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.


Clark Aldrich said...

Playing chess does not teach you how to kill kings, but it does teach you some general strategy (i.e. positioning is critical, sometimes you must sacrifice a pawn for a rook, situations can turn around very quickly).

Like chess, computer games teach a lot of high level "systems" concepts, including resource allocation, power relationships (rocks, papers, scissors), use of time; but they are not built (nor have they evolved serendipitously) to facilitate the transfer skills to the outside world.

This transferability of skills is not a "freebie." You don't get it, even if you do everything else right. You have to build it deliberately into the interface of the experience.

Trace Urdan said...

Back to your original post Clark, the laundry list of relevent possibilities seems so vast as to be impossible to scale and every sim -- if it meets the standards you point to -- becomes a vastly expensive custom event whereby, it seems the financial leverage is lost. Do the relevent options become consistent and predictable over a large enough set of applications allowing for more leverage? Or is the point not that the sim is ultimately less expensive, but rather more effective than instructor-led delivery?

Clark Aldrich said...

Hi Trace,

It is before my coffee, so I am a bit confused. Some ideas:

I. Developing Cyclical (interface-based) content requires a new skill set.

II. Implementing Cyclical content is more expensive.

III. Cyclical content increases transfer of content to real-life.


Now, I think you suggest:

IV: Cyclical content requires such significant customization to a specific audience that it decreases the scalability of a formal learning experience.

I don't get that sense at all. I would use for one, self-serving data point that Virtual Leader has been translated into Japanese, Korean, and Chinese, all of the underlying logic has stayed the same, and the effectiveness as measured in both 360's and group productivity is just as powerful.

I believe with the last generation of training and HR that there is an addiction to customized mediocrity. I am seeing the next generation embracing a model closer to Doctor/pharmaceutical. Powerful, generic content implemented well by a smart practioner produces the best of both worlds. Maybe!