eSimulations

PART II Is the notion of an artificially intelligent simulation dead?

(Or: Why you can be confident our simulations will never rise up to extinguish all of humanity.)

Last week, I posted my thoughts on the “failed promise” of artificial intelligence. (Did you miss it? Click here.)

Today’s pioneers in artificial intelligence are no longer chasing the dream of replicating the complex processes inherent in the human brain. Instead, according to Steven Levy, Senior Writer at Wired Magazine, they are using “machine learning, massive data sets, sophisticated sensors, and clever algorithms to master discrete tasks.” Steven cites examples that can be found everywhere: “The Google global machine uses AI to interpret cryptic human queries,” he writes.  “Credit card companies use it to track fraud. Netflix uses it to recommend movies to subscribers. And the financial system uses it to handle billions of trades (with only the occasional meltdown).”

Clearly, the power of AI has found a comfortable, unassuming role in many corners of our culture. So what should the new vision of A.I. in learning be? How can we leverage this important technology to build cost-effective training solutions, with reasonable development timeframes that create a unique experience for each learner?

At Blueline, we are taking a two-pronged approach.

First, we have been exploring solutions that leverage a gaming engine (with rules, probabilities and randomization dictating the occurrence of certain nodes), voice recognition and thousands of nodes that lead the learner to believe that the simulation they are interacting with is artificially intelligent. This allows us to provide an experience so robust that you could practice interactions for weeks with in a single simulation and never have the same interaction twice.

That’s just the beginning. We have partnered with a neurobiologist who has been doing breakthrough work to transform the public education market. His solution tailors the entire experience to the learner using complex algorithms to assess individual learning needs combined with affordable and easily implemented simulation techniques. His approach has created solutions that consistently demonstrate 300% improvements in retention over control groups. (No, that was not a typo. 300%. Let that sink in.)

Are these solutions TRON-like yet? Not even close. But they do allow us to help clients deliver effective individualized training, at a reasonable cost now.

Give us a call. We’ll show you more.

And, we promise our simulations will never, ever rise up against our clients in a bloody mechanical apocalypse.

Perfecting the use of “Gamification” Techniques to Increase Learner Engagement

Recently, we had to hold multiple sessions because demand for our webinar about Gamification was so overwhelming.  So what’s all of the excitement about?

The “gamification” of training designs isn’t new, it’s just newly popular and in more demand thanks to the highly publicized success of platforms like Facebook, Foursquare and Gowalla.

Let’s start with a definition (from Wikipedia):

“Gamification is the use of game-thinking and game mechanics in non-game contexts in order to engage users and solve problems. Gamification is used in applications and processes to improve user engagement, ROI, data quality, timeliness, and learning.”

The most important word in that paragraph is engagement. Because in the field of learning, engagement translates to retention; retention translates into application; and application translates into results. So if you want to drive results, drive engagement, and if you want to engage: gamify your learning.

At Blueline Simulations, we have been perfecting the use of “gamification” techniques to increase learner engagement for more than a decade.  Examples of how we do that include:

  1. Utilizing progress bars or other visual meters to indicate how close people are to completing a training element.
  2. Embedding casual games or game elements into the designs of our Blueprint Learning Visuals and our Level II & III eLearning designs.
  3. Using virtual currency in our business strategy and finance simulations.
  4. Incorporating peer challenge and feedback mechanisms into YouTube style best practice sharing.
  5. Constructing leaderboards, awarding points and conquering levels are all foundational to the design of our Level IV eSimulations.

Want to learn more.  Give the gamification experts at Blueline Simulations a call today!

Is the notion of an artificially intelligent simulation dead?

(Or: Why you can be confident our simulations will never rise up to extinguish all of humanity.)

PART I

“Artificial intelligence” is just one of those terms. It grabs the imagination, doesn’t it? What does it make you think of? Maybe it evokes images of sci-fi adventures like TRON in which an altruistic prodigy programs a world of artificially intelligent beings more perfect than their creator. Or, perhaps you think of darker images such as the chilling, mutinous computer HAL from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. (As for the “rise of the machines” in Terminator 2… let’s not even go there.)

For me, artificial intelligence is not the stuff of sci-fi thrillers, but rather something much more utilitarian and closer to my vocation in the field of learning. I imagine an e-based learning experience that can adapt to the unique needs of each learner.

Okay, so maybe that’s mundane stuff for most people, but I think there’s still a lot here to be excited about.

Nearly a decade ago, a friend of mine, named Clark Aldrich, developed the first “artificially intelligent” business simulation. Clark and his team at Simulearn called that program Virtual Leader, and used it to teach interpersonal skills to leaders. In addition to creating a real breakthrough in design through the use of avatars and a powerful gaming engine, Virtual Leader was the first of its kind to adapt to the individual needs of the learner.

As you engaged with Virtual Leader, the simulation’s AI engine seemed to identify your bad habits. For example, let’s say you demonstrated a habit of interrupting and talking over other people. The computer would “notice” this behavior and then adapt to expose it as an area of developmental need.

Sounds pretty amazing doesn’t it?  We all thought so. In fact, we thought that Virtual Leader would forever transform the way that e-based learning was designed and delivered.

But that didn’t quite happen. Mainstream application of these techniques has proven quite elusive for lots of reasons, including development costs in the millions of dollars; project timelines that can take years instead of months; and the difficulty of creating access within locked-down corporate IT environments.  And so the promise of artificial intelligence in business learning never quite came about.

But all of that is about to change. Check in next week to learn how.

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.

Blueline is Celebrating our 10th Birthday. And I am a Bit Speechless.

Yes we had big dreams when we founded Blueline. But we never imagined the success and the many accolades that we have enjoyed in our first decade.  Blueline’s award-winning training solutions have been recognized by ASTD, Brandon Hall and Bersin’s Learning Leaders. Thank you to all of our clients for believing in our vision and for trusting us with the “tough” projects — the projects that weren’t simply about building a training program but were about solving a business problem.

And thank you to all of the Blueline associates who have contributed directly and indirectly to our client’s successes. I plan to dream really big about the next 10 years because now I know how capable you are.

On the occasion of this milestone, I’ve been reflecting about our business — where it has been and (even more exciting) where it is going.

Welcome to the Age of Simulation

Recently, I participated in a discussion about learning strategies with some very senior leaders from Xerox, AT&T, UPS, and Intercontinental Hotel Corporation. And it was interesting because though they weren’t able to agree on everything, there was one thing that they quickly came to consensus on: “in this environment we need to teach learners more, and faster than ever before.”

Consider that 47% of employees are going to be under the age of 35 by the end of 2013. Let’s think about that for a second. This is a brand new generation of learners with a whole different set of expectations. These folks grew up with Xbox, and they grew up with MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. They grew up with Zynga and other social games on Facebook.

What’s the common theme? This group of learners expects to be entertained.

In 25 years in the learning space, if I’ve learned anything it’s that the fastest way to engage learners is through simulation. Period. And now we have this huge demographic that will not only benefit from simulation but is demanding it, because they want to be entertained, and they expect to be put in the middle of the experience.

Games, E-sims, and Beyond

Ten years ago, when I founded Blueline, we pushed the envelope by designing Blueline Blueprint Learning Visuals and classroom based simulations, many of which looked and felt like board games. These innovations speed learning and increase retention and continue to bring unique value in response to business problems that demand face-to-face interactions between learners.

About seven years ago, “branching esimulations” went mainstream in response to traditional elearning solutions that were dull and failed to engage and energize the learner. In a typical branching esimulation, the learner is faced with a challenge — often in the form of dialog with a customer or an employee — and is asked to respond by selecting from one of three alternatives. Their choice leads to another challenge and more choices, “and so on and so on” just like the old Clairol commercials. The problem has been that these simulations are hard coded, and for large scale immersive applications, expensive to build, and all but impossible to maintain and update.

Today technology has made it possible for us to do so much more, and to deliver so much more value. We are developing branching simulations based on gaming engines with thousands of nodes guided by easily updated rules and probabilities. Close your eyes and imagine a scenario in which you are interacting with a video-based character using your voice… and that you can interact with that character for hours on end in an almost life-like free flowing dialog.

Think for a minute about the potential that brings. Now, open your eyes because that’s a reality today.

Imagine what I will be writing about ten years from today!