When I run my game design workshop, one of the things I advocate is exaggeration. And you need to take this to heart in two ways: one is why it’s important, and the other is how to get away with it. That is, if you want learning to be as effective as possible.
When individuals perform in the real world, they’re motivated. There are consequences for failure, and rewards (tangible or not) for success. Yet in the learning experience, if we try to make it as real as possible, those motivations aren’t likely to be there. We want it to be safe to fail, so there aren’t quite the same consequences. How do we make it closer to the real context, to maximize transfer? Exaggerate the circumstances:
- You’re not working on a patient, you’re working to save the ambassador’s daughter
- You’re not just making a deal, you’re making the deal that the business is going to need to keep from going into receivership
- You’re not just designing a networking solution, you’re designing one to support the communications for the rebels overthrowing the oppressive regime
You get the idea. You have to avoid stereotypes, and it’s a delicate dance to make it something that the learners will not dismiss but buy as more interesting than if you played it straight. Still, it’s worth the effort. And testing’s a good idea ;).
You want these exaggerations not just for task-based motivation, but you also want to make it more meaningful to the learner. Tap into not only the right application of the decision in context, but also a context learners will care about.
How do you get away with this? You know that you’re going to get reined in, stakeholders are always so precious about their content (“you can’t be flip about X!”). So go further than you think you’ll get away with. You’ll get reined in, but then you’ll still end up at a reasonable place.
For example, we were doing a learning experience about using web tools, and learners were going to create a web site. If you want youth to do it, we could’ve gone in different directions: a site for some environmental need, or for a subversive organization. In this case, we decided it would be plausible (larger context was a design agency) to do a client band.
If we’d said rock band, we’d be reined back to a pop band. Instead, we chose Goth Polka (and were surprised to find that it exists), and had a band name of the Death Kloggerz (in appropriate font). The client reined us in, because Death was too far for them to countenance, so we ended up with the Dark Kloggerz. Still, we got to keep in the odd elements that we felt were appropriate to keep it from being too banal.
The stakeholders will rein you in, but fight for the extreme. Your learners will thank you.