Thursday, December 31, 2009

The end of a decade and a year to remember

I was trying to reflect on the year 2009, and was having a hard time with inspiration. I feel strongly about reflection and goal setting, but to be honest, I'm overwhelmed with the enormity of the events of this year for me.

Then I started to think bigger. I noticed a bunch of people on Twitter were reflecting on what they were doing 10 years ago, and it actually made me think about how my life has changed since the clock struck midnight on January 1, 2000.

I've bought two houses.
I've welcomed my 3 kids into my life.
My parents moved in with me.
I lost my grandmother.
I started a company.

I was really, really busy.

So 2009. Our sophomore year at Tandem Learning. It seems like personally and professionally, a lot went right and a lot went wrong this year. I think what I will remember most about 2009 is how I changed. I couldn't blog about my reflections on the year without talking about the amazing people, and some dear friends, that I met through Twitter--people who I'm now happy to say are also my "in the flesh" friends. I learned how to rely on and depend on people this year in a way that I never have before. I'm learning (sooo still in process) to be better at asking for what I need. I got better (again, a work in progress) at separating out my personal time from work.

Most important, I think 2009 was the year where I started to see who I really am. I say started, because I'm in no way thinking I have things all figured out. I confirmed some things I already knew, but discovered a lot of things I didn't even have a clue about. Momentum keeps you from slowing down and reflecting sometimes. Momentum has driven me through this decade but 2009 was a whole year of self-reflection. It wasn't an easy year, but it was an important year. I will remember this year for everything that I learned about myself and the foundation that it laid for the next year, the next decade...the next adventure.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My name is Koreen Olbrish and I am addicted to immersive environments

I'm going to admit something here, on my blog, that maybe only 1 or 2 people in my life actually know. I am addicted to immersive environments and games. Not tic-tac-toe or football, but role-playing games, the kind that immerse you in the storyline and engage you with your character in completing an objective, scoring points, and ultimately, winning.

It probably started when I was a little girl, when I was obsessed with fantasy stories like Lord of the Rings and The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. I read all of those books, read all of the Wizard of Oz series...anything that I could find that could transport me to another world. My mom used to take my books away from me in the summer and make me go out to play. In college, I was introduced to Dungeons and Dragons; I would spend whole weekends playing around the clock. I was finishing grad school when I worked at a camp for a summer and spent my days on the porch of the computer lab playing Magic the Gathering. And then, two years ago, I discovered Second Life.

No, its not a game. But I spent months and months in world, and now, in retrospect, I can see how it affected me and the people I love. I was working, yes, because I work in virtual worlds, but it went beyond that. I was truly immersed and it was impacting the rest of my life. After about 4 months, I started to ween myself out of my Second Life and re-engage with my real life. Its been a long process, and truly, the lure of games and immersive environments is still a constant pull (just this week I have been obsessed with Epic Pet Wars on my iPhone). But I've been managing to put down the laptop more and more.

And then last night. I got a 2 month subscription to World of Warcraft for Christmas. I was SO excited. I've been wanting to play WoW for a long time, and this was finally it! But...after spending two hours debating what race and class I would choose, I realized...I can't do this. I can't casually play RPGs and engage in immersive environments--they are an addictive lure to me. It also made more clear the reality behind the argument that a lot of people have against the use of virtual worlds: I don't have time. If I were to start playing WoW, I would want to really play. And that would require hours. Hours that I wouldn't be spending with my kids, hours that I wouldn't be working on my still relatively new business. I can't afford the time.

This is not to say that I don't want to play, or that I think there is anything wrong with people who choose to immerse themselves in MMOGs or virtual worlds. But I know what the trade offs are for me and so, I choose to battle my business competitors instead of Blood Elves and dance with my kids instead of Gnomes. But my pet sheep, BaadMaamaJaama, is level 16 in Epic Pet Wars. Just sayin' ;)

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Virtual Worlds 2.0...a few humble predictions

I'm usually a big fan of bold predictions and grand visions of the future, maybe no more so than as they pertain to virtual worlds. I've thought, since the moment I first saw an avatar wandering through Second Life, that virtual worlds hold a promise for communication, collaboration, and learning that is uniquely different than any other technology.

But progress has been slow. The technology isn't quite elegant enough for widespread adoption and those of us who see the future have a difficult path to travel to convince the many naysayers armed with logical and reasonable objections to virtual worlds for serious applications. Its a small and quirky band of visionaries at this stage of virtual world adoption, and we all have our unique perspectives and area of focus. Obviously, my perspective has been from the side of content design, specifically for learning. But its given me a unique view, and ability to look across all of the virtual world technologies in the market and figure out what's working and what's not from a user experience and learning design perspective.

Yesterday, I read this blog post from Justin Gibbs, tweeted by @dshiao (thanks!), about the transition from virtual worlds 1.0 to 2.0. I agreed with Justin's take on the issues with the state of 1.0, but didn't really agree with his thoughts on vw2.0.

The thing is...I don't think we're at the transition to vw2.0 yet. And here's why...

The shift to 2.0 will occur when virtual worlds make a major transition, a technological breakthrough, that takes them mainstream. There are things happening now that will help that along (eg, browser-based technologies) but there are some major technology and user adoption issues that still have to be overcome. I'm actually NOT a believer that eventually virtual worlds will go "mainstream" in their current form. There will be a major change in how people view virtual worlds because of a big change in the technology. I think there are two current virtual world technologies that embody some of the future characteristics of virtual worlds 2.0: Vastpark and Multiverse. And there are two areas of technological innovation, augmented reality and mobile technology, that will be the catalysts to the 2.0 transition.

So here are my "bold" predictions for Virtual Worlds 2.0, and what will push the industry from 1.0 to 2.0:

  • Virtual worlds will be browser-based and seamlessly integrate with the Internet. This will mean that logging into a virtual world will be as easy as logging onto a website, and your avatar will be consistent across different worlds. It will mean that virtual world content will be searchable, and will come up in Google search results (or whatever the kids are using when this all comes to pass). It will mean that there will be standards and a common programming language, like html, but for 3D content. This is where Vastpark is thinking, and I think its a brilliant and forward thinking strategy that could push the industry mainstream.
  • Virtual worlds will rely less on user-generated content. The inception of virtual worlds was founded on "openness" and Second Life's success, and the bulk of their business model, is built on the development of community and experiences in an organic way from the residents themselves. It is really brilliant, on many levels, and an idea repeated in many 2.0 technologies today (eg, Twitter, Facebook). But the difference in virtual worlds is the visualness of the technology, the ability to develop contexts that someone can be immersed in. People have built beautiful 3D environments, and they are amazing to see. But then what do you do there? I just don't think we can rely on UGC to answer this question. We need to start thinking of appropriate design for this technology, and we need to stop just waiting for the community to develop. Just because you build it, doesn't mean they will come. We'll reach the 2.0 threshhold when enough experiences are designed in virtual worlds that accentuate what virtual worlds can do better than any other technology (real-time multi-user experiences) and we can show how communities develop around these experiences. This is actually what I like about Multiverse--it gives people something to do. A unique blend of a virtual world and a gaming platform, a lot of the features of Multiverse allow you to much more easily build engaging content that can provide a context for initial experiences in the world, which can then lead to community building. Of course, I'd like to see more examples for serious applications and less of an entertainment focus, but Multiverse has an interesting and progressive foundation for content development that allows for more engaging content design. And ultimately, content (well-designed content) will be key.
  • Of course it will be open source. Look at the success of Reaction Grid. 'Nuff said.
  • Virtual worlds will be an extension of the real world in a much more meaningful way. Augmented reality and mobile technology are the technology darlings of the day. I'll admit it, I don't know how (and even if I did, I'd probably be pitching it to VCs and not blogging about it :) but I do know that the future of virtual worlds, and their mainstream adoption, rests much more on the fate of augmented reality and mobile technology than anyone currently in the virtual world market would like to admit. Yes, one of the benefits of virtual worlds is that you are "immersed" but what I think we've all been missing is that they also need to be "integrated." Proton Media's Protosphere now integrates with Sharepoint. They get it. One of the tipping points will be when we can do all of the work we do now in the "real world" in a virtual world, but somehow in a virtual world we'll be able to do it better. And this ties into...
  • The user experience and navigation "in-world" will be more seamless. I'll be writing more about James Cameron's movie Avatar, but one of the aspects of the movie that I noticed right away was that the characters were either completely their avatars or completely disconnected. They weren't sitting at a computer, controlling their avatars while drinking their morning coffee...they were in a full body chamber with their consciousness shifted into their avatar bodies. No, I don't think that's how we'll interact with virtual worlds...but it does represent one of the issues with virtual worlds going mainstream. How do we "connect" to the virtual world, and our avatars, psychologically? There will be a shift, a technological advance, and a change in perspective on how this happens. When we can as easily picture ourselves in the 3D world as we can walking into our real life offices, we will have reached a critical step in user adoption. I think this will be prompted by technology as much as broader awareness and acceptance of virtual worlds and ourselves as avatars.
I'm sure I'm missing the one thing that will actually change the industry (like when Microsoft integrates a virtual world technology into their Office suite). But I believe these things will happen and that will be the transition from where we are now to where we see this technology taking us. I'm really looking forward to virtual worlds 2.0.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What makes a great instructional designer?

Yes, I'm officially late to the party, but there's been a great discussion going on courtesy of an initial blog post by Cammy Bean, and great follow up discussion and posts by smart folks including Sahana Chattopadhyay, Brent Schlenker, and Karl Kapp.

To sum up in my own words, there's not one flavor of "instructional designer" and most of us who call ourselves by that title have ended up here through a mix of accident and intention. Some of us come from business backgrounds, technology backgrounds, some of us from education and teaching. Some IDs were subject matter experts who were tapped to train others in their organizations. Very few, if any of us, went off to college saying "I want to be an instructional designer!" And likely as a result of the long and winding road to becoming IDs, we all have interesting and varied backgrounds that inform how we practice instructional design.

Sure there are some commonalities...we all know what ADDIE is and we're all familiar with Bloom's taxonomy. But our process, our day to day responsibilities, and certainly our perspectives, are very, very different.

I've been so bold as to claim "instructional design is dead" and I've tried to explain my perspective on why. But as much as there is variation and possibly role confusion to our collective detriment in our profession, there are brilliant people who I meet every day who exemplify the best of instructional design. Here's a few of the characteristics I look for whenever I go a-lookin' for a great instructional designer...

  • Ability to conduct complex situational analyses in relationship to learning: if nothing else, IDs should be able to walk into a situation, assess if there is a learning need, what it is, analyze the intended audience, the resources available, and figure out what exactly needs to learned to address the existing knowledge or skill gap. No, its not easy. But if you can't do that, you're probably not an instructional designer by my definition - you're probably a writer or a developer. 
  • Technology-savvy: this one might draw some debate, but I would argue that in the current business environment, any good instructional designer should able to make technology recommendations to support learning and justify the need and cost to the organization
  • Talks business and doesn't throw around ID "lingo": this ties into Cammy's assertion that maybe instructional design might be better delivered through a business school. Business executives don't care about ADDIE or instructional models or even adult learning principles. They care about their business issues and how training initiatives will help address them. Good instructional designers don't talk about the theory much--its ingrained in their process.
  • Understands the difference between practice and assessment: I can't tell you how many conversations I have with clients where I say something like "you COULD measure that, but then it would be assessment and not practice. What is the goal of the learning experience?" Its basic but telling...I've met way too many instructional designers that agree to measure everything at the expense of the actual intent of the training.
  • Measures success by performance improvement: so, we all know there are things like SCORM and knowledge assessments aren't going away any time soon. But whenever possible, good IDs fight to measure how learners' behavior changes as a result of a learning experience. Its a really telling interview question, to ask a prospective ID how they prefer to assess the success of their learning programs.
  • Passionate: Its not much of a surprise that I'm a learning geek, and I think other learning geeks are pretty cool. In any profession, passion for what you do usually makes you a little bit better at it, because you care more. Don't let this be confused with ID snobs...the main difference between snobs and geeks? Geeks always want to learn more about what they are interested in...snobs already think they know everything. Guess who makes a better instructional designer?
  • Fights for a place at the table: You know what's the most annoying phrase I hear from instructional designers? "I can't." MAYBE that's true. But more often, these instructional designers aren't fighting to be heard, aren't positioning themselves as essential leaders in their organizations, or simply haven't tried to make the business case to implement innovative, large-scale solutions that they have identified as solutions to their organizations' problems. Any time I hear "I can't," all I see are red flags.
  • Has a little "sales lizard": its a special set of skills to be able to see the right design and the right tools to address a learning need. It takes another whole set of skills to be able to sell the right solution to stakeholders and business execs.
  • Sees the forest and the trees: Some instructional designers are really great at designing a specific solution for a specific problem, but have a hard time looking at the big picture to see if the specific solution is the right solution. 
  • Knows when to hold 'em: look, we all have to eat. And sometimes, you have to know when to just shut up, put your head down and give 'em what they ask for. Good instructional designers know when all of their knowledge, expertise, selling ability, data, evidence, etc., is just falling on deaf ears. No, we should never settle for designing ineffective or crappy solutions, but neither should we be expected to bang our heads against brick walls. Business savvy, I believe is what the kids are calling it...
So, do I think you need a degree in Instructional Design to be a good ID? No. Do I think some formal training helps? Yes. I like Cammy's suggestion that ID programs might be better delivered with a business degree. But ultimately, its not the degree that makes the ID...its the vision, the leadership, the creativity, the flexibility, and the ability to apply all of their "formal" knowledge about learning in varied and ever-changing business contexts. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Where are all the new ideas? I/ITSEC 2009 re-cap

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 will say, in my second year at the "big show," that I finally got all of the acronyms down. But getting past all of the industry lingo and fanfare, what I saw this year was a lot of money being spent on concepts, but not necessarily effective solutions. I saw a lot of intention resulting in poor execution but masked by glitzy technology.

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...

Friday, November 20, 2009

Reflections on DevLearn 09

So this was our sophomore showing at DevLearn. Very different from our first year, when we were pretty much those unknown punks in the hallway next to the mens' room listening in on Alicia Sanchez in the Serious Games Zone and the crazy crew who dared to host a wine tasting event the last night. This year, still in the hallway by the mens' room and still getting to listen to Dr. Sanchez, but anonymous no more. Just a few thoughts on Tandem's second year at DevLearn...

  • Wow, it was cool to *see* everyone. I knew the live meetings with my Twitter network were going to be amazing, and I was right. People who I hadn't met in real life before that I finally got to meet abounded...I was particularly smitten when Nicole Fougere  (@schnicker) asked for a photo.

    DevLearn was a veritable "who's who" of learning professionals and being able to rub elbows with the likes of Neil Lasher, Janet Clarey, Cammy Bean (all who I hadn't met in person before) was more than well worth the price of admission. I can't even list all of the people who I got to meet...and who I got to meet up with again. Total shot of learning geekiness and boy, did it feel fine.
  • The eLearning Guild puts on a fantastic conference. So, I go to a lot of conferences, and I'm under no illusion that they are easy to pull off, let alone to pull off a great conference when conferences are taking a hit. Brent Schlenker did an amazing job, and to all of the Guild (David, Heidi, Bill, Tim, Juli, and everyone else I'm missing...) thanks for the great work that you do. Congrats on the new LearningSolutions online magazine and looking forward to the Learning Solutions conference in 2010.
  • Keynotes are people too. In particular, I loved chatting with Eric Zimmerman who was great and I'm hoping to figure out a crazy scheme to collaborate on in the future. And I may or may not still have his conference badge.
  • Zombies be gone! I am still completely overwhelmed with the response to the Zombie Apocalypse ARG, and thank you, THANK YOU, to everyone who supported and participated. This is not the last I'll be writing on this, but this is my big thank you to the players. I'm looking forward to hearing more stories and collecting more feedback. And thanks to Philip Hutchison for the fab button!

  • Mark Oehlert is my hero. Ok, so yes, we're friends, and we have a few things in the works. But OMG, Mark talked for 3 days straight on social media for learning, organizational issues, etc. (Tuesday pre-conference, Social Learning Camp Wed - Thurs and a bit on Friday). He didn't even get a break for lunch. If you missed sitting in on some of his session time--you missed a lot. Also love his most quotable phrase: We've moved from "subject matter experts" to "subject matter networks." Next time you see him, buy that guy a drink. And get him talking about social media :)
  • Real life is distracting, even in the midst of awesomeness. So last year, we (Tandem) were solely focused on DevLearn. This year...projects, personal stuff...lots of distractions. For three weeks leading up to the conference, we had barely slept due to a project. I got to San Jose, and even with all the amazing conference stuff, the business could not be ignored. I was even too tired to karaoke...sad. Just sad.
  • That's what friends are for. There were lots of familiar faces and friends at DevLearn. Just wanted to give a special thanks to Aaron Silvers and Bruce Joy from VastPark for helping support my pre-conference workshop on virtual worlds and for moral support throughout the week. Thanks to Kris Rockwell for just being my doppleganger and alterna-Tandem representation. And...thanks to Kristen Cromer and Jedd Gold, my Tandem partners in crime, for riding the crazy roller coaster with me and keeping me sane.
So that's a wrap! Looking forward to DevLearn10 already...

Thursday, November 5, 2009

What I've learned from my Personal Learning Network (PLN)

Next week, you'll find me in San Jose at DevLearn 09. I'm doing a pre-conference session with David Anderson on virtual worlds, on Thursday one of my esteemed colleagues will be talking about games for learning and on Friday, we'll be debriefing the Zombie Apocalypse. Oh, and we'll have a little booth in the hallway to talk about what Tandem can do for you :).

As excited as I am about all of that, the thing I'm most excited about are seeing live and in person all of the folks who will be in attendance that have taught me, made me laugh, challenged me, and helped me grow as a learning professional over the last year. I tend to call them my Twitter friends, but they aren't confined to on Facebook, a fellow member of the Black Swan Society in, riding Google Wave with me, a connection on LinkedIn, a fellow Skype-er, just someone who I'm IMing with in Gchat. I'm proud to say that over the course of the last year, I've had the privilege of meeting in person many of the people I've connected with through social media. But DevLearn 09 is where worlds will collide on an epic and awesome scale.

In preparation, I've been thinking about what I've learned this year through my personal learning network (PLN) and have compiled a few things here:

  • Evidently I'm funnier in person
  • Occasionally people do read my blog, so it matters what I write here
  • I have a sixth sense for knowing when people are talking about virtual worlds so I can pipe in to the conversation
  • Connections you make personally and professionally through social media technologies can be as and even more meaningful than ones you make face-to-face
  • Some of my best friends I met online
  • We is (usually) always smarter than me
  • I enjoy the support of people who think like me and value the challenge of people who don't
  • I love finding other women who are interested in technology, games, and feels like an elite sisterhood and I feel an instant connection and bond with those women
  • Its amazing how willing to share my PLN is. I am constantly in awe
  • Changing my hair color and updating my avatar picture cause a dramatic reaction in people who haven't even met me in person
  • I like hearing about people's day to day trials and tribulations to help me get to know them as much as I like the value and knowledge they bring to intelligent discussions
  • As much as I love hanging out with my friends virtually, I still love to get a drink with them in real life
So, if you'll be in San Jose at DevLearn next week, come find me.  I drink whiskey sours, lots of cherries.

Monday, October 12, 2009

When zombies attack

We're a month out from DevLearn 09 and the battle preparations must be made...this video has been posted to explain some of what's going on. Join the resistance at

Monday, August 31, 2009

We're hiring!

I've heard there's a recession going on, but wow, are we suddenly busy. Its time for us to start thinking about how we can grow Tandem in a way that builds long-term value. Its true, there is a balance between hiring freelancers to support our projects and figuring out the right time to hire. We have been very conservative over the past 8 months in an effort to weather through the unpredictable economy and keep our finances and overhead costs in check. We've developed great partnerships with other small companies and we have an extremely talented pool of people that we contract with on an as-needed basis.

But at some point, we have to start thinking about adding value to our company through strategic hires.

If you read my blog, you probably get that we're not a "normal" company. We like to think that we're a little unusual in that we like to stay out ahead of the crowd. I also think we have exceptionally high quality standards, as our reputation is only is good as our body of work, but specifically our last project. We're fiercely independent, protective of our brand and reward creativity and initiative. We're highly opinionated and not afraid to speak our minds, nor are we afraid of a little calculated risk. We're competitive and loyal and treat each other like family.

And now we're hiring. We'll be posting specific job descriptions on our website, but we're always looking to work with people who can add value to our company so don't let the job descriptions prevent you from dropping me a line if you're interested.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

iFest 09...what I might have forgotten to mention

Sometimes I get passionate about opportunities for change. So much so that I forget to notice (or in this case, mention) all the good things already going on. Here's the other side of the Joint ADL Co-Lab Implementation Fest 2009 that I didn't highlight in my last post:

*Its awesome that there's even such a thing as iFest. Its great to see ADL bringing people together, talking about new technologies and what people are utilizing them for. ImplementationFest was an opportunity to hear from people who are testing the waters and pushing new boundaries. It signals a willingness to look to the future and a desire to figure out the best path forward. I might get frustrated by lack of focus on design, but I'm encouraged by having an opportunity and a venue to even raise the issue.

*Wow, look at all the women in leadership positions. I was beyond thrilled that two of the most powerful and interesting keynotes at iFest were delivered by women. It says a lot that in the military and government culture, which I traditionally think of as male dominated, that these women were invited share their experiences and perspectives.

*Focus on the future. It seems that there's a lot of change coming to ADL. New leadership, new organizational structure, new plans for the future. There was much discussion about the future of SCORM, about how ADL can support the Dept. of Defense in new ways. There was even a session that focused on collecting success stories from the participants (I mean, wow! Data collection at a conference?). My last post focused a lot on the changes I'd like to see in government and military training/learning initiatives, based on my observations. What's encouraging is that ADL seems like its stepping up to the plate to lead some of these changes.

*Everyone's talking about change. I spent a lot of my time talking to other iFest attendees. What seems to be universal is the acknowledgment that change is coming. Sure, people disagree on where we should end up, and people certainly disagree on the path to get there. But everyone is talking about change. And that's exciting.

ADL did a great job with iFest 09, bringing people together to talk about current challenges and thinking about how to address them while highlighting success stories. All signs point to it being a year of transition. It will be really interesting to see how far things have progressed at iFest 10.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Rethinking curriculum

I used to teach secondary English and the term "curriculum" usually signifies K12 or post-secondary education to me. It represents what kids should know after each grade level, and cumulatively what they should know at the completion of their education. Its not really different for instructional designers...we just wrap different terms around things for corporate education.

What is also consistent is that "someone" has to decide what should be known, or what is important to be known. This is always where the problems start. Who decides? How is the decision made? And the bigger question, what are we really trying to teach?

In his blog post, First, We Kill the Curriculum, Harold Jarche discusses how the exponentially growing amount of information available to "know" calls into question whether we need traditional curriculum or not. I agree with Harold in his assertion that no, we need to think differently about curriculum.

Here's my suggestion:
* Change K12 curriculum to focus on literacy, math, and critical thinking skills. Frame that in the context of science, history, art, etc. Worry less about the content and much more about teaching students how to analyze, synthesize, critique, and question. Foster curiosity and complex decision-making.
* Change post-secondary ed to focus on problem-solving in particular subject areas. Skill practice, practical application of skills, continued focus on complex interpretations and investigations.

Now you've got a critically-thinking generation entering the workforce...what are you going to do with them? Make them sit in a classroom and go through PowerPoint training? Keep clicking the Next button on an e-learning module? Ha. Good luck.

You see, these things can't happen in isolation. You can't change K12 education and not think about the effects on post-secondary or corporate learning. You CAN change corporate learning, but there's going to be more resistance if the way wasn't paved by K12 and post-secondary ed.

Let's think about this holistically. We need to rethink all education because technology and innovation aren't isolated, they are pervasive. Its time that K12 teachers, post-secondary educators, and instructional designers stop looking at their differences and start recognizing their similar challenges. We need each other for our efforts to be successful. We need to change the cultural mindset of what learning looks like. We need to change how people think about education.

Monday, August 17, 2009

What if everyone thought like a leader?

The last few weeks have been full of discussions of leadership training. Virtual worlds can provide some excellent opportunities for leadership development and I love talking about the possibilities.

What bothers me about leadership development training is that it shouldn't be for just a select few--its how EVERY employee should be trained. Don't we want everyone to think more critically about how to do their jobs? Don't we want to have organizations full of insight, team building, mentoring, and feedback-sharing?

I remember my frustration with gifted education when I was teaching. Not that there was anything wrong with the gifted education programs--on the contrary. Every student deserves to be treated like they are gifted. All of the research showed that if you taught to the highest common denominator instead of the lowest, ALL students improved. Why shouldn't we be creating individual education plans for all students? Why wouldn't we set high expectations for everyone? Why shouldn't we be pushing everyone to reach their highest potential?

I understand that leaders need people to lead. But the truth is, good leaders DO have high expectations, DO push us to be better, DO encourage us to think critically and take on responsibility.

How different would your organization be if you trained everyone to think like a leader?

IQPC's Corporate Learning Exchange recap

Back from vacation, I had some time to reflect on my experience at IQPC's Corporate Learning Exchange. If you have never been to an event like this, and my guess is most people haven't, it is structured a bit like a timeshare sales pitch crossed with speed-dating. Attendees were by and large executive learning professionals, and most of the day was spent in presentations by their peers. But in between, there were 25 minute one-on-one meetings with learning vendors.

I was a learning vendor.

I won't bore you with logistics, but I had 14 meetings in 3 days. The first couple, I had no idea what I was doing. The interesting part of the experience was that in the process of holding those meetings, I had to get really good at explaining what we do, succinctly. The good and bad news is that we do something that very few other companies do. Its tough to talk about social media with people who haven't used a wiki, never blogged, and have never been on Twitter. Its hard to talk about virtual worlds with someone who doesn't know what an avatar is. Of course, its also an opportunity...and by the end, I was excited that I could talk about what we do much more clearly and in a way that seemed to make sense to the executives I met with.

The other interesting observation at the conference was the lack of technology. No one else was on Twitter. Hell, no one else had their laptop or mobile device on to take notes. It was pens and paper as far as the eye could see. Not only the participants, but the presenters focused an inordinate amount of attention on face to face learning. I think f2f is great...but it has so many limitations. I spent most of the time in the presentations thinking about ways to supplement or replace the f2f experiences being described with some form of distance learning technology.

I was pleasantly surprised with how much I liked the format. I met some fascinating people and am already neck-deep in follow up meetings. But more than anything, this conference opened my eyes to just how far web 2.0 has to go for enterprise learning.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Are you going to 3D TLC?

A quick commercial while you can still register for a steal...I'll be speaking at 3D TLC this September and would love to see you there!

3D Training, Learning and Collaboration (3D TLC) - - taking place September 23-24, 2009 in San Jose CA, is the leading event for businesses seeking to understand and maximize business strategies using virtual worlds. 3D virtual worlds have broad implications for business not the least of which is cost savings and energy conservation. Companies are using 3D environments can also strengthen their communication internally with employees and externally with customers and business partners. Come join us to learn how to take advantage of these technologies.

Early registration ends August 14th (price goes from $595 to $795). Use this Special Discount Code: SPEAKERVIP and register by August 14th to save an additional $200 off. With the earlybird price + your discount = your cost to attend is only $495! (full price is $1,295 so you save a bundle). To register go here:

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Return on expectations

Very often, learning professionals are challenged to come up with justification for training investments by providing ROI figures. Let's be honest, its almost impossible to accurately calculate the ROI for learning. So many factors impact a learner's performance, it is difficult to credit or blame a training initiative for a change in performance, particularly as it relates to monetary measures.

A viable alternative to ROI is measuring ROE, or return on expectations. What do you expect people to DO differently after training? Can you measure that change in behavior? This, in most instances, is a much easier way to measure the success of a training initiative. Have you reduced the number of help desk calls? Have you increased the amount of time a sales representative spends in the field? Have you shortened the average call length for call center reps, or increased call center satisfaction ratings? All of these measurements in some way eventually turn into money...why not advocate the measurement of direct training outcomes as a true measure of a training initiative's "worth" instead of the trickle-down ROI that can't as easily be controlled or claimed as a direct correlation?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The book versus the blog

So I've been working on a book, for well over a year now, and its finally almost done. Recently, getting this book done has consumed most of my free time (ha!) and energy, and while I'm not making excuses, it IS a reason why this blog has been riding along in the backseat while the book was constantly calling "shotgun!" But the book is getting closer and closer to done, and I'm missing my heavy blogging days. I'm missing reflecting on conferences and projects and decision-making and instructional design and virtual worlds and gender issues and games and how scary having started this company is sometimes.

Me & my co-author/partner in crime will be wrapping this book up in the next few weeks if it kills us. I'm excited and proud and scared about putting this book out there too. But it'll be a book! A big long reflection! The mother of all blog posts! More details to come...and more blog posts too.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Gender credibility

One of the recurrent themes for me over the last couple months has been how gender effects credibility. It started when I received feedback from a conference workshop that said I should try to look "more like a CEO." Really? What kind of feedback is that? Even worse, the same commenter added that I "obviously have a wealth of knowledge about and passion for" the subject matter. So then why were the comments aimed at my appearance? (For the record, I was wearing a totally respectable dress, although I had broken a heel before the workshop.) And what does a CEO look like, anyway? Do they all run around in suits? or is it that I don't look like a CEO in really any respect, so there's already a disconnect no matter what I'm wearing?

Let me also say that if I had received a comment complimenting my appearance, I would react the same way. Why is it ok, in a business context, to comment on my appearance? Would you ever write a comment to a male presenter that it was obvious that he was knowledgeable, but you hated his tie? or his pants were wrinkled? and that counted against his credibility?

My snarkiness pushes me to think that there's no way for me to look more like a CEO without somehow growing a penis, but that's only part of the issue. There are lots of professional and respected women, so then I start the self-reflection process. What is it about me that is soliciting this type of reaction? I like to dress up, particularly in dresses and heels. I speak my mind, I own my geekiness, and I love talking to other smart people who challenge me. I'm a bit of a gadget geek, I'm a bit of a gamer. I'm decisive and I'm a risk-taker. And yes, I'm a girl. In some cases, it seems that one genetic determination lessens my credibility for some people. Maybe its harder to accept knowledge or advice from me than it is a 45 year old guy. Maybe its really just my perception, my filter, my sensitivity to gender issues that makes this such an issue for me.

But I don't think its appropriate to comment on my attire. I don't think my credibility is tied to my weight, or whether or not I'm wearing lipstick. It's not ok in business situations to call me "honey" or "doll" or say that something I've done is "cute." I'm not easily offended, rarely ever, really. But it makes me crazy to think that what I look like, or simply the fact I was born female, makes me somehow less smart, less credible, less experienced, or in any other way "less." It also makes me crazy that otherwise sensitive, kind, and educated people sometimes inadvertently perpetuate the attitude that women are less credible or qualified by seemingly benign statements about appearance.

I'm not suggesting that we should all ignore the fact that there are differences between women and men. I'm suggesting we embrace those differences. We think differently, we communicate differently, and in many instances we work differently. And that's great. Its as it should be.

But if you say something to me that you wouldn't say to a male peer, I'd challenge you to tell me why. Chances are, you shouldn't say it to me, either.

My blog as the undead

I am embarrassed that I haven't blogged since June 10. That's a lifetime in the Twitterverse. I've spoken at conferences, attended conferences, we've finished projects and started new ones, hired people...I mean, a lot happens in a month and a half. Although my blog still feels sometimes like the stodgy old piece of my social media portfolio, its a piece that serves a purpose that no other outlet allows me to reflect on ideas, concepts, and goings on (in more than 140 characters). So I'm reviving my blog, circling the wagons around some ideas that need sorting out, and hoping that you'll jump back in with me to reflect and rant and review.

And I'm hoping this is the last time I apologize for favoring some social media forms over others...its both form and function that draws my interest, but no need to throw out the older formats. And so, we're back, baby!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Meeting your idols

Just finished up my post on the Innovations in E-Learning Symposium, but I had a few observations outside of the play-by-play.

I introduced myself to Will Wright. I got to hear Vint Cerf speak. I told Robert Scoble he didn't do a very good job targeting his audience in his workshop. I hung out in a bar with Brenda Brathwaite. Even one of those experiences would have been blog worthy...and I did all of them in one day. I am not easily impressed. I think people should be embarrassed to go "star spotting." At the end of the day, we're all just people...yes, some people have cooler jobs, or have more motivation, or think differently, or sleep less...but it takes a lot for me to be overwhelmed with excitement or nervousness about meeting someone. After all, don't we all have the opportunity to do great things? Its just a matter of hard work, persistence, focus, resilience...but anyone can choose to think differently, to take risks, to try to change the world.

What that day did to me at the conference was strengthen my resolve. The people I look up to are the people who DO things. People who accomplish crazy goals. People who choose to forge their own paths and not be complacent with the status quo. None of these people were satisfied with working within the system...they chose to create their own systems and challenged the way we think about games, communication, technology, learning.

Lots of systems are broken. You can choose to work within a broken system, or you can choose to create something better. I'm shooting for better.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

My conference recap: Innovations in E-Learning

I paid $300 to go to the Innovations in E-Learning conference, run by George Mason University and DAU, in Washington, DC. I got a hotel room at the conference hotel through Priceline for $60 a night. But without question, the experience I had at the conference both in sessions and with the other attendees was priceless. I didn't attend any of the workshops on Wednesday, but came in Wednesday evening to meet in person two of my favorite people in my Twitter network. Dinner (sushi & Sapporo) was excellent but the conversation and face-to-face time was even better, worth the entire trip.

Thursday was my first official day at the conference and it was kicked off with a keynote by Vint Cerf, who was one of the two guys who really did invent the Internet. He started out a bit slow (I'm pretty sure he insulted Twitterers as "twits" early in the presentation) but as he progressed through his presentation, things got more and more interesting and frankly, more and more surreal. Google Mars was very cool, but the Interplanetary communication plan, IPN (InterPlaNet), that's he's working on in his spare time made me feel like whatever I accomplish in my life, its never going to be as cool as Vint Cerf. And it was only 10 am.

Next up was Mark Oehlert's (@moehlert) pinch hit for Intellagirl (@intellagirl) Sarah Robbins, who couldn't make it to present. I did my best not to pipe up too much, but the topic was on virtual worlds and sometimes I have some opinions on that topic. Good thing Mark is smart, both in what he said about virtual worlds, but also in not making eye contact with me to give me an opening to talk.

One of the things I find fascinating about conferences is how much interesting conversation happens outside of the conference. I took the next session "off" and instead hung out with a group of smart friends to talk about various aspects of the morning's keynote, mobile learning, and other various geeky topics before heading over to lunch.

The keynote after lunch was...Will Wright. Um, yeah. He's developed such little games as SimCity, The Sims, and Spore. As a simulation and game developer, I'm not sure if there's too many people that rival Will Wright in sheer idolness for me. And his keynote? I don't know when I have spent an hour thinking more about simulation, game design, and learning. He made my head spin, not only from the pace but also from the sheer brilliance of the information he was sharing. I hear that his keynote will be up online soon. When it is, I'll provide a link.

I then had the pleasure of sitting in on Aaron Silvers (@mrch0mp3ers) session that focused on a case study of how Yammer was subversively integrating into his current organization. Some great observations and lessons learned about how social media adoption CAN be viral, but that sometimes viral demands an executive push.

Final workshop of the day was supposed to be on blogging for educators and learning, presented by Robert Scoble (@scobleizer). Honestly, I'm not sure how we all fit in the room with all of the names that were dropped, but we did get a sneak preview into how Scoble works at filtering his information and news streams to determine what is worthy of him to post about. That said, I was annoyed with his lack of focus on learning, oh, and his COMPLETE lack of focus on blogging. It does appear that Twitter and FriendFeed have taken over the relevance of blogging, at least to some extent. Who knew blogging was so old-fashioned ;)

After the workshops, there was a reception to announce the winners of the GameJam contest, awarded by Dr. Alicia Sanchez, Will Wright, and Dr. Brenda Brathwaite (who had presented a workshop on Wednesday). So there I was, having made fun of a certain friend for idol-geeking out all day...and I had to not only introduce myself to Will Wright and Robert Scoble, but also ask for pictures with each of them. Me=shameless.

Dinner and drinks congregated old friends and new ones to talk more about the mind-blowing awesomeness of the day. Its absolutely fascinating when you think you can't possibly take any more information hear the perspectives of shared experiences and suddenly the learning continues.

Day Two started with Gen. Frank Anderson presenting about how the DAU is implementing innovations in learning. They train A LOT of people. Not that I didn't already know it, but it made it all the more impressive that an organization as large as DAU had people with titles like Innovation Evangelist and that they are actively looking at how to incorporate virtual worlds into their curriculum delivery mix. It was also pretty cool to see the Tandem Learning logo up on one of General Anderson's slides, even more so because it was unexpected.

The next session, I just couldn't decide what to do. There was an impromptu meeting in the coffee shop; a few people were gathering to talk about overcoming institutional obstacles to implementing new technologies. What it ended up being was a rich discussion of how innovators and internal evangelists across verticals (government, enterprise, academia, K12, and yep, even vendors) all share similar obstacles. The result was the formation of the Black Swan Society--a group focused on helping each other address the issues facing innovation and organizational adoption of (and adaption to) technologies and processes that more accurately affect how we work, communicate, and learn. I encourage you to come contribute to the conversation.

I had to get on the road after the first unofficial meeting of the Black Swan Society...but my head was full. Perhaps this conference, more than any other I've attended, represented for me the best of what conferences can be. Brilliant and inspirational keynotes, engaging workshops, challenges to my pre-existing assumptions, strengthening my network, meeting amazing people who are facing my same challenges AND with different perspectives, and a plan for continuing the conversation after the conference.

And I got to meet Will Wright...

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Why Spymaster isn't a colossal waste of time

A couple days ago, I started seeing people I follow on Twitter getting assassinated. My first inclination was to find out what I needed to do to start assassinating people myself. And so I signed up for Spymaster.

Let me start by saying that I've never joined into any of the social games, like Mafia Wars, on Facebook. But honestly, I have given up on Facebook for the most part, and Spymaster is run through Twitter where I spend an inordinate amount of time (thus the two weeks since I've blogged anything...). Immediately I saw complaints in my twitterstream on the Spymaster spam (yep, its annoying) and naysayers touting it as a waste of time. Still, there were a few people I wanted to assassinate and so I signed up anyway.

Spymaster is not a learning game. But it is a game run in conjunction with a social media outlet, and a lot of my Twitter friends (who I think are really smart people) were definitely engaged. So for the last two days, I've played Spymaster. Here are my observations and conclusions:

- Yes, incentivized spam is annoying: Spymaster rewards players for posting a variety of updates on Twitter. The more you play, the more annoying this is for your followers who don't care if you just wounded @spydeesense or if you just bought a new safe house in Rio. But the temptation is there to post these things, since the game "pays" you for each update posted. This is probably the worst design feature, and although the updates can be turned off, the incentives make you think about it before finally deciding that a few "rubles" or "pounds" aren't worth the followers you're going to irritate.

- Its fun to assassinate your friends (and people you don't know, too): People are competitive. Social games feed the need for competition in a communal way, and a social media tool like Twitter is an interesting format for combining social technology with gaming. Its been done with Facebook, it'll be done with other social media tools too. Wherever people gather socially, people will be inclined to play games.

- But can it be used for learning?: The question I always come back to is how can the engagement that is garnered through games be translated into learning experiences? Most games actually do teach something, its just not explicit. A lot of games for learning somewhere along the way lose the thing that makes people want to play them: they lose the fun.

Spymaster, on the surface, is a simple game of accumulation and leveling up: assassinate people and perform tasks to make money and gain experience, allowing you to level up and more easily assassinate people and perform more complicated tasks. There incentive to get your Twitter friends to join the game to make your assassinations stronger. There's an economy of purchasing weapons, buying safe houses, and "saving" money in a Swiss bank account.

But the real "game" is the strategy in determining HOW you're going to level up. Do you focus on assassinations, or performing tasks? How much risk do you take on? How important is it to get your friends to become spymasters in your network? Is it better to try to assassinate your friends, or strangers? How do you pace yourself so you don't lose all your energy? Ok, granted, the content of Spymaster isn't particularly useful for anything I do in my day to day life (although based on my performance in the game, I would make an excellent Russian spy). But what if the content were a bit more "serious"? Could this same format be used to teach job performance content? Could it be used as an assessment technique? I think there are any number of potential uses of social games for learning...and sadly, very few have yet been seen or taken seriously.

I've lately been focused on ARGs as the next wave of games for learning. But social media games may be another viable model for learning, and a market full of immersive, engaging learning possibilities. Now back to my safe house to plot the next assassination...

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Virtual Worlds, Simulations, and Serious Games, Oh My!

Alright, this is a reaction post to a post by Clark Aldrich that was his analysis of the difference between a game and a simulation. If nothing else, at least it got me motivated to blog instead of just tweet (are you following me on Twitter? @koreenolbrish).

Clark uses a swimming analogy to demonstrate the differences, and somehow virtual worlds made it in the mix as well. And that's when the trouble started.

Here's a very simple definition of the difference between a simulation, a game, and a virtual world. A virtual world is a framework, an environment if you will. Its a place waiting for context and possibly content. A game is competitive or scored and the goal is to win (although for serious games, we're hoping something is learned in that quest for victory). A simulation is a storyline that typically requires decision-making to determine the outcome, but win or lose, its the journey that's important.

The funny thing is, I think Aldrich's earlier post that describes simulations, games, and virtual worlds as nested concepts, and where he introduces the acronym (ugh, ANOTHER term...) HIVE (highly interactive virtual environments) is actually MUCH closer to how these concepts intersect. And while as a learning professional I applaud the attempted use of an analogy to describe the differences between games, simulations, and virtual worlds, I think he further confused the concepts instead of simplifying them. I'm not going to attempt an analogy, but here's my simplification for anyone who asks what's the difference between a simulation, a game, and a virtual world:

Now I'd like us all to move on and start thinking about how we can design good immersive learning instead of worrying about what to call it, thank you very much ;)

Friday, May 1, 2009

Special Guest Bloggin'

Haven't posted here about the 3D TLC and Federal Consortium of Virtual Worlds conferences in Washington DC last week, but I did a post for Virtual World News that you can read here. Thanks to Joey Seiler for the invite to write the post!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Uh oh. I've just set up mobile blogging. If you can read this post, it means I have no more excuses not to blog on the road.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Go Deep: Weekly Immersive Learning Example #3

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to present in ThinkBalm's Innovation Community UnLecture event. While it was fun for me to present in Second Life, the best part of participating was seeing what Andrew Hughes from our partner company Designing Digitally had worked on with a group of high school seniors from Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, OH. The students had built an interactive science lab in Second Life, focusing on biology experiments that students could perform virtually.

Awesome concept and great execution. I have not been a big proponent of Second Life for learning, but I thought this was a great use of the technology: immersive, interactive, experiential. Although the island is not open to the public, you can contact Andrew Hughes for more information on the project.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Top 5 reasons I'm on Twitter

I'm not keeping up with my blogging like I should, and I blame Twitter. The conversation is so dynamic, it makes my blog seem slow and isolated. I like to think through some topics in more detail and so no, my blog is not obsolete. But if you want to really keep up with what's going on with business, virtual worlds, games, learning, or if you just want to see pictures of Tony Hawk skating (and sometimes his kids) should really be on Twitter.

What are the top 5 reasons I'm on Twitter?
1. It's a news source. I get information that I wouldn't have the time or energy (or even the know-how) to find on my own. Information, references, articles to read, the latest news...all streaming by for me to pull from. Hashtags (#) can help you sort through content to find topics of relevance, as can search tools.
2. It's a 24/7 networking opportunity. I've met the most interesting people. Networking is a skill, and in-person networking is tough. But on Twitter, you can find really smart, funny, and engaging people to exchange ideas with very easily. I'm learning from them every day. And now, having met some of my Twitter friends in person, the awkward first meeting isn't really awkward--I already know these people. Events like the #lrnchat live chats have allowed me to meet a lot of new people all interested in the same things I am. The development of communities of practice and learning through Twitter seem to be one of the ways the medium can be leveraged even more effectively for networking in the future.
3. It's a social outlet. Sadly, I work most of the time (I'm working on better balance though!) and the Tandem team is "geographically diverse" so work is sometimes a bit isolating. Twitter gives me a chance to take a break, exchange some banter, and build friendships along the way.
4. It's professional development. I've got filters and groups organized in Tweetdeck that allow me to keep up-to-date on the latest industry trends and events. I get inspired and challenged daily from my interactions on Twitter.
5. It's business development. Much has been said about using Twitter to market your services. Personally, I find Twitter marketers annoying. That said, people who demonstrate their knowledge and expertise in a particular area, I start to trust. If I needed help with a project now, I'd know a lot more people to contact. I've had people contact me through Twitter for my own expertise. And that's where I see the real value of Twitter "marketing."

So why aren't you there yet? Follow me @koreenolbrish

Friday, April 10, 2009

GDC 09 overview

Where to begin in my overview of GDC? So much I learned over the 4 days I was there, I'm just going to hit the highlights...funny thing is, its been a couple weeks, but some things still stand out. So here they are:

Serious games:
I was overall pretty disappointed with the Serious Games Summit track. There were some stand-out sessions; I loved the analysis of why there hasn't been a "serious" adoption of Spore. There was some good stuff in the session on the Chain Factor ARG. I was personally inspired to think about my business model by the session from Straylight Studios and their product Salon Star. But overall? Where were the technological advances? Where was all the learning data? I didn't get the sense overall from the Serious Games track that that's where the action is...and for me, it IS where the action is.

ARGs (alternate reality games):
Besides my obvious interest in virtual worlds, I think ARGs will be the next big advancement in learning/curriculum design. In fact, they may pass virtual worlds in pervasiveness because of their potential to be designed around technology instead of within it. I attended every ARG session I could. And again, wow, not impressed. OK, in defense of the ARG sessions--its REALLY new. Most of the people have done them have created something of a scavenger hunt that's tied to some entertainment media. The session that I attended as part of the Mobile Learning Summit was very focused on the technological capabilities currently available on mobile devices (or lack thereof, as the case may be). It looks like Nokia sees potential and is getting on board with advancements to support ARGs. But from my perspective, its not in the technology...its in the design. Designing for ARGs requires a completely different mindset than game developers or instructional designers or, well, anyone, has ever had to have for learning design. My prediction is that entertainment ARGs will dominate for another year or two...but eventually, ARGs will be an integral part of serious games.

Virtual worlds:
The Worlds in Motion Summit was surprisingly not that appealing in the overall offerings of sessions, at least for what I do. By far, the best session I attended was "Building your own zombie army" which was a clever way of framing engagement and using proven design features that increase people's motivation to participate. I don't want to call them psychological "tricks" but... ;) Instructional designers would do well to think about these types of features in their curriculum design to improve learner motivation and engagement, not to mention the opportunity to increase replayability for serious games.

What was the highlight of GDC for me? Jane McGonigal. Jane presented a keynote session titled: Learning to Make Your Own Reality: How to Develop Games that Re-invent Life as We Know It. You can see the slides for yourself here, but the session was a call to action for the game development community to think about how what we do can change the world, make it a better place. If I took anything away from GDC, its that what we're doing is important. It has the potential to reach beyond skill development or performance improvement. We have the opportunity to change peoples' lives at a micro and macro level. Whether or not we embrace these opportunities ultimately falls on us. But the opportunity is there. Its both a powerful and humbling message to be told you have the ability to make the world a better place. It was a wake up call that I needed to get a move on...

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Researching the new

When I was in graduate school for speech pathology, I had a crisis of conscious. I was shocked(!) to find out that most of the therapeutic practices that speech pathologists used didn't have research to show their effectiveness and that the research projects that professors and graduate students were conducting were typically to justify the effectiveness of practices already commonly used. This seemed so backwards to could speech pathologists be charging for therapy they didn't know was effective? Shouldn't research be focused on examining new methodologies, techniques, and technologies??

I'm not as naive as I was back then, but I still believe that the most important research is research that focuses on new discoveries and practices. This is why I'm proud to be one of the sponsors for ThinkBalm's enterprise Immersive Internet business value study.

I'm firm in my conviction of the value of virtual worlds for enterprise and the effectiveness of immersive learning. If you, or someone you know, is utilizing Immersive Internet technologies for enterprise, please encourage them to participate in this survey or agree to be interviewed. The more stories are shared, the more data is collected, the more our practice will be led by the research and not the research justifying our practices.

Learning and ARGs (not just the sound a pirate makes)

I've been stalled on posting my notes on GDC because it was SO much. Honestly, I think I might learn more in that one week than in all the other conferences I attend combined, and trying to summarize it in a blog post is difficult at best. So let me start with one topic that has me excited, in that I can definitely see the possibilities for experiential and constructivist learning.

ARGs (which is confusingly the abbreviation for both Alternate Reality Games and Augmented Reality Games) was a topic discussed across tracks at GDC (serious games, worlds in motion, mobile technology). I love the idea that technology can be used to drive a storyline that participants play out in the real world. There are a range of ways of designing and developing ARGs and to be honest, I think we've only seen the tip of the iceberg. Up to this point, most ARGs have been developed for entertainment purposes. Here are a list of some ARGs that you can check out:

-i love bees (Halo 2)--also in Wikipedia
-Lost Experience (Lost, ABC)--also in Wikipedia
-Year Zero (Nine Inch Nails)--also in Wikipedia
-Chain Factor (Numb3rs, CBS)
-Sharkrunners (Discovery Channel)

One interesting development in ARGs is the use of mobile devices to play these games. Although camera phones for the most part do not yet have the fidelity to truly realize the potential, its just a matter of time and some devices are already making great strides for use in these types of games. I was interested to hear about Nokia and Tim Kring (creator/exec producer of "Heroes") partnering to develop a new project, code named TEVA, that they are coining a "Mobile Immersive Experience."

So how does this relate to learning? Here's where I see the potential. First, technological advances are making long development times and "heavy" platforms unnecessary. The ability to use real world as your learning environment and technology as your guide opens up tremendous opportunities for teaching collaboration, process improvement, effective communication, and leadership.

Second, learners are motivated by competition and challenges. People like puzzles. Making someone a character in the story line immediately engages them in the learning and motivates them to participate in determining the outcome. Oh, and its probably not a bad thing that ARGs can be fun.

Third, we're always striving to design experiences that mirror real-world experiences. With ARGs, the learning experience is in the real world. I've gotta believe that this would improve retention and application.

So, what would this mean to instructional designers? If you've been reading my blog, its no mystery that I think ID as a practice has in some ways lost its way. What I began to think about at GDC was whether being an instructional designer is enough of a skill set in isolation. How much more powerful is instructional design when paired with a skill like game design?

In order for ARGs to be useful for learning, they have to be designed with equal parts instructional design and game design. The real challenge for this type of experience is truly in the design--as technology becomes less of a limitation, the limitation then becomes the bounds of our own talent, skill, and creativity.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Go Deep: Weekly Immersive Learning Example #2

So I didn't use my own example as the first week, but I've caved for the second week:) I was at GDC last week, so I thought I'd make it easy on myself and post about something near and dear to me, the Virtual Territory. 

The Virtual Territory is an immersive learning simulation, a serious game, and can be delivered on a virtual world platform. So what is it? I think its the future of how learning solutions will be designed. To be honest, most simulations are fairly linear (even with branching) experiences, and the real learning takes place after you've gone through the simulation and can debrief yours and others' decisions. Serious games *should* be designed for replayability, with the player learning through trial and error, seeing different outcomes. Virtual worlds provide real-time interaction, discussion, and opportunities for coaching, in addition to opportunities to practice real tasks.

Specifically, the Virtual Territory is designed to mirror a sales representative's sales territory, providing opportunities to practice strategic targeting, selling skills, product knowledge, getting past the gatekeeper, utilizing sales materials--all within a realistic context. Data is collected on sales representative performance to be utilized by managers for coaching purposes, as well as by the organization for learning needs analysis across the sales force for more strategic training decisions.

For more information (here's my plug!), you can contact me at ;)

Thursday, March 19, 2009

3D TLC Conference--real data, real stories, virtual worlds

Happy to hear from Tony O'Driscoll today that the 3D TLC program has been set and that so many real stories are emerging to be shared. I'll be leading the Explore panel (which is somewhat fitting, given my penchant for thinking about what could be instead of what currently is).

Tony did a great video as an overview of the program:


Hoping to see you all in DC in April!

Sirikata and a we need more virtual world platforms?

Sirikata Teaser from Sirikata on Vimeo.

I first heard about Sirikata at ThinkBalm's Innovation Community UnLecture series a couple weeks ago. Henrik Bennetsen presented for 10 minutes on the current state of the new platform coming out the Stanford Humanities Lab. I hate to say it, but my first response was: why do we need another platform?

I still don't know the answer. Sirikata looks cool. Its open source. I have faith in the people at the Stanford Humanities Lab.

That said, I feel a tension in the virtual world technology space. There are a lot of platforms already, with all kinds of pros and cons. Sure, no one has completely figured it out, and interoperability remains elusive. But is it worth throwing out the baby with the bath water? Does technology need to start from scratch? Is there more value in improving on the existing platforms, making them more flexible and user friendly, or is trying to MacGuyver them to be better just not going to work?

As a person who's interested in the use of this technology for the development of more effective learning, I'm curious to see where the technology going. What I'm even more interested in is when technology and innovation begins to be led by user needs, and for my purposes, business and learning needs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Go Deep: Weekly Immersive Learning Example #1

I'm starting a new blog feature because my backlog of cool things to to show is growing exponentially and I need some structure, process, and publicly declared expectations to make sure I'm passing along the good stuff. Welcome to the first installation of Go Deep, my weekly showcase of some immersive learning example that I've run across in my "travels." 

First up, Rome Reborn. I love this sim because I think its how kids will learn about history in the future. Why read a textbook about ancient Rome when you can go visit a replica? Built in Google Earth, the purpose of Rome Reborn is to illustrate "the urban development of ancient Rome from the first settlement in the late Bronze Age (ca. 1000 B.C.) to the depopulation of the city in the early Middle Ages (ca, A.D. 550)," Rome Reborn lets you experience the architecture, the topography, and the urban infrastructures of ancient Rome, to the best of our current collective knowledge. 

What would I like to see to make this sim even better? People, obviously. Immerse people in the environment and then add the culture. Truly allow people to see what it might have been like to live and work in ancient Rome. Brilliant.  Of course, current plans don't include this type of experience, but with such a rich resource, I'd love to see the scope expanded.

I love that this is an international initiative, sharing collective knowledge and building a virtual space. Check it out for yourself. 

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'll say it again...instructional design is dead

I've been perusing blog posts written by other instructional designers and their thoughts on learning conferences and this one from Ellen Wagner struck a particular chord.

You see, I don't go to learning conferences to learn anything. Wow, yep, I said it. I go to the learning conferences to talk to other people who are in the learning space, sure, but mostly I go to talk to people about what I've been learning by rubbing elbows at OTHER conferences. What are these other conferences? Virtual worlds conferences. Serious games conferences. Design conferences. Next week, for example, I'm going to GDC. I'm so excited about the sessions that I don't know if I have time in my schedule for a bathroom break. To be honest, I'm not interested in networking too much at GDC. I don't think I'm going to sell any training there. But I know for a fact that I'm going to learn. A LOT. And the anticipation of being at a conference where people will be talking about user design, user engagement, gender issues, generational barriers, narrative and motivation...yeah, I might need a moment. Whew.

So listen up instructional designers and learning conferences! Instructional design is dying a slow death. Young talent are going in other directions. The kids get gaming and use technology without thinking about it...its not a question of if, its a question of how. And how to do it better. And how to make it more effective. Instructional design should not be lagging behind the curve...we should be leading the way. We need experienced mentors but we also need young leaders. More importantly, we need people with vision. This is what learning conferences should be about: inspiration and innovation and brave new ideas. They shouldn't be about trying to play catch up with the sexier industries.

If you're on the slow boat to the ADDIE model, it might be time to change boats. I'll be taking the speedboat to GDC next week, thank you very much. And I'll thank you not to suck my wake.