Secrets of Simulation Design

Posted by Rich Mesch on Jan 10, 2014 1:23:00 PM

As mentioned in our last blog posting, I had the pleasure of co-authoring the recent book The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook, contributing several chapters on simulation. I’ve been working with simulations and experiential learning for almost my entire career, over 25 years. I became involved with simulation because, like a lot of people in the learning & development field, I was frustrated. I looked at a lot of the learning initiatives that organizations did and I wondered: Is any of this really making a difference? We’re making people smarter, but are we really changing the way they behave? Is there any real impact on the business?

I became fascinated with simulation because simulation had the potential to not just change what people knew, but to change what they actually did. Simulation immerses people in a realistic environment and causes them to react emotionally and instinctually, much as they do in the real world. And it contextualizes what they’ve learned; rather than being an abstract idea that they have to parrot back, it becomes a real-life behavior that they have to execute.

The earliest simulations I built were very inspired by old text-adventure games like Zork. In the early days of computers, Zork created an immersive environment using only words. But more than that, it required analysis, problem-solving, and creativity—the same skills we want to achieve through training interactions. And nobody forced you to play Zork; you did it because it was challenging and fun. What if training was challenging and fun? By the way, for a retro thrill, you can still play Zork online.

Today’s technology provides more opportunities for immersion, with video, animation, mobile apps, and 3D virtual worlds. But the core of simulation is the same, whether it’s a high-end video simulation or a pencil-and-paper exercise. You need a realistic environment, a real-life goal, an immersive story, and characters you can relate to.

training_2014_LogoIf you’d like to know more about how you accomplish all that, please join me in San Diego, CA on February 3, 2014 for the Training 2014 Conference & Expo where I’ll be presenting a session called The Secrets of Simulation Design. We’ll talk about why simulation is so effective, the different types of simulation, and some basic design concepts. We’ll also look at some examples of effective simulations.

For a deeper dive on simulation, read PDG’s White Paper on Simulation and Experiential Learning, read case studies on using simulation for leadership development in a retail environment, Pharmaceutical sales leadership, or stop by and chat at Training 2014!


Rich Mesch



 Rich Mesch is Senior Director, Customer Engagement at Performance Development Group




Topics: Emerging Technologies, Storytelling, Simulation

The iPad Eats the Smartphone and Mobile Learning Becomes Real

Posted by Rich Mesch on Jul 30, 2012 3:35:00 AM

by Rich Mesch
apple and smart phone

I’ve been following the so-called Mobile Learning revolution for some time now. The reality is, Mobile Learning was something that a lot of people talked about, few people did, and even fewer did well. There are a number of reasons for that, including the fact that most folks were repurposing e-learning courses to tiny smartphone screens without acknowledging that mobile was a new paradigm that required new rules.

But the reality is, not many companies even go that far. You know why? Because their mobile learning initiative ended at their IT department.  Few organization issued smartphones to their employees. There were a laundry list of issues, from cost to security to platform choices. Never before in history has American business been so concerned that a bit of technology might be left behind in a bar.

Some organizations had a “bring your own device” policy, but due to a lack of interoperability, confusion over LMs issues, and the dramatic chasm in capabilities between the newest and oldest smartphone platforms, any sort of comprehensive mobile learning strategy usually withered on the vine.

I’m writing this during the 2012 Summer Olympics, so I’ll use an Olympic metaphor. While a lot of people were focused on whether Michael Phelps would break the record for most medals won, Ryan Lochte quietly came in and ate Phelps’ lunch, then drank his Thermos of milk for good measure. (edit: Okay, Phelps proved me wrong on that one. So sue me.) Similarly, while a lot of us focused on the smartphone wars, the iPad came in made that conversation dramatically less relevant. The iPad is now making Mobile Learning a reality.

Why? The causal diagram has a lot of nodes, but it comes down to two big issues:

  • Most importantly, large businesses are settling on the iPad as a platform of choice.  The old wars over smartphone platforms become increasingly irrelevant as organizations feel comfort in the relatively proven iPad platform. In many organizations, iPads are beginning to replace PCs as the business technology of choice.

  • A lot of the reason this is happening is the form factor of the iPad. Large enough to do product demos, read documents, watch videos, etc, it’s become a reasonable alternative to a PC. Its slender size, friendly operating system, and long battery life make it much more convenient.

That being said, there are still pretty big challenges to doing learning on the iPad. As always, companies are concerned about data security and privacy. But as we centralize on a single platform those issues will be easier to address. But with at least some of the technology questions being settled, learning developers can focus on content challenges, not just technology challenges.

So how do we design learning that takes advantage of the iPad’s capabilities? That’s easy; we don’t design learning. We’ll talk more about that in the next blog entry!

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Mobile Performance, Innovation Strategy

Mobile Learning is SO 10 Minutes Ago…

Posted by Rich Mesch on Jun 7, 2011 3:41:00 AM

by Rich Mesch

describe the imageImagine going out and buying a shiny new sports car. Now imagine hitching up a horse to it, and having the horse drag your car to work every day.

Sound crazy? Sure it does. So why are people still using mobile devices to deliver e-learning courses?

Years ago, Nicholas Negroponte insisted that in the not-too-distant future, we would all be wearing our computers. He was envisioning complex eyepieces and finger sensors with wires running up your sleeves. He had the right idea but the wrong form factor; he didn’t foresee that we’d be carrying our computers in our pockets and calling them “phones.”

Mobile learning is on everybody’s to-do list, and why not? Who wouldn’t want learning that could follow an employee no matter where she went? But like so many emerging technologies, we need to look past the gloss of the possible to the reality of the useful. Today’s smart phones have nearly as many capabilities as our desktop computers, but that doesn’t mean we use them the same way. And when we try to deliver learning to a mobile device the same way we deliver it to a desktop computer, we miss the point of having a mobile device to begin with.

When it became clear mobile learning was a reality, the first thing many organizations did was look at “re-chunking” their current content. If something made sense as a 30-minute e-learning program, they reasoned, it could be broken down cleanly into, say, 5 bite-sized e-learning programs for a mobile device. There’s a bit of tortured logic going on there; if something is brief and bite-sized, people will be happy to use it on their phones. And while there’s some truth to that, it misses the point. Mobile applications aren’t just about brevity, they’re about applicability. People “learn” from their mobile devices all the time, they just don’t call it training. Whether they’re pulling sports scores, GPS-ing the next leg of their trip, or sending some quick texts, people use their mobile devices to gain knowledge. So as learning professionals, why would we think they should get little e-learning courses? Why not leverage the methods they’re already using?

The re-chunking people weren’t really wrong, they just sort of missed the point. Rather than creating mini-courses for mobile devices, we need to design learning for each venue in a method that fits it best. People tend to use mobile devices:

  • In short intense bursts
  • When they need information right away
  • In down-time, such as between appointments
  • To retrieve information that may not be at their fingertips, or
  • To get information that may be so current or time-sensitive, there’s no other way to get it other than right now

So when we look at how our audience performs, we need to ask not what can we teach people on a mobile device, but rather how can we use mobile devices to provide information to help them perform better.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Performance Improvement, Mobile Performance, Innovation Strategy, Informal Learning

Teaching Non-Linear Instructional Design for Mobile Learning and Performance Support

Posted by Reni Gorman on May 4, 2011 6:44:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

escher stairs
We all intuitively think in a linear fashion because the brain can only really focus on one thing at a time, then another, and another. Therefore, even when we think we are jumping around in our thoughts, we are still thinking one thing after another. Perhaps as a result of this, many of us also write in a linear fashion. Therefore, it is not surprising that many instructional designers create course content linearly; it is difficult to think of a course or a story any other way.. However, when people use newer technologies, they tend to be very non-linear, be it surfing the web, using mobile devices or (especially) performance support systems. You never know where learners are coming from when they land on your web page—or your module. You also don’t know how much they already know. So, how do you to anticipate all of this when creating content, and, ideally, create content that addresses multiple learner types who arrive there from any place without any pre-existing knowledge?

When the web first went commercial (.com), I teamed up online magazine web producers with instructional designers and together they were able to create very interactive, instructionally sound, non-linear content. However, that was in the 90s, the stone age of interactive technology. In today’s world, we need to run as lean as we can. So let me share some of the techniques that worked for me when teaching how to design non-linear content; which, remember, is totally counterintuitive to what many instructional designers have been doing for years.

Ask your instructional designers to create a storyboard with modules that are truly context independent (in other words, that can be accessed from any path with any existing knowledge and will still make sense). Tell them to try to create the smallest possible modules; think online magazine publishing: one article is usually one page. Once they come back with their storyboards, pull out a module from the middle and see if it makes sense out of context. Does it indicate where you can go to “backtrack” and catch up?  What would happen if a learner would go into just this piece of content without the benefit of the previous content? Then, think about modifying the content in a way that makes it easy for anyone with links to go backwards in the content for explanation (if needed), and links to get more deep/advanced. This is commonly referred to as a layered design—once again, very non-linear. You will not know who the learner is when you design; she may be the target audience or a manager of the target audience or an assistant. No matter who the learner is, the content should make sense, and guide the learner to other content where they can catch up or explore further.

You also need to consider “neutralizing the language” as regards your audience. Don’t use terms like: “As the manager, you will…” In a good performance support system, it should not matter who the person is, the content should guide you and focus on the task you are trying to perform (or the information you are trying to learn) regardless of who you are I like to refer to this as designing object oriented content. Yes, learning objects (remember those?). It may be an old term but it is still relevant-- in fact more relevant than ever, since mobile devices require smaller and smaller chunks of context-independent content.

Another tip is to watch for and remove is verbiage like “In a previous module, you learned...” When your audience is accessing content non-linearly, you don’t know what they have previously learned. Consider using phrases like “For more information” or “To learn more.”

We’re all obsessed with interactivity, but interactivity is not nearly as relevant in performance support. If I need help on the job, a good checklist is worth much more than an interactive game, because a good checklist is “just in time.” In a good mobile performance support system we no longer need an intro with course objectives, but we do need to introduce the material. How do we do it from a performance support perspective? Learning objectives do not really teach anything—they tell what you will learn but you don’t learn from them. In performance support there is not much room for them—each learning object/page should teach you something. Take the user’s perspective and focus on the WIIFM: What’s In It For Me? For example: “You should use this tool, Mr. Investment Banker,  because hedge funds have changed over the last year and the new information will impact your business.

Finally, instructional designers should consider all the ways this content could be used:
    • in a linear e-learning course (don’t worry, linear hasn’t gone away completely)
    • as a quick tip list in a performance support environment
    • In an audio format, perhaps as a list of “what to say” to the customer. It may be better in audio to hear voice inflection; for example, a sales representative can listen to it with a hands-free device on the way to a client meeting.
Many of us are used to designing linear content, and linear design is a hard habit to break.. But it’s useful to step back and think about the possibilities. Invite others to brainstorm, share designs and content so you are not just looking at your own, as that is harder to critique, and guide each other to realizations through the art of inquiry.

Creating valuable, snippets of information that contain one concise piece of transferrable knowledge will make content so much more effective in the business world where people do not always have time for extensive classroom training, or even sitting through a long online learning course. They want to go right to the information that they need and that may mean jumping around and reviewing the content out of sequence. Creating snippets of content is also the key to the age old dream all content creators have of authoring once and reusing in many ways. Happy authoring!
The Mobile Learning rEvolution

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Performance Improvement, Learning Theory, Mobile Performance

Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 6: It's a Poor Craftsman Who Blames His Tools

Posted by Rich Mesch on Dec 14, 2010 9:54:00 AM

 by Rich Mesch

I’ve been a musician for most of my life, and over the last several years I’ve focused my energy on the mandolin. The mandolin is a diabolically complex little instrument, and I became fascinated with the way they were constructed. So, perhaps ill-advisedly, I purchased a mandolin kit and set about building one myself. Initially, I thought it turned out rather well, looking like this:

And I kept feeling that way until I played it. The tone was not unlike a cat battling a raccoon in a submarine. I was crestfallen; I had used the same tools and the same materials as the pros, and it looked pretty good. Why wouldn’t it sing? 

So what does this have to do with VIEs? Simply this: producing great results means having more than the right tools—it means having the right skills. I have seen too many organizations go through an arduous process in selecting their VIE platform, only to have the whole effort fall flat when the platform fails to magically change everybody’s lives. I wouldn’t expect to go to Home Depot and buy some wood and tools and come home and magically be a great cabinet-maker. I would expect to spend some time honing my skills—or, failing that, hiring someone who already had great skills to do the building for me.

The rules of instructional design don’t change because we’re working in a virtual environment—they may expand, but they don’t change. Poor tools may sabotage great design, but poor design can’t be overcome by great tools. If you need some ideas on great design, I’ll make my 50th recommendation of Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll’s wonderful book, Learning in 3D. Or feel free to read the other entries in this series.

I’m using VIEs to make this point, but really, the point is pretty universal. Great technology doesn’t create great design; great designers create great design. But great technology makes great design really sing. If you have both, you have magic.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Series, Performance Improvement, Learning in 3D

Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 5: Encouraging Adoption

Posted by Rich Mesch on Nov 17, 2010 7:24:00 AM

shrugby Rich Mesch

This is the second entry based on my conversations with Dr. Keysha Gamor, a fellow aficionado of 3D learning. In the last entry, I wrote about Keysha’s experience implementing Virtual Reality solutions in secondary education. In this entry, I wanted to share some of the conversations we had on the effectiveness of Virtual World platforms and the acceptance (or lack thereof) that we’ve seen in organizations. As Keysha works mostly with government and military, she brings a unique perspective (I work almost exclusively with corporations). Generally speaking, government and military have had a higher adoption rate for 3D learning than the business world. What are they finding effective about the virtual environment, and what does the corporate world have yet to learn?

I asked Keysha if she was seeing higher levels of adoption of Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) in the public sector, and she agreed that was the case. However, many of these initiatives are in a pilot or exploratory phase. And the biggest concern in the public sector is similar to the private sector: how do we ensure data security?

So how do we mainstream this capability? We brainstormed many possibilities, but it really comes down to three categories:
  • What are the barriers to adoption now? Much has been written about the technological barriers, but not enough about the cultural barriers. For example:
    1. Treating VIEs as if they are a unique technology. Most people see learning and performance improvement as a system; they want to understand how each part of the system contributes to the whole. VIEs are too often introduced as the hot new technology; that builds temporary interest, but actually works against adoption. We need to answer the question: how will VIEs contribute to overall performance improvement and not just be a flavor-of-the-month.
    2. Cognitive Load. The good news is that VIEs (like many simulated environments) can create a profound emotional reaction from learners. That’s a good thing, because we want a learning environment to mirror the real world and evoke the same response the real world does. But we also need to be prepared to address and process those reactions. It’s okay when training makes people upset (or elated), as long as that response is used for growth.
    3. If you build it, they will come. Yes, they will. Once. So many VIEs are just like billboards, just a shingle hung on the wall where there really isn’t anything to do. There needs to be a reason to come back again and again and again. There needs to be a compelling reason to return, a reason to engage, not just watch.
  • What are the clear success stories? One of the most successful implementation of VIEs today is military simulations. Military trainers have identified real problems troops face in the field and created scenarios to address those problems. Obviously, many military situations involve life-or-death decisions, so accuracy is critical. Military simulations use real geospatial data to map the terrain to closely match what the real life experience. And the military is not satisfied with 3D learning, but is also looking to bring smells into the virtual space; not only is the ability to analyze what you smell critical in combat situations, olfactory is often identified as the most evocative sense as pertains to memory.
  • What’s changing in our culture that will support adoption? Some of us are old enough to remember when e-mail was a new and scary technology. But not only was it adopted, it became integral to the way we live our lives. As we move to adopt VIEs, we need to consider the social climate. We need to realize that we aren’t in the mainstream. One of the factors that is helping us to move forward is Social Media. Social Media has become highly integrated into our lives. Now that people have had their eyes opened to the possibilities of online social environments, they’re starting to dream a little bit. That’s the momentum we need to make this capability mainstream.

    One of Keysha’s parting thoughts was how much the movie Avatar helped her talk about VIEs. While the movie itself doesn’t have anything to do with VIEs, many people were unfamiliar with the word “avatar” before they saw the film. Avatar helped build the common language that allows us to have these conversations with others—and a common language is the first step to successful change.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Series, Performance Improvement, Simulation

Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 4: From Virtual Reality to Virtual Worlds

Posted by Rich Mesch on Oct 5, 2010 8:10:00 AM

woman with virtual reality head gear
by Rich Mesch

I recently had the pleasure of speaking at the SALT conference in Arlington, VA. While there, I was fortunate enough to meet Dr. Keysha Gamor, a fellow-presenter who also has a passion for Virtual Immersive Environments and 3D Learning. Keysha was good enough to allow me to interview her for this article.

Given its location, it probably won't surprise you that the SALT conference attracts many participants from Government and Military, some of the earliest advocates of 3D Learning. Keysha works extensively with both areas, so I was anxious to learn about her experiences. But what most intrigued me is that Keysha's perspective was firmly rooted not in Virtual Worlds, but in Virtual Reality. What connections can we make, I wondered, between the effectiveness of Virtual Reality (VR) and the effectiveness of Virtual Worlds?

As part of her graduate work, Keysha worked with the University of Georgia and NASA to determine how fully immersive VR could be used to teach complex abstract concepts. The goal of the study was not to look at VR as a unique or special interaction, but from the perspective of everyday usage in a teaching environment. The study, called “The Science Space Program,” focused on teaching science concepts to middle school and high school students, and utilized some pretty serious VR equipment that was shuttled from school to school.

Activities in the study included exploring concepts like velocity (what happens to an object going at high rates of speed?), static electricity, and other types of physics issues. Except that rather than focusing on abstract concepts, students were actually able to get inside a particle; they could actually become the particle to understand what happens to it. Students participated in groups of 3; one student would wear a head-mounted display, another would direct his/her activities, and a third would observe. Each student got to play each role.

For the final exam, each student designed their own rollercoaster, using physics concepts they had learned. Keysha says she was amazed at how well they were able to do—the accuracy of the mathematics and physics used by the students in creating their rollercoasters was remarkable. It’s worth noting that these were “average” students, not gifted; students who were incapable of comprehending these concepts before succeeding with the VR exercise.

It’s a great story, and a great example of how contextualized learning drives comprehension and application. In fact, the first question I asked Keysha was around context; didn’t the success of the study indicate the value of contextualization, and not necessarily VR? Aren’t their other ways of contextualizing learning to have a similar outcome? Her response was, yes, it was definitely about context, but the VR technology provided a contextualized experience that couldn’t be provided any other way.

Most of us don’t have Virtual Reality equipment cluttering up our offices. So are their ways to have a similar impact using more readily-available Virtual Immersive Environment (VIE) technologies? Well, Keysha and I discussed that as well… and I’ll report out on our conversation in the next entry in this series!

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Series, Performance Improvement

Making Social Networking Social Again

Posted by Reni Gorman on Jul 30, 2010 2:16:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

Social networking should not be about adding people to your network willy nilly to get the highest number of connections. All too often I get a LinkedIn request from someone whose name just doesn’t ring a bell. There I sit, agonizing over who this could be and wondering why I don’t remember them. Then I write back and say: “I am sorry, can you remind me how we know each other?” Sometimes I get no reply, other times I get a reply that says: “We don’t know each other directly but we both worked for ABC Company.” It all depends on where you draw the line. People Together-3

However, I do believe there are other reasons to connect even when you don’t know the person previously. In fact, isn’t that what social media is about? Making new connections you didn’t have before? I don’t look at it as just a tool to put my address book online, I look at it also as a tool to find new contacts, for various reasons. The benefit of the social web is that I can see into my friend’s contact list and connect with people who I would not have connected with otherwise. For example, I interview people for PDG’s Strategy Consulting team and often after the interview, they send me a LinkedIn request—and I accept. Especially if I spoke to them, I liked them, and I feel we had a connection. I have sometimes received requests to connect with people who have read my blog, sent me theirs, are in the same industry and want to be connected—and I accept. And despite all the examples I just gave you, I still don’t consider myself an Open Networker, who, according to Wikipedia, is a member of a business-oriented social networking site such as LinkedIn who positively encourages connections from any other member, whether or not they have had a previous business relationship.

I don’t think having people in your network means you have to contact them once a month or at any other interval. I know people with whom I only speak once a year and there is nothing wrong with that in my eyes. Based on the examples above, I have contacts I may never reconnect with—and I am okay with that too. I might even eventually remove them—once I no longer remember them. The goal of my network is not necessarily to have “relationships” with every single person, it is to have connections that can help me and who I can help when needed. Isn’t that the goal of networking to begin with? Social media allows me to do something I could not do before and that is to see my connections’ connections’ connections and so on. It is, therefore, about connections—therein lies the power.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Social Media

Affordances in Virtual Immersive Environments (or, When is a Chair not a Chair?)

Posted by Rich Mesch on Jun 23, 2010 4:18:00 AM

by Rich Mesch

describe the imageA few months back, I interviewed Chuck Hamilton about the way Virtual Immersive Environments (VIEs) are used at IBM. One of the concepts that Chuck introduced me to was the idea of “affordances,” and how they change in VIEs. According to our old friend Wikipedia, an affordance is “a quality of an object, or an environment, that allows an individual to perform an action.” The term doesn’t really have anything to do with VIEs on its own, although the concept of affordances is frequently used in describing the way people interact with computers.

Affordances become interesting in VIEs because VIEs “warp” the common way we use affordances. For example, what are the affordances of a chair? Well, it can be used for sitting, for decoration, for standing on to change a lightbulb… you get the idea, I could go on and on. But in a VIE, what is a chair? For sitting on, sure… but your avatar never gets tired, so you never really need to sit. Nor do you have to change light bulbs (and if you did, odds are you could fly up and do it).

Or a roof. What are the affordances of a roof? It keeps out cold, rain, snow, burglars, etc. But what if you lived in a world where there was no weather (unless you wanted it)? Would you need a roof at all?

But if you’ve spent any time in a VIE, you know that we typically recreate the affordances of the physical world. There are a lot of good reasons for this; one of the reasons we have VIEs at all is so we can recreate some of the emotions and interpersonal effects we get in real life. But, of course, there are some things we can leave out: roofs are purely aesthetic; and we have drinks in VIEs only to recreate the conviviality of happy hour, not because we're thirsty.

For VIEs in learning, we often recreate classrooms—which is controversial to a lot of people. Some like the classrooms, because it recreates the affordances of the real world. Others (myself included) question why you would simply recreate classrooms. Sure, we want to create environments for people to learn. But we aren’t bound by the affordances of the real world. In VIEs we can learn anywhere. And what’s the point of creating a 3D space if you don’t use all three dimensions?

Tony O’Driscoll and Karl Kapp talk about The Seven Sensibilities of VIEs in their book, Learning in 3D
  1. The Sense of Self
  2. The Death of Distance
  3. The Power of Presence
  4. The Sense of Space
  5. The Capability to Co-Create
  6. The Pervasiveness of Practice
  7. The Enrichment of Experience

Tony does a great job of explaining it all in the video below. Watch and enjoy!

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Virtual Worlds, Learning in 3D

Engaging Learners Real Time with Social Media

Posted by Reni Gorman on May 5, 2010 4:43:00 AM

by Reni Gorman

A Great Non-Learning Example

A colleague of mine sent me this video depicting a pianist incorporating social media into his songs on the fly—yes on the fly! You have got to see this video—it is incredible, and it really made me think about social media and teaching/learning (Warning: video contains some mature content). My first reaction was: Wouldn’t it be great if you could do this for an online course, and I had to catch myself; because this, in fact, is how synchronous online courses should be taught and why couldn’t they be? And, more importantly why am I, a learning professional, thinking of this approach as so utopic?

Do We All Think of Synchronous Online Learning as Dull?

My mental model of synchronous learning is not nearly this engaging, and now that I am realizing this, it really saddens me because it should not be that hard. Great instructors have been engaging learners for centuries. I am sure we can all think back on our experiences and remember teachers who stood out. But, let’s be honest: most of them just sort of blend together. This problem was made even worse with online learning; I have seen good instructors become bad instructors online. I personally remember giving a presentation on the authoring and use of learning objects that was well received in the classroom, with lots of brainstorming and dialog; but online, it went totally flat. So what can we do?

A Great Learning Example

I recently saw an eLearning Guild online learning presentation on virtual worlds with Dr. Karl Kapp. The format of the presentation had a bar on the left where participants can chat during the presentation—not uncommon. During the presentation, Dr. Kapp used all the techniques great designers/instructors do: he asked questions, ran polls, had the audience give him their current understanding/frame of mind in the topic so he could build upon it, threw out ideas/concepts to think about and paused to make sure people had time to respond. All was going well enough, but then, he did something that made the whole group come to life: he started reading the chat stream and joining the conversation. He would say things like: “Yes, I agree, Susan just said XYZ, and I think…” The more he did that, the more the group came to life. Suddenly, instead of the chat being a side conversation, it became part of the course.

Another Great Non-Learning Example

I read a recent article on regarding using Twitter to your advantage during a presentation/conference. One suggestion was to take breaks to read the Twitter stream and respond, the same way Dr Kapp did in the online course. Of course, it makes it easier when the Twitter stream is projected in front of the speaker and class because then the presenter can engage the audience without taking a break. Most interesting is that this approach works online and in person.

Lesson Learned: How Can We Make It Easy to Engage Learners?

I think we can see the trend here: learners don’t engage when we, as instructors or designers want them to. They engage how they want to and when they want to. They don’t jump up to answer the questions we pose or the polls we post, but they sure do love having their own “behind the scenes” conversations in chat rooms and on Twitter. Before social media, learners could not do this because most won’t have a side conversation in the classroom or online if it disrupts the instructor. But they can do so in chats and on Twitter without bothering the instructor/speaker at all. So, let’s take advantage of that. We need to join THEIR conversation, rather than trying to make them join ours—a good idea for online as well as in person.

Topics: Emerging Technologies, Learning Theory, Informal Learning, Social Media