A Case Study in Immersion: the Centre for Experiential Learning

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The Centre for Experiential Learning (CEL) project was one of the most exciting projects I’ve collaborated on. The goal of the CEL was to teach business improvement skills in the South African mining context. The revolutionary aspect of the CEL was the way in which experiential, immersive learning practices were used. This was a project that was four years in the making and a brilliant team  took the project to fruition. While the idea was similar to many model factories, it was the first time that such a system had been used in the mining context in South Africa.

What were some of the principles used when we designed it?

Show not tell: The CEL is a truly experiential environment where participants are exposed to a typical mining scene with room for improvement and are then given the tools to optimize the scene. The scene is played out in real life,  with actual actors presenting the scenes. Participants work together and provide instructions for actors to optimize this process.

Use of narrative: having actors act out “scenes” lends itself to the use of stories throughout the experience. The narrative arc was made more compelling because we used stories real stories from the field. The use of real stories meant that the content is richer and mirrors participant’s real life experiences. I’m quite proud of the fact that we created true scenarios with more than one path.

Use of immersion:  We created a business improvement games using augmented reality. This was a multiplayer game with teams competing to finish the business improvement challenge in real life. This provided a solid learning experience.  In the days of social media, it’s quite easy to forget that groups of people provide a great deal of the positive aspects of real-life social experiences.

Mirror the implementation context: One of the biggest challenge with business improvement is not that practioners don’t understand the business improvement concepts, it’s that they find it very difficult to sell these concepts to their peers. Participants were not only expected to use these tools, they were expected to work in a group and instruct actors on how to use them.

Providing a low-tech option: I’ve written before that I think that low tech curricula can provide high educational value. The CEL team proved this by providing a paper-based experiential curriculum that could be used at mining operations. This curriculum used many of the principles discussed above.

 

Does Duolingo Work?

children-593313_1920Duolingo is a really interesting language learning system because it’s game-based, consists of micro-lessons and caters for continuous learning. I’ve been interested in the system for a while and my visit to Barcelona provided me with an opportunity to use the app consistently to learn Spanish. I found it quite useful to compare this experience to my traditional classroom based language experiences. This is what I’ve learnt after a month of using the app consistently:

  • Learner motivation still contributes hugely to the effectiveness of a language learning system: The immediacy of needing to navigate a foreign country has been a far more effective form of motivation than learning a language which could perhaps be useful to me someday. This motivation means that I practiced consistently, which is half the battle  This huge motivation differential means that it’s not really fair to compare the gamified Spanish experience to the more traditional Portuguese classroom experience.
  • If you do want learners to practice, it’s important to be really specific about what you want them to do: When I was learning other languages, I’d spend valuable practice time trying to define what I needed to learn. This wastes time and is a further barrier to practicing. What I really like about Duolingo is that the entire course of study is decided for the learner when you open the app.
  • Continuous reinforcement is powerful in learning: I probably spend as much time per week learning Spanish as I did when I was going to weekly Portuguese classes. The only difference between two were the length and the frequency of practice. The small daily doses provided by Duolingo are really powerful.
  • Gamefication elements really work: My big problem with learning a language is that you get it wrong almost 25% of the time. In a classroom setting, this can be really daunting. The gamification elements of the app (for instance, the strong positive reinforcement you receive) really helped me to embrace getting it wrong.  I also like the instant feedback that the app provides.
  • It’s really weird not having the rules of the language explained to you: I like learning things that make logical sense. I feel a bit disconcerted not having the logic of tenses explained to me. However Duolingo means that you rely on your intuitive understanding of the language rather than overthinking it.

What was the result of my consistent use of Duolingo? Overall, Duolingo was an effective tool. I managed to do everything I needed to do in Barcelona. I was pleasantly surprised that I could understand complicated directions quite easily. However my spoken Spanish lagged my understanding of written and verbal Spanish considerably. I feel like this lag would have been less significant in traditional language classes. Overall, I suspect that the best way to learn a language is to combine traditional classes with something like Duolingo.

Low-Tech Gamification Ideas

Gamification is a very useful tool for designing curricula for adult learners. It promotes concentration and engagement with the subject matter. Even though gamification is often associated with technological solutions, elements of gamification can be usefully applied in low tech environments.  Here are some things that I remember when I design curricula in low tech environments

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Refresh your understanding of the  MDA Framework: This framework was not written for electronic games per se and so many of the principles (showing progression, promoting learner investment and using narrative) can be applied in low-tech settings

Draw inspiration from board and card games: When I’m faced with a low-tech educational context, I go back to low tech game solutions. Card games and board games have kept people stimulated for ages before we had mobile games. Drawing inspiration from card and board games can include using a literal paper and pen game such as bingo, drawing on board-game design elements in the course materials or demonstrating class progression in a board-game style fashion.

Draw on the strengths in the educational learning environment: You’ve already noted the fact that there isn’t the technology available to implement the kind of fun gamification elements you would like. But what are the strengths of your situation? IS there a strong local tradition of oral story-telling? Can you use this to get participants to add to the narrative content of the curriculum (without appropriating) Is there a safe space outside which you could incorporate into a curriculum?

Involve participants in  crafting their own learning experience: Use live role-plays. Add a timekeeper on tasks to stimulate pressure. Simple things such as sound simulation can be provided by participants themselves.

Don’t be afraid to use a simple solution: Sometimes showing progression involves the facilitator drawing a training plan on a chalk-board and checking modules off as you go. Sometimes and educational game is a piece of paper used in bingo. Game-like sounds can be provided by participants themselves.