The Role of the Trainer

When I started working out, I just went to the gym without much of a plan, and certainly no knowledge. I knew I needed to do cardiovascular work and I was comfortable with the bicycle, so I started there. Problem was that it wasn’t working. Because I wasn’t seeing results, it was hard to stay motivated.

When the new gym opened up, I suplurged for 3, 1-hour sessions with a personal trainer. It was half off the regular rate, and I knew I needed help, so I figured it couldn’t hurt. The first session was split between a pretty embarassing set of measurements, a tour around the gym showing the right ways to use some key equipment, and setting a baseline fitness level. All of that was fed into the computer which spit out a report showing how completely out of shape I was. I didn’t really need the report to know that, but it certainly showed the opportunity for improvement.

During the second & third sessions, we focused mostly other equipment, techniques and setting up a workout routine. At the end of the 3rd sessions, I knew I would need more help and continued motivation, so I dug deep and really splurged for more 12 sessions. To help that last as long as possible, we set it up to meet every other week. We’ve got a little more than 2 months left to go in this round.

[Image by Nigel Holmes]

In these days with tons of information available on the Internet including some great images, videos, instructions, and materials, you might wonder why a personal trainer might even be necessary. There’s even a ton of great software for the iPhone including one that shows videos of the exercises along with tracking your progress. For me, having the trainer brings a lot of benefits:

  • Training – Maybe this one is obvious, but she teaches me how to do the exercises correctly in order achieve the most benefit. No matter how much I read, how many pictures I see, or how many videos I watch, some of these exercises are pretty complex. Often, subtle differents in position can dramatically increase the effort required and the benefits gained. By first demonstrating the proper technique and then critiquing my performance, I’m sure that I’m getting the most benefit.
  • Motivation – She’s great a keeping me motivated durng a workout. In fact, my workouts with her are often 20-25 minutes longer than my individual workouts. Somehow she can push me farther than I can push my self. But the motivation extends even into my personal workouts. I keep working out because I know I want to show progress when we meet. The regular meetings keep me from sloughing off.
  • Customization – She knows the goals I’m working towards and suggests new ideas that will help me reach my goals more quickly. If there’s a particular exercise that I don’t like, she’s able to come up with a few alternatives that work the same muscles, but are more to my liking.
  • Sees the Big Picture – Getting started in the gym was pretty intimidating. There are lots of details that were just too overwhelming when getting started. My trainer knows what the end goal is and knows how to get me there. As I’m ready for more, she provides the guideance I need and keeps me going in the right diretion. While I know the end goal too, I don’t have the ability to see the entire path of how to get there. There are plenty of ways to veer off the path or plateau. By using a guide, I can be sure to continue making progress without having to be an expert first.

Come to think of it, these are the same characteristics of a good teacher…

  • Provides just the right activities through simulation and practice
  • Knows how to keep the student engaged, learning, and moving forward
  • Customizes the learning for the student and provides it at just the right time for them
  • Knows the overall goal and guides the student in that direction

Even in the gym, classroom training isn’t what’s effective. The best learning still comes from learning-by-doing and performane support!

Safe Simulations?

For years, I’ve been talking about one of the major benefits of simulations: a safe environment. Flying planes, firefighting, police work, and surgery are dangerous jobs with many dangerous tasks. One of the often stated benefits of a simulation is that they allow practice in a safe environment. If the learner makes a mistake, people (airplane passengers, victims, and patients) don’t die. However, it seems we (and especially I) may have been wrong.

In a conversation today with Eric Kramer from Trimm, a Netherlands-based simulation company, he made a statement that threw that concept out the window. In a conversation on the levels of realism necessary in simulations, he said “If it’s safe, it’s not real.” For me, it was like being hit over the head with a new revelation. Of course we don’t want simulations that are so real that people die, that defeats the point of a simulation. However, it’s important that the learner feel that the patient could die, that the plane could crash, or that people could die in the fire. The appropriate (a very important word) level of realism needs to include the environment, visualizations, decisions, responses, and results/impacts in order to create the impression of danger. If it feels safe, it won’t have the same learning impact.

All too often in learning (whether classroom or online), designers work to take out the risk. Here are just a few of examples:

  • Writing multiple choice questions with an obvious correct answer (lest anyone get a less than perfect score)
  • Not letting a learner finish a course unless they meet a minimum score (everybody must pass after all)
  • Letting people move forward/graduate/get certified regardless of whether they’ve demonstrated mastery in the material
  • Make sure everybody feels comfortable and happy (lest they give the instructor a low rating)
  • Designing learning modules for the lowest common denominator
  • Designing easy simulations, games and activities that don’t challenge the learner

Let’s put the realism (and the danger) back into the learning modules and simulations that we create.

For more on Eric’s work on simulations with their local police department, be sure to check out the upcoming Visualization in Learning report being published by VizThink in about a week. In addition, Eric will be facilitating a session on realism in simulations at our next big event which is being held in Berlin, October 12-14, 2008.

Minority Report for Real with the Wii

Much thanks to Peter Durand over at the Center for Graphic Facilitation blog for the post pointing this out. Want multitouch, but the big multi touch screens are too expensive or unavailable? How about converting your Wii into a glove sensor device with all the same functionality and more? They don’t talk about it in the video, but you could go well beyond the demonstration of moving and sizing photos. Multitouch has a limitation. It’s forced to be on a 2D surface (hence the “touch” part of the name). Therefore, any 3D manipulation is forced and unnatural. The gloves remove the 2D limitation and give the entire 3D space to work with (as long as you can reach it). Imagine rotating 3D objects or zooming in on them, simply by grabbing them and turning or pulling them closer. Very cool.

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Serious Games are neither Serious nor Games, Discuss

In this week’s Escapist, Ben Sawyer has a great article on the 10 Myths about Serious Games. Here’s the quick list:

  1. Myth: The Game Industry Doesn’t Work on Serious Games
  2. Myth: Serious Games are for Learning and Training
  3. Myth: Serious Games Aren’t Fun
  4. Myth: Serious Games are Always Serious
  5. Myth: Serious Games aren’t Commercially Successful
  6. Myth: Games are Young media, so Serious Games are for Young People
  7. Myth: There is No Proof that Games Affect Anyone
  8. Myth: Game Developers Don’t Want to Work on Serious Games; Serious Games are an Academic Pursuit
  9. Myth: Serious Games are Games for Good
  10. Myth: Serious Games are Dominated by the U.S. Military

Here’s just a few of the great quotes from the article:

“Sure, there are times when serious games lack the joy of play that at times disproportionately drives commercial games…to think that fun is the only reason users play games isn’t giving people much credit. If anything, serious games are more than fun.”

“The term ‘serious’ isn’t a grammatical modifier related to a serious game’s content. What makes a game a serious game is the designers’ choice to make their game more than entertaining to the player.”

“Organizations…frequently say games are a great way to reach young people. It can become a mantra at times. The fact is, for all the amazing growth rate,s many young people don’t play games regularly…the gaming demographic is getting older every year…to say it’s a genre for children is just flat-out wrong.”

“While the military is a major player in the field, it’s definitely not the only big spender. In fact, in terms of revenue, health and healthcare will likely dominate the field within a few years.”

Great stuff, Ben!

Virtual Worlds as Social Simulations

In a recent article in the Escapist, Brian Easton discusses the use of virtual worlds like World of Warcraft (also a game) and Second Life for social experiments. He describes the impact of a “disease”outbreak called “Corrupted Blood” in World of Warcraft. The disease weakened strong characters and even killed some weaker characters. It was spread through proximity of characters with each other. What makes the simulation different from other computer simulations of disease outbreak is that the characters are all controlled by humans, which are notoriously unpredictable. By evaluating the simulation data, researchers are able to better observe how disease spreads in and out of communities. Certainly, the World of Warcraft example had it’s limitations. Some people play the game individually and only come into contact with people casually and generally not socially which doesn’t mimic the real world as well. However, worlds like Second Life are completely social (and in my opinion generally pointless by yourself) make a much better social simulation.

Brian says that Massively Multiplayer Online Games “are more than mere distractions. They’re social simulations, miniature economies and living worlds.” What if scientists tested the spread of a virus, first when people didn’t know they had it and then again when they did. Comparisons could be made on how people behave, how the disease spreads, and the impact of knowledge. Brian implied that it would be okay if people knew that their character wouldn’t really be harmed, but I think for it to be real, people would have to have more serious consequences (like the termination of an account) at least be implied, if not actual. Would people stop contact with others? Would they only associate with other infected people? Would they intentionally infect others? What if they were away from “home” when they found out they were infected? Would they transport home and possibly infect others along the way? What impact does severity of the disease have on behavior? How does the length of incubation (and therefore awareness) have on people’s behavior?

There are so many great questions that virtual worlds could answer, and it doesn’t have to just be about disease. The transfer of information, knowledge, money, or even power could be studied. As virtual worlds develop, they are clearly becoming ripe for research for the social and physical scientists. Obviously it would be impossible, dangerous, and even unethical to test many of these ideas in the real world, but understanding the behavior could save may lives in the real world. It will be very interesting to see how this develops in the virtual worlds in the coming years.

The Death of the Classroom

I just got done giving 3 presentations at the Brandon-Hall Conference. While each of them were different, there were a couple consistent themes. First, I said that the top two most effective (and possibly the only effective) technologies for learning were simulation and performance support. Recent capabilities finally allow us to create powerful simulations and performance support tools that eliminate the need for transfer and provide the information where, when, and how I need it. Second, I stated that as this caught on the traditional classroom should die a slow and painful death.

To me this seemed quite obvious and there seemed to be at least a few heads nodding. Turns out, this may have been one of the most controversial things I’ve said in a long time. I didn’t realize how much personal ownership people felt in the role of the traditional classroom in learning. Certainly, it was meant to be sensational to get people thinking, but it was also intended to propose alternative approaches for learning specifically simulation and performance support.

First a few clarifications…First, when I refer to the “traditional classroom”, I’m talking about stand-and-deliver lectures and presentations. These are no longer effective, and I would argue that they were never effective. Lectures are too far away from the actions and behavior we want to create to ever be effective. Lectures are so far away, we spend time talking about things like session frequency, length, and repetition all of which are approaches to reduce transfer. Simulations and Performance Support both dramatically reduce or completely eliminate the need for transfer.

Second, yes, it’s true, as several astute people pointed out, simulations can be run very effectively in the classroom. So, this is not about the death of the classroom per se as it is the death of the lecture. The rooms will still be needed. The teacher is still essential. What changes is the approach from lecture to experience and the role of the teacher in helping that happen.

Third, when I refer to Performance Support, I’m talking about any on-the-job tool or person that provides knowledge, learning and development that helps the work get done. This could be a job aid, a search engine, a mentor, a coach, a good product design (read Don Norman’s book), a help system, peer-to-peer, or just about anything else that helps a person do their job while they are doing their job.

Notice the consistency between simulation and performance support…the learner is actually doing something. More importantly, they are learning by doing what it is they need to do. I would (maybe just as controversially) posit that if it can’t be taught through simulation or performance support, then it doesn’t need to be learned. Except for academia itself, the only real need for learning is to change actions and behavior. (Note: I don’t want to downplay the importance of learning for learning’s sake, just that in business, our goal for learning is to help people do something and that should be our focus).

Having said all that, there’s one exception, or maybe, better, one addition that I need to add to my rant. The value of getting together, face-to-face, live, in person can never be replaced. No technologies have been able to substitute for that…no chat, e-mail, podcast, blog, video conference, or other communication technology (not even the new “presence” technologies) can ever replace the value of being to face-to-face with friends, family, and colleagues. Many thanks to my friends, colleagues, and other attendees for pointing this out. May we all experience learning through great conversations!

So, maybe it’s not so much about the death of the classroom itself, but the death of the lecture. The technology is finally here to make that happen. Now the question is how do we use the technology for the benefit of people.
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Serious Games Presentation

We’re just minutes away from my presentation on Serious Games: Present and Future. The presentation has been posted as a PDF here. It’s about 2 Meg even with compressed images. Thanks to all of the people who provided examples and pictures for this presentation.

Innovations Outside of Learning

I’m blogging live from the Brandon-Hall’s Innovations in Learning Conference in Santa Clara, CA. I was honored to give the opening address to the pre-conference for over 130 people. My topic was Innovations Outside of Learning: How External Forces Are Changing Our World. In the presentation, I covered the Top 9 non-learning innovations that were impacting learning.

You can check out a PDF of the presentation here. A video version might be available at some point. I’d love to hear your thoughts to see if you agree or what technologies you would add/remove.

Leaving Out the Good Stuff

It occurred to me as I was watching the game at Tiger Stadium yesterday, that our schools may actually already have a solid metaphor in place for the use of games and simulations for learning. Our music programs and our sports teams make extensive use of a practice-based approach for learning. In fact, it’s almost the only way kids learn in those classes. Out of all the sports and music I’ve done in my life, I don’t think I’ve sat in one lecture or seen one PowerPoint (or whiteboard or blackboard or whatever). Sure a quick play illustration or song list might be jotted down, but not much more.

We already know that both sports and music programs are not just great ways to learn the domain areas themselves, but also develop transferable skills such as team work, collaboration, motor skills, observation skills, and even strategic decision making. (See a related post from kwhobbes). Interestingly, there’s also been a lot of research done on the parallel capabilities that come with music development such as mathematics and language.

OK, so I’m not stating much new so far. What occurred to me today, though, was that while sports and music provide both tangible skills, transferable skills, and great metaphors for all learning, sadly, they’re the first thing getting cut in most of our schools budget crisis. What a shame it is, if we cut some of the best learning activities and examples and replace them with more lecture. Hopefully, maybe we can take some of the learning approaches from the ball fields and music rooms and take it back into the classroom rather than what seems to be our current approach of leaving out the good stuff.

Improv for Learning

I’m a huge fan of improv comedy. I watch old episodes of Whose Line is it Anyway (wikipedia), the new (and still trying to find its way) Thank God You’re Here (wikipedia), and especially support my local improv troops in Ann Arbor (Improv Inferno) and suburban Detroit (Second City). For those who don’t know much about improv, the performers (usually 2-4 people at a time, though it varies a lot) take a suggestion from the audience and then play any one of a number of games to create a scene/story generally with the intent of being funny.

What’s interesting to me about improv is that while “everything’s made up”, it actually follows a series of rules that all of the players follow. The rules act as rails that guide (yet don’t restrict) the content. One of the most basic rules is called “accepting the offer”. Each of the verbal and non-verbal actions of a player are “offers”. So, for example, an offer might be one character standing up, stretching, and saying “Good Morning”. Accepting that offer would require building on those clues to continue the story. So to accept, the second player might say “It’s about time you woke up. You’re going to be late for work.” The yawn and the morning were accepted and work was added. So the responsibility of the original character is to then accept all of the previous offers (morning, waking late, and work) and build the next part of the scene with them. Rejecting the initial offer might have been “It’s not morning, it’s evening. You’ve missed an entire day.”

This activity requires the players to provide focused listening and observation skills and take on the posture of collaborative building rather than analytical dissection and destruction. What would if everybody on the team worked to create and build towards a common goal? Interestingly, many local improv troops (probably the most famous being Second City) have picked up on this and began to offer it as an option for corporate training. However, one company here at the show, Performance of a Lifetime, is trying to take it national and work with larger companies rather than local teams. Jay just blogged about a different experience with them as well. I attended their session earlier this week where we were able to try out several of the games and begin to learn some of the basics. It developed practical skills (listening, observation, teamwork), explained more philosophical ideas (collaborative creation, interactivity), and frankly was a lot of fun. I definitely want to go back and take the classes with my local improv troop.

On a side note, a few years ago Cornell was working on a project to animate virtual characters using the rules of improv. In simulations and virtual worlds, the computer controlled characters are almost always pre-scripted. Their actions, paths, and words are predetermined by the creator and the characters can often feel stale and unrealistic. The research was trying to determine whether the rules of improv could create characters with more realistic behaviors. I haven’t seen much about that recently. If anybody knows more about it, send it my way. I’d love to write a bit more about it.

In the mean time, check out your local improv troop and jump over to Performance of Lifetime. Very cool.

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