Monday, July 7, 2014

Real World Simulations: The Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Learner

When we design real world simulations we need to remember a very important point, that being, we are in battle for the hearts and minds of learners. The problem with simulations designed for training people for business tasks or for educating students of the past is that they were coldly clinical in their approach. They focused on emphasizing the cognitive but they forgot a very important part which makes us human, that being our emotions. When you watch young people play video games, you will notice that the focus of the game is not just on the mind of the student. It also focuses on the emotions of the young person. When you have a balance of both parts, the mind and the heart, then you have the irresistible engagement you desire for the learner. Passion for what they are engaged in results in the rise of intrinsic motivation in the learner. Under such circumstances, the educator or trainer truly becomes the " guide on the side" instead of the "sage on the stage". The educator or trainer now is able to fit into the new role in which they perform like a conductor leading an orchestra. The benefit for the educator or trainer is now they experience the excitement of the learning that their learners are involved in and they too, perhaps for the first time since they first began their career, are irresistibly engaged in the learning experience not just on an intellectual level but also on an emotional level.

Credit: Mikko Lagerstedt
The nature of the construction of the real world scenario should be that it appeals to as many of the senses as is possible. The technology that is available to us allows us to use the visual, the auditory and even the sense of touch in the real world simulation(remember the sensory feedback in Wii?). The learner receives sensory feedback which helps him or her see, hear and feel the consequences of decisions that they have made. For example using the auditory sound of counting down to zero hour when a specific event within the simulation will occur will provoke an emotional response from the learner. Again, we have learned this in watching how stimulation of the senses in a video game results not only in cognitive decisions made by the learner but also emotional responses. The result is a rise of engagement of the learner in the activity. Unlike in the past when the learner had only an intellectual stake in what was happening, in the scenarios we are describing, the learner has an intellectual and emotional stake in the activity. In other words, commitment of mind and heart.

Credit: Dani Candil 

Minecraft is a program that gained increasing popularity because of the ability of the learner not only to construct an immersive environment but also to move about in it. This is one of the first steps in designing a real world simulation. You have to ask yourself what will the world of the simulation look like? Will it be made up of multiple scenes or will it be a single immersive scene in which the learners will collaborate with each other while being able to access information, streamed or otherwise from outside the scene. For example, in the Manhattan project simulation, all the action would take place in a single scene, the Los Alamos lab. Just because it takes place in a single scene does not mean that it can't be as intense and appeal to a majority of the senses, much like as what happens in a video game scene. Mapping out the real world simulation involves not only diagramming cause and effect trees but also mapping out the story being told. Even in a training exercise, mapping out the story in which the learner must interact provides the needed information that the learner uses to make decisions. Feedback both cognitively and emotionally fuel the intrinsic motivation in the learner which leads to a deeper sustained learning. You can test this by asking any student what from their class in a particular subject they still remember. Most often, they will remember when the teacher or trainer provided a learning experience that engaged their mind and their heart.
One of the central concepts that the learner should quickly grasp is cause and effect. What they will come to recognize is that in the real world scenario, a single cause can cause a chair reaction of effects which in turn precipitate other events, some expected and some not expected.

This is the first step to writing a real world scenario. In the next posting, I will describe how sometimes presenting students with a hypothetical scenario can have what I call the "loop back effect" resulting in application to pressing real world issues......

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