Wednesday, 29 September 2004

Simulation and E-Learning

When I see an entry like this below, I have to follow it.

Simulations: "The real promise of e-Learning isn't just as an online textbook, but as a simulator."

I ended up landing at a post at slashdot where a discussion was triggered by a review of Clark Aldrich's book Simulations and the Future of Learning : An Innovative (and Perhaps Revolutionary) Approach to e-Learning . [Disclaimer: I have not read this book yet. My comment is from what I read from the various reviews.] Before I comment on this, let me just steal three paragraphs from the Slashdot review:
Clark Aldrich had a cushy job at the Gartner Group in charge of e-Learning coverage, but felt that the promise of e-Learning was being distressingly wasted by emphasis on the fast-food mentality of quantity over quality and churning out of tons of linear crud, just because it's so easy to do. The real promise of e-Learning isn't just as an online textbook, but as a simulator. And for life-or-death situations, it's the best way to teach people before letting them take a whack at the real thing. The U.S. military knows this. Airlines know this. Medical colleges know this. 'The organizations that care the most about training use simulations.' So he quit his sweet but corrupt job, and co-founded a company to teach leadership via a simulation: 'Virtual Leader.'

The sheer scope of the company's ambition had me shaking my head, convinced that this was going to end in brilliant failure. Especially as they decide one piece at a time that they need to write everything, including the graphics engine, from scratch. But finally, over time and budget, harsh reality sets in and they start distilling their huge collection of data on the nebulous concept of Leadership down to something workable. The meeting is the crucible where everything gets done in the world of the manager.

Virtual Leader places you in progressively higher-powered meetings and tracks their 'Three-to-One' model of leadership: good leadership is getting positive Work done in the short and long term, and levels of Power, Ideas, and Tension affect this. It's your task to try to ferret out good ideas and get them agreed to while heading off bad ideas. Of course, in later meetings you won't be the most powerful person in the room, so you have to carefully nudge things where they need to go by making alliances and building and spending your personal influence. At the end you're ranked on how you did on several metrics. And, of course, all this has to be simple enough for a computerphobe to use.

Like the reviewer Sarusa, I agree that the real promise of e-learning is not an online textbook, but a simulator. Again, like the reviewer, I would be shaking my head if the approach is to build a glorified multiple choice system to provide leadership training. By its nature, leadership is about human relationships. I don't believe that it is possible to model the chaotic and complex human relationships by a set of variables and coupled these variables with 2500 canned responses. My approach would be to build engaging scenarios at critical moments in a role play simulation. Learners playing out the persona, and hence understand the various stakeholder viewpoints. Like a Chinese saying, you cannot help a plant grow by pulling it up, learning has to pitch at the appropriate level of experience of the learners. Experience can be built in real job OR can be built via role play simulation.

BTW, the discussions at Slashdot are highly entertaining with some very insightful comments too.

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