Wednesday, December 28

SimWord of the Day: The Fourth Paradox of Educational Simulations

Things that seem simple, narrow, and isolated when "taught" through traditional linear means are deep, complex, and extendable when taught through simulations.

Let's call this the "Tilt principle."

When playing pinball, you can nudge the machine a little bit to keep the ball from going out of play. But if you nudge the machine too hard, you will "Tilt" the machine, ending that play.

That is incredibly easy to write. It is incredibly easy for a student to "learn" that statement to the point that they could write it on a test.

But to nudge a pinball machine at the right time takes skill and practice. Even the best pinball player in the world cannot always do it perfectly. The ace player might also take more risks with nudging when there is more at stake.

If you built a machine to teach pinball nudging, any traditional instructor would say, "that seems like a lot of work to teach what is essentially one simple statement." If you were becoming a pinball expert, however, you would absolutely need the deeper approach.

Now, obviously, no one cares about pinball.

But given that
  • all Big Skills have a nudge component (how hard and when do you push your team, dealing with difficult people, getting the right amount of funding),
  • the simple theories take a lot of practice to implement, and that
  • the simplist rules when learned intuitively are as powerful as the most complex process,

...our entire concept of curricula and knowledge changes.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Why would I build a machine to teach a novice how to nudge, when practice on the real thing would be the best teacher, at the deepest level?

Clark Aldrich said...

There is a limit to the pinball analogy! Although, you may want to modify a pinball machine to increase the chance of a ball doing down the dead ball shute.

But when dealing with Big Skills such as leadership, project management, etc., when failure costs are higher and opportunities are fewer, it does make sense to practice in isolation.

Clark Aldrich said...

One more quick thought: just giving someone time to play on a pinball machine doesn't mean they will ever practice nudging. In fact, they may become a strong player, but hit a wall in terms of becoming better, because they don't nudge. Then, a good coach would force them to nudge to bring their game to the next level.

Peter Isackson said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Peter Isackson said...

Clark,
What about teaching intercultural nudging? I'm serious. I learned pinball here in France and discovered that the French are aces at nudging. As a result the manufacturers understood that this was a feature to be calibrated according to the dictates of the culture. Consequently the machines have a greater tilt tolerance. Gottlieb et al adapted to the French skill set.

What I'm suggesting is that whatever skill you learn, when you get into the real world, there will be an unanticipated context around it. That context might even contradict what you think you have learned. Simulation is inevitably based on the principle of a limited selection of elements of context. Might that not be a source of error and confusion?

The question then is the same as with all learning: how do you move from artificially acquired knowledge to real context? If I learn nudging in France, won't I be frustrated when trying out my carefully acquired skills in the U.S. and vice versa?

Is simulation just a way of temporarily moving the goalposts to give learners the (possibly mistaken) illusion that their newly acquired skill will work in the real world?

Clark Aldrich said...

Part of learning to nudge is the metaskill of learning what overnudging looks/feels like and what undernudging looks/feels like, so that you can make corrections between, er, machines.

Because with all Big Skills, the situations will be highly different, even in the same country.

Clark Aldrich said...

(and by the way, anytime I can use metaskill and pinball in the same thread, I will!)

Peter Isackson said...

Clark,
Your point is well taken. Still, I can't help feeling that the simulation that teaches variable nudging will fail to address the intercultural problem.

French pinball players are put off as much by the oversensitive tilt of machines in the U.S. as they are by Bush's foreign policy, and probably consider the former more important than the latter! The problem for them is that they cannot deploy their patiently learned skills and will give up in disgust. This would be bad marketing for Gottlieb, Bally and co. if there were significant numbers of French pinball players on American soil (which there aren't, of course, so the industry isn't likely to suffer).

On the other hand, Americans playing in France will systematically underperform because they won't understand how to use the full potential of the machines and the context. Fearful of the fatal tilt (the ancestor of the "blue screen of death"), they will helplessly watch the ball disappear between the two bottom flippers, not knowing that they have the power (and the right) to change its trajectory.

I know building simulations is expensive and complex, but somehow I remain fearful that their undeniable value will always be confined to the culture of their design, restricting the volume of their marketplace. And I doubt that there's anything as simple as the adjustment of the tilt tolerance that will make them universal.

Any thoughts on this question? ... which only concerns the perspective of international deployment.

Clark Aldrich said...

Sims should have open variables that allow this level of tweaking and localizing.

The irony here is that the traditional training view is that, and I am paraphrasing, training should be so bland, non-specific, and meaningless that it is trivial to localize.

My take is that training must be transformative enough and important enough that it is worth it to localize.

Jane said...

There is a whole local-global argument here.

How can simulations ever enable the importance of the local whilst supporting the removal of the time/space barrier?

Are we really referring to cultural hegemony via simulation?

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