The new Star Trek brings back mention of the legendary simulation - Kobayashi Maru. For the uninitiated, Kobayashi Maru is an exercise designed to test the character of cadets in the command track at Starfleet Academy. The fleet receives a distress call from the civilian vessel Kobayashi Maru. The disabled ship is trapped in a neutral zone, entering which would be in violation of a peace treaty with Star Trek's villains - the Klingons. The decision for the crew -- do they engage the Klingons and rescue the ship? Or do they abandon the ship, thereby preventing war but leaving the passengers to die?
Thinking about this test gives me four ideas about making training simulations effective. I'm still forming these ideas, but the more I think about them, the more I'm convinced. I'm bound to get some criticism for this -- but that's fine. Here are my ideas to add to my previous post of how real a training simulation should be.
Consider an Unwinnable SituationThe least you can do is NOT make the simulation easy. I say this because a simulation is a compressed view of real life. Its easy to navigate through the Happy Path, but what you'd like people to learn through the simulation, is how to navigate the Sad Path. In real life however, challenges don't always come thick and fast. So if you were to simulate a pace similar to real life, by the time a challenge comes by the simulation's over! Make situations unrealistically difficult - introduce difficult time constraints, difficult clients, difficult challenges. The idea is that if people get through the tough simulation happily, they'll be happy to see the easy pace of reality. Most importantly however the ability to fail fast and to learn from mistakes is invaluable to the learning process. Kobayashi Maru is unwinnable, but the failure teaches cadets the most important lessons of their courses.
Try to mimic real life scenariosOne of the things that frustrates me is learning professionals equating learning games with simulations. A simulation is a controlled imitation of real life, whereas a learning game helps students gain knowledge through play. They are similar in intent, but different in purpose, design and execution. The key with simulations is to ensure that it reflects situations similar to real life. Think of real projects, real transactions, real day-in-life scenarios, real conversations, real debates - the possibilities can be endless. Kobayashi Maru imitates situations that the cadets could face in real life; in that it prepares cadets for real life.
Try "Head Fake" LearningI've mentioned earlier that making mistakes and failing fast is invaluable to the learning process. Randy Pausch in his inimitable style once said, "Experience is what you get, when you don't get what you wanted." Failing gives you the opportunity to learn better how you can succeed. Dr Pausch also spoke about the beauty of head fake learning. He gives the example of football - kids take to football because they enjoy it and the objective seems to be to score the maximum number of goals possible. Football (or any sport for that matter) teaches players things like, "Teamwork, Sportsmanship, Perseverance...etc." That's the head fake. The lessons kids learn out of playing a sport carry on with them when their playing days are over. Kobayashi Maru seems to be about rescuing a distressed ship, but the simulation is really about learning to face insurmountable odds. Its a test of character.
Leave room for Original ThinkingYeah, yeah I talked about unwinnable scenarios, but intelligence counts for something too! If your simulation can uncover a superstar or a brilliant original thinker - then you're perhaps generating far more value for your company/ clients than you can ever imagine. Is there a hidden way to beat the simulation? A way that a really intelligent individual can pass the simulation with flying colours? A non-intuitive right choice maybe? James T Kirk and his nephew Peter Kirk were able to beat Kobayashi Maru by using "original thinking" and the academy recognized them for it. Its not surprising how the legend of Captain Kirk was born.
Training simulations offer your students a unique opportunity to practice reality in safety. There are perhaps dozens of other considerations in making these activities enriching for your learners. Star Trek just reminded me of a few of them. I'm sure you have many more such tips in mind -- please feel free to comment on the blog to share these ideas with me. Thanks for reading!