Educational media is terrible. Let’s do better and save the world.          

Saturday, July 8, 2023

Education's Great Pivot

Traditional approaches to education, including workbooks, essays, lectures, and tests (WELTs), are very good at teaching facts. Dates and definitions, basic note taking, categorization of facts (basic analysis) are what education and training have been perfecting for decades. WELTs also are good for providing practice in a few skills such as writing and math.

Short Sims represent a new pedagogy, with different affordances. So when organizations use Short Sims – from military to corporate, academic, and government – they use them in topic areas different from WELTs' sweet spots.

We have been tracking usage for more than half a decade, and seeing an increasingly clear pattern. Across clients, Short Sims are being used for:
  • medium-to-advanced certification skills;
  • basic-to-medium project management, security, and management skills; and
  • foundational leadership skills.
A Short Sim on Intermediate Certification Skills

A Short Sim on Intermediate Certification Skills

A Short Sim on Intermediate Management Skills

A Short Sim on Foundational Leadership (Leading others)

A Short Sim on Foundational Leadership (Leading oneself)

In other words, Short Sims are enabling educational organizations to pivot from a fact-based curricula around memorization to a skills-based curricula around practice. And because Short Sims integrate perfectly into WELT cultures and infrastructures, the pivot is seamless and enduring.

As the old phrase goes, the future is here, it is just not evenly distributed. Yet.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Experts and leaders speak in simple, action based metaphors.

On Experts' Use of Visual Metaphors

Some very smart, typically academically trained people use a lot of big and conceptually precise words and phrases to describe a situation (such as "Orthogonal " and "Force multiplier"). Others may introduce classic metaphors (such as "Manifest Destiny" and "The Sword of Damocles"), based on cultural literacy. At best, this manner of speech is highly illuminating within a given in-group, and at worse, it is a form of intellectual vulgarity, the artifact of cultures that prioritize impressing over communicating.

The best SMEs for creating more ambitious Short Sims speak in highly vivid, simple visual metaphors. They use basic examples or abstractions to make complex processes very clear. This is more typical of both military personnel and business leaders, and is an approach unfairly looked down upon by academics.

Perhaps the best example is the title of Lieutenant Colonel John A. Nagl influential book: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam.

Some other examples include:

 • I started poking the bear...

 • ...Too much fog of war...

 • That was the secret sauce. ..

 • That dog won't hunt

 • That rubbed people the wrong way

 • She was putting her thumb on the scale

• Roll with the punch...

 • Go outside and pound sand...

• There are three kinds of people: racehorses, Clydesdale, and donkeys... 

And, of course, sports metaphors.

(From my book Short Sims, Taylor and Francis, 2020)

Tuesday, June 20, 2023

A Timeline of Serious Games, Educational Simulations, and Online Learning (through 2019)

1910—The first flight simulator is patented.

1958—Physicist William Higinbotham creates Tennis for 2 on an oscilloscope.

In 1960, The Beer Game was invented by Jay Wright Forrester at the MIT Sloan School of Management, initially in board game form. 

1961—MIT student Steve Russell creates Spacewar, the first interactive computer game, which becomes popular on college campuses.

1963—Control Data and the University of Illinois, using a grant from the National Science Foundation, develop the technology and content for a computer-assisted instructional system that would become known as PLATO.

1971—Nutting manufactures the first arcade video game, called Computer Space. But the public finds it too difficult to play.

1972—Will Crowther writes Colossal Cave Adventure, the first interactive fiction computer game, on a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-10.

Thursday, June 15, 2023

The Invisible Tyranny of Traditional Educational Media

As we are thinking about the challenges of evolving education, it is useful to look at the invisible rules that are trapping us in place.  We outsiders have to look at them, because unfortunately, the more time one spends in the education industries, the more invisible (or at least intransient) these rules become.

Here are some:

  • In schools, what is taught is governed by what can be taught. (This is our "you can't go faster than the speed of light."  It is the first law that gates our future.)
  • Media frames education the way pharmaceuticals frame medicine. (Countless innovative new approaches to education will not survive past the death of the leader because media has not been built to sufficiently transmit the new ethos.)   
  •  Curricula evolve around media. A community can demand schools teach leadership, but unless the media supports skills (not just facts), efforts will fail despite the best efforts of all involved.
  • The immutable affordances of lectures, textbooks, and workbooks emphasize the limited skills of memorization and analysis, no matter what the topic. Schools that rely primarily on lectures, textbooks, and workbooks cannot bridge the  learning-doing gap with students.  
  • Mainstream authoring tools, from word processors to PowerPoint to general course authoring tools,  lock in the status quo.  Even if you want to teach empowering skills – from leadership to certification, and even if you understand the detailed use of the skills in the real world – as long as you are authoring in a traditional tool and your output is traditional lectures and workbooks, the skills developed in students will regress to memorization and analysis.
  • You need thousands of examples of any new media – which cover at least 10% of curricula in a school – to perpetuate.  Books. Yes.  Videos.  Yes.  Virtual reality.  No.

Together, these rules create an invisible prison.  

To shift the direction of education, we need new authors using new approaches.  Quite simply, we have to teach skills not (just) facts.  

To do this, new authors – such as of Short Sims – will increasingly have to create educational content using new research.

Authors will have to take into account where the skill is applied. New authors will also have to build coach characters into our media, and decide how much help they should give. 

New authors will also have to think of:

  • Emotions, 
  • Decisions and consequences, 
  • The right levels of abstraction and specificity, 
  • How the content is applied and misapplied in the real world, 
  • Scaffolding and visuals, 
  • Skill building and practice, 
  • Chunking for skills not facts.

This will be new to current traditional instructional designers but will be increasingly familiar for future designers. What is hard and foreign to last generation will seem natural and necessary for the next.  

This is how together we change the world.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Stripping the Book/Learning Bias...

 Some industry colleagues have been posting this thought starter, on the left, authored by Junhan Chin.

I am sure everyone who follows me could evolve the thought starter in different ways, but one opportunity that struck me was moving away from the historic book-as-measure-of-learning visualization to something more aligned with my view of the future of learning, which I doodled on the right.

You can decide if this changes your view of the message or not.

#ShortSims #TeachSkillsNotFacts

Original on left.  Rethinking metaphor on right.

Sunday, May 14, 2023

What is the goal of our education system? Here is what we believe.


People have different goals for education.  As I travel about, I am reminded how difficult it is to make progress without an aligned goal.  I am also reminded how eagerly venders from the publishing and test-making industries, even the pharmaceutical reps, fill the vision void.

My framework is simple, and I believe aligns many of the visions I have heard across various communities, from unschooling to military, from non-profit to corporate.  It also spans across one's life.

The Aldrich Institute believes the goal of education is:  

To help each person discover and hone about what they care the most, discover and hone at what they are good, and connect the two in a sustaining way.