Friday, December 15, 2006

Learning Should be "Hard Fun"

When surveying the 100 folks we had in our webinar this week on how to integrate gaming and simulations into eLearning, I wasn't that surprised that a great many were computer gamers themselves. They played games like World of Warcraft, The Sims, Sim City, Civilization, Flight Simulator, and various sports-related games. It's not just kids playing computer games, many adults also enjoy the challenge and stimulation of games and can become as thoroughly engaged with these as the young'uns.

And, as I mentioned in previous postings, real learning takes place while people are playing these games and simulations. They are analyzing situations, reacting, making decisions, getting feedback, and trying again. It is also important to note that gamers rarely succeed at first. For most games and simulations, you have to learn from your early failures and apply that learning to succeed the next time. And people do play games and simulations over and over in trying to master their intricacies. They are fully engaged in doing this, not because it is easy, but because it is hard. It stretches them and forces them to improve. One participant in our webinar referred to games and simulations as being "hard fun."

Why can't more of the eLearning we produce also be "hard fun"? Why can't we produce learning environments that engage and motivate users to reach success, as they do when they are playing games? Well, we can do this - with a little bit of imagination and a willingness to approach training from a different angle.

Our special webinar guest, Christopher Keesey (left) of Ohio University Without Boundaries, shared a demonstration of an eLearning course they developed to train Risk Managers in the health care sector. They could have just laid out all the key elements of risk management, liability and negligence issues and tested learners on these. Instead, they created a simulation whereby the learner is placed in the role of new Risk Manager at a hospital wherein the learner must react to a series of realistic events.

In one instance, for example, a patient has a bad fall. You, as the new Risk Manager, must examine all the relevant documentation (e.g. incident report, interview transcripts, radiologist's report, definitions of liability and negligence, etc.) and then decide what you will do. Along the way, you have an experienced mentor (in the form of an avatar) that provides feedback on your decisions.

The point of showing the Ohio university example was to emphasize that we do not have to invest a fortune in the development of games and simulations as do the gaming companies when they create a retail product. It is not the glitz and production values that make a training game or simulation successful. Sure, engaging the eyes and ears in creative ways is helpful, but the most important task is to engage the learner's brain. And that is what good eLearning is all about. Like any good adult learning, you must provide a realistic context for the learner to be exposed to and in which to apply new concepts and information. That's how learning can become "hard fun."

If you missed the webinar, here is a link to the recording:

Beyond Blah: Using Games and Simulations to Keep Learners Motivated