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Archive for the ‘Simulation’ Category

by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5 6)

This is the second entry based on my conversations with Dr. Keysha Gamor, a fellow aficionado of 3D learning. In the last entry, I wrote about Keysha’s experience implementing Virtual Reality solutions in secondary education. In this entry, I wanted to share some of the conversations we had on the effectiveness of Virtual World platforms and the acceptance (or lack thereof) that we’ve seen in organizations. As Keysha works mostly with government and military, she brings a unique perspective (I work almost exclusively with corporations). Generally speaking, government and military have had a higher adoption rate for 3D learning that the business world. What are they finding effective about the virtual environment, and what does the corporate world have yet to learn?

I asked Keysha if she was seeing higher levels of adoption of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) in the public sector, and she agreed that was the case. However, many of these initiatives are in a pilot or exploratory phase. And the biggest concern in the public sector is similar to the private sector: how do we ensure data security?

So how do we mainstream this capability? We brainstormed many possibilities, but it really comes down to three categories:

  1. What are the barriers to adoption now? Much has been written about the technological barriers, but not enough about the cultural barriers. For example:
    1. Treating VIEs as if they are a unique technology. Most people see learning and performance improvement as a system; they want to understand how each part of the system contributes to the whole. VIEs are too often introduced as the hot new technology; that builds temporary interest, but actually works against adoption. We need to answer the question: how will VIEs contribute to overall performance improvement and not just be a flavor-of-the-month. (more…)

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

So what’s the goal of this story?

Okay, so there’s a question you don’t often get when discussing novels or plays. What’s the goal? Well, the goal is to get to the last page of the book, or the curtain call at the end of the play. But when you’re writing stories for learning, the question takes on a different meaning. Not only are you telling a great story, you’re supposed to be helping your learner improve his or her performance.

Great learning stories include Goal-Based Scenarios. In simplest terms, the story includes a goal or a set of goals that need to be achieved; the point of going through the story is to achieve the goal. That sounds simple enough, but here’s the key: the nature of the goal impacts the way you perceive the story. Confused? Let’s break it down.

  1. First and foremost, the goal of learning is not just to make you smarter; the goal is to help you build the ability to do something. A Goal-Based Scenario begins to answer to eternal question of performance improvement: what am I going to be able to do as a result of this effort? Why is it important that I’m able to do this?
  2. In the business world, almost everything we do has a goal. Why should our business learning be any different? What kinds of problems can I solve with this knowledge?
  3. Ultimately, storytelling for learning works best when it presents real life conflicts. It can be pretty easy to regurgitate the “right” way to handle a problem, but can you really do it under pressure? You need to recreate that pressure for the learning to have emotional impact—and Goal-Based Scenarios do that. Rather than applying learning in a vacuum, you’re attempting to solve a real business problem—and actually having to apply what you’ve learned.

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Is there such a thing as too much reality?

In my first post on this topic, I said this:

“So how do you apply some of the rules of storytelling to our training initiatives? The key is to focus on how the world works in real life.”

The great thing about writing novels or screenplays is that you can make everything up. You’re not bound by the reality of what’s possible. But in a learning story, there needs to be some grounding in reality, however tenuous. In my simulation work, we often get hung up on reality. Does the simulation environment need to be a carbon copy of the real world? Arguably, the answer is no; one of the reasons we don’t always learn effectively is because our environments are full of distracters; your learning story can focus people on what’s important. But aren’t those distracters part of the learning experience? If you give me a nice clean environment to learn in, won’t I just have difficulty applying it in real life?

So how real do you need to get? The answer is, it depends. And not in a philosophical way. The real question is, what are the variables that need to be considered to tell the story effectively?

The most recognizable kind of simulation is probably the flight simulator. The failure to fly a plane properly will likely lead to mechanical failure, damage, and death. There are so many factors that can lead to failure (gauges, mechanics, alertness, weather, etc,) that flight simulators need to be completely realistic. The adherence to reality in a flight simulator is remarkable.

But in many environments, we want learners to focus on specific items. Where, in fact, presenting the whole reality of the job might actually be confusing. So it’s generally okay to leave stuff out or consolidate stuff. How do you that? Well, there are no hard-and-fast rules, but here are some guidelines:

1. Make sure you the stuff you leave out won’t distract the learner.

For example, if the learner works on a team where all of the members are in different cities, they might be distracted by a story that involves a scenario where everybody is co-located; however, they might be fine with a story where some team members are co-located and some are distributed.

I worked on a customer service simulation design with a company that made many different types of paper and packaging products. The client was very concerned that no one scenario (food packaging, office paper, print stock, etc.) would resonate with every member of the audience. Ultimately, we made the decision that the company in the simulation made bottles instead of paper. This way, the manufacturing and customer service environment was very recognizable to learners, but they weren’t distracted by the fact that the company didn’t make their exact paper product.

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by Rich Mesch

I was first exposed to the concept of mirror neurons when I attended the NASAGA (North American Simulation and Gaming Association) Conference in Vancouver in 2007.  I was privileged to hear a talk by Dave Chalk. Chalk is an interesting guy on a number of levels, but most notably because he has had a highly successful career, including being a pilot, an entrepreneur, and a broadcasting personality, despite having been diagnosed at an early age of having a profound learning disorder.

One of the concepts Chalk discussed was the idea of mirror neurons. Research has demonstrated that in primates, our nervous systems react in certain ways when we engage in certain behaviors. The research further demonstrates that they react the same way when we observe the behavior or when we engage in a simulated version of the behavior. As noted by Rizzolatti & Craighero in Annual Review of Neuroscience, 27:

Each time an individual sees an action done by another individual, neurons that represent that action are activated in the motor cortex. This automatically induced, motor representation of the observed action corresponds to what is spontaneously generated during active action and whose outcome is known to the acting individual. Thus, the mirror system transforms visual information into knowledge 1

This is incredibly intriguing, because it seems to demonstrate a biological basis for the benefits of simulation. As simulation designers, we always make the argument that engaging in behaviors in simulation prepares us to engage in behaviors in the real world. But the argument has always been from a cognitive perspective—it helps us form the way we think. The mirror neuron research would suggest that it’s deeper than cognition. And for that matter, that simulation may not just be the next best thing to real world experience—it may be nearly equivalent.

(more…)

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Stories are compelling when you think you know what’s going to happen next, and then the story throws in a twist. You can do the same thing in you learning stories; the only issue is that you need some grounding in reality.

Movies frequently build interest by inserting compelling story twists. I won’t include any spoilers, but most people will admit to being thrown for a loop when they learned the truth about Bruce Willis’ character in The Sixth Sense or who Keyser Soze really was in The Usual Suspects. But the technique is nothing new; Alfred Hitchock shocked the movie-going world in 1960 when he killed off the main character in Psycho ten minutes into the film.

One of the oddest twists is in the film Magnolia; the story takes a twist when it unexpectedly starts raining frogs. And perhaps that’s the key difference between movie storytelling and learning storytelling. If your story completes deviates from reality, you’ll probably lose your audience. So your story probably shouldn’t have any froggy precipitation.

For learning stories, I recommend the use of the “Predictable Unexpected.” (more…)

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

 

In the first post in this series, I provided an overview for integrating storytelling into learning; now, in the spirit of translating all complex ideas into a few bullet points, I wanted to provide some tips.  These tips come from my simulation design experience, but really, they apply to most learning opportunities. While storytelling is more art than science, here are a few points to keep in mind:

  1. Engage the heart as well as the mind. The workplace is emotional, so don’t be afraid to get under people’s skin. People should feel elated when they succeed, uncomfortable when they fail.
  2. Focus on what makes the job challenging. Is it the complexity of the product line? The demands of your boss? The intimidation factor of talking to a well-educated physician? Don’t shy away from the tough stuff.
  3. Show, don’t tell. This is one of the oldest writer’s rules. Instead of writing “he was nervous,” show your character’s behavior, and let your user/reader conclude that he’s nervous.
  4. Storytelling needn’t involve narrative. While a novelist employs narrative as her primary tool, the simulation designer has many more tools available. Computer users can only tolerate reading in small doses. Tell your story with video, audio, graphics and animation.
  5. Don’t feel you have to tell the entire story of a job in a simulation. Simulation stories work best when they are focused just on those parts of the job that are complex or difficult. In designing a sales simulation for a large pharmaceutical customer, we determined that reps did well at product detailing, but had opportunities for improvement in opening and closing calls. We designed a simulation that incorporated the entire call, but focused decisions specifically on openings and closings. (more…)

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by Rich Mesch

(Links to other articles in this series: 1 2 3 4 5)

Storytelling is one of the most effective yet underused methods for enhancing adult learning.  Ever heard someone yell at characters on a movie screen or talk back to the television? Ever stay up way too late one night because you had to read just one more chapter of a best seller? Ever rearrange your schedule to make sure you’re home for the conclusion of the cliffhanger episode of your favorite TV series?

Odds are good that you answered “yes” to at least one of the questions above, and very possibly to all of them. It’s not surprising. For many cultures, storytelling is one of the most pervasive methods of sharing information. A good story speaks to our minds, our hearts, our deepest emotions. When we’re truly wrapped up in a great story, we sometimes do things that are irrational; we speak to characters we know are fictional, we give up sleep that we desperately need, we laugh or cry or rejoice or despair over the lives of people we know are completely made up, completely fabricated. We’re human beings; we are able to connect on many levels.

We hate to admit it, but the workplace is irrationally emotional as well. On a good workday, we can feel fear, anger, joy, despair and elation. But for some reason, when we train people to be effective in this environment, our approach too often becomes dry and bloodless. We engage the mind (if we’re lucky), but not the heart. As a result, we reduce the likelihood that we will gain learner attention, that our message will be heard, let alone retained and applied.

I’ve been fortunate to spend most of my career working on performance simulations. The word “simulation” means many different things to different people. But at its core, simulations provide a realistic environment for learners to try new behaviors and experience the likely outcomes. And this is where storytelling becomes critical. If I’m going to truly apply new behaviors, I need to feel the same pressures, trade-offs, and barriers to change that I will feel in the real world. If those aspects are not present, I’m likely to dismiss the whole enterprise as “just another training exercise.” There are good simulations and bad simulations (and really bad simulations that don’t simulate anything). Some interpret simulation as a complex multiple choice test, which isn’t even close. Ultimately, what raises a mediocre simulation to a great simulation is the ability of the designers to engage the learner with a compelling story.

(more…)

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