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NogginLabs was founded on the notion that custom e-learning design and development is the ultimate horizontal industry. Time and again, each new project, client, and industry proves it. The biggest advantage of the e-learning horizontal is cross-pollinating ideas from two wildly different domains. A restaurant service simulation for iPad may influence a high-fashion online retail challenge. E-learning for financial advisors in a bank could inspire a mobile outreach program for cancer survivors. This variety also keeps the creative folks at NogginLabs fresh. Fresh learning ideas and designs come from a set of constantly changing constraints.

When you build a learning simulation, behavior trumps knowledge


When you build a learning simulation, behavior trumps knowledge

Sara Jensen

Little children don't have much in the way of knowledge. They navigate the world intuitively, absorbing appropriate behaviors from the people they interact with on a day-to-day basis. Funny enough, it's this early way of operating that you want to tap into with your learners.

It's hard to think of an employee training program whose goal is for learners to be able to recite facts. If this is the goal of your program, either you are aiming too low, or your learners work in some sort of recitation-based environment (The capital of Alabama is Montgomery...the capital of Alaska is Juneau...). Even highly technical positions that require a great deal of knowledge and expertise also require that people do something with that knowledge.

Which brings us to behavior change. The goal of a simulation is for people to learn something, and then apply that knowledge back on the job. If your training program helps them memorize facts, you've only done half the job. 

As an example, check out the hypothetical Sandwich Co. simulation. In this first activity, learners begin to memorize the components of each sandwich on the menu:

A lot of training programs might stop here, or encourage learners to keep practicing until they have memorized each piece of the sandwich. We use an activity like this as an introduction, to help establish knowledge before entering the simulation portion of the course. 

Here's the next step, where the learner is placed in a simulated restaurant environment, just like the one he or she works in. It's worth noting that every detail has to be accurate here, or learners will disengage. They'll be too caught up in thinking, "My workstation looks nothing like this" to focus on what they're supposed to be doing.

At the end of this activity, the learner has successfully built a sandwich. To add an element of gamification, he or she sees the amount of time it took to complete, as well as an accuracy score. Simply showing these stats encourages learners to want to do better and beat their best scores.

There are a lot of other instructional design principles at play here--learning through failure, for one. But what's really happening for the learner is the act of acquiring knowledge and applying it in on-the-job behaviors. This particular simulation continues to layer in new required behaviors, such as customer service. At the end of the training, the Sandwich Co. employee will be ready demonstrate his or her skills in the actual restaurant environment. Learners will be much better equipped than they would've been if they could simply recite sandwich ingredients.

And really, isn't that the point of a simulation? To create a simulated job environment where people do the thing they're going to do on the job? They don't need to be able to read and recite. They need to be able to do.