Classroom Simulations

Deconstructing the Classroom Simulation

A True Confession

The other day I was sitting in a meeting listening to a presentation. Here are the things I confess to having done during that time (I had my laptop open under the auspices of note-taking):

  • Googled something the meeting leader said to better understand it
  • Emailed my son some help with an algebra problem
  • Read the headlines of the New York Times, Huffington Post and Wall Street Journal
  • Bought a swimsuit (it probably won’t fit)
  • Added a client event to my calendar and invited others to attend
  • Rescheduled that event when the client declined
  • Took notes on the presentation

I got to thinking – so what does this have to do with classroom simulations? Turns out — everything. Every day it seems our capacity and urge to multi-task grows. To keep pace with the dynamic business environment we operate in, we need to deal with many things at once, problem-solve and complete tasks simultaneously. Simulations are uniquely able to replicate and leverage this phenomenon in a training environment. It can move a classroom training experience from teaching x + y = z to ensuring an understanding of a(xy)+ b2 = z.

How do Simulations Work?

When I think about how simulations work to accomplish this higher order outcome, I come up with three main mechanisms. Effective simulations I’ve created or experienced feature:

  1. Non-sequential learning
  2. Realistic, complex situations
  3. Demonstration of cause and effect

Simulations don’t have a linear, topic-followed-by-topic agenda that transfers knowledge via a “age on the stage.” A simulation might offer a scenario, deliver some learning content on a few topics, provide access to resources (live, written, online or otherwise), then require participants to play roles, work together and use the information combined with their experience to solve a problem. Data may be missing and clues may be provided that don’t get used until later. Decisions may be required that change the course of the learning. Teams might outperform other teams. People might get frustrated and things might go wrong. Kind of like the real world.

When I’m creating a simulation, I like to sift through a lot of stories. The team and I listen to the client tell us what business problems happen when people don’t have the insights the simulation is supposed to deliver. We dig around for drama, intrigue, heartache, achievement and fiscal pain, and then we build them into the simulation. The learning experience has to feel real, or participants won’t care as much.

Simulations are a great way to leverage the experience of some participants to enhance the learning of others. When teams debate decisions and consider multiple courses of action they practice cause and effect thinking that is critical to successful business outcomes. By trusting in the ability (and desire) of humans to process more than one thing at a time, we have found that we can cover more content in a shorter amount of time than with a linear training approach. Senior level employees tend to engage and respond more positively to simulations than to traditional training experiences. One thing is certain; participants usually don’t have the time or desire to buy a bathing suit during a simulation.

Onboarding new hires using a learning visual increases retention, connection and productivity

Finding the right employee to match the needs of an organization is a huge investment. Businesses spend a significant amount of money on recruiting, testing and negotiating with potential candidates to fill open positions. So after spending so much time, effort and money finding the right person, how can they ensure that the new hire’s experience is as beneficial as it can be for both the employee and the employer? Onboarding plays a critical role in the answer to this question.

The argument has been made that each new hire brings their own motivations, work ethic and eagerness to contribute with them when they join an organization. And they do. But the impact that a powerful onboarding experience, that welcomes a new hire into the fold and says “this place really cares about you and the contributions that you will making and we hope that our relationship together will be long and productive” can be game changing. When working with our clients on these types of robust onboarding efforts, we often hear comments from participants about how impressed they are that a company would invest so much time on them as a new hire to learn about the company, and how helpful the experience was as a springboard into the job.

Learning Blueprints‘ (visuals) play a significant role in an engaging onboarding experience and provide an avenue for a fun way to transfer knowledge, and for new hires to explore an organization. The story told by these visuals helps the new hire see how they fit into the strategic direction of the organization, and can generate excitement about how they can contribute. Blueline Blueprints‘ help to bridge the gap between being an outsider and belonging, They also confirm that the decision to join the company was the right choice!  A new hire can connect immediately to the organization and be proud of what they joined. And, informed new hires can be more productive in their first 30, 60, 90 days of hire than uninformed new hires.

classroom simulationsIf your company’s onboarding philosophy is “let them learn by observing or asking others’ the information being conveyed may not be what senior leadership desires. The onboarding process can be formalized but fun. Learning Blueprints’ and the activities around them, involve a lot of learning and thinking, and the discussion and stories allow participants to learn from each other – not just from the talking head at the front of the room. Incorporating different methodologies also shows the creativity of the organization – even if the organization is technical in nature.

Learning Blueprints’ increase retention, bring fun to the learning process, allow stories to be told that can include past, present and future, and help the new hire see where they fit into it all. What better way to welcome the new hire!

How “Fly Swatter Phonics” Can Help Solve Your Next Training Challenge! Part Two.

Last week, we started exploring the connection between having fun and actually learning…something my 4-year old grandson does by “swatting flies” as he’s learning to read. A key takeaway from that discussion was to keep your training content relevant and manageable. Otherwise, there’s a good chance the “fun-o-meter” will register pretty low. This week, we’re picking up there.

We often hear clients say something like this: “We rolled out training, but we can’t keep people’s attention. They aren’t engaged. What can you suggest?” Remember the client from last week? The one with the bazillion PowerPoint slides? What we discovered was their training wasn’t connected to people’s everyday work in a real, practical and believable way.

Our suggestion was to rebuild the training to simulate the learner’s real world. We felt it was critical to give people a chance to immediately apply what they were learning in meaningful ways and get immediate feedback at the same time. I’m happy to report that the client loved the idea, we built it, and it was a huge success! People remained engaged the entire time as they practiced “fly swatting” the way they would be doing on the job. The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, engage the learner through realistic practice!

In “Fly Swatter Phonics” the game mechanics were pretty simple. There was a fly swatter, some 3” x 5” cards, a blackboard and a few rules. But it wasn’t the game itself that made the learning fun. It was the fact that my grandson was actively involved in the learning. He wasn’t just a bystander. He was doing something. He was participating. He was making decisions. He was competing, appropriately, with his peers. He was responsible for earning his rewards or watching others earn theirs. These are the things that made it fun. (A fly swatter without purpose is just another fly swatter!)

When our client handed over all of those PowerPoint slides, we knew immediately that we had to find a way to make participants active learners rather than passive ones. We did that through the simulation. We also did it through a self-directed learning visual where, with minimal facilitation, teams navigated themselves through a collection of activities, team discussions, applications and mini-challenges.

Here’s what ‘our client of many slides’ had to say about their new program: “CONGRATULATIONS! The new training was amazing! What an improvement over the old method. Thank you on behalf of all involved. I would be very surprised if there was one person in the room who did not gain from the two days.” The takeaway? If you want to make training fun, involve the learner in the learning!

We at Blueline Simulations believe there’s no good reason—and no good way—for effective learning to be boring or passive. Let us help you swat your biggest training challenges!

Now You CAN Have It Both Ways!

Back in 2010, David Milliken and I engaged in a spirited debate here in this blog. We explored whether skill practice through eSimulations was as effective as live role-play in a classroom.

As a quick recap, I argued that there are important aspects of live role-play that could not be replicated in an eSimulation. These include live coaching on non-verbal aspects of the learner’s delivery such as voice-tone, pace and body language.

David, on the other hand, correctly pointed out some of the problems with live role-plays that eSimulations address better. These include the challenges of extreme variability in the delivery of the “other player,” such as people “playing extreme hard-ball,” or just not taking their role seriously and thus depriving the learner of a real opportunity to practice the skills.

So today, I am calling a truce with my old friend David Milliken. What if you could have a role-play with the consistency of experience of a well-designed eSimulation… without sacrificing the individualized feedback and coaching of a live classroom?

Today we are proud to present a solution that does exactly that. Introducing Management Challenge™.

Management Challenge™ delivers a vivid learning experience that parallels the real experiences faced by every manager you know. Working as a table team, your learners are quickly drawn into a computer-based simulation in which they must run a fictional organization for three consecutive quarters.

Along the way they face realistic challenges such as:

  • How do I allocate my resources most effectively across multiple projects?
  • How do I increase employee engagement?
  • How do I handle conflict among coworkers?
  • How do I develop my people – both through assignments and through coaching?

Here’s how it works. Learners rotate turns in the role of a Director, a Senior Manager, and a Manager in the fictional organization. When acting as Director, they will delegate actual projects to the team. As Senior Manager, they must assign resources and plan for how the work will get done. And as Managers, they must assign virtual employees to the projects while managing and motivating them. The decisions they make impact not only the performance of the organization over time, but also the opportunities and challenges they as a team will face later in the simulation. And of course, they are competing with the teams at other tables for the best business results at the end of the year. So energy and engagement are high!

Okay, so what about that “you can have it both ways” role-play? Management effectiveness is just as much about communication as it is about decision-making. So throughout the simulation, Managers are faced with situations in which they must meet with individual employees. This is where the magic blend happens.

The virtual employees are presented in video clips. This ensures a consistent delivery, and that core concepts are addressed, thus leveraging an advantage of typical eSimulations.

But what makes this design so effective is that the role player monitors the dialogue and selects the next response for the virtual employee based on what the Manager says – thus ensuring the most realistic dialogue possible. And here is where the benefits of live role-play kick in. The Senior Manager takes coaching notes to provide feedback not only on what was said by the Manager, but also how it was delivered. Some teams even opt to provide real-time feedback during the dialogue to allow the Manager to make on-the-spot adjustments and rapid improvements.

What do learners think of this approach? Well, to be honest, at first they react like learners do whenever they hear the words role-play or skill-practice – they groan! But, after the first round of practice they become immediately immersed in the low-risk environment, and they recognize the real opportunity to improve. Frankly, they can’t get enough.

Now, the blended role-play is just one of the unique and innovative aspects behind the highly engaging and powerful learning experience of Management Challenge™. We’d love to show you more.

Contact us today and arrange for an online demonstration of Management Challenge™ and we’ll show you how it can be tailored for your unique needs.

It’s Not a Game. It’s Gamification.

How Blueline Simulations is Creating New Levels of Learning Retention.

I try not to care about FourSquare. The simple location app, which my teenage daughter helpfully loaded onto my iPhone, encourages me to “check in” every time I go to Starbucks, to Kroger, or to the hip new restaurant downtown.

Help me. I can’t stop. Every time I check in somewhere, I earn points and am able to compare my activity against my friends. I even earn “badges” for dubious achievements such as “checking in at three places after midnight.” And it is a source of some kind of misplaced pride that I have been named “mayor” with the most check-ins at Nashville International Airport’s gate C-9.

Yes, I’m being self-deprecating. But the principles behind my behavior are no game. According to tech research firm Gartner, gamification techniques (like the ones I just described) will be used in 25% of all redesigned processes in business within the next few years.

The cynical view says this trend is little more than a trick of operant conditioning. (The rat presses the lever and a pellet comes out.) But gamification is much more than that. Employed strategically, it brings extraordinary levels of engagement to learning.

How? It does this through:

  • Play. Research is increasingly showing that play is a potent force in organizational contexts. Have you ever seen videos of adorable tiger cubs wresting with one another? This play is actually their primary avenue to learning key skills for hunting and survival. Freedom to experiment and joy are not techniques to enhance the learning process; they are the learning process.
  • Collaborative competition. How did I perform compared to Joe? Where do I rank compared to the rest of my team? In gamification, these questions are in no way cut throat. The stakes are bragging rights, and playful ribbing in the conference room.
  • Immediate feedback. One element common to most gamification techniques is a constant assessment of where one stands in the process of learning. This may be accomplished through badges, leaderboards, and other point-based mechanisms. When the boss tells employees how well they are advancing or regressing in their work, the result may be feelings of vulnerability.  When that feedback comes from an unbiased leaderboard, it is surprisingly engaging.

At Blueline Simulations, programs featuring gamification techniques have been transformative for our clients. In our next blog, we’ll take a look at how these technology-enable elements of play, competition, and feedback are leading to new levels of learner engagement.

Give us a call, and we’ll explore how gamification techniques can be used in your organization’s learning programs!