In 2005, my most relevant work was my second book, Learning By Doing. This allowed me to consider a broad range of learning by doing experiences (including some not using technology) in corporate, military, academic, and recreational environments. Because I was not affiliated with any organization, I could also play around with a more maverick style of writing to try to increase engagement and understanding.
Learning By Doing first makes the argument that one can understand the current simulation offerings best by using the lens of sim genres (such as branching story and virtual product); then the book looks at tangential genres (such as computer games, flight simulators, and live role-plays); and finally it breaks out a beginning of a simulation grammar and process. (The grammar section is expanded in The Complete Guide and the process is expanded in Designing Sims.)
It starts with a big question:
WHY A BOOK?
Anyone who talks about simulations and interactivity in general has a bit of a problem when it comes to books. If simulations are the way to learn, why should I write this book and, much more importantly, why should you read it? Books are background, what we will later call “slate one content.” It is not enough for you to achieve your goal by just reading this. But like a good lecture series, it is critical background, a comprehensive set-up that will prepare you to move forward quickly and with minimum false paths. (Page xli)
This is a huge and not just glib point. Any intellectually rigorous advocacy of Serious Game has to role model the techniques it describes (after all, if not, why not?). A Gates Foundation white paper in this area says more by its form than its content. So Learning By Doing has a lot of humor. It had to. (See Why are so many research papers on serious games so boring?) At the same time, it also sought to deconstruct the all-too-familiar deadening genre of textbooks and the student's predictable slog through it.
Here are some examples of humor (Note, the first example is stunningly tasteless, and I was sure the editors would take it out. In my defense, I earned the humor through a very hands-on personal family experience.):
Next generation virtual reality systems can superimpose computer images onto real-time video goggles. Now soldiers, not just Alzheimer patients, can see snipers where there are none. (Page 84)As anyone who’s been to a “corporate training” conference can attest, that industry is a festering sty of bad design and shovelware, procured by pinheaded HR bureaucrats and produced by the lowest bidder. It makes the K-12 educational multimedia sector look like a hotbed of cutting-edge innovation. - J. C. Hertz, author of Joystick Nation (page 3)
I made a perfect simulation about growing a company. The only problem is that it takes twenty-five years to play.—With apologies to Steven Wright (Page 79)
Most “for-entertainment” flight simulators (to be said with a bit of a condescending scowl) use scripted responses to the range of flight conditions and pilot inputs. First Flight—The Wright Experience Flight Simulator would use non-linear equations of motion, with a complete set of non-linear table-based coefficient data representing the appropriate aerodynamic characteristics (if you are taking notes, please do not highlight that sentence; it’s not that important in the scheme of things, and I don’t really know what it means either. It won’t be on the test.). (Page 180)
The primary developers of Virtual University were Dr. William Massy of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group (formerly of Stanford, which I add because I never heard of the Jackson Hole Higher Education Group) and... (Page 187)
In this example, I wrote a list of game elements (which would later spawn the entire Gamification movement, for which, world, I apologize):Other game elements can include (depending on the player [and yes, gender]):
- Simplified or abstract interfaces
- Use of established game genres, such as game shows, athletic competitions, computer games, card games, and kids games
- Clicking as quickly as possible
- Gambling models
- Putting the information into a clever song
- Certain exaggerations of responses to make play more fun
- Reliving the roles of heroes or role models
- Mi, a name I call myself
- Fa, a long, long way to run
- Gratuitous, detailed, and entertaining graphics and sounds
- Creating order from chaos
- Choosing what your on-screen character looks like
- Mastering a simple cyclical skill (throwing a card into a hat,Pac-Man®)
- Competition between learners, including enabled by maintaining lists of high scores (this is especially effective with CEOs and salespeople)
- Any use of graphics of fireworks
- Accessible communities for competition, and/or sense of belonging
- Presenting a mystery or puzzle to solve
- Creating a huge and powerful force enabling you to not just defeat but humiliate and crush all of those who dare oppose you
- Making the player overly powerful or overly relevant in a resolution of a situation
- Immersiveness in a favorite or interesting atmosphere (SuperBowl, science fiction, graphic novel, film noir, 1973 Miami)
- Using new technology
- Having access to privileged information
- Choosing between multiple skill levels to better align difficulty with capability
A few paragraphs later, I wrote...
If you were reading through the above list of game elements, you found my Mi and Fa references (a game element, in the list of game elements). The good part is that, hopefully, you smiled and it made you want to keep reading. The bad part is that it might have interrupted your focus and seemed like an unprofessional, distracting, and unwelcome intrusion, and well, pretty lame.That is the balancing act that all game elements must walk. (This moment of self-reflection was brought to you by Thiagi. More on him later.) (Page 88)
Obviously, I hope Leaning By Doing covered some big ideas. One of my biggest intellectual goals was arguing for the existence of genres and their impact in the market.
A second goal was mapping out the basic tensions in design and the beginning of grammar.
While I described the competition between accuracy, fun, and help rigorously for development resources and student time, I added this summary:
A 1950s SITCOMDr. Freud suggested that we have three forces controlling out actions, the ego, superego, and id. Anyone who thinks about educational experience elements might do well to think of even more powerful forces influencing their design — members of the 1950s sitcom family.Dad, somber and straightforward, argues for the simulation elements.“Keep it honest, keep it real,” he tells us from his dark, paneled office when he gets home from his mystery job at 5:05 p.m. “You are not there to do anything but capture the truth. Real interactions, and real consequences.” Then he smokes his pipe.Mom, perky but caring, argues for the pedagogical elements. She tells us from the kitchen, “Help out. Keep your sister from getting lost. Do unto others. Eat your vegetables. What are you doing to the cat?”Then she offers us some cookies out of the oven, and excuses herself to get her hair done.And of course there is the older brother, who takes out the car without asking, never does his homework, and breaks the window while sneaking back in past curfew. He is always game. He tells us, “Don’t tell Dad where I was or I’ll kill you.” Then he hits us in the shoulder. (Page 95)
Here is another line that resonates all too well today.
A business model, a business model! My kingdom for a business model!—With apologies to William Shakespeare. (Page 259)
Finally, here are some thoughts from my conclusion (appropriately subtitled A Heapin' Helpin' of Hype):
In keeping with the spirit of futurists and visionaries everywhere, let us define simulations as tools for doing no less than completely transforming learning.What if students everywhere, in addition to just reading books, listening to lectures, and writing homework papers, truly engaged (and ultimately created) wondrous new environments?HISTORYA student could play with history. He or she could have conversations with people across the ages. Different people would have different opinions about the same event, of course. But even the same person could have different opinions years later. And the student could share his or her own observations about the future, even lie about the politics and technology of our century to befuddle or incite various figures.SCIENCEA learner could be a bat, seeing the world as blurs of radar images, trying to catch enough mosquitoes to stay alive. What happens when a neighbor sprays pesticides in the air?We could see the heavens, switching perspectives between Newtonian and superstring. We could take a virtual walk in the woods, speeding up time or slowing it down, zooming in on microevents, or tracking energy. We could operate our own power of ten camera. We could add or subtract pedagogical layers on top of the oceans or the earth’s mantle.A learner could talk to Copernicus, arguing with him about his theories of planetary motion . . . or enter in a debate with some detractors.MATHStudents could exist in a world of pure math. They could play around with calculus. Fractions with common denominators could flow together. Angles could be bifurcated. Graphs and charts could be manipulated. Or math could exist as a pedagogical layer on top of the world. As a car drives, the graph of acceleration shows the relationship. Looking at a ball is flung into the air would invoke layers of graphs and charts.Pool tables could teach angles. This would be similar to taking a walk with a doctoral student in physics and listening to her describe the world she sees. Students could challenge themselves to create equations to match outside activities, either visually or sequentially.NEW OUTPUTSAs simulations play out, doctoral students will create not just long research papers (linear content), but complex dynamic models (systems content) and a better, almost anthropological understanding of discrete steps in a current or historical process (cyclicalinterface). Homework output for all grades will just as often be in the form of mathematical spreadsheets and then artistic renderings of interface mock-ups and visualizations of interactions, not just a string of words.One has to especially be excited for young boys in this new world. So many that I have seen seem hardwired to learn kinesthetically.The Real RevolutionVarious intellectual movements, such as Marxism and feminism, have sparked re-analysis of traditional material through new lenses. Now imagine the intellectual revolution as we pour through our collective annals and look at content through these new lenses.New classes of scholars, scholarly works, and world-class institutions will be minted that successfully unpack, no, reconceive our libraries. Huge and gaping holes will be discovered in our views of our history to be filled by new waves of cutting-edge researchers.Imagine the energy and appeal of departments around the world that flourish in this area. Imagine their output. The waiting lists to get into these places will dwarf the Brown Universities of the world.Linear content alone will become suspicious, the language of charlatans. The question will be “Why weren’t the other content types considered?”TEACHING NEW THINGSThe bigger revolution, however, will be when we use simulations to teach new things altogether, tasks that were previously unteachable. We will go from hunting, gathering, and evaluating critical skills (the role of HR and teachers today) to deliberately growing them. We will surface those new classes of professional skills that are neither vocational (such as woodworking, keyboarding, cooking) nor academic (existentialism, comparative literature). Or perhaps the most important skills will actually be both.The technology clusters around the world spend billions to tweak infrastructures to increase productivity by 5 or 10 percent. Good educational simulations, as we are seeing, will increase productivity by 20 or 30 percent. Think of the corresponding bump in the standard of living.The HumanitiesFinally, next gen sims will effectively tie to the greatest issues of academics, The Humanities, and what makes for a good and rewarding life by tapping the experiences of those who came before us.
I am thrilled at how well the book has stood up, and as with Simulations and the Future of Learning, I believe it has gotten more relevant and understandable with time (and I thank my editor, Lisa Shannon, at Pfeiffer, for the incredible support).
2005 Published Works Include:
Aldrich, C. (2005), Learning by doing: A comprehensive guide to simulations, computer games, and pedagogy in e-learning and other educational experiences, John Wiley, New York.
Foreman, J. (2005), 'The design of advanced learning engines: an interview with Clark Aldrich', Innovate: journal of online education 1(6).