Designing Experiences for Learning: Research Has Shown That Computer-Based Simulation Is One of the Best Vehicles for Effectively and Practically Delivering a Consistent Experience across an Organization

Article excerpt

Experience is the best teacher. This is an age-old adage that is universally accepted. Unfortunately, organizations have neither the time nor the budget to allow their people to learn through the "school of hard knocks." Therefore, simulations offer the opportunity to capture the necessary experience in a more deployable format and allow participants to gain experience in a safe environment. The combination of content, context, and time provides an opportunity for participants to engage with the issues both intellectually and emotionally, allowing for greater depth in the process.

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What is it?

Simulation can be defined as a complex weave of scenarios put together to capture a period of time in the life of a character and to incorporate content (such as leadership, ethics, or sales) and context (environment, people, task, and culture) so that it imitates life. This combination of content and context, when placed within the flow of time, enables a participant to experience an issue as it could play out in real life.

Why it works

Experience is a key driver in the success of both individuals and organizations. With experience design, it is the experience itself that is important, not whether the participant gets it right. Instructional design is primarily focused on learning the what and the how of the required changes, not on gaining insight from understanding and practicing the why and when of things. The how and what are necessary, but not sufficient for bringing about change because they are static and not contextual.

When it comes to demonstrating the why and when (that is, to display judgment), a more dynamic approach is required, one that takes into account context and inter-relationships. In other words, what is required is a method that captures experience within a context that provides opportunities to use judgment to take action and live with and learn from the consequences of those actions.

Guidelines

Behavioral or branching simulations are built using the metaphor of a decision tree and are focused on providing participants with an opportunity to exhibit three criteria:

* critical thinking and decision making

* handling consequences

* receiving feedback.

These applications manifest as a form of "choose your own adventure" exercises where participants are placed into a series of scenarios in which they are challenged to make decisions by selecting a particular path or branch. Then they experience the consequences of their choices by following that branch to where it takes them. Scenarios are miniexperiences whose impact is influenced by the depth and applicability of the exercise. Two key benefits of simulations are building the experience portfolio and strengthening decision-making skills.

Building the experience portfolio. When we face a situation, a typical response will start with some kind of gut reaction to what we perceive is going on. Somewhere in our brains, we sift through a portfolio of experiences and search for relevant or applicable instances in which we have experienced this situation before. We then garner some insight into the situation we are facing and take action.

But often for learners, this experience portfolio is empty. For example, if an employee has been recently promoted from an individual contributor to a supervisor, there are not going to be any leadership experiences in that person's portfolio. By designing an experience of leading and dealing with coaching issues or difficult conversations, participants are able to deposit some relevant and application-oriented "files" into their experience portfolio that can be called on in real life. When playing the simulation, participants also get to practice their decision-making and critical thinking skills.

By making a selection from the choice options they're presented with, they also gain experience with using judgment. …