Sunday, January 1, 2012

Educational Simulations

Photo curtesy of Torley via flickr
I just finished the two sessions about designing simulations for education and training that Clark Aldrich presented for week 12 of the #change11 mooc.  This topic is almost completely new to me and Clark's expertise and passion provided a great introduction.

One of the main points that resonated with me is when he said to "align delivery of content with the importance of content." Clark said this in the context of simulations which generally require a lot of resources to develop and therefore make sense for important content but it seems to be good advice for learning design in general.

Quite a bit of the presentation revolved around the project management aspects of designing simulations.  Here also, I think that a lot can be generalized to any kind of large project. For example, he talked about how there is direct correlation between having numerous high level decision makers and increases in project cost (in time and money) which is probably true for most projects.

In thinking about the role of simulations in education, I can't help but feel that there's an inevitability to much greater usage of sims as time goes on. In part this is due to Moores Law and the exponential acceleration of computing technology.  Partly it may be that I've read a bit too much science fiction.

One thing that sims really seem to have going for them is their scalability.  Although they are resource intensive to produce, once deployed, the cost of delivery becomes very small. This means that if you are designing something for a very large number of students, then cost per student could be very low, even for something very sophisticated.

Another advantage that Clark touched on several times was that it can be very fun and engaging.  I would argue that a good teacher can also be fun and engaging but sims have an edge when it comes to reproducing this effect and scaling up. A sim requires talent to be made engaging but only once whereas the engaging teacher has to keep trying day after day and will inevitably have good days and bad days.

I think there is an underlying claim that sims tend to be inherently fun and I wonder how true this is. I grew up playing video games, mostly for fun but also some that were educational.  We had the the game Oregon Trail in my 6th grade classroom and by it's nature it definitely had a powerful attraction that led lot's of learning.  By todays standards, that game is primitive-- would it still have that attraction to kids that are growing up with smart phones, ubiquitous PCs and a plethora of gaming consoles? Is the attractive quality of a sim a moving target in that only the newest cutting edge sim will that "cool" appeal?

And where does the use of Sims fit into curriculum design?  Can it cover some material that would normally be taught face to face freeing up contact time for other kinds of learning as in the inverted classroom?

Since I seem to be reduced to asking questions at this point, I'll ask one more.  There was some discussion about competence compared to conviction that I didn't really understand and I wonder if anyone can explain this a bit or point me to further explanation.

Finally, I have not been able to find a working link to the pdf reading "designing sims the Clark Aldrich Way" anywhere since the link on the week 12 is broken.  Can anyone share a working link?


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