Microsoft Ribbon Hero: A brilliant training tool from Office Labs

Microsoft Ribbon Hero: A brilliant training tool from Office Labs

Summary: Microsoft Office Labs introduced Ribbon Hero today, a competitive game for training users to fully exploit the features of Office 2007/2010. An early preview showed that it's not the least bit gimmicky; in fact, this could be a game-changer in end-user training.


It isn't often that Microsoft earns a "brilliant" label from me. More often, it's grudging praise for one of its products or a backhanded compliment or two. Most recently, I asked if Office 2010 was worth the price, especially for users happy with Office 2007. In particular, I wanted to know if an upgrade or purchase made sense when most users only scratch the surface of Office functionality.

Today, however, Microsoft's Office Labs group is rolling out a prototype training tool with the potential to get users to do much more than scratch the surface of Office. This tool, in fact, is so compelling that it just might change the way we think about end user training and could potentially offer productivity increases over cloud and free productivity tools that really do help Office pay for itself.

I'm talking about Ribbon Hero. A few of the project managers at Microsoft working on Ribbon Hero gave me a preview on Monday and, obviously, I'm really impressed. The idea is to get people competing for "achievements" (yes, the Office Labs group did work with the XBox group, specifically consulting with them on motivational strategies and factors in console games). These achievements are largely centered around the use of the various features in Office embedded in the navigation ribbons that users new to 2007/2010 often find disconcerting (I'm being diplomatic here since I actually like the ribbons). Here's how it works:

  • Users of Office 2007/2010 download the Ribbon Hero prototype tool from Office Labs.
  • They connect Ribbon Hero to their Facebook accounts (this part is actually optional but the ubiquity of Facebook and the competition it introduces make it a fairly irresistible feature).
  • Users start racking up points based on their use of features and completion of challenges (small tasks designed to teach a specific skill).
  • Users can compare their progress to friends on Facebook using Ribbon Hero, find out where their friends are strong and how they are earning points, and can post new achievements on their walls.

There are a few videos as well as download links and instructions at

If all this sounds a bit dorky, it is. But the countless people who wile away the hours on WOW, Dungeons and Dragons, and Farmville (all arguably dorky in their own way) will buy into this in a heartbeat. Better yet, Microsoft has actually done their research on the way people learn in the context of gaming and included real thought to the pedagogy of applications training: short, relevant tasks, immediate feedback and reinforcement, and enough difficulty to be challenging with enough supports to be successful. It even adapts the difficulty of the challenges to the speed with which a user completes them.

And to answer my question about the value proposition of Office 2010 versus Office 2007, the truly diabolical folks at Microsoft have included several challenges highlighting the new features in 2010. Users of 2007 can see these challenges and a brief description of the new feature, but can't complete the challenge until they download the 2010 beta (and later, pay for a downloaded upgrade). Office Labs is, of course, tracking these downloads to determine both the effectiveness of the teaser challenges and how compelling the new features are for end users.

Although Ribbon Hero is very much a prototype of a training tool (the job of the Office Lab folks is, after all, to prototype new Office features and test their utility for possible inclusion in future releases), it has the potential to be really transformative in the way we train our users. It taps into social and adaptive learning paradigms and important research on motivation and learning. I have the distinct feeling that this tool won't be a prototype for long; rather, it might really help make the case for 2010 adoption given that training tools like this simply don't exist elsewhere. If users can more fully use its robust feature set and increase productivity as a result of Ribbon Hero, Office 2010 becomes a much easier sell.

Topics: Software, Collaboration, Microsoft

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • That's pretty neat

    I just installed it and quickly looking at it I recommend that anyone that uses Office 2007 and thinks the new features of Office 2007 are a complete waste and do nothing to make the product easier and faster to use install this and maybe you will think differently.

    That being said I think a sleeping giant was awoken from a long slumber these past couple years and the current products show that they are thinking outside the box a little bit and actually taking their customer's feedback and user experience seriously.

    Also Christopher this has to be the first article/blog that I have read by you that remained open minded and ubiased. I know you are not a fan of many things Microsoft but I commend you on a article well written and informative.
  • MS Bob or Clippy?

    I'll have to give this one a big "wait and see". It's only a good training tool if people will use it. The learning curve going from prior versions of office to the new ribbon interface is such that it has prevented an awful lot of companies from upgrading. If people use it then this could move more people into the ribbon world. If not, Office 2003 will stay put in a lot of places.
    • Give it a try

      Do you have Office 2007? If so install it. What have you got to lose. Even though I consider my Office skills above average I plan on giving it a try and just quickly using it I saw it as a pretty interesting way to approach in application training. Way better than Clippy or using the in-program help even though I find the help to be very helpful most times.
    • Well . . .

      "It's only a good training tool if people will use it."

      It's fun, it's cool, it's awarding, it's even competitive. It's not difficult or hard or demanding. It's easy to understand - it's just a point system, and you get points by using Word's features.

      And it's a good way to teach people how to use Office. You can look for features in it, and it'll show you how to use features - and give you points for doing so.

      I think it's great as a training tool :).

      But yes, ultimately it's up to the general public whether or not the idea really catches on.

      I do think that it will reduce the fear and learning curve of the changes in Office products.

      . . . and if it catches on, watch out - could it be, this is the new way to learn how to learn software?

      Who says applications have to be boring ;)?
  • Glad you are a fan!

    Christopher, thanks for the nice write-up. Obviously we both believe in the concept of gaming as a great way to learn. Our internal trials of Ribbon Hero showed that we achieved our top goal that many people doubted was possible: Ribbon Hero is fun!

    Beyond that, it has redeeming qualities of helping you learn what your software can do that you can take with you when you are not playing. That's a nice bonus for players, and of course was our rationale for building it.

    The game appeals to casual gamers looking for diversion as well as competitive players who can connect through Facebook to see how they stack up. I think we're on to something with this - I'm glad you agree.

    Chris Pratley
    General Manager, Office Labs @ Microsoft
  • Borrowed it from Steam?

    Anybody who's been playing PC games recently knows about Steam - Valve's platform for buying, managing, and downloading games.

    And it strikes me - this is [i]very much[/i] like Steam's achievement system, where a player can collect achievements in a game and keep track of them in Steam.

    I wouldn't be surprised if the idea didn't pop into their heads while playing a game ;).
    • Or WoW . . .

      Wait a sec . . . actually, I think it bears a closer similarity to World of Warcraft's system.

  • Rather amusing view of the Ribbon

    When I read about "Ribbon Hero" I had to laugh a bit. I thought the point of the Ribbon was to make Office more "intuitive."

    Clearly MS is admitting (in a backhand way) the Ribbon is about as intuitive as as mud.

    If people actually liked the Ribbon, if first time users actually went, "Oh, OK, I get this.." (which they don't), if the thing were worth a damn which it isn't, MS wouldn't need a game to teach it.

    Good luck MS - you're gonna need it.
    • I don't really agree.

      "Clearly MS is admitting (in a backhand way) the Ribbon is about as intuitive as as mud."

      I think it's more that some guys (who obviously play too many games) got together and said "wouldn't it be cool if we did this?"

      Now tell me - where in that statement is an admission of being unintuitive?

      I think you're just being too cynical. C'mon, lighten up, see if you can beat your coworkers' scores :P.

      "If people actually liked the Ribbon"

      I do :).

      "if first time users actually went, 'Oh, OK, I get this..'"

      I did :).

      "if the thing were worth a damn"

      Worth every penny :).

      "MS wouldn't need a game to teach it."

      They don't. It's actually not a part of Office, but rather a separate addon. Microsoft is not pushing this as a part of their product.

      I think they just thought it would be fun.
    • I don't think that's the point

      [i]Clearly MS is admitting (in a backhand way) the Ribbon is about as intuitive as as mud.[/i]

      No, I don't think that is quite right. The Achievement system on the XBox is all about getting players to try things they wouldn't normally think of trying and maybe, just maybe, enjoying it. It doesn't usually have anything to do with teaching people how to do things.

      Likewise, this is more about getting people to try the different features of Office, features they may never have tried otherwise. And who knows, perhaps after trying some of those features, they might find them useful. FTA:

      [i]to get users to do much more than scratch the surface of Office[/i]

      That makes Office a more useful tool for its users. Sounds like win-win to me!
    • Way Off

      I think the ribbon is very intuitive and I think they did this Ribbon Hero because of all the people who fear change and claim that the old school way was better. Most of those people took one look at the new UI and threw their hands up in disgust and did what people do, resist change. Hey if hunting through file menu's and sub-menu's is your thing then great. I rather have the tools I need at my finger tips then trying to remember the menu and sub-menu where that option was. I guarantee you that it is a faster way to work in office.
  • RE: Microsoft Ribbon Hero: A brilliant training tool from Office Labs

    Huh? Explain that to me. MS introduces this new and improved approach that's more user-friendly and 'intuitive' than the decades old menu bar, yet their having to train people how to use it. Let's think about this for a bit...
    • Yeah, let's think about it . . .

      Yeah, let's think about it:

      -For most people, Office was introduced slowly to them. Early versions of Office were pretty simple, and it got more complex as time goes on. So they're learning it over a period of many years with only gradual, slow changes.

      -It's been my experience that yes, absolute newcomers to Office tend to be overwhelmed. And yes, this includes Office 2003.

      Office simply has a lot of features. A lot.

      And let's not forget that it has to cater to a lot of people, including people with little to no technical knowledge.

      My mother needs training just to use her TV. Office is a lot more complicated than a TV remote.

      Office 2007 is IMO easier to learn, so the training period for Office 2007 should be shorter than for 2003, assuming the person has never used any word processor before.

      But - even with a far more intuitive interface, it's still more complex than a TV remote, so it's silly to insist that it's not going to require training.

      Any software that becomes more complex is going to reach a point where it's going to require training for some people, no matter how intuitive you try to make the interface.

      It simply can't be avoided. How many times have you seen people frustrated over a remote control, with only a small number of features? You really think these people are going to be able to use a fully featured word processor without any issues?
  • RE: Microsoft Ribbon Hero: A brilliant training tool from Office Labs

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  • Unproductive?

    i applaud the idea of training tools that people may actually want to use. However, I wonder how many people will spend time accomplishing game-related 'tasks', gaining skills they may never need, instead of actually working. Also, we block Facebook where I work, partially for this reason.
  • RE: Microsoft Ribbon Hero: A brilliant training tool from Office Labs

    I think this feature is great. Because as well as being enjoyable (the sounds upon completion of a task are reward itself) I feel I'm doing something productive at the same time. Word didn't really stretch me, but I've always been a little uncomfortable with Excel. However I can see immediate improvements in using all programs I've tried udner Ribbon hero.
  • Ribbon Hero

    The rumor that Microsoft intended to release the first version of Office had induced a state of panic among typewriters from around the world. If the rumor was to be true, it meant the disappearance of their species. But they could only wait and hope that it is just a rumor...

    Unfortunately for them, it was not to be so, and with the Office release, most of their owners threw them directly into attics because they felt that their lives would change radically.

    With each new version of Office, the people became more productive, thus turning the typewriters into museum objects.

    Things that used to take a long time for being performed can now be achieved by a single click. Furthermore, to help those who still don?t know where to make that click, Microsoft Office Labs have created the Ribbon Hero.

    Ribbon Hero helps you discover the secrets of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, as no other teacher could do. Additionally, for each lesson that is completed, you are rewarded with points. And to show others how good you are, post your score on Facebook, directly from Office applications!
  • RE: Microsoft Ribbon Hero: A brilliant training tool from Office Labs

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