immersive learning

A Lesson in Learning from Experience

Few of us have been spared the monotonous training program replete with what seems like a million text-dense PowerPoint slides and a talking head in front of the room “teaching” us. I don’t know about you, but I can’t say I ever learned much – if anything – from that type of training.bl-may2016

As noted training expert Bob Pike so deftly put it: “If telling was teaching, we’d all be geniuses by now.”

The good news is that training departments across the country have taken note and are taking the turn to experiential, immersive training – where learners are active participants in the training and come away with solid skills and strategies they’re eager to take back to the office and apply right away.

In other words, they’re creating and delivering the kind of learning that works.

Content revamped

At Blueline Simulations, we don’t believe you should have to start at square one when going from “instructor led” to “experiential and immersive.” After all, the heart of the issue is seldom the training program content; rather, it’s how the content is delivered.

Through simulation, narrative, game mechanics and more, we transform existing content from our client partners into rich experiential learning events informed by the latest research on adult learning theory – both in the classroom and virtually.

We also have been known to take it up a notch or two for a fully immersive approach where learners step away from the office and into a broader world dense with learning opportunities.

How does a trip to Disney World, Starbucks or an Apple store sound? We’re talking about whole-body, fully kinesthetic learning in which learners are plunged into worlds dissimilar from their own… all for the purpose of unearthing big ideas that can transform their own businesses. The insights clients have gleaned from these experiences have been described as “revolutionary.”

Next week, we’ll take a closer look at these “full immersion” learning events and draw out some principles that will enable you to begin considering your own.

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.

Full Immersion: Learning That Works

Our previous blog introduced Blueline Simulations’ full immersion approach to learning – where we take people out of the office and into the field to make real-life connections to big ideas that work.

We’ve taken a global biotech sales firm to Disney, Starbucks and an Apple store to explore engaging customer experiences. The client described the insights gleaned as “revolutionary.”office-walls

And we built an Innovation Tour of San Francisco for a global manufacturing firm, where executives were immersed in the world of Silicon Valley at places such as Google, Frog Design, Oracle and even the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The organization’s CEO called it “one of the most meaningful, valuable learning experiences of my career.”

Jarring? Yes. Insightful? Even more so. And there are four keys to making such experiences work:

  • Define the target. Don’t start with, “Let’s go to the Magic Kingdom!” Instead, define the pressing business challenge, and then identify organizations that have something valuable to bring to that conversation.
  • Get lateral. Theorist Edward de Bono describes lateral leaps as a key capability for breakthrough thinking. Lateral thoughts happen when we connect one idea to another seemingly unrelated one. In building immersive experiences, we identify organizations that are very similar to our clients and others that are dissimilar to create a productively disorienting lateral leap. That’s how a group of manufacturers found themselves exploring abstract paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art and how pharmaceutical executives found themselves in line at an Apple Genius Bar to engage customer service around issues with their iPods.
  • Play it cool. Because the mind is most engaged when at play, we’re purposeful about building a “cool” factor into our immersive learning experiences. Wouldn’t you love to visit Google or hang out at Disney’s Epcot for a day in the name of learning? Of course you would, and so would your employees.
  • Connect it back. Critical conversations must happen for the immersive experience to produce organizational change. So what, exactly, did that afternoon at Starbucks say to you? What did you notice, see, hear, smell, experience… and what principles behind those experiences can deliver value at our (very different) organization? These facilitated conversations are the genesis of true organizational transformation.

Ready to step out of the office and change the way you and your employees view your world? Contact the learning experts at Blueline Simulations. We’ll build a transformative, immersive learning experience that delivers on your unique learning objectives – making real-life connections to big ideas that work.

I also 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.

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!

“Can We Hold Class Outside?” Taking Your People to the Field for Full Immersion Learning

In our previous blog entry, we looked at Blueline Simulations’ full immersion approach to learning. These are highly coordinated learning events that take your people out of the organization, away from the computer screen, and away from the classroom – and then place them in an unfamiliar environment where they can begin making connections to big ideas that they can take back to their work.

We shared with you one example, in which we took a global biotech sales firm to Disney, Starbucks and Apple to explore engaging customer experiences.

Okay, here’s another example. Recently, we built an Innovation Tour of San Francisco for a global manufacturing firm. These executives were immersed in the alien world of Silicon Valley where they encountered innovation practices at places like Google, Frog Design, Oracle, The Institute for the Future… and even the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Yes, it was jarring and disorienting. And, in the words of that organization’s CEO, “was one of the most meaningful, valuable learning experiences of my career.” (At this very moment, they are rewriting their five-year strategic plan based on the connections they generated on the Innovation Tour.)

We’ve learned some key principles for making these experiences work.

  • Define the target. No big surprise here; Learning experiences must always be designed in the context of well-defined learning objectives. Don’t start with “let’s go to the Magic Kingdom!” Instead, define the pressing business challenge… and then identify the organizations that have something valuable to bring to that conversation.
  • Get lateral. Theorist Edward de Bono describes lateral leaps as a key capability for breakthrough thinking. Lateral thoughts happen when we connect one idea to another that was seemingly unrelated. When we build immersive experiences, we do identify organizations that are very similar to our clients. Equally important, we identify others that are dissimilar, and can create a productively disorienting lateral leap. That’s how a group of manufacturers found themselves exploring abstract paintings at the San Francisco Museum of Art, and how pharmaceutical executives found themselves in line at an Apple Genius bar to engage customer service around issues with their iPods.
  • A little showmanship doesn’t hurt. The mind is never as engaged as it is at play. That’s why we are purposeful about building in a “cool” factor to our immersive learning experiences. Wouldn’t you just love to visit Google, or hang out at Disney’s EPCOT for a day in the name of learning? Of course you would. So would your people. And the high engagement delivered by these experiences translates to lasting, “sticky” learning.
  • Connect it back. There are critical conversations that must happen for the immersive experience to produce change in the organization. So, what, exactly, did that afternoon at Starbucks say to you? What did you notice, see, hear, smell, experience… and what are the principles behind those experiences that can deliver value at our (very different) organization? In our experience, these facilitated connections conversations are the genesis of true organizational transformation.

Ready to give your employees a peek at a world of possibility far different from your own? Call the learning experts at Blueline Simulations. We’ll build a transformative, immersive learning experience that delivers on your unique learning objectives – all while ensuring that your people will never view their world in quite the same way again.

What’s Next after Experiential Learning? Welcome to Full Immersion.

Here’s how it usually plays out: Client X comes to us with a PowerPoint deck of 300 bazillion, text-dense slides and says, “this is our old training program. Can you do something with this?”

If you’ve clicked around this website at all, you know the answer is yes, we certainly can.

Through simulation, narrative, game mechanics, and more, we transform content from our client partners into a rich experiential learning event that is informed by the latest research in adult learning theory. The applications are nearly endless. And we’ve spent our careers creating some groundbreaking, experiential programs for our clients – in the classroom, and virtually.

But there’s another level that we offer; a fully immersive approach in which your learners step away from the training room or computer, swing open the doors, and step outside into the sunlight and a broader world that is dense with learning opportunity.

Last year, we sent the sales staff of one of the world’s most influential biotech firms to Disney World. Our guess is that a few of them squeezed in a ride on Space Mountain, but that’s fine with us because the purpose was to observe, capture, and reflect upon the ways Disney is able to deliver its legendary, exceptional customer experiences.

We’re talking about a whole-body, fully kinesthetic learning in which learners are plunged into a world that is dissimilar from their own… all for the purpose of unearthing big ideas that can transform their own businesses.

(We even sent those same biotech leaders to Starbucks and Apple stores to explore different varieties of customer experiences. The insights they brought back to their own business were revolutionary.)

In our next blog entry, we’ll take a closer look at these “full immersion” learning events, and draw out some principles that will allow you to begin considering your own.