloth sack to the ground with a light thud. Out rolled a small red ball. A little boy peeked around the corner of a nearby building. Slowly, the boy approached. Buddha waited in silence without making a move. The boy crept closer, one step at a time. Once the ball was within reach, the boy stretched out his arm to grab it. He stood before Buddha holding the ball in his hand. 


Buddha smiled. 


Suddenly, the boy threw his arm back and flung the ball towards the fountain. It struck the majestic figure in the center, causing it to crumble to the ground. The boy gasped. He bent his knees and thrust his arms outward, prepared to run away.


Buddha laughed.


The boy relaxed his stance.


Buddha laughed.


The boy giggled, ran up to the fountain, and leapt inside to retrieve the ball. When Buddha turned back around, he spotted a little girl reaching into his bag. She pulled out a piece of candy, frantically removed the wrapper, and popped it into her mouth.


Buddha laughed.


The girl giggled. She sprinted forward and hopped into the fountain. When Buddha turned around, several more children had emerged from their hiding places. Each child reached into his bag to discover what was inside. One found a stick and another found a flower. 


Buddha laughed and laughed.


All the city's children descended upon the fountain. The contents of Buddha's bag were strewn across the streets. The children gleefully collected their toys and treats. One by one, they giggled and jumped into the fountain to play.


Buddha laughed uncontrollably. 


Up ran an adult to confront Buddha. His cheeks were deep red and sweat dropped from his brow. The man was visibly flustered at the chaotic scene. He asked Buddha to explain what was happening. 


Buddha regained his composure just long enough to say a few words. 


"I visited this city many years ago. I remember the beauty of this fountain. When I saw that it was in disrepair, I decided to help you fix it."  


Buddha turned back to the fountain, filled with gleeful children at play, and began to laugh uncontrollably once again.


The man wiped away a tear and began to laugh. He ran forward and leapt into the fountain to join the others. Soon after, the fountain was filed with townspeople of all kinds. They laughed and played together in the fountain until the sun set. 


Buddha picked the remnants of his cloth sack up from the ground. He turned quietly and walked away from the fountain. The shadow of his bald head bobbed and his protruding belly swayed as he exited the city gates.

The 11 Characteristics of Enlightened Leadership

From the story of the Laughing Buddha, we gain insight into the characteristics of enlightened leadership. 
Enlightened leadership is: 

  1. Bold: Confront formidable challenges. 

  2. Courageous: Maintain a positive disposition in the face of challenge.

  3. Generous: Give what you have to others.

  4. Supportive: Encourage others to take risks and learn from failure. Earn their trust, not fear.

  5. Mindful: Assess situations as they are. Make no assumptions.

  6. Calm: Help others be at ease in the face of unexpected events.

  7. Prepared: Bring the resources necessary to get the job done.

  8. Inclusive: Encourage participation from all who can make a positive contribution.

  9. Sincere: Be honest and proactive in the face of conflict or resistance.

  10. Creative: Discover solutions to problems. Do not prescribe answers.  

  11. Selfless: Know when to step away. Let it thrive through the efforts of others. Allow them to earn recognition.

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