Simulations, whether for business or formal education, are the most powerful ways to develop engagement and learning that is at a deep level and sustainable over the long term. The reason that we can assert this is because simulations are a form of experiential learning. Some characteristics that should be understood about simulations are:
- Simulations represent a reality within which students can not only interact with elements within the environment such as gathering critical clues to solving a problem but also interact with other collaborators in real time.
- Simulations are in fact "instructional scenarios" where the learner is placed in a "world" defined by his or her mentor/ trainer/instructor.
- In simulations, the mentor, instructor or trainer controls the parameters of this "world" and uses it to achieve the desired instructional results. The mentor, instructor or trainer may also enter this world as an avatar to be called upon to help direct the thinking of the collaborators BUT not do their thinking for them.
Obvious But Necessary Questions
As in the design of any learning or training experience, there are some fundamental questions that need to be asked that act as a guide to writing irresistibly engaging scenarios:
- Who is your audience? It is a well known maxim among instructional designers, corporate trainers and instructors that you need to know your audience. I would take this a step further and suggest that given the desire to nurture ongoing collaboration and problem solving that we need to develop in-house learning profiles of those who we would like to be engaged in the learning community of our organizations. This is especially true for the corporate community who want to position themselves favourably in the new digital global economy. As I have suggested previously, the person who you need to develop such a regimen is someone who has formal qualifications and experience in the art and science of how people learn. It should be someone who not only wants to work outside the box but someone who wants to eliminate the box altogether in order to further the goals of the corporate community that they are a part of.
- What should the learner be able to do at the end of the simulation? If there is no realistic follow up in which the learners have an opportunity to test their new skillsets and understandings, then you have wasted your time and resources. It is similar to what students use to say about school in which they were subjected to contrived exercises that had no further application beyond the walls of the classroom. This is the reason that students in deference to school often referred to the world outside of class as the "real world". The point is that you want acquired skillsets and understandings to be naturally incorporated into the way the learners think and approach problems.
- What are the learning objectives for the simulation? Again, the common sense view is that the objectives need to be stated within the context of what the organization hopes to achieve. The mistake is to believe that the learning objectives in this type of environment are static. Within a simulation that uses a scenario with branching scenarios, learning objectives need to be agile and adaptive to changing conditions.
- How will we measure success? Feedback is a crucial essential in such a learning experience on more than one level. It not only reveals the status of the students' learning but is also used during the simulation by the students to re-evaluate decisions and actions. Simulations are great for illustrating the concept of cause and effect. Assessment for learning is highlighted.
Simulation Writing Ideas
The following ideas are suggestions that I think will work derived from research:
- Write the ideal scene first. Use this as a foundation for the average and unacceptable paths.
- Use chunking to keep it short for the first time trying them.
- Make it conversational. This is where the importance of telling a story and allowing the participants to help develop the story through their actions and conversations becomes important. Personalities, as in real everyday conversation, come out through the interaction of the individuals in the simulation.
- Use feedback for more information. This could take the form of a "NEWS FLASH" which interjects a variable which impacts decision making.
- Play characters off one another. This can bring out the best that collaboration has to offer. How do the participants resolve differences of opinion when they come to a cross road in terms of course of action?
- Make it FUN! There is a reason why young people seem addicted to video games and remember the smallest details of the decisions they made and actions they took. First and foremost, the games are written in such a way as to be fun for the participants to collaborate in.
- Use real world problems to establish in the minds of the learners that this simulation has meaning to me and I can contribute in a meaningful way that will help the organization I am a part of.
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