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Digitization May Not Help Us Learn Better

"The purpose of training is to make learning possible." - Klas Mellander

"Wait, what? This simulation isn't computerized? How can it be any good?"

I've recently heard a learning program sponsor make this claim. He seemed to be convinced that only a computer based, digitized simulation experience would be of any value. He wanted the best for his employees of course, so he wanted the latest technology to deliver it.

He's right to want low cost, high impact in-person training and development. We all want that. However, in order to make the most of in-person learning events, we ought to focus on approaches that work. Well-designed simulations work exceptionally well. Either digitized or not.

Digitization has taken over a lot of executive thinking these days. Companies are looking for the best ways to save cost, innovate, manage complexity, and drive sales. Big data, enterprise systems, mobile technology, The Cloud . . . so if you want to do learning with a leading edge attitude, these technologies are better, right?

We've known for some time that the delivery method of learning has marginal impact on learning effectiveness. Studies have shown that we learn about the same regardless if its in person, over a computer, or through any other channel. Yes, it's true.

So, what's my point? My point is that it is the design of the learning experience that makes the difference. What often happens with digitized simulations is that the inter-connections and the cause-effect of the learning experience are hidden inside. They are not visible. And it's this visibility that is so important for learning. Too often, learners only can see the results of their decisions, but they cannot trace the why.

Not all digitized simulation experiences are this way. Too many are. It's important to recognize when the digital tool is getting in the way of learning.

By contrast, consider a "table top" simulation. These exercises are played out literally on a top of a table. The technology, if you could call it that, is made up of pictures, diagrams, metaphor, cards, chips, and other types of markers and game pieces. Teams in the session (in person, together!) work through the decisions, planning, and analysis needed to take on the challenge. Perhaps it's chess-type (strategic) or a simple case study. In either case, since the simulation and all of its elements are graphically represented on the table top, the learners can more clearly see the all-important cause and effect of their decisions. Need an example? Look here.

Learners also are required to take notes -- many times with a pen and paper. Noting things with pen and paper have been shown to increase recall and to aid in learning.

Should there be no computers at all? Of course not. Computers and digitization offers tremendous power and opportunity in the learning environment. We have access to so many tools and capabilities that are low cost and high impact. However, remember that learners learned because of the experience, not because of the technology.

A great learning simulation provides the learner engagement, new (and confirming old) information, processing, relationships, and relevant application. Learners focus their attention, they solve relevant problems, and they put things together into meaningful wholes. It's the "a-ha" feeling that is memorable and remarkable.

What works? Well, consider Klas Mellander's learning participant's plea, from The Power of Learning:

1. Don’t stifle my natural curiosity, awaken it!

2. Just give me the information I need, not a bunch of information I don’t need.

3. Let me think things through myself and draw my own conclusions.

4. Help me find words for the things I’ve understood.

5. Help me use my knowledge, so it doesn’t wither away and become useless.

What do you think? Do you agree that digitized solutions for learning are just better? Why? Reply in the comments below.


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