By Tita Beal
What if you lack the funds, time, and software to produce a multimedia training extravaganza…but you want the excitement of a video game for your learning program? An engaging onsite simulation can be created with a cell phone attached to a talented actor and a solid storyline.
The Training Need
An industry leader was losing market share to more customer-focused competitors. Executives to lobby guards took pride in their high-quality operation. The head of Executive & Leadership Development realized it was too much pride—a “you’re lucky to be our customer” attitude had spread from the corporate office through the chain of command to the lobby guards and maintenance staff. He planned a three-day executive development seminar on self-esteem issues, then a four-day in-person simulation (as opposed to a simulation played on a computer) to practice applying the concepts, followed by action learning assignments on the job. He had a clear vision:
Main Performance Objective
As a result of the four-day simulation, participants will have applied what they learned in the seminar (based on “The Human Element” by Will Schutz) to actual situations and increased their awareness of how their words and actions can support or undermine other people’s self-esteem.
I was brought on to design and write the simulation. After my first ideas were nixed as too punitive or too supportive, too much like work or too different from work, my most way-out idea was accepted: Participants would plan and create 3-D models for a museum and theme park related to the industry—with, at each stage of development, positive challenges to provoke self-esteem issues. To design the structure and sequence of interactions of the simulation, which would be played out in person over the four days, I merged seminar concepts together with:
Learning theory’s rigorous focus on answers to basic performance questions (e.g., Robert Mager’s work):
Gaming elements (e.g., von Neumann—or the back of a board game box):
Dramatic structure (e.g., Syd Field)
Key Simulation Events
This simulation can apply to many industries. For example, if you work in health care, participants might come up with a roller coaster ride through the nervous system. If energy: Work on an oil rig. If law: Join a jury in a mock trial. If banking: Ride the money trail from depositors through the bank’s credit department and then into new/expanding businesses. If pharmaceuticals: Create a treasure hunt through jungles for seeds and then ride through the R&D medical lab…
Day 1: Planning
Day 2: Proposing
Between Days 2 and 3, participants receive assignments to explore creative museum displays and plan how to create 3-D models for the three ideas.
Day 3: Producing 3-D Models
The training room is filled with brightly colored arts and crafts materials and everyone starts creating the 3-D models, but the nonprofit’s executive director is hanging over people’s shoulders, asking nerve-wracking questions about what they are doing. Mid-way, her cell phone rings again, and she announces:
“Tomorrow, students from an impoverished high school will attend your presentation of the models. They’re interested in careers in your industry, but they are teenagers, so the 3-D models and the way you present them must be interesting enough to keep their attention. Awarding of the bids will partly depend on the quality of your presentations and students’ reactions, not just your proposals.”
Afterward, facilitators debrief on self-esteem issues related to the executive director’s hovering and badgering and the sudden pressure to create something actual teenagers will like.
Day 4: Demonstrating the 3-D Models
The real students arrive. Participants give tours of the three models. The high school students report they value the opportunity to meet with people in the field and learn in such an interesting way. When facilitators debrief, the only complaint is from a participant: “Why didn’t you tell us this was just a simulation?” (The thin workbook for taking notes on activities and debriefs was labeled “Four-Day Simulation.”)
All other comments were positive—a tribute to Jean Richards’ acting, the guidance of facilitators who knew when to let participants flail and when to support, the realism of simulation activities, and the insistence on the educational value of fun by the head of Leadership Development whose vision guided the simulation.
Tita Beal is a New York City instructional designer/writer and closet playwright. For more information, visit http://www.fastjobtraining.org.