Sunday, October 21

How would the world have evolved if everyone assumed training was just about worthless? Like it has!

There is a pact between corporate students and corporate trainers (and, I think, IT, budget holders, the lawyers, and middle management) that essentially says, "We all know that training does almost nothing. Given that, let's all agree to make it as frictionless as possible so that we can all check off that necessary corporate requirement and get on with our 'real' work."

This was the motivation for "e-learning" back in 1999. "Given that training was useless, let's make it cheap and convenient." The biggest sponsors of e-learning were the corporate managers who most opposed learning programs. The vendors who did well offered the most titles as cheaply as possible.

Today, most organizations only bother with level one analysis of training. "Question one: did we make the program as convenient and easy as possible? There is no question two." And stunningly, in a recent eLearning Guild's report, managers of educational programs from both academics and corporate, when asked about relative importance in a learning program, ranked ease of deployment (57.4% said it was very important and 37.2 said it was important) over every other category, including provides a strong return on investment (34.6% very important/ 41.4% important) and fun and exciting for participants (50.2%/28.4%).

The newest attempt to reduce the friction of learning to all stakeholders may be epitomized by the informal learning movement (which is happening if we choose to label it or not). "People learn what they need on the Internet. Who needs an LMS when you have Google?"

Simulation people disrupt that pact at all points. Students actually have to put some skin in the game, and experience intellectual awkwardness (which they hate). Trainers have content that does literally change behavior, so now they have to be extra careful it is the right content, and they actually have to learn how to measure the impact of formal learning, something they have never really figured out. IT, in some cases, has to now justify why some employees have old browsers, bad connections, and no sound. Middle managers have to free up the participants to actually learn (which means offloading work and not just letting it pile up in their absence).

Any new program can be killed by any member of the pact who feels that the deal is changing. We may be at a point where real formal learning is the enemy of everyone (but the organization's shareholders).

There are exceptions, of course. There are environments that truly value formal development programs. These are the groups that say (in a riff on the more famous phrase) "train hard, manage easy." That seems better than, "if you pretend to teach me, I will pretend to learn."

Saturday, October 13

Which name is better - Serious Games or Educational Simulations or...?

There is a new field emerging, dealing with interactive content. I have created examples of it and written books about it, as have many others. But there is no universal name for the space (as in, "For our next program, we will use a ___ approach, or I am going to a conference to learn more about ____").

Here are the top ten:

10. Virtual Experiences: Pros: Captures the essence of the value proposition. Cons: Overlaps with Social Networking (see below).

9. Games: Pros: Unambiguous; unapologetic; makes the core point of learning by playing. Computer games (a subsection of all games) are a 10 billion dollar industry, therefore computer games should be in classrooms (other people say it more convincingly than I do). Cons: People play lots of games anyway - what is the value of forcing them to play more; too diverse; would you want your doctor to have learned from a game?

8. Simulations: Pros: Scientific; accurate; really serious. Cons: Includes many approaches that are not instructional (weather simulations) nor engageable; implies one hundred percent predictive accuracy.

7. Social Impact Games: Pros: Convey the nobleness of the cause. Differentiates from the default notion of games as not having a (or having a negative) social impact. Cons: Still emphasizes the tricky word of "games;" doesn't fit in corporate or military cultures; has any social impact game actually had a social impact?

6. Practiceware: Pros: Emphasizes the core of practicing to learn skills. Recalls model of batting cage and driving ranges. Cons: Franken-word; doesn't include a lot of puzzles and more awareness-raising activities; sounds vocational.

5. Game-based learning/digital game based learning: Pros: Spells everything out - game AND learning - any questions? Cons: Sounds dated and academic.

Serious Games? In e-Learning Guild's landmark (and live/ongoing) [survey] of 1,785 corporate, military, and academic practioners, most suggested not using the "serious games" name.

4. Immersive Learning Simulations: Pros: Hits all of the key points. Cons: Doesn't roll of the tongue. Name sounds a bit redundant (wouldn't any two of the three words work just as well?).

3. Educational Simulations: Pros: Sponsors like it. Cons: Sounds hard and perhaps too rigorous for casual students.

2. Serious Games: Pros: Nicely ironic; students like it; press loves it - loves it (I mean NY Times and Serious Games should get a room); researchers use it as a way to get foundation grants; most popular handle (see unscientific but anecdotally consistent poll results above). Cons: Sponsors hate it; instructors from academics, corporate, and military hate it; emphasizes the most controversial part of the experience - the "fun" part (i.e. the game elements); often too conceptual (you would never call a flight simulator a "serious game."). Most examples of serious games are neither very serious nor very good examples of games; For better and worse, the successor to edutainment.

1. Sims: Pros: Attractive to both students and sponsors; captures essence; fun. Cons: Also includes computer games in general, as well as one very famous franchise.

Some of the other names include: action learning simulations, performance simulations, interactive strategies, and activities based training.

Social Networking?

And then there is the question of to includes Social Networks or not? Pros: Most people lump Second Life and World of Warcraft into this area on their own. Con: Social networking and simulations should be used very differently and have different value propositions (see Top Ten Missing Features of Second Life). But including social networking adds words such as world, life, or environment, and sometimes virtual.