To communicate an elusive and esoteric concept such as corporate values or leadership skills in a way that learners at all levels imbibe the spirit and passion with which the company has been created and is driven on a daily basis, is a task that requires continuous engagement and time. It also requires continuous reiteration and elaboration to make sure that values persist even as daily challenges are negotiated by employees.
For employees, it is not only a behavioral change, but also one that requires hard skills to conform to. The employee’s responsibility, additionally, does not end with his understanding, but in making shared that understanding and best practice across peers, team and supervisors.
This is where I feel that simulations, serious games and vibrant collaboration aware learning environments will make a significant impact.
My focus in this area is to provide a mechanism that transcends traditional eLearning approaches such as WBTs and Virtual Classrooms and focuses on behavioral and skill development skills, which has long been the subject of face to face classroom training.
Traditional face to face classroom training has its own advantages. Good instructors can learn a lot from observation of learner performance, the medium lends itself to some wanted unpredictability and creativity and students are immersed better into their learning through role-plays, collaborative activities and inter-personal sharing.
Be that as it may, simulated 2D/3D immersive simulation environments also have their own advantages. Firstly, environments can be created that are physically impossible to recreate or replicate (i.e. situate a large number of learners in) e.g. a production unit. The domain/content environment can be made vastly more informative and dynamic through the use of simulation technology e.g. simulating a business downturn – a complex model with many inter-related variables that change in complex ways as learners make changes to the environment. Thirdly, experimentation with scenarios in a repeatable manner with no real world consequences of decisions is a powerful feature. Fourthly, scaling beyond the reach and capacity of a traditional classroom is made obvious with the use of technology. Fifthly, the knowledge of the most expert and knowledgeable resources in the domain is captured in the simulated environment and training environments are not easily susceptible to individual differences in interpretation, while allow for multiple interpretations to be made possible at the same time. Sixthly, the medium is inherently visual allowing learners to navigate the simulations just like they would do in real life – which, in turn, drastically reduces the need for entry level IT competency.
Of course, there are trade-offs between the two. But I believe that technology can reduce the gap to a significant extent, firstly by the level of immersion that can be created and secondly by the depth of the domain modeling that can be achieved.
With our business simulations for sales (for which we won the Brandon Hall Award in 2009) and customer support, for example, we have seen drastic improvements in performance and performance assessment at a scale much beyond the reach of the traditional classroom. These improvements in performance have resulted from learners identifying and immersing themselves within the simulation environment, believing the simulation to be an effective replica of their business lives. In all over 10-12,000 learners have gone through these simulators till date and these simulators continue to be used and expanded in scope and coverage on an ongoing basis.
Essentially, the approach builds on immersing the learner employee into an environment that is very similar to his daily work environment. We want to model a period of time where the employee, operating at a certain level and in a certain role, will interact with his environment, which consists of stakeholders he engages with in pursuance of his daily tasks, and negotiate challenges that exemplify his understanding of one or more key concepts.
Network Based Training (NBT)
I believe that just as the CBT (Computer Based Training) paradigm transformed into the WBT (Web Based Training) paradigm, it is time now for a new transformation to NBT – the N standing for Network. This belief is strongly grounded in new theories of net pedagogy and in particular, the theory of Connectivism, which stands firmly contrasted against the traditional behavioral, cognitive and constructivist theories.
Connectivism leverages the revolutions in technology and social networking and frontally attacks the problems of our current conceptions and methodologies. It deals with the problem of sense-making in a world with a supra-abundance of information and knowhow. It focuses on learning as a lifelong skill and a framework for understanding and implementing communities of practice and informal learning in the enterprise.
Our system of learning and training is inherently on the lines of a production system. For example, we talk of induction training, then role-based training and then training for career progressions as distinct and discrete phases. In the process, we build barriers between the expert practitioner and a real separation between knowledge and practice. Consequently, we bring upon ourselves problems of inefficiencies, non-standardization and scale which require fresh techniques such as buddy-mentoring and on the job training.
NBTs seek to alleviate some of these issues by bring the expert practitioner, the learning community and the facilitators together on a single platform. Learners form an instant community with each other and people they will work with in the future, sharing knowledge, sharing fresh new approaches and creating new ways to deal with challenges at the workplace.
I believe that learners will benefit immensely from this informal network and collaboration by keeping content fresh, sharing rich and learning experiences meaningful and relevant for learners.