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Masters' Q&A - Christy Tucker

Experts Answer 5 Questions on Simulations - Christy Tucker

This is the SIXTH in my series of interviews with experts in our field of learning, development, performance, and business acumen.

Today, it's Christy Tucker, a Learning Experience Designer who combines storytelling and technology to create engaging learning experiences. She has learned her trade at such firms as Career Education Corporation, Accenture, PLS 3rd Learning, and Cisco.

She has worked in online learning since 2004 and has a successful track record in corporate, non-profit, and higher education environments. She's created over 60 online courses, coached new instructional designers, and managed numerous projects.

She's an active blogger and educator in learning design, learning project management, and evidence-to-practice in L&D. Check out her resources here:

DAN: Why do you think leaders at all levels get so much from learning in simulations?

CHRISTY: Practice with feedback is one strategy for improving learning and long-term skill development. We know from research (and our own experience) that it's hard to learn any skill deeply unless you get a chance to practice it. In particular, you need to practice it in ways that give you feedback on how you're doing so you can adjust and improve. Simulations can provide those opportunities by letting leaders make decisions in a simulated environment or scenario (the practice) and see the effects and consequences of their decisions (the feedback). Simulations can simplify or emphasize certain factors to help participants focus on specific behaviors or skills.

Simulations can also provide leaders with a safe space to fail. We don't want leaders at any level to fail on the job in their actual work; we want them to take risks and test out what works in a simulated environment first. A well-crafted simulation can provide that environment to test out different approaches, such as different methods of communicating or managing trade-offs in resources. Leaders can use those simulations to think through the approaches they use in their work.

DAN: How have simulation participants demonstrated their learning back on the job? What’s the return on this investment (financial or non-financial)?

CHRISTY: One of the ways that simulation and scenario participants have been able to apply their learning in their work is through challenging conversations. Many different roles at all levels in organizations involve challenging conversations: delivering bad news to a team, managing conflict between employees, de-escalating upset stakeholders or customers, challenging stereotypes, and so on. Those skills are difficult to master and require practice. With simulations and scenarios, participants can practice those skills and work through examples of how to handle challenging conversations. That builds their skills by providing practice with feedback, plus it increases confidence and self-efficacy. Participants know they're better prepared to handle these conversations in real life because they have already successfully navigated the challenges in a simulation.

Building skills like having challenging conversations works best when simulations and scenarios are one part of the training solution and not the only approach. Role plays, reflections, and other training strategies are also effective methods. While it's tricky to identify a monetary value for human-centered skills like this, organizations can save money and increase their training impact by combining training methods. Live role plays with a facilitator are expensive to implement, so sometimes using simulations for part of the practice can save organizations money.

DAN: What makes learning through a simulation experience unique and meaningful?

CHRISTY: Simulations and scenarios are meaningful when they are relevant and realistic for their audience. That means the context and choices need to be plausible for their work environment and tasks. The kinds of errors and mistakes simulations provide as options should reflect the types of mistakes people make on the job. While there are other ways to provide that kind of meaningful practice, including practicing in the actual environment and on the job, simulations and scenarios are unique in their combination of providing realistic practice but in a simulated environment where it's safe to make mistakes.

Simulations are also meaningful because they help make learning immediately applicable. What do you value more? Information you "might use someday" or information you can apply right away? Of course, we value information more when we can apply it immediately. Participants in training are the same way; if we give them a reason to apply their learning immediately, they value it more. A combination of training methods including some explicit instruction to introduce concepts plus simulations and scenarios to practice and apply those concepts can give participants the best of both worlds: the efficiency of explicit instruction for new content plus the meaningful practice of simulations and scenarios.

DAN: What energizes you about your work?

CHRISTY: I love the variety in my work. I have a low tolerance for boredom, and I don't want to do the same thing all the time. Working as an LXD consultant, I always have multiple projects happening simultaneously, usually in different industries. I work with subject matter experts in a wide range of areas. I feel so lucky to work in a field where I will never run out of new things to learn: new technology, new research on learning, new ideas, and information from subject experts.

Instructional design is also an interdisciplinary field where we borrow and adapt from many other fields: psychology, UX, visual communication, writing, game design, marketing, etc. That means that even if I get a little bored with certain aspects of my work, I can shift my focus to think about any of those other connected aspects of the field and get re-energized. Continuous learning is motivating.

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