Simulations

The Crashing of the Wave

In May of 2009, Google announced their “next big thing” Google Wave. It was touted as the next generation replacement for email. As it became available outside of Google offices and moved into the public realm, there was much speculation as to just what Wave was and how people would use it. Sadly, on August 4, 2010, Google announced that they are pulling the plug on Wave. It just never gained enough users for them to continue to invest in its development.

Wave never moved out of beta and as I posted earlier was not quite ready for prime time. Some of what it enabled users to do though is address very real and growing needs. What most people came to realize is that Wave was not a replacement for email, but rather a powerful collaboration tool. It provided for easy, real-time collaboration on everything from meeting notes to drafting research papers.

Here at Blueline we found it a useful tool for capturing conference call notes, drafting proposals, and quickly bringing someone new into a project or client conversation. The ability to “play back” revisions to a document or set of notes allowed a new team member to not only see the current version of a document, but follow the progression of the thinking that led to it.

The need for better tools for real-time collaboration that Wave tapped is now showing up in other tools such as the new version of Microsoft Office, and web-team tools such as Sync.in. Passing around a document via email is inefficient and lacks the “personal touch” of real-time collaboration.

From a learning perspective, these new tools for remote collaboration open up new avenues for peer learning and mentoring. More and more the future of learning in the workplace seems to be moving from the classroom to learning within the context of the work itself, whether that be through sophisticated Level 4 eSimulations, or just-in-time peer-to-peer learning.

As designers of learning experiences, we need to not only use these tools, but think strategically about them and how they can be leveraged to achieve the learning and business objectives of organizations. While the Google Wave may have crashed, the larger tide of more collaboration and team learning is still coming in.

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.”

Point/Counter Point: Live Role-Play vs. eSimulations

Point: Robert Coates

The latest “craze” with social and mobile learning will not replace classroom training any more than books replaced lectures, television replaced radio, or video tapes and DVDs replaced movie theaters. Each new innovation in technology provides additional ways of communicating, but doesn’t totally supplant the old ones.

My position is that, as good as eSimulations have become, there are still some aspects of live role-play based skill practice that can’t be duplicated or replaced. What eSimulations excel at are providing opportunities to evaluate a situation and weigh options for responding. It’s at the level of “human” communication, rather than decision-making, that they can’t yet replicate.

Albert Mehrabian and others have investigated the non-verbal aspects of human communication and are often quoted as saying that the meaning of a communication is only 7% the words you say, 38% the tonality, and 55% the body language. Actually, Mehrabian concludes that those percentages are the formula we use for resolving the meaning of inconsistent messages (see Silent Messages 2nd Edition pages 75-58). The point that How you say something is just as or more important than What you say is almost axiomatic. Just changing what word is emphasized in a sentence can completely change its meaning.

It is in this critical non-verbal area of communication that I believe live role-play excels. Subtle communications like tone of voice, timing, eye-contact, and body language play a huge role in our interactions with others. These are also behaviors that can be practiced, improved upon and coached. Currently, technology does not allow us to evaluate the learner’s use of these through eSimulation.

Counterpoint: David Milliken

Just 10 months ago I would have agreed with Robert. But today, because of the many advances that have occurred in eSimulations, for many applications they are actually better. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Level 4 eSimulations (using a rules-based gaming engine) are extremely realistic. Now that developers can create hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of video-based nodes, eSimulations can accurately reflect small changes in tone and body language. Throw in the use of voice-recognition and you have an unparalleled user experience!
  2. eSimulations deliver a consistent experience for every user. Notice that I didn’t say the same experience. That wouldn’t be accurate because, in theory, depending on the number of nodes, hundreds could face the same choices and have the same opportunities, but because of the decisions they made, have a completely unique experience. eSimulations eliminate the variability inherent in a live human role player and can be scored in such a way that they eliminate rater (coach) bias as well.
  3. eSimulations can provide for significantly more practice opportunities than classroom based live-role play. For each live role-play you need to engage two people and optimally three, who often then rotate roles. In the same or less time, all three people could accomplish three rounds of practice each, and probably more, through eSimulation.

However, eSimulations still aren’t for everyone. While development costs have dropped dramatically as developers have improved processes and tools, the relative value of this technology is still dictated by the volume of users who can benefit. While some off-the-shelf solutions can serve small numbers of users cost effectively, if you need to develop something custom, typically you need an audience of 100 or more users for it to be cost effective.

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