"What we learn to do, we learn by doing." Aristotle
Business Simulations and Merrill's First Principles
There's been a bit of a quality renaissance in learning, instructional design, and performance improvement lately. This rebirth seems to be focusing on research-based and evidence-based practices. I couldn't be happier. I mean, for too long our field has been dominated by bogus claims and scurrilous operators. We need stuff that actually works.
Business simulations work really, really well. I mean, they are extraordinary. They touch people in so many levels. Well designed simulations reach people at a personal level, at a job level, at a company level, and at a society level. They gain so many insights and skills. They build procedural knowledge (how to go about making a decision in business) and declarative knowledge (how it all fits together and how our company can compete). You can tell I'm really passionate about this. At least, I hope you can!
A few years ago, M. David Merrill began researching and compiling the essentials in current instructional design theory, practice, and results. He has named these findings "First Principles" since his work is preliminary. Nonetheless, the article and the findings are very helpful. They also show us why business simulations work really, really well.
The First Principles are: a) Learning is promoted when learners are engaged in solving real-world problems. (b) learning is promoted when existing knowledge is activated as a foundation for new knowledge. (c) Learning is promoted when new knowledge is demonstrated to the learner. (d) Learning is promoted when new knowledge is applied by the learner. (e) Learning is promoted when new knowledge is integrated into the learner’s world.
Our business simulations, and their professional facilitation, capitalize on these principles. We work to provide 'worked out ' examples for learners to activate their existing knowledge. We demonstrate the new knowledge in the learning experience, and the learners must apply their new knowledge in many and varied ways. Finally, we make the simulations relevant and realistic, thereby requiring the new knowledge to be integrated into the learner's world.
Yes, business simulations work really, really well. Now we have some insight into why.
"An expert is a person who has made all the mistakes that can be made in a very narrow field." Neils Bohr
We're Not Academics, But . . .
After many years in this profession, I've seen "experts" make claims, counter claims, marketing pitches and cite research. As a practitioner, it's difficult to know what is really true and effective, and what is not. I've fallen victim to it over the years, and I'm not ashamed to admit it. What's a practitioner like me (or you) to do?
When I see claims like "generational difference matter" or "adapt to personal/learning styles" or "70-20-10", I cringe. When I see references that cite other references that cite back to the original untested claim passed off as research I roll my eyes. When I see well-meaning practitioners claim that online learning is somehow "better" and that we can influence performance by putting learning on a tablet, I pause. As a designer shows me 'drag and drop' is the level of engagement that promotes learning transfer and performance, I shudder. Gamification is where its at! Flip the Classroom! Know your style! Sigh.
Some of this stuff can make us think we're on sold footing, and that we're making good progress, yet the research may provide us evidence to the contrary. What are we to do?
While it's fun to poke holes in other people's claims, it's not all that helpful. We really need to focus on what works, and what doesn't. And, what works may not be all that trendy or widely done. What works? Guided practice. Performance-based learning. Expertise requires lots of deliberate practice. Integrate learning, coaching, and feedback into performance on the job. Front-end analysis on procedural and declarative knowledge essential for performance. Well-designed instructional methods matter, regardless of the media we choose. Prior knowledge may cause us to get stuck, and we need to work to get unstuck.
Sure, I'm not an academic, but I've been accused of playing one from time to time. I believe it's in our interest to focus on what works in our field, and cut out the stuff that undermines that goal. Open a book. Read a real study on performance. Sift through the bias. Learn some statistical methods. Improve your results.
"A balanced diet may be the best medicine. I was eating too much good eats. But people consider that part of your job, you know? Eat. And I do!" Alton Brown
Applying Principles of HPT: Eat This, Not That
Frequently, client engagements make it difficult to apply principles of human performance technology (HPT). Or, perhaps more accurately, it's difficult to apply ALL of the principles in every project. Some may find that discouraging, others may think that's disappointing, and others may well just give up.
As a Certified Performance Technologist (CPT), I am committed to living the values and standards that the credential represents. I also am client-centered, and I work to add value wherever I can. What's the approach I take? "Eat this, not that."
A good friend and colleague Matt Donovan suggested this thought to me the other day. I agree. "Eat This, Not That" is a series of diet and lifestyle self-help books by David Zinczenko. The main premise is, "Go ahead and eat that, but just make a good choice when doing so." If you want to eat at Applebee's, then get this menu item. If you want cookies, then eat this kind. You get the idea.
So, as we approach performance projects, my clients and I work to apply better practice in this way. If you want leadership training, then let's engage senior management as faculty and to define results. If you want finance for the non-financial seminars then we'll partner with your CFO to get the content right. If you want to improve work group performance, then we'll do performance analysis, intervention selection and design, intervention implementation, and intervention evaluation. You get the idea.
With this idea in mind, I partner with my clients to apply business acumen and other learning tools to achieve superior results. That's what we do. You get the idea.
"The views expressed here do not necessarily represent the unanimous views of all parts of my mind."
- Malcolm McMahon
Dan Topf, CPT is Sr. Vice President at MDI, Inc.
Business Learning by Dan: Primers for Trainers
PDF versions of short articles on how to integrate business acumen into all training and development:
The Income Statement
Price and Volume
The Circulation of Capital
The Cost of Capital
Financial Services -- Life Insurance/Annuities