I’ll be honest, the hundred and ten hours I logged in Call of Duty didn’t magically transform me into a Navy Seal, but I’ll bet you my left index finger flinches towards the crouch button if you sneak up behind me and yell out, “Frag!” Okay, so probably not the most helpful reaction in a real world situation, right? Right. But don’t worry, this analogy is falling apart intentionally.
High-end consumer video games aren’t designed to be learning tools, but they do teach us a valuable lesson. Behavior can be reinforced and the realistic immersion provided by virtual 3D worlds is very effective at supporting behavioral change. You just have to target the right behavior.
OUT OF THE BATTLEFIELD AND INTO THE COMMERCIAL KITCHEN
A new cook sends out an undercooked dish of Poulet Parisienne. The diner is not only at risk of salmonella poisoning, but also happens to be the blogosphere’s hottest up-and-coming food critic. The restaurant receives an abysmal review, profits are down, and to add insult to injury, the restaurant has just been docked fifty points in their sanitation rating for not choosing the right temperature to serve a chicken breast.
The new hire, in this hypothetical scenario, was learning in a virtual space where he’ll be prompted to check the temperature again each time he’s building that specific dish in the course. This virtual reinforcement translates into the workplace, and now the learner’s “crouch finger” twitches every time he sees a chicken breast, and he double checks the temperature. Now nobody in the real world is getting sick from undercooked French cuisine. You could simply tell chefs in training to check the temperature of each dish. But would it stick?
INTERVAL TRAINING FOR YOUR BRAIN
The use of virtual worlds for training has the added benefit of providing realistic conditions, such as environmental factors that can be used as interruptions. These distractions actually help learners retain information better. Remember cramming for exams and then immediately forgetting everything you learned right afterwards? There’s a name for that.
Bluma Zeigarnik, a Soviet psychologist and psychiatrist, noticed that restaurant servers could remember an order very well up until the order was delivered but would quickly forget the order directly afterwards, once the task was completed. There was an interesting loophole, though. The server would retain the information better if the task was interrupted or remained incomplete. Remembering interrupted tasks better than completed tasks is known as the Zeigarnik Effect.
If an e-learning solution involves, say, reading through a pdf and then taking a quiz at the end, the learner is only going to retain the information for as long as is needed to complete the task, at which point, her or she promptly forgets the bulk of the material. In contrast, a virtual simulation has the learner retaining the necessary information over the course of multiple scenarios within a simulation. Now throw in some interruptions during those scenarios while mixing in different learning points, and you extend that retention even longer.
This mix of added simulation and realism via the immersion of virtual 3D environments, along with extended information retention and the reinforced behavior of completing multiple tasks within a simulation, is like interval training for your brain. It's the perfect recipe for building a solid and well-rounded skill set. Plus, 3D environments are just plain cool.