Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

25 August 2011

Immersion or collaboration?

Clark @ 6:06 AM

In something I’ve just been involved in, I realized I had a question.  I’m a fan of scenarios (read: serious games), to the point that I’ve written a book about how to design them!  I’m also a fan of social learning, and consequently argue for the benefits of collaborative assignments.  They both have the opportunity for powerful outcomes.  The question, naturally, is which makes sense when?

This is an important question, to the point that I’ve recommended it as a critical hiring criteria: that a candidate can not only articulate when you should do which, but also articulate how to do both.  Really, if you’re responsible for learning design, you need to go farther: when would you use scenarios, role-plays, or collaborative assignments?  How would you capitalize on the experience, formatively?  How would you design such a practice?

This gets into not only your pedagogical philosophy, but also your meta-cognitive ability.  Before you read my answer, take a moment and think: what’s my answer?  Seriously: what is your answer?

In short. my take is on the nature of the task the learners will be performing in the real world. Will they be performing individually, or will they be working as a member of a team?    There are processing differences (I do recommend that there is collaborative reflection after an individual learning scenario, to get meaningful processing).  Regardless, the core nature of the real world task should be closely aligned to the practice situation. If they’ll perform alone, make it a scenario. If they’ll work in a group, make it  a collaborative task, or a multi-player scenario/role-play.

Regardless, it’s worth checking: who’s your audience, what are your learning goals, and what is the most appropriate practice.  So: immersion, or collaboration?


  1. You seem to present it as an either-or choice; why not combine them? It seems to me that collaborative scenarios would be a brilliant learning venue. If you could pair a learner with an expert and run them through a scenario, you can even cash in on some of the cognitive apprenticeship benefits of letting a learner see an expert solve a realistic problem.

    (Actually, I’ve just re-read your post, and now I suspect that I read the duality into it. “or a multi-player scenario” being a key phrase. But it brings up an interesting point, so I might run with it for a bit if you’ll indulge me, even if it was in my head and not in your post…)

    If we consider them as mutually independent choices – “Do we use collaboration?” and “Do we use scenarios?” – then your threshold of whether the real world task is solo or collaborative would seem to help you answer the first, but not the second. (And I whole-heartedly agree that the conditions under which the task will be performed should dictate that choice, though I’m not sure I would have come up with that if I hadn’t cheated and read your answer…) So how do you decide when to use scenarios, whether they be collaborative or otherwise?

    I’m not sure there’s as neat a rule-of-thumb for that as for the other. My gut reaction is to say “always use them, some of the time” but thats kind of wishy-washy of an answer. Do you have a better one?

    Comment by Rob Moser — 25 August 2011 @ 10:45 AM

  2. Rob, thanks for the feedback. Yes, it was a bit of a false dichotomy, but I also note that collaborative scenarios are quite hard to design (at least system-driven, versus online role plays, cf http://blog.learnlets.com/?p=1834 ). One of the collaborative assignments I gave my students the last time I taught was to respond to RFPs. That *could* be considered a scenario, but it’s pretty much go away, work together to come up with a response, and submit it, as opposed to make decisions, see consequences, make further decisions. It’s a design task, as I want them to apply concepts to a design task, not to a complicated performance. And, pragmatically, I had essentially no resources to design scenarios. In other cases, I might prefer to design scenarios if I had resources and the task might be largely independent (e.g. sales techniques, negotiation, coaching). I think (non-collaborative) scenarios are a way to explore system relationships individually, whereas collaborative assignments are a way to internalize relationships via social interaction. Is it just whether there’s a cohort or not? Hmm.

    Good question, and something to let ferment a bit a further.

    Comment by Clark — 26 August 2011 @ 8:28 AM

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