Business Simulations

Is an Off-the-Shelf Simulation on Target with Your Needs?

My last blog made the case for simulation being a uniquely effective way to both immerse and engage your learners for maximum adoption and retention. I outlined the types of simulation and discussed how they can be used to:blueline-solutions2

  • apply knowledge, skills and behaviors in context
  • deliver just-in-time, just enough performance support
  • assess needs and pinpoint skill deficiencies

Yet for all of their plusses and performance points, the objections I hear most often are around development time and investment associated with custom simulations. Despite the fact that the time and expense associated with developing these immersive learning designs have shrunk through the use of innovative new technologies, there are still many scenarios where time and cost can be barriers.

Notice I said can be. But contrary to popular belief, they certainly don’t have to be.

Off-the-Shelf Options
Before you dismiss simulation as a viable training solution in your organization, I challenge you to weigh your options with off-the-shelf offerings proven to build enthusiasm and maximize retention across a broad range of competencies.

Blueline Simulations offers a number of off-the-shelf simulation experiences on topics ranging from sales and marketing to leadership development, business acumen to innovation. These time-tested offerings have been the catalyst for learning and development in leading organizations for many years without the costs typically associated with custom development.

We’ve simplified the process of choosing the simulation that aligns with your needs by creating matrices of our offerings across the categories. I invite you to take a look at our sales and marketing, leadership development and business literacy product matrices to help determine whether the magic of these simulations’ discovery and experiential learning methods is what you’re looking for in your organization.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll address three more critical questions to ask yourself to determine whether simulation is right for you. In the meantime, I invite you to contact us to learn more about any of our custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 14 years.

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Using Simulation to Put Learning in Context

There’s little question that adoption and retention are driven by immersion and engagement. And there’s no better way to both immerse and engage your learners than through simulation.

Simulation is uniquely effective because it creates an opportunity for learners to apply knowledge, skills and behaviors in context. Many simulation designs also are able to deliver just-in-time, just enough performance support at the point of need. And some simulations can even be used as assessment instruments, helping to identify learners with the greatest need and pinpointing specific skill deficiencies.

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Types of Simulation

There are essentially two types of simulation: branching/decision-tree and spreadsheet.

Branching/decision-tree simulations can be used to model interactions with people, software and machines. They range from simple hard-coded faux sim designs that give the illusion of choice to robust designs that distribute and repurpose thousands of nodes based on algorithmic rules and probabilities. This type of simulation is very effective at developing a broad range of interpersonal and decision-focused competencies such as sales, service, coaching and problem-solving and can incorporate interactions with relevant software and machines.

Spreadsheet simulations use complex scenario-modeling frameworks to simulate business strategy and marketplace dynamics. They range from simple sim-board designs that require teams of participants to move chips and tally their own results to sophisticated networked designs that mirror the dynamics of a rapidly changing marketplace. This type of simulation is effective at developing competencies such as business acumen, leadership, change management and judgment.

Despite major technological advances that have reduced development cycles and associated costs, custom simulations typically cost more than other learning alternatives. And the higher the fidelity of the simulation and the more integrated with technology, the greater the cost.

As a third option, our signature Blueline BlueprintTM designs borrow elements from branching and spreadsheet simulations to achieve similar levels of engagement and retention at a lower cost. Blueline BlueprintsTM have been proven to build enthusiasm and maximize retention across a broad range of competencies using both discovery and experiential learning methods.

Over the next month, I’ll be addressing four critical questions to ask yourself to determine whether simulation is right for your needs. In the meantime, I invite you to contact us to learn more about any of our custom classroom simulations, Blueline Blueprint™ learning visuals or other innovative delivery methods that have been generating notable business results in leading organizations worldwide for more than 13 years.

Organizational Practitioners are Recognizing the Power of Story

If you haven’t been following the fast-emerging discourse around “organizational storytelling,” allow me to help you get caught up.

Here’s the idea: More and more organizational practitioners are recognizing the power of story to create culture; speed learning and change; archive knowledge; establish brand; and build shared meaning. (Gosh, there’s so much more to say here. If your attention is already piqued, check out resources like this one, this one, or one of my own articles here. Or just do your own Google search and be prepared to get lost in the heady fun for hours.

Funny thing is, pretty early in this conversation most people hit an immediate roadblock — not around best practices, but around something as basic as the very definition of organizational story.

That’s right. Many of the best thinkers in the story space are still deliberating over what a story is.

I’ll give you an example. Pause for a moment, look at the image below, and take note of any reaction you may have:

cokecolaSo my question for you is, is that a story?

Story purists say no, a logo or a brand is not a story. After all, the Coke logo above is lacking even the most basic story elements. Where’s the plot? The protagonist? The problem? The journey? Heck, it doesn’t even have a beginning, middle or end.

Right?

Granted, you probably wouldn’t shell out $10 to watch a corporate logo on a movie screen. But these objections miss an important point; one that has everything to do with the topics that concern us most here at Blueline Simulations, like learning and engagement. (We’ll get to that in a moment.)

Let’s stay with the Coke logo a little longer. When you reflected on that red, scripted icon, what did it trigger? Did you think about Mean Joe Green, or perhaps a multi-ethnic crowd singing in harmony on a hilltop? Did you have a memory of sharing Cokes with your kids as you strolled down a beach or paused in the shade at a Disney theme park? Or perhaps your reaction was negative: a perception you have of a monolithic corporation; or your distaste for their marketing efforts towards school-aged children. (Here’s what it evoked for me: the smells of cut grass and gasoline from a lawnmower; the feeling of sweat rolling down my neck; and the fizzy, carbonated feeling as it hits the back of my throat.)

Unless you moved through this little exercise quickly, the Coca-Cola brand triggered something for you — whether it was a feeling, a memory, a desire, or experience that was dormant in some remote network of synapses in your mind.

In other words, it triggered a story. And that story engaged you at a deeply personal level.

And so the question is not so much what is a story, but where is it; and the opportunity for learning practitioners is to ignite the rich well of stories that already exist tacitly in the minds of their learners, and unleash untold levels of participation and engagement.

There’s something important happening here for the practitioner of organizational change. Sure, I could present a PowerPoint slide with a series of bullet points telling why you should, say, build trust in a team. But somewhere in your experience is a painful story of what happens when that trust doesn’t exist. What if instead of clobbering you with bullet points I could somehow tap that latent source of emotion and conviction that already lives in your memory?

This is what we do at Blueline Simulations. We don’t market ourselves actively as a “story company.” (After all, there aren’t too many people asking for that. At least, not yet.) But the “co-creation of narrative” lives in everything we do… “ from simulations, to games, to our signature Blueline Blueprint learning visuals.

There’s a hallmark moment to every Blueline Simulation learning engagement. It almost never happens when we project a model up on the screen, or when the facilitator offers some brilliant word of wisdom. Instead, it is usually an invisible moment that happens silently in the mind of the learner, in which they have been invited to reach deep into their own wisdom and experience… and there they encounter a story that elicits powerful reaction and demands an actionable response. Like a silent explosion of some invisible supernova, we can’t always see it. But by designing our interventions to those moments of internal discovery (and not merely to the faithful reproduction of data via a series of PowerPoint bullet points), Blueline Simulations taps into a nearly inexhaustible source of engagement, participation… and action.

If you’ve never done so, I hope you’ll take a few minutes to click around the Blueline website. There is a rich portfolio of learning resources here awaiting your discovery. You’ll probably be impressed by the cutting edge technologies, the unconventional learning devices, and the sheer creativity of the offerings. But remember that those are merely triggers, and that the real deliverable of Blueline Simulations is something we can’t depict in a JPEG image on our website.

In parting, a few questions for you:

What kind of change do you seek to create in your organization?

What might happen if, instead of dictating that change through a series of imperatives, you extended an invitation and an opportunity for learners to connect to their own stories?

What is the new story of success and opportunity that you and your people might co-create together?

Newsflash: The Process Doesn’t Revolve around You

You would be surprised – or maybe you wouldn’t – by how many people in your organization don’t understand how the organization accomplishes its work.

To be honest, it used to surprise us. We would run learning programs on a topic, like say, financial acumen, and it would never fail: People in the accounting department would say things like, “huh, I guess I should know these details about the balance sheet but I don’t.” And that’s coming from the guys in Accounting.

It’s an organizational myopia that we now recognize as commonplace. In fact, we empathize. We all have a tendency to view the world from the point of view of our own work, our own desk.

Like Galileo, leadership often involves delivering the unwelcome message that you, the individual, are not the epicenter of your organization’s process.

Fortunately, we at Blueline Simulations fare much better than Galileo for being the bearer of this message. In fact, we’ve found that giving people a view of the big picture is quite liberating, and a key step in generating organizational transformation.

And we have found that the best way to give that big picture is with an actual picture.

Using metaphors and a balance of both quantitative and qualitative data, we render the complex processes and work flows of your organization with a compelling degree of engagement.

Click Image to View Larger Version

Equipped with an enterprise view via a Blueline Blueprint Learning Visual, our learners report that:

  • I have a better appreciation for where I fit in the process.
  • Now I understand why the work those guys do in department X is so important.
  • I appreciate the difficult decisions that the leaders have to make to manage the many moving parts of this process.
  • I see ways to make my work more efficient, more focused, more optimized to the organization’s desired output.

Find out how a Blueline learning map can equip your people with an enriched understanding of your organization’s key processes and workflows. Contact us today for a demonstration.

Mobile is a Different Medium

A number of tech writers have said that with its introduction of the iPhone, Apple didn’t create a smartphone but a pocket computer that can operate as a phone. Given everything that people do with their smartphones now I think they are right. The function I use the least on my iPhone is making phone calls.

So, if today’s smartphones are really computers, and are nearly as powerful as laptops of just a few years ago, it should be easy to just move your Computer Based Training over to them, right? Not really. Learning on a smartphone is very different from learning on a computer. Mobile learning is really a new medium. One that has advantages and limitations, just like any other medium.

The main advantage is pretty obvious; people have their phones with them almost all of the time. So they can access training at any time and nearly anywhere making it ever more convenient to access elearning when and where it is most needed.

The limitation that people mention first when discussing elearning development for a smartphone is the phone’s small screen. While I agree that your mobile learning design needs to take the smaller screen into consideration, I don’t think that is the most significant limit of smartphones. The real limitation in moving your existing elearning course to a mobile platform is how people use and interact with their phone. To be effective, your mobile learning program needs to build on the natural habits that people have developed for using their mobile device.

A number of studies show that people spend quite a bit of time throughout the day interacting with their smartphones. Most of that interaction though, is in short bursts, rather than over sustained periods. They read and respond to a text message, check their email, look up some information on Google, or post to a social service. All of these are tasks that they spend only a few minutes on at a time. For mobile learning designers that means we need to think in terms of much smaller modules.

Smartphones may be powerful, but they are not good platforms for completing a typical 45-minute elearning course. They work better for delivering small, focused amounts of training that the learner can easily access in short bursts, and preferably just when they are most interested in the material. Think about a sales representative practicing critical elements of a customer dialogue in a simulation on their phone the night before a meeting with a critical customer. Then reviewing the simulation again the next morning in the parking lot just prior to going in to meet with the customer. From a learning and retention standpoint this is a good thing. Smaller amounts of material that are accessed and reviewed over time increases retention.

What is an appropriate amount of material? How long is the ideal mobile learning module? We can gain some insights by looking at popular media that is accessed on smartphones – YouTube videos and blog posts. The top 25 YouTube videos run on average less than four minutes. The readers of one social media blog report “getting antsy” if a video runs more than five minutes, even if it is “an entertaining” video. Statistics from other popular blogs indicate that people will only spend 3-4 minutes reading a blog post before clicking away, even if they haven’t completely finished it. If we use these findings as a guide, our mobile learning modules should be less than five minutes long.

So, how do you deliver extensive training or complex information in five-minute chunks? I’d suggest that the real power of mobile learning in most cases is as part of a blended learning solution. Computer based training or classroom sessions should be used for delivering the overall framework, and then mobile is used to reinforce or provide practice for specific bite-size elements. For example, a good onboarding program delivered virtually or in a class will provide new employees with a strong grounding in an organization’s culture, structure, and key processes. Then a mobile solution can provide new employees with rapid access to information on a particular policy they need to reference or provide practice in handling challenging tasks or interactions. By using a well-designed blended solution you can take advantage of the strengths of each medium rather than being overly constrained by their limitations.

Smartphones do offer exciting possibilities for effective training delivery – even engaging simulations, but they are just another medium in the designer’s palette. Like any other medium, it should be matched to the need, the audience and the content to be used most effectively.