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.

“Inexpensive” 3D

A few weeks ago, I ended up in Orlando somewhat by chance. Since it had been a few years since I had done it, I took the opportunity to check out a few of the newer exhibits. One that struck me in particular was Mickey’s PhilharMagic (Disney, wikipedia) which is staged somewhat in the middle of the Magic Kingdom. The theater itself is somewhat designed like the ficitional theater in the 1993 John Goodman film Matinee (imdb, wikipedia). In the film, Goodman’s character, Lawrence Woolsey, introduces what he calls Atomo-vision and Rumble-rama. These innovations bring more senses into the movie watching experience like touch through things like vibrating seats just at the scary moment. In the current Disney version, they use lots of gimics like spraying water, various scents, smoke, and bursts of air to enhance the experience.

One of the additional features is the use of 3D with more modern glasses that almost look like cheap sunglasses. Of course, there are all of the standard 3D gags like pies flying at your head, trombone slides popping off the screen, and gems floating in the air that appear easy to reach out and take for yourself. We’ve seen all of that done before. What I found interesting was the other applications of 3D like flying through the clouds with Donald Duck, swimming under the sea with the Little Mermaid, and riding the magic carpet through narrow streets and buildings with Aladdin. The 3D models of those environments in combination with the use of the 3D glasses made it feel like we were actually flying through those environments.

So here’s my question, couldn’t we do that same thing with computer screens with video game technology? It shouldn’t be that hard for the “cameras” in video game engines to split and display the image to work with a set of inexpensive 3D glasses. Rather than spending all of the money to create heavy and expensive head gear, couldn’t this be a simpler, less expensive, and faster solution? Sure, maybe the image resolution won’t be as high, but it was more than enough to create the illusion. Can some of my engineer readers fill me in on this?

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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Very cool comic creator

I know, I know, I’m so far behind in my personal blog. I’ve been posting over on the VizThink blog ( How people do multiple blogs with multiples posts a day, I’ll never know. Anyway, this one was good enough to break my silence with.
Check out this very cool, very easy, very powerful web-based comic creator:

It was in Beta for the ever-popular SxSW (south by southwest) conference. Be sure to try it out!

Visual Thinking & eLearning

Have you wondered how Visual Thinking applies to eLearning? or What is Visual Thinking anyway? You’re not alone. So, over at the VizThink community (website, wiki, blog), we’ve decided to do a series of podcasts and webinars covering these topics. Here are the first 3 topics:
Who is TechSmith and what do they do with Visual Thinking? (with Tony Dunckel)
What is idea mapping and how can it be used? (with Jamie Nast & Susi Watson)
How is Visual Thinking related to eLearning? (with Dave Gray & Tony Karrer)

Many more are on the schedule including sessions on graphic recording, presentations, and many others. All of the podcasts and webinars are FREE, but some require registration. Be sure to bookmark the VizThink blog or add it to your reader in order to get the latest updates.

Rebutting the Rebuttle

So, in my Kindle…the Single Function Device post, I took Mark to task a little bit for his overly-amibitious praise of Amazon’s new e-book reader. You can also find his return comments both as a comment on my post and in an additional set on his blog.

His first rebuttle is on capacity. To do that, he leverages the image of over-filled book bags breaking the back of his son on his walk to school and of other kids using roller bags to avoid the back strain. Sure, no one wants to see kids injured, but I think it’s going to be a long time before we see grade school text books available on the Kindle. It wasn’t designed for kids. It’s not kid-proof or done with a kid sensibility. If they were going for that market, then they missed the boat even more than I thought they did.

Then he get’s to form factor and says “Its not pretty. Its also first generation.” First generation is no excuse for poor product design. There are plenty of great products out there they could have based it on. They learned a little from previous e-book attempts, but clearly not enough. The main navigation buttons (back and forward) are right where you place your hands causing pages to turn when you don’t want them too. The shape of the device is so large, you have to place the device on your lap to type on it, yet the keys are designed for thumb typing. Sure, the iPhone wasn’t perfect out of the gate either, but it was a whole lot better version 1.0 than this is. They would have been better to take the time to get the design right. It’s not like anyone else was rushing to get out another failed e-book reader.

Finally for my rebutting the rebuttle, he talks about the $400 price by saying that the price of textbooks for a semester would justify the purchase. That might be true, if the books were discounted for being e-books. However, not only do you have to purchase a $400 reader, you also have to still purchase the books…at full price! That doesn’t sound like a savings to me. There are two general business models here…use the Kindle as a loss leader by giving it away or heavily discounting it and make the money off the e-books…or sell the hardware and discount the books heavily. Pick one business model, not both if you want this plan to succeed.

For even more discussion and a link to a great paper on the topic, check out Mark’s follow-up post.

Kindle…The Single Purpose Device

In Mark’s recent post on the Kindle from Amazon. Now normally, I find myself agreeing with Mark which probably scares both of us. However, this time, I don’t think he could be more off base.

First, out of the many eBook attempts over the last 5 years, none of them have been even partially successful. In fact, calling them miserable failures is probably being generous. So, expecting this one to succeed is a gross over-expectation at best. Sure, it solves a few of the earlier problems…lighter, longer battery life, simpler technology. However it still misses the whole point. For it to be successful it needs to fulfill a market demand or unmet need of some sort.

Capacity: I don’t need to carry 500 books with me. I’ve already got a stack that I can’t seem to find time to get to. I don’t think I’m alone here, but carrying books with me wasn’t a problem that needed solving. It actually works quite fine right now.

Form Factor: Look at the thing. It’s ugly. The technology _appears_ old school. (Yes, I know they’re using the fancy ink/paper thing). At 10 ounces, it’s still to heavy and way too little of the interface is used for the actual book. Sure, the integrated keyboard makes it so that a computer isn’t required, but they could have taken a lesson from Apple here and spent a few more dollars on design. Additionally, it’s not a standard size (either paper back or sheet of paper) so it won’t fit securely in the regular places during transportation.

Price: $400??? Are you kidding me? Plus I still have to pay the regular $10 for the book? Maybe if they worked it like the heavily subsidized razor/blade or cellphone/subscription models it might be more attractive, but please…at $400 the switching cost is way too high. Of course, I did hear one report (on Cranky Geeks) saying that at $400 it probably was already subsidized…which makes you wonder how much it really costs.

Single Function: When was anything anymore a single function device? For $400, it should have a scanner or a printer built in. Maybe I should be able to display and edit other documents. Hey wait, that’s a PDA or a laptop and I can do a lot more with those. In fact, I could even by a decent laptop for less than $200 more and it could do a lot more than read books.

Location: I often read when I’m in a spot where electronics aren’t allowed (like an airplane). So, with this, I’d still need to carry print with me. Great, now I have to carry both? How does that make sense?

Mark’s final point was that companies should by these for employees and put the manuals on them? Really? Mark? Come on now. First, who’s writing manuals anymore? Second, shouldn’t we really be talking about wikis, blogs, help systems, knowledge management, search, or any one of a dozen other approaches to organize structured and unstructured information rather than converting print manuals to an e-book form factor?

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Creative Facilitation Using Photos

I had the pleasure of sitting in on Christine Martell’s engaging session at the Brandon-Hall conference last week. While I’ve done facilitation for years, this is one of the most unique approaches I’ve seen in a long time. The topics for sessions can be almost anything and for conferences, she often uses the conference theme as the topic. So for this one, the question to be addressed was “What is Innovation in Learning?”, which was the theme of the conference.

The first exercise was for each individual to answer the question. They had to create their response by selecting images from a pile of specially designed stock photos in order to tell their story.

Once completing their story, they analyzed their approach and shared their stories with the other people at their table. Then, each table had to create a shared story on the same topic. The outcomes were amazingly diverse in approach and visually rich, yet the learning outcomes were incredibly consistent.

Do you have people that need to brainstorm answers to challenging problems? Do they need to get aligned on strategic initiatives? Then this is a great approach. It takes advantage of creativity and design without the hurdles that are often in place for some of the population with sketching or other creative endeavors.

Many more details are available on this session, her blog, and her company. We’re also excited to have her as a member of the VizThink community and one of our facilitators at our upcoming conference in San Francisco. Register today to attend great sessions like this.

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New opportunities, new roles, new fun

As you may have noticed, my postings have recently dropped off a little bit. Looking at the other bloggers, it sounds like everyone’s been pretty busy, and this is certainly no exception. I’ve been working on a new start up called VizThink. Our goal is to build a community of visual thinkers.

Who are visual thinkers? Visual thinkers are people who use graphic design, images, pictures, video, animations, sketches, and other forms of visual art for communications and learning. Trainers, marketers, presenters, designers, planners, strategists, and managers are just a few of the groups who use visual thinking.

Are you a visual thinker? Do you want to learn how to use visualization to improve your communications and training? Then this community is for you.

Over the next several months, we’ll be rolling out a series of international events as well as community resources.
  • Need to find a person or company to help with brainstorming sketches?
  • Want to learn how to create powerful information graphics?
  • Want to know which vendors offer visual thinking services?
  • Want to learn how to give more visual presentations?
  • Looking for a place where you can find best practices in visualization?
…then VizThink is the place for you. You don’t have to be an artist or know how to draw (though I actually think everybody has a little bit of artist in them).

Our first offering is a gathering of visual thinkers in San Francisco we’re calling VizThink ’08. We’ve got a bunch of great facilitators planned and we’ll be announcing them over the next couple weeks. I hope you can make it.

Combining Video & Interactivity

The designers of this site do a great job of combining video, interactivity, usability, and creativity. Notice how the video controls are obvious, provide relevant feedback and are easy to use. They even tell the participant where the moment of truth is so they can jump straight to it.

OK, so really, it’s a fun set of videos with some pretty neat controls. Who knew Christmas lights would do that in the microwave?

Thanks to Mike Cohen at Creative COW Blogs for pointing it out.

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