Last week I attended I/ITSEC, which (if you haven't been) is an awesome display of immersive learning environments for government and military. The conference is a veritable who's who of technology and service companies who work in the training and simulation market for government and the sheer scale of the expo floor makes most other conferences I attend throughout the year seem like intimate meetings.
This was my second year attending I/ITSEC. Last year was my first, and it was a massive learning experience--a crash course in how the government approaches simulation and learning in 3D. This year, I knew a little something going in. This year, I was ready to conquer that immense expo floor and soak in all of the new and exciting technologies. This year, I was ready to be wowed instead of just trying to remember all of the acronyms.
This year, I was completely underwhelmed and frankly, kinda disappointed.
I should frame my feedback by admitting that I only had an expo pass, so I wasn't able to attend any of the sessions. That said, most of the real action at the conference happens on the expo floor (at least the action that isn't private meetings...). Maybe some of my disappointment is because the expo itself was only 3/5 of what it was last year. Surely, its because half of the booths I visited were showing the same technologies and demos that they showed last year.
There were some exceptions. I was geeked out by the DaVinci virtual surgery equipment. There were some interesting games in the Serious Games Pavillion. I had a great talk with a kindred spirit from Lockheed Martin, I saw an amazing example of virtual worlds for learning (more on this coming soon!), and our dopplegangers at Hybrid Learning continue to awe me with their mobile learning examples.
But by and large, there was nothing earth shattering. Not too much that warranted a second look. Anything really cool, you had to really look to find it. So in an industry with so much money, and so much obvious interest in simulations, games, and virtual worlds...why was I so disappointed?
- The government procurement process and the phenomena of SIs (systems integrators) squash innovation. Small companies with great ideas get chewed up and spit out in a system that is more about who you know than what you know, and relationships are rewarded over innovation. More than anything else, the process dictates the climate/environment for innovation and the environment is a tough one for small, innovative companies to navigate.
- In many ways, its still a good ol' boys club. There were booth babes that looked like (I'll give them the benefit of the doubt) strippers and/or prostitutes. One party included "snow bunnies." If I want to go to a strip club, I'll go. I'm not of the belief that great learning design happens while I watch girls dancing on poles, though, and I'm pretty sure that's not the best way to learn about the most effect and innovative learning solutions for our government and military workers.
- Everybody is still so focused on the technology, they don't focus too much on the design. DESIGN IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THE TECHNOLOGY. Sigh. The ongoing beating of that drum continues...
- Everybody thinks they can design effective training. Everyone says they have instructional designers, like checking the box is all that matters. And so I will say again, instructional design is not simulation design is not game design is not virtual world learning design.
- As big a market as it is, government and military would do well to look beyond government and military.
I'd like to see more research. I'd like to see more data. I'd like to see more innovation in design. I'd like to see new players in the game. And I'd like to see that next year...