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.

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!

Recorded Gamification Webinar Now Available

If you missed this interesting and informative webinar hosted by my friend and business partner, Brian Knudson you can watch it now. Brian is the Founder of NogginLabs and knows a thing or two about achieving learning transfer through gamification – and has 7 Brandon Hall gaming awards to prove it.

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge budget or complex programming to design eLearning that’s as addictive as Angry Birds. If motivating your learners is a challenge, this webinar is for you. Learn the basic principles of gamification, and how best to apply them to your eLearning initiatives.

Watch the recorded webinar and see how gamification can take your organization’s eLearning to the next level.

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!

Gamification – It’s More Than Keeping Score.

As our previous posts have alluded to, gamification is the current hot topic in training.  And there is real power in well-designed, effective gamification in other aspects of life, as David Hutchens mentioned last week. Many people are now discovering the power of gamification combined with social networking to make positive changes to their weight and health through apps like LoseIt, and Fitocracy. Even insurance companies are developing apps to take advantage of the power, such as UnitedHealth Group’s OptumizeMe, an app that allows people to participate in fitness-related contests with their friends.

Building an effective game or engaging training experience that uses game elements is more than just adding score keeping, and challenges. Jesse Schell in his book, The Art of Game Design. A Book of Lenses, suggests that effective game design is all about creating an engaging experience – one that draws players in and that they would want to repeat. As training designers we need to consider not “what game elements can I add,” but what will make this experience memorable, unique and engaging. After all, retention of the experience (and thus the learning) is the real goal.

As David mentioned in his post, at Blueline Simulations, we combine the elements of play, competition, and feedback to enrich our designs. We enhance the power of these elements by placing them within unique visual and story contexts to make them both more engaging and memorable. Whether it is a one-of-a-kind Blueline Blueprint ™ (learning visual), rich with visual metaphor and client specific detail, or one of our custom eSimulations, the story and content always come first. They provide the context, rationale and “stickiness” that bring the training to life and make it effective at generating results.

Give us a call, and we’ll explore not just how to gamify your learning programs, but how to build engaging experiences that change behavior and get business results.