Gamasutra’s got an article worth reading on emotion in games; I particularly like the point about mixing up different types of fun. I promote ‘hard fun’, being the term I use to talk about the correct mix of challenge but this needs to be balanced. Check it out.
So I’m at a client site, and talking about their client. I worked hard with my client to develop a document detailing the enhanced learning design we wanted to implement on the behalf of the secondary client, well justified in cognitive science, detailed about use of media, specifying lean and punchy prose, etc., all the stuff everyone from Michael Allen to myself suggests is necessary to make traditional instructional design work for elearning. Which the secondary client agreed to and signed off on.
So, of course, this time I hear a story about how this secondary client took some draft content, ripped out the instructionally designed prose, and dumped in a bunch of technical material; not written for reading on the screen, using too much jargon, and so on. Of course, my client pointed out that this material violated the design guidelines, was inappropriate, etc. And the secondary client agreed but insisted it had to be kept in.
There’s a lot of bad instructional design out there, but not all of it is due to bad design, some of it is due to reasons that are political, social, organizational, and who knows what else. Some times, even when you try your best, you just can’t win…
Last summer (at the eLearning Guild’s ID conference), I heard Will Thalheimer talk about two different types of learning objectives. One is the familiar, Mager-style objectives we, as designers, use to guide the development of learning. The other, Will opined, is the objective you present for the learner. He articulated a thought that seemed obvious to me, but fortunately he’s got the data to back it up.
I say fortunately because it’s apparently not obvious to everyone that the objectives in the elearnign experience should be written for the learner! I continue to see objectives that as a learner, would immediately make my eyes glaze over and essentially diminish if not completely eradicate any benefit of the subsequent experience.
So, please, take a look at the objectives, rewrite them so that the learner ‘gets’ why they should care, and make sure you use language appropriate to the learner, not to the marketer or whoever else mires these in ‘bizbuzz’.
Once again I’ve seen a draft scenario, and as soon as the learner makes a wrong choice, the ‘external voice’ comes in and says why it’s wrong. Even before the response from the person you’re talking to (in the scenario)!
Now, this is a storyboard, and I’ve had the chance to provide feedback to the designer, but it’s a bigger problem. I claim that even your multiple choice questions should be written as mini-scenarios (e.g. “your usual customer comes back with a surprisingly low budget on a project you may not have time for anyway, so you…”, instead of “the correct response to a low bid in a situation of high trust and low need is…”), but I want to suggest that whatever their choice is, let it play out in the scenario before the external voice comes in.
The reason is to provide emotional closure on the investment in the scenario before the voice. Yes, this is opinion, as I know of no empirical studies (and would welcome it), but in lieu of data, I’ll stick to my claim. There certainly is all the evidence that the experience matters…
So, please, complete the event before you bring that little voice (“This response could lead to lowering the relationship with the customer, instead…”).
I think I’ve gotten infected. I’ve always been a fan of the constructivist philosophy (and I’m taking a broad interpretation here, meaning learners actively engaged in guided activities to faciliate developing their own understanding), but more in theory than practice. I’d felt that in the constraints of higher education and industry, where timing is critical, overt constructivism was a luxury for K12.
Last fall, Bobbi Kamil (of Cable in the Classroom fame) suggested to me to, effectively, ‘have faith’, and I recalled that while I’d struggled with the uncertainty my learners had in my project-based assignments (way back when I was teaching at UNSW), at the end they seemed to ‘get it’ better than I’d expected given their struggles.
It was reinforced during my recent attendance at NASAGA’s annual conference last fall, which despite the name (Simulation and Gaming Association) really focuses (at least at the conference) on creating lively learning interactions. Again, at Training 2006, I listened to Meier, one of the gurus of ‘accelerated learning’, and it was all about active learning (ignoring other elements I’d heard of including music, ritual, etc).
And now I’m beginning to thinking differently when I design learning. It’s part and parcel of my approach to game design, but getting mapped out to face to face interactions also (probably the reverse of most folks). As with game design, I suspect it’s a ‘habit of mind’. I’m interested in seeing what effect it has on my own forthcoming workshops!
On principle I want to push it since just as we find it easy to drop down to knowledge presentation in so much of what we do (I’ve just been reviewing some elearning), we also tend to present rather than support discovery. I’ll encourage you to do the same, and let me know what barriers you perceive.
Yesterday at the Training 2006 conference (sorry for the break, but Disney’s internet plan is too silly, and Sprint’s new upgrade is too restrictive) I heard Stephen Johnson (author of “Everything Bad is Good For You”) make a compelling case for the thinking skills required to successfully play computer games. His argument is that playing such games develops new and necessary skills like systems-thinking and systematicity (both of which I support as curricular items).
I agree that such games require them, but not that they develop them. I cited two data points in a question to him: that there’s much evidence that kids ask around for solutions rather than solving the problems, and normally reflective kids will turn ‘twitch’ in the presence of a computer game. He responded well that they’ll only ask about the tough questions, and (I hope I’m recalling correctly) that there are some concerns about twitch but you can’t succeed well in the complexity of modern games without reflection.
Both true, but they sort of avoid the point. I’m willing to wear that (some) kids will develop such skills, but I also want to suggest that they won’t develop and transfer without support. Parents/mentors have to be involved until we build problem-solving coaching into the games (and we can, but that’s another story).
In Gamasutra, Tom Heaton’s come up with a framework for the cycle of interaction between the player and the system. He talks about the player (I keep writing ‘learner’ :) perceiving the system’s response, analyzing the situation, and implementing an action which is then executed, and the game engine calculates a response. He carries it forward as a tool to analyze a game, where if the play experience isn’t sufficient you can use the framework as an way to look for problems.
The problem is, of course, that Don Norman’s ‘Gulfs of Execution and Evaluation’ model does it far better in my opinion (it’s in his Design of Everyday Things book, which is highly recommended). It’s designed to understand the usability of a system so is very cognitively-oriented, and it may not capture the emotional side without some work, but overall it’s richer and consequently more practically useful.
Jay Cross has written a screed that resonates strongly with me. In it, he makes the case for investing in improving learner’s learning and/or thinking abilities, not just their task-related skill-sets.
We’ve argued this before, as part of our meta-learning interest, but it remains cogent (and all too ignored). The point being, and particularly for knowledge workers, that skills about self-learning, about reflecting and problem-solving, are the key in moving forward. Tony O’Driscoll’s pointed out how as you gain more expertise the value of received wisdom diminishes and you’re in a state of continual knowledge development and negotiation of shared understanding.
Well, what if you don’t know how to reflect well? Or to capture the understandings you’ve developed, or how to communicate, or how to negotiate understanding? If you don’t have the necessary skills, your effectiveness is hampered, yet no one’s talking about investing in the effectiveness of the background skills. And if you think that you can just hire people with these skills, or trust them to develop on their own, the evidence is that you’re sadly mistaken.
I’ve been working on how we might use technology to develop these skills as a layer on top of our learning systems, but I think a necessary additional step is explicit acknowledgement of the need, and more concerted efforts on developing these skills. So what are we waiting for?
I was reminded about the Narrative in Interactive Learning Environments conference from a brief email exchange, and I have to laud it. I missed the first workshop, but (caveat) was an invited speaker to the second, and have been reviewing the programme submissions as a committee member subsequently.
Set in one of my favorite cities, Edinburgh, Paul Brna (a luminary in the AI & Education community, which really is the best cognitive learning technology group despite the uninviting title) runs a delightful event with a good speaker selection, varied and inspired extra-curricular events, and consequent heady discussion. Held in conjunction with the Edinburgh Festival, it’s an unbeatable combination.
This year I queried the Narrative element in the title (finding it hard to shake people out of ‘telling a story’, I have an aversion to any hint of linearity), and he wisely noted that the user experience is a narrative, even if the design is not, and there is a reason to focus on what the outcome is. Besides, it’s a great acronym…
Consider this a strong recommendation for the conference.
After the recent (and excellent) ITFORUM discussion, Stewart Kelly had a message that included this:
One of my professors once worked at an exclusive private school. She told us that the students in this school were not taught how to become cogs in the machine, rather they were taught the metacognitive and leadership skills they would need to “rule” over the rest of society.
I don’t want to make this sound like a conspiracy theory, but I would submit that our students would be best served by developing these types of skill sets too.
I couldn’t agree more. I took my ‘wisdom’ interest, as part of a presentation I gave to the eMerging eLearning conference, and wondered what a curriculum for the future would be. It included meta-cogntiive & leadership skills, in addition to systems-thinking & modelling, research & design, ethics & values, etc.
To the question of who needs leadership skills, someone once replied “everyone”, which is going to be increasingly true going forward. With the accelerating rate of change, prognoticators saying we’ll be a ‘free-agent nation’, and the changing nature of work having us working more on a project basis, what will be necessary will be our skills to adapt, to learn, to work with others, and take different roles to achieve success. It’ll be about attitude and approach as much as pure knowledge.
And right now, that’s not coming from the schools, because the educational establishment hasn’t yet figured out how to test this new curricula (among other things:). How are we going to get change fast enough to save our current generation?