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Well…not just talking, honestly.

I am speaking at three upcoming, high profile events in th enext couple of months all of which have a quite different feel to them. Details below…if you are in the vicinity do pop along and say hi.

Virtual Worlds Forum 2008

Monday 6th October, London

How do we get serious? – The Practicalities of using Serious Games in an enterprise environment

1. What do we mean when we say ‘serious games’?
2. What organizations are doing in 2008 and why they are doing it.
3. Keeping it real for learning & development.
4. The investment outlay – the real internal and external costs of a project.
5. Sensible timescales & stages – implementing a project to guarantee success.
6. Processes & approaches that work (and that don’t work)
7. Deployment issues – hosting, bandwidth, costs, internal promotion and support.

7th October, BAFTA, London
Learning & Development in Broadcast

This event is aimed at senior L&D people within the broadcast sector and I have been asked to help illustrate what is going on in other industries with particular reference to innovative approaches to L&D.

I shall be attempting to:

  • explain what serious games and immersive learning simulations are, how they are used, why etc with quick examples (PXL & other companies).
  • Illustrate the challenges we/clients face e.g. Lack of awareness of the medium (embryonic still), resistance to medium (and the term ‘game’) in traditional corporate and L&D, need to help clients understand design, development and deployment issues (different to eLearning), cost/business models, IP issues (background vs foreground IP) and measurement (learning and organizational impact for decision-making and ROI). Blending learning games/sims with traditional instructor-lead training, eLearning, OTJ training and coaching.
  • Describe the required team skills (internal & external); Illustrate breadth of skills required e.g. creative, software engineering, instructional design, game design, simulation modeling, subject matter expertise, testing/QA. Explain nature of each and how teams function.
  • Walk through an examples (talk thru); Illustrate how different industry sectors, behavioral and functional training needs have been tackled with games and/or simulation approaches with PXL and other vendor examples. Briefly illustrate range of technical approaches and where they are/are not appropriate. Focus on examples aimed at adult vocational learning, especially where end user audience are graduates/professionals rather than military or school examples as these are not relevant to conference audience.


DevLearn 2008 Conference

DevLearn 2008 Conference

Thursday November 13, San Jose, CA

514: Best Practice Guide for Implementing Immersive Simulations

Organizations that require training, but with tight budgets are no longer able to fund classroom training, are starting to discover the benefits of a more efficient training method. Immersive Learning Simulations are cost effective and efficient, and they provide high quality learning results, benefiting not just the user but the organization.

In this session, participants will gain an understanding of the key functions to look for when implementing an immersive learning simulation. You’ll learn how to simplify the processes of deployment, the do’s and don’ts for implementing, and how to provide motivational experiences. You’ll follow a step-by-step best practice guide to implementing an immersive learning simulation that will take you through the inception of your idea, the justification of your concept with supporting documentation and theories, to the design and implementation stages. You’ll go through key areas, such as calculating the return on investment using real-life case studies based on your customers, integrating a LMS system, and why to use 3-D environments instead of 2-D environments.

In this session, you will learn:

  • How to implement an Immersive Learning Simulation
  • How to identify an approach to training that suits your organization
  • The costing and time scales for simulations
  • Different technological approaches to learning simulations, either virtual worlds or bespoke solutions
  • What game genres engage different target audiences

Intermediate Designers, Project managers, Managers, Directors, VPs, CLOs, and Executives.


“I wonder if you (or anyone) could weigh in on the cost of serious games, and at what threshold of production/cost are we really talking about immersive simulations, rather than serious games?”

This was a comment post I received this week. As it happens, after an exchange of posts, he and I are not opposed on this subject but it was a timely reminder that there is a huge amount of accidental and deliberately created confusion in this space right now. I don’t believe that you can classify an application along the basis that it is either an ILS or a serious game. To do so would be to accept that they are entirely different beasts.

Ben Sawyer has sought to identify serious games by whether they are developed using entertainment games industry ‘game craft’. Whilst I recognize that the entertainment games sector has developed a strongly respected set of skills, principles and intellectual competency – and I do not seek to diminish that, nor do I claim that many ‘eLearning’ studios could replicate these easily – I know of many examples of ‘serious games’ that are awful in execution and ‘eLearning simulations’ which are superb. I’d also point out that this space has already delivered a multitude of examples that vary enormously in the scale (cost), the technology employed, the graphical fidelity, the ease of use, the learning design philosophies (e.g. very linear and rigid ‘instructivist’ examples and very open, exploratory ‘constructivist’ examples) and degree in which they seek to cover explict, well-defined learning topics versus loose ‘information/message promotions’. To this end I fail to see how any particular example can be easily classified as being either an ILS or a serious game.

I’ve just written a lengthy paper for the E-Learning Guild that seeks to “Demystify the design, development and deployment of Immersive Learning Simulations”. I used the term ‘ILS’ as the Guild has already done a research report that clearly found that eLearning professionals are much more comfortable with this term than ‘serious game’. This was, however, an exercise in using the terminology of your audience but in actual fact the 1,000+ Guild members whose data the conclusions were based upon clearly saw a huge variety in examples that they still considered to be ILSs.

I see ILS applications as a sub-set of a wider space, namely the serious games space. An ILS is clearly about learning whereas serious games can be used in a much wider context (e.g. marketing, brand building, advocacy, recruitment and message broadcasting). An ILS is likely to have learning objectives and approaches defined by and owned by someone from a training and development orientation whereas a non-learning application is probably going to be owned by a ‘game designer’.

We also have to recognize that there are other types of applications that people tend to see fitting in this space that may or may not use ‘game craft’ and may or may not be learning-focussed. These include ‘mini games’, advergames and quizzes. I think that mini games offer much to learning and non-learning organizational objectives and have a long way to go. I see advergame usage spreading like wild fire. I think quizzes, no matter how well-executed, are (in general) non-innovative and with limited scope for intellectual development.

There is a lot of talk about serious games delivering an ‘immersive experience’ and a perception that an ILS is not actually going to be immersive. I disagree with this as I see immersion as a quality that is used as a tool for a specific purpose not as a characteristic of the application per se. If you are designing for a disenfranchised, hard to reach community of learners than ‘game-like’ techniques (and immersion) may well be a pre-requisite. If you are designing for a highly motivated cohort of learners then there is less need to employ these techniques (and to instead focus on authentic simulation) yet this early stage analysis doesn’t by definition mean that you are embarking down an ILS or serious game route. Either way you are seeking to create a powerful experience that uses game and/or simulation techniques and which, no matter what skills, technologies or approaches are applied, still sits within the wider serious game space.

The one thing we must not do is to define an application by whether it is ‘big budget’ or whether it required C++ programming instead of Flash ActionScript. Scale and technology used do not tell us anything about the nature of the experience nor the degree of usefulness. Even if this was true, how could you possibly define a threshold above which (presumably) and application ceases to be an ILS and thus becomes a serious game?

I had the pleasure of meeting up in person with Anne Derryberry of a few days ago at our offices in Coventry, UK. One of the many topics of conversation centred on the subject of assessment within learning simulations and games. Sande Chen and David Michael wrote an article for Gamasutra in October 2005 entitled “Proof of Learning: Assessment in Serious Games” in which I was referenced.

This space is at a stage where the commercial practicalities frequently don’t yet allow us to work on some of the great ideas that many of us have already. Assessment is one of the key areas in my view. I believe that immersive simulations and complex serious games offer the opportunity to address some of the major weakness of traditional eLearning and classroom instruction. Assessment is one of the most obvious of these. 

At risk of sounding like a broken record, complex sims and games when used in learning offer a tremendous opportunity for allowing an individual or a group of individuals to ‘game the skill’ in a very realistic representation of a real world environment, system, process or situation (or, even better all four!).

If that is truly achieved then in terms of assessment we could, for example assess, evaluate or benchmark: 

  • Skills and knowledge at the beginning of use (a pre-test)
  • Skills and knowledge at the end of use (post-test)
  • Patterns of behaviour (e.g. attitude to risk taking) throughout
  • Time taken to recognise a ‘red flag’ (e.g. falling sales, customer getting angry) and then how long and whether the user(s) reacted effectively and appropriately.
  • Team type indicators, behaviours within teams and ability to manage teams.
  • Ability to learn from mistakes (and how quickly)
  • Numeracy skills (e.g. ability to evaluate data in game and to draw accurate conclusions)
  • Tendencies to rely on pre-conceptions, to stereotype, to generalise or, perhaps, to exhibit prejudices (e.g. in a diversity training context).
  • Memory recall and accuracy
  • Willingness to engage with others, to share resources/information and collaborate.
  • Willingness to adopt a leadership role or, conversely, a ‘followship’ role,
  • Strategic awareness.
  • Ability to improvise and adapt under pressure.
  • Soft skills e.g. ability to interact with a virtual or real world person (through an avatar) politely, professionally and effectively.
  • Ability to coach, mentor and support others in game.
  • Personality type indicators.
  • Persistence and perseverance.
  • Willingness to seek help and advice from others. 
  • Frequency of errors and mistakes

The list above was a quick brain-dump and is by no means exhaustive – in fact I feel another lengthy white paper coming in the not too distant future – but, I think, indicates that an immersive sim or complex game can potentially offer so much more than ‘just’ knowledge acquisition or skills development.  

If taken to it’s logical conclusion (and implemented effectively) then I can quite easily see how an immersive sim could be used as the centrepiece of an organisational recruitment & retention, skills development and competency management strategy.

Depending on the efficacy of the application design then skills mastered ‘in game’ should equate more or less to actual competency, attitude and aptitude in the real world. So if you’re from IBM, Capita, PeopleSoft or any similar organisation drop me a mail and lets talk.

There’s (human capital) gold in them there simulated hills! 

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