Saturday, December 31

SimWord of the Day: The Fifth Paradox of Educational Simulations

When educational simulations are first created, they are heavy on simulation elements, and casual players complain they are too hard.

Over iterations, as a result of the complaints, educational simulations are made easier and more fun, and serious players then complain they are not deep enough.

(By the way, for those who are tracking Star Wars Galaxies, this is playing out exactly as such).

Thursday, December 29

Software as Service: What are the Four Pillars for Elearning?

As I get ready for the new year and a new job, I find myself with more time for deep thinking. I've stumbled on to a really interesting framework for thinking about enterprise elearning. Phil Wainewright of ZDnet wrote about a recent presentation by JP Rangaswami, CIO at top global investment bank Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein (DrKW). Rangaswami is recognized as a leader, early adopter and advance thinker in enterprise information technology.

In his presentation, Rangswami calls out the four pillars of "enterprise 3.0":
  • Publishing
  • Discovery
  • fulfillment
  • Conversation
This could be a very interesting framework for thinking about learning and training applications. Here are some of my comments interspersed with italicized quotes from Wainewrights original post on The four pillars of enterprise 3.0.

Publishing- Any application that generates data will act as though it's a content publisher...

Hmm, this sounds a lot like authoring tools and LCMS/LMS products.

The significance of this is that it reduces all of these applications to the level of raw feed generators: "You can't differentiate, it's just content."

OK, here is where I see elearning being different; the interaction, the instructional design and the context seem more crucial than for your average IT application. Then again, maybe elearning is more like Conversation (see below).

Discovery- This is the application that gives everyone a "Google experience" -- a single, homogenous database where everything is stored and where everything is discoverable.

Though the LMS was intended to be this, it clearly isn't. There is too much critical learning/knowledge tucked away in help systems, informal learning, etc.

Rangaswami noted that how you implement security can easily get in the way of this objective. Make it too much of a fortress and the risk is "we put the data in that worst nightmare of walled gardens: ours."
To me, Rangaswami's observation on security applies to the LMS in general because it isn't a "daily portal" for most people and isn't always on and easy to access; it has become a walled garden.

Fulfilment- This is the application that makes things happen, most notably for customers.

The training professional's customer is a learner. Here, as in other businesses, the capability to provide identity management, roles, personalization, and contextual choices is critical.

Conversation- All the channels of collaboration between people, either inside the organization or beyond its walls.

This is really interesting. It hits on collaborative learning and reaching the extended organization (channel partners, suppliers, distributors, and customers). Very interesting to think about how web conferencing and VoIP will emerge in the learning & training "Conversation".

Right now, I'm not sure how authoring tools and LMS offering will handle these sorts of conversations. Historically they have been broadcast, not dialog. Though some may say threaded discussions and virtual classrooms are dialog, I see them as heavily moderated dialogs at best.

All-in-all, this an interesting framework for analyzing and architecting elearning solutions, that I will make use of regardless of the technical uses of SOA and web services for elearning.

Wednesday, December 28

What will You Remember about 2005?

During December and January, many blogs and websites publish their reviews of the year that has passed. Some publish the "best of" and "worst of." Others catalog the biggest surprises or greatest disappointments. I thought that it would be most in the spirit of LCB to ask our readers to share what you feel 2005 was about in our world. What was significant about 2005 in the learning and elearning world. Was it the consolidation of the LMS industry? The emergence of Web2.0 technologies and their impact on learning? How about lessons learned about workplace preparedness from Katrina? Or that one shining moment when one learner "got it" because of something you did?

Please share your reflections on the past year with us. I know I've forgotten much about what's happened around me and that your memories will trigger memories I'd rather remember than forget.

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.

SimWord of the Day: Probe

  • Maps, be they physical or conceptual, have dark spots - places that we don't know and probably should.
  • Thousands of great new drugs and other technologies are possible, but not "found" yet.
  • New business processes are being developed.
  • Marketers have a phrase "you've never tasted your favorite cereal."

The concept of probing (alien encounters aside) involves diverting resources from a life-as-usual process-optimization strategy and taking a risk on finding something better.

In real life, we don't know what we don't know. We often think what we are doing is the only option. Sims can make this unknown space obvious, such as the blank idea bars in Virtual Leader. We can make the act of probing an obvious one, such as "press here to probe," or require a bit more of finessing typical in real life.

Regardless, a well designed sim in almost any Big Skill area should make people constantly think, what am I missing?

Tuesday, December 27

SimWord of the Day: Habituation

  1. The process of habituating or the state of being habituated.
    1. Physiological tolerance to a drug resulting from repeated use.
    2. Psychological dependence on a drug.
  2. Psychology. The decline of a conditioned response following repeated exposure to the conditioned stimulus.


1. transitive verb

make somebody used to something:
to accustom a person or animal to something through prolonged and regular exposure ( formal )
People living in cities become habituated to crowds.

2. transitive and intransitive verb

psychology learn to ignore stimulus:
to learn not to respond to a stimulus that is frequently repeated, or teach a person or animal to do this

[16th century. <> habituat-, past participle of habituare "bring into a state" <> habitus (see habit)]

Monday, December 26

SimWord of the Day: Higher Level Patterns/ Emergence

When capturing what domain experts know/do for a simulation, one has to interview/watch for high level patterns. What are the patterns that they see play out time and time again, and what are the variations of that pattern?
  • There are basic patterns, like bell curves.
  • There are higher-level patterns, like people hiring other people that are similar to them, or the fact that new technology is always over-hyped.
Systems theorists have a library of patterns like Success to the Successful, tragedy of commons, and escalation.
From a sim perspective, however, patterns are a might tricky.
  • There is always the hope that they emerge organically from a portfolio of well-designed rules.
  • More often, they have to be firm-wired into the units and maps.
  • Easiest, they can be hard-wired into level design.

And then there is need to understand how domain experts encourage good patterns and correct bad patterns.

Patterns are often easy to write about or diagram in linear content. But it is only in context that there true power and treachery become appreciated.

Sunday, December 25

SimWord of the Day: After Action Reviews (AARs)

We are using computer games as a beacon to rethink domain expertise and how to better share it. But one area of critical pedagogy that computer games poorly role-modeled is after-action reviews.

AARs are sessions to step outside of the real-time engagements, typically after heightened activity, to better understand what happened, and what should have happened.

And like all pedagogy that supports sims, they also should be used in real life.

AARs include:
  • raw material, such as recordings/timelines,
  • analysis (what happened at a thematic level),
  • coaching (how to get better results next time, and perhaps how to transfer to real life, from the perspective of an expert),
  • evaluation (how ready the player is to handle the real situation), and even
  • game elements like a high score to spur competition and replay.

AARs ultimately requires a combination of human and comptuer intervention, but one or the other can do in a pinch.

In a sim context, AAR's should also be used often enough to force users to think about performances, and then give them the opportunity to try again.

I wrote in Learning By Doing, "in the military, After Action Reviews (AARs)) are very big deals, the same way that air is a very big deal." I can hope this will eventually be true not only of all sims, but all intense real experiences as well.

Saturday, December 24

SimWord of the Day: Trigger

Triggers are almost the opposite of primary variables. While primary variables tick up or tick down, always ready to be corrected and for which compensated, triggers are "all or nothing" events.

When studying what an expert knows/does, the question is, "what are events that if happen are (at least temporarily) irreversable and that change the dynamics? "

In the game world, this might include your characterer, after losing health (a primary variable), finally dies (a trigger).
  • In the real world, after working hard to improve productivity (a primary variable), you might get a promotion (a trigger).
  • After working hard to figure out a solution with a perspective client (a primary variable), you might get the contract (a trigger).
  • After building support for your bill (a primary variable), you might get a favorable vote (a trigger).
Of course there are bad tiggers as well: losing a big client, or having a facctory break down.

Triggers and primary variables go hand in hand. Talking about one without talking about the other misses the point.

Friday, December 23

SimWord of the Day: Map

A map is part of any simworld, that influences the visual experience of the player, level design, type of knowledge captured, and also the play/know/do.

  • There are maze structures: the goal is to travel to the right spot (or spots), or get something (like a ball) to the right spot, sometimes even learning what the right spot is.
  • There are territory structures: the goal is to control as much as possible, or to control the right spots. This could be marketspace as well as Poland.
  • There are ecosystems structures: the goal is to get a thriving set of interdependencies. Most of the sim and tycoon games go here.
  • There are arenas, where teams or individuals just do combat.
  • There are workbench structures: the goal is to build something that works.
  • There are conceptual structures, such as in the form of 2X2 grids or Zachman structures.
  • There are analogy structures, such as using a virtual museum to provide access to a mess of objects.

And of course there are combinations of all of the above.

Different places have different conditions, worth, value, ease of mobility, etc.

Maps are one of the trickiest areas for building business simulations. Many Big Skills, such as project management, security, innovation, relationship management, don't have easy corresponding maps.

And yet maps already are a critical tool of business (and all) communication. And as the next generations of more visual thinkers, they will only increase in relevancy, both in the context of sims, and outside.

Wednesday, December 21

The Most Important ingredient in Formal Learning

I used to say that the most important ingredient in a formal learning program is motivation of the students. Having poured through thousands of results of recent big skills programs, I think the most important ingredient is the honesty of the students.

Honesty is the genuine awareness of strengths and weaknesses, and then the impact of their strengths and weaknesses.

I have also found that honesty and sense of humor can go hand in hand. While not all people with a sense of humor have honesty, almost everyone who is honest has a great sense of humor.
I have also found that some cultures crush honesty. Some cultures pounce on any sign of weakness. Some people and groups are defensive. These cultures tend to evolve and grow the least, although they get stuff done in the short term.

Any individual and organization should, by the way, balance introspection and action. But any training program of big skills requires that kernel of honesty.

Tuesday, December 20

SimWord of the Day: The Third Paradox of Educational Simulations

You can't even begin to understand a sim by watching someone else play it, you have to play it yourself.

Monday, December 19

Training is NOT Snakeoil

After reflecting upon the recent topic of Snakeoil for a while I have decided that it simply does not jive with the facts.

Laurie Bassi's research shows that organizations that make large investments in training do much better than others. This is because training has both a direct and indirect effect upon the organization:

  • The direct effect is that employees have the skills and competencies they need to do their jobs.
  • The indirect, and perhaps more important effects, are that employees:
    • Are less likely to leave (provided that leaders are effective and wages are competitive).
    • Develop valuable relationships with customers.

Her research is so powerful, that it actually shows that organizations that make large investments in training return 16.3% per year, compared with 10.7 for the S&P 500 index.

In the Human Equation, Jeffery Pfeffer writes that "Virtually all descriptions of high performance management practices emphasize training, and the amount of training provided by commitment as opposed to control-orientated management is substantial" (p85).

On the very next page Pfeffer writes that in times of economic stringency, many U.S. organizations reduce training to make profit goals. Why? Because if we as trainers have no faith, then why should the decision-makers?

Yet training works! It is one of the best predictors of organizational success! So why do we on the inside, who perhaps should know better, bash training just as readily as those on the outside? Perhaps because we deal with the most complicated organization of matter in the known universe -- the human brain.

The brain struggling to understand the brain is society trying to explain itself. - Colin Blakemore

Training works...but not as we always predict...and the reason we cannot always predict it is because we are trying to get a set number of neurons in the human brain to light up at exactly the right time...yet we are not quite sure which neurons actually need to light up...a complicated thing training is indeed...yet for the most part, we do quite well...thats pretty good since we are learning ourselves...and the most exciting part is that we are not there yet...we are still learning...

SimWord of the Day: Tech Tree

The point of these SimWord entries is to suggest that we are developing new tools for capturing domain knowledge and new language for describing how we engage the world.

Does this matter to the formal learning industries? I believe there is nothing more important. If we can't capture more of what an expert knows/does, our industry is stuck telling people how to use the newest ERP tool or memorize a list of facts.

Given all of that, another interesting structure is the Tech Tree.

Here are a tech trees from two games, Civilization IV and Alpha Centauri.

A tech tree is a list of technologies in a game/sim, that have to be uncovered in order. Discovering the alphabet comes before widespread literacy. And it might take discoveries in different areas to lead to one key advancement, just as the one key advancement can open up many doors.

As players are engaged in a game/sim, one decision is where to put research resources to unlock both short and longer term advantages.

SimWord of the Day: The First Paradox of Educational Simulations

The first paradox is that people learn more from the underlying systems and interface in an educational simulation than from the story or wrapper. This is also called the "Killing Kings" paradox, as people who play chess don't learn how to kill kings, but they do learn some high level strategy. Playing a violent computer game does not teach transferable "killing" skills, but more likely the underlying systems and relationships.

The corollary is also true. Most students learn more in classrooms in how to accomplish/game courses (which over the years they master at multiple levels) than the actual subject matter.

SimWord of the Day: The Second Paradox of Educational Simulations

According to the Second Paradox, educational simulations can never be completely comprehensive and accurate, because once a perfect simulation model can be created, the process can be automated, and therefore formal learning is not necessary.

SimWord of the Day: Primary Variables/Balanced Scorecard

Multiple measurable criteria for success. For example, given a walk in the woods, primary variables might be fun, safety, low cost, and exercise.

A collection of primary variables should be optimized, should be reinforcing in the long terms, but sometimes they conflict with each other in the short term. Primary variables are often influenced indirectly, such as by tweaking secondary or tertiary variables. Buying good hiking boots might increase safety but add cost. The more expensive boots, the higher the safety but higher the added cost.

The concept of "Primary variables" is often called "balanced score cards" in the consulting world, and built into "systems dynamics" in the type of simulations called "interactive spreadsheets."

SimWord of the Day: Actuators/Units

Computer games are filled with actuators.

Actuators turn one resource into another. They might turn money into customer satisfaction. They might turn research into finished products. They can be bought, built, placed, and upgraded. They might require a constant stream of resources (fixed costs) and/or variable. They can be destroyed, or shut down. They might have some advantage if geographically positioned close to map-based resources or close to other actuators.

There is a special case of actuators called units. Units typically can move. They have some form of Artificial Intelligence. They can scout around. They can perform different types of work, often depending on their specialty. They can be given priorities. They can swarm. They move at different speeds, and have different capabilities. They can also be distracted, and do things that were once useful but no longer.

What is amazing is that when talking to CEO's of large and very large organizations, they use much the same language. They think about capabilities. They think about optimizing. They think about value chains. They try to take money and time out of processes. They are always interested in replacing unpredictability with predictability. They are interested in opening up new avenues.

And as I like to say, when computer gamers and CEO's agree on reification frameworks, can business schools and corporate training groups be far behind? (Actually, I never said that before, and I had to look up the word reification, but you get the idea.)

Sunday, December 18

SimWord of the Day: Rush (or Tank Rush)

For those of you who play Real Time Strategy games, to rush is to, early on in a scenario, build a large, mobile army and attack an opponent, hopefully catching them unaware while they are still building up their infrastructure.

This term is increasingly used in real business situations, both for people internally planning to get support for their idea "let's do an email rush before the report is released," and externally, "it is not enough to be an early mover. We have to do a tank rush to dominate the store shelves."

This is typically an all or nothing strategy, that if fails, leaves the attacker in a vulnerable situation.

Wednesday, December 14

Flawed Self-Assessment?

According to most studies, about 70% of what we learn is done informally. Yet according to other studies, peoples' notions about what they learn tend to correlate only 0.2 to 0.3 with performance.

If we cannot accurately assess ourselves, then how do we know we have mastered what we set out to do when we are learning informally?

A New Language to Describe the Knowledge of Experts

As I get sucked into conversations about simulations with developers and researchers, both here in the states and in other countries, I am increasingly aware of the influence of the languages of several different communities.

Critical words and phrases are coming from computer game design, project management, computer programming, nutrition, engineering, TQM, environmentalism, systems theory, even golf coaching.

There is a new pidgin emerging - a new language for capturing domain expertise.

At the highest level, it ties together systems with interface with story.

Below that, it involves constructs like transformers (things that turn one resource into another), communities, units (autonoma with competencies and will), mapped spaces (from geographical to conceptual), interface design, perspectives (how different people see the world), and more detailed views of work (from producing widgets on one end to problem solving processes and innovation on the other).

If people are interested, I will share more detailed notes with this community.

Monday, December 5

SimJournal: THE Question for designing an interface to a real time simulation

Obviously, if you have seen Virtual Leader, you know I am a strong believer in real-time interfaces for educational simulations. Like computer games, they tap emotions, give users a sense of timing, and provide the opportunity for very rich interactions. Unlike computer games, however, they must facilitate the transfer of skills and perspectives from the artificial environment to a real environment.

I find this concept of "making interfaces part of the learning" the most difficult to convey when working with clients, and I am guessing others here have the same problem. I hope this helps.

The first level question from simulation designers to a subject matter expert is typically:
  • What are common problems novices make? What are common problems experts make?
But to that, I have started asking another pair, a second level pair, of questions:
  • When is doing the same thing a little harder or a little softer, or a little earlier or a little later, make all the difference between success and failure?

The concept that the subject matter experts fill in for "thing" becomes a critical component of the interface.

Just a few examples I recently heard. If it is...

  • "bring one of the two arguing people outside the room to let them cool off" or
  • "send flowers" or
  • "stop the process to review safety issues" or
  • "set up a focus group to get customer feedback" or
  • "bring in higher levels of management" or
  • "give our bonuses" or
  • "go out with the customer to build the relationship" or
  • "make an acquisition" or
  • "speed up the presentation" or
  • "have the security team spend more time surveying the area with the broken window"

...then those options had better be possible through the interface, and not just as a binary option (i.e. press the button), but also as an analog option (i.e. hold down longer for more impact).

This is all part of the new language of interactivity, something I hope will move from archaic today to mainstream within a few years.

Sunday, December 4

A Nice Example of a Workbook Wiki

A client asked me to find a good example of a wiki that taught people how to use a specific application (Wikipedia is overwhelming to most, and due to the vastness, not a great example for smaller implementations). The best I found was this, for learning how to use Python. While most here may not be interested in Python, I think it is worth a look to see how content is structured.
Again, I personally find the imperfections satisfying, as it reflects a reality not a vision, and what the client could reasonably hope to achieve.

Friday, December 2

The scarcity of attention rule

Fred Wilson, a well known VC, covers on his blog a topic that I think is very relevant to the field of learning:
The overabundance of information leads to a scarcity of attention

"What information consumes is rather obvious: it consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it." (Computers, Communications and the Public Interest, pages 40-41, Martin Greenberger, ed., The Johns Hopkins Press, 1971.)

Wow, that is a very very interesting statement.

Only several years ago there were not a lot of online courses available. Since then the technology has matured to the point where almost anyone can create and publish content (just look at blogs!). Now companies have access to libraries with thousands of courses. But all to often I see people searching Google first, looking for answers and getting thousands of search results (informal learning) or having mind-numbing access to those thousands of online courses through enterprise libraries (formal learning), both of which are resulting in a quick-hit, good luck knowing how 'right' the answer is, learning experience.

Frankly it scares me how many people take the Internet at face value. Yes, Google, Wikipedia, blogs etc are all great sources but there is little in way of context to help judge it's value.

But on the other hand I find myself not really needing to 'learn' something but rather 'find and discard' an answer, knowing that I can always dig it up again later if need be. Heck my world seems to be changing so quickly that I'm lucky if I can find the answer to my question in one place as I often have to pull it together from several sources.

Jay Cross says that 80% of learning is informal and I wonder how much of that informal learning is being done by Internet searching. Maybe the first course every person should take should be on effective online search techniques and how to assemble knowledge from multiple sources of varying quality.

Do you agree?
- is there simply too much information, stored in containers like courses, out there? (is Google the new incarnation of the learning object repository?)
- How do we in the learning industry prune away the excess but still ensure that it is relevant to each learner and not overly generic? (is it our job to do the pruning or do things like tags, social networking and RSS enable each learner to do the pruning their own way)
- if learning is now truly able to be continuous then how do we create effective learning experiences that can span across multiple delivery mediums independent of time? (anything published on the Internet will last forever especially with search engine caching)
- are we to become knowledge navigators to our learners? (equipping our learners with tools versus content like courses and saying 'the answer is out there, now go forth and find it'?)