“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught”
Churchill’s quote is very befitting to introduce the idea of Andragogy or what we commonly understand as principles pertaining to adult learning. Andragogy, a word coined in the 1800s by a German educator Alexander Knapp and later popularized by an American educator Malcolm Knowles in the 1960s, specifically refers to the practices used to teach adults. It is often contrasted to pedagogy, referring to methods used to educate children. That was however in the past. As of today pedagogy commonly refers to methods used for teaching in general.
So, when I first heard about a pedagogy for adults called ‘simulations’ it did not take me much time to put the whole formula of “21st century learner + Technology = Simulation” together. However, as a facilitator when I initially encountered the idea of having to use a gamified simulations for my session, my first reaction was that it was yet another high-tech energizer to bring in some variation in the training room. Subsequently I became a little more charitable to the developers of these simulations. I began to view it as if it was the best way to attract digital natives to a platform they felt most comfortable and ensure that they made good use of their ‘online’ time. However, it was only over time that I realized that a lot of seriousness goes into creating these gamified simulations that serve to be an end-to-end learning platform for adult learners.
Honestly, my own transition and relationship with regards to these gamified simulations has been through 3 distinct phases. At first I ignored it, then I fought against it now I embrace it! My earlier two reactions could largely be the result of my own insecurity. With the proliferation of simulation-based training, I thought my role and job as a facilitator would soon become redundant. The third phase I talked about, on the other hand, is more of a reasoned conclusion. Let me explain what I mean. While using some of the simulations during my sessions, I noticed that they did indeed facilitate deeper learning or the conceptual leap and ‘ah-ha’ moments it promised. But, as a facilitator I was curious to know whether gamified simulations did indeed serve to be a pedagogy for an adult learner or was it just a literal take on ‘making learning fun’ where the fun element hijacked the learning?
I thus undertook the exercise of mapping the principles of adult learning that I had learnt some time ago to some of the features I spotted in the simulations. It was important for me to adequately address the critic and the skeptic in me. Here is what I found out vis-à-vis some of the vital principles of Andragogy that gamified simulations are catering to.
Relevance: Adult learners expect new learning to be applicable to their work or other responsibilities; their learning must have relevance to real life and work situation. Interestingly what I found was how deeply rooted the simulations were to this very principle of Andragogy. The simulations are so designed that right from the characters, relationships, constraints, stakeholders, tensions, dilemmas, and challenges were all crafted in a way that closely represented and resembled the player’s actual work world. The various aspects of real life work related scenarios are so intricately woven into the simulations that post the play, very little remains to be said by the facilitator. If you are wondering how is this evident – well it is so from the very answers they give to some of the debrief questions asked to them.
Engagement: Adults also expect to experience a variety of methods that will encourage them to actively process information, solve problems, or practice skills. With built in challenges, difficult encounters, trials, responses from characters, failure of certain actions, etc., participants playing the simulations almost seem like they are glued to it. Their level of engagement and involvement while playing the simulation is so high that it would always surprise me how, unlike in the case of traditional classes, these participants would not even think of asking or taking a break!
Encouragement: Adult learners expect to receive timely feedback on practice activities. Provision of leader boards, user scores, intermittent appreciations, tips, and badges, all add up to taking care of this 3rd adult principle. While this is just during the simulation, there is also an inbuilt report that is generated at the end of the play helping players get a sense of their own performance. Little wonder why some of these players ask to play another round of the simulation and further improve their scores and thereby their performance!
Experience: An adult learner brings in a great volume and quality of experience. As such they expect to be acknowledged for the wealth of experience they have. The complexity of the activities and actions that the players are required to take in order to progress in the simulation is designed specifically keeping in mind this very principle. The entire array of choices, alternatives, and decision-making opportunities made available to the player during the play of the simulation fundamentally draws its power from this very principle of Andragogy.
Immediacy: Besides all else, adult learners expect to be able to immediately utilize what they have learnt. Simulations are great virtual playgrounds where players are constantly provided with opportunities to experiment, make mistakes, and engage in trial and error without having to worry about real time consequences. With several such learning opportunities being made available to the players, learning emanating from the playing of simulations not only is retention but also transference of learning is guaranteed.
So when I said earlier that embracing simulations was a reasoned conclusion for me, it was based on these very observations that I had made. What would be your reasons for using this exciting and captivating pedagogy called simulations?