Classroom Simulations

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!

Take Your Instructor-Led Training. Take Your Virtual Learning. Now Put Them Both Together, And…

We feel your pain, because we’ve been there, too.

We love our face-to-face classroom training, but in the age of tight budgets and geographically dispersed workforces, it’s fast becoming a thing of the past.  It was fun while it lasted.

I know it’s easy to dis on e-learning and e-simulation. And while there is still a plague of shallow point-and-click programs out there, a lot of folks are savvy enough to build in richer methods of engagement. But I frequently bump up against the limitations of online interaction. Don’t you? There is almost always content that requires the benefit of interaction with other learners and a live facilitator.

If only there was a way to create a hybrid that delivers the best of classroom and e-learning.

Enter virtual instructor-led training, or VILT.

Okay, don’t tune me out yet. Plenty of us have had lame experiences with new technologies like Acrobat Connect, Live Meeting, GoToMeeting, and others, which have simply become another medium for slogging through PowerPoint with a little bit of Q&A thrown in. (And if we are being honest, no one wants to look stupid by asking a question that they fear might have been answered while they were instant messaging a friend, or catching up on the latest web news.)

VILT took a good concept – less time and money – to its logical conclusion. Along the way, it lost sight of how people really learn.

But all is not lost.

We have discovered that VILT can be engaging, interactive and built on solid adult learning principles, while still saving time and money. Blueline designers and developers are pushing the envelope of this new medium with a broad range of proven immersive teaching methods including story lines and passports, online team assignments and collaboration, and rich interactive debriefs.

Imagine highly engaging team-based activities including Socratic discussions, remote synchronous role-plays, networking, and competitive team challenges.  And individual exercises that create “whole brain” learning through visual templates, use of competition and interactive quizzes.

Yes, it can be done. And when it all comes together, it is a thing of beauty.

Do you have existing instructor-led content that needs to be transformed into high-impact, engaging, VILT?  We’d love to tell you about some of the methods that we have implemented in organizations all around the world. Call the training experts at Blueline Simulations today.

Did You See Our Work in T&D Magazine?

Forgive us if we come across like proud parents passing around pictures of our kids. But the onboarding program we developed for Booz Allen is getting a lot of attention and…. Well, gosh, you can’t blame us for wanting to share the good news with friends like you.

Specifically, Blueline Simulations has received the highest distinctions by ASTD, Bersin and others for its innovative onboarding solutions. And in August, the Booz Allen program was featured in T & D Magazine’s “Solutions” feature.

It’s an exciting solution, and you really must see it. The program is built around two Blueline Blueprints™, and those dynamic, table-sized graphics serve as the launch point for a series of activities over four days of immersive learning.

We’d love to tell you more. But there we go, getting all excited again. If you wish, take a look at the article. You’ll learn more about our strategic approach, and the compelling outcomes that the legendary Booz Allen continues to enjoy from the solution.

Want to talk “onboarding?” Join us online!

We’ve got lots of resources available — detailing ways that organizations like yours can use new-hire training as a strategic onboarding opportunity…connecting them to the culture; compressing the learning cycle; and preparing them for immediate success. Come check out our Blog, articles and case studies or join Training & Development Magazine and Blueline Simulations for a free webcast later this month.

What: “Onboarding for Managers”

When: Thursday, October 27, 2pm EST.

Register for this event today!

Want to talk more specifically about how Blueline can bring best-in-industry practices to your onboarding program? Contact Blueline Simulations today.

Blueline Applies its “Secret Sauce” to Booz Allen Hamilton’s Award Winning Onboarding Program

If you recall in a previous post we shared the “secret sauce” that distinguishes the onboarding experiences Blueline creates for its clients.  Now let’s look at how the four elements we identified amount to a “quadfecta” and form an award-winning onboarding program for Booz Allen Hamilton.

1. ContextBlueline created two immersive classroom-based experiences for Booz Allen new hires. First, a Blueline Blueprint learning visual engages new hires in a visual and interactive tour of Booz Allen’s history and culture. Learners work in teams to answer questions, move along a visual timeline of events, and interact with illustrated data.  They see the “big picture” and gain insight into the core values, seminal events and cultural underpinnings of this distinguished organization.

Next, a simulation situates participants in the role of a consulting project team at Booz Allen. Through competition, experiential learning and teamwork, they make decisions and experience consequences that fast-forward them through the learning curve of “what is it like to work here?”

2. Impression – We never get tired of hearing participants in the onboarding programs we create use words and phrases like: “Wow” or “I’ve worked at a lot of companies and have never experienced something like this…” or “This really demonstrates a commitment to employees that I’m excited about.” Blueline and Booz Allen have had the pleasure of being awash in these comments every time this program is run.

3. Engagement and fun – Koosh balls and Lincoln Logs may equal fun in some training experiences, but to what end? Booz Allen new hires represent some of the most experienced and intelligent former military, corporate and government talent in the world. Blueline’s definition of fun in this, and frankly, all of our efforts, is much more sophisticated. In Booz Allen’s onboarding program participants debate ideas (that’s fun for geniuses), compete (of course), and explore information (root cause analysis anyone?) in ways that keep them wanting more.

Teams move along a “game of life”-type visual; making decisions based on knowledge they acquire in experiential activities. Decisions affect consequences that earn or lose “chips.” These chips amount to points accumulated against three key dimensions that represent real-world success at Booz Allen. Events intervene, setbacks occur and promotions and accolades accumulate. We have to practically force them to take breaks!

4. A Culture Focus – There are few corporate cultures we have encountered as diverse and inclusive as Booz Allen Hamilton’s. An administrative new hire from Mumbai may be seated in the onboarding classroom next to a former full-bird Colonel. Blueline and Booz Allen collaborated intently to be sure this experience represents and includes the myriad of roles and textures that make up the Booz Allen organization. The Blueline Blueprint learning visual grounds each new-hire in the cultural foundation of the organization, then allows every participant to find him or herself in a character or a role represented in the simulation.

Stay tuned for the “rest of the story.” In our next blog we’ll share what has happened at Booz Allen since our intervention and where Blueline is going next in this dynamic onboarding space.

How to Maximize the Effectiveness of Live Role-Play

Live role-plays are not inherently better than eSimulations, there are some conditions that must exist to make this type of practice effective:

First, the role-play should be well constructed to reflect real-life situations that the learner is likely to face, but not be so complicated that individual aspects of a skill cannot be isolated for practice and feedback.

Second, the quality of a live role-play is very dependent on the quality of the “other party,” with whom the learner is interacting. Effective role-play construction can minimize this, but there will always be some variability in the quality of the experience.

Third, and perhaps most important, the effectiveness in improving performance will greatly depend on the quality of the observer/coach and the feedback they provide. Developing competent coaches is paramount to any live role-play scenario.

One way that my designs ensure a good experience for each learner is to provide multiple role-play opportunities with multiple parties being the “other” and “coach.”