Learning in 3D – walking the walk #lrn3d
It’s with great pleasure that I have the chance to comment on Learning in 3D, a book by pioneers in this field, Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll. Firstly, to give full disclosure, I am already a ‘Believer’. As a developer, designer and evangelist for 3D sims and learning I am biased; so I’ll do my best to provide a balanced review.
I think the great strength of the book is in shifting the discourse forward from the ‘what is 3D’ to the ‘why, ‘when’ and ‘how’ to use it. Well known books from Gee, Prensky and others hinted at the potential and opportunity for 3D and games in learning, this book says that the time is here and now, and this is how to do it.
The first part of the book focuses on the ‘why’. It describes a convergence of technologies and user demand that will radically change how learning occurs in organisations. It pulls no punches when it describes the impact on learning and development departments and is somewhat sceptical on L&D’s ability to evolve and embrace the opportunities. Indeed, the authors warn of irrelevance if change is not embraced.
The why question
The authors describe seven sensibilities of 3D worlds. These fundamentals answer the ‘why 3D’ question. They describe a learning experience that moves from the abstract conditions of the classroom or the online 2D to an experience where the learner feels a sense of presence and agency in a realistic 3D world. Where real tasks are simulated; challenges are engaging and the leaner suspends disbelief to mentally practice behaviours as if in the real world.
Designing 3D learning
Parts 2 and 3 then move onto the ‘What’ and ‘How’ questions. From the rarefied heights of the Seven Sensibilities, Karl and Tony drill down through the key elements in building learning in 3D – they establish design principles, then how these are used to create a macrostructure for the learning experience. They then define a range of archetypes – distinct design patterns that a designer can utilise in building 3D learning experiences. Different archetypes can be applied to target different types of learning objectives.
From my own experience, I know that a big barrier to immersive sim development are the design skills of IDs who are not schooled in the type of non linear designs of 3D learning. Archetypes provide a clear link to learning objectives and very famililar ground for the designer. They can be linked together easily and the designer begins to see the emerging pattern of the learning experience and, crucially, how they will target learning outcomes.
All good in theory? Well Karl and Tony don’t just talk the talk. Part 2 finishes with the sensibilities, principles, macrostructures and archetypes in action with examples of real projects deployed to solve real learning and business issues.
Thats the design of your 3D learning experience. Part 3 then covers the practicalities and realities of implementing the experience. This covers everything from business case and technology issues through to the real nuts and bolts of project management and lessons from the front line.Part 4 is a fun look over the horizon, but for me the real call to arms comes earlier in the book.
3D with everything?
Overall, I am not as bullish as Karl and Tony as to the pervasiveness of 3D for learning in the near term (5 years). In the longer term we’ll probably all be plugged into an ‘avatar style’ virtual world of such fidelity that even classrooms would migrate (in the UK we’ll see school sites converted into the obligatory ‘executive apartments’). However, before then, I don’t see the value of 3D in every learning opportunity.
For me I see the value of 3D learning where: context is important; where complex integrated skills are to be acquired and practiced; and where behaviour/attitude change links directly to performance outcomes. Maybe to learn the periodic table or 5 rules about mis-selling subprime mortages 3D is not really required, effective or optimum. Similarly to learn how to populate a profit and loss account or financial forecast then I’d recommend non 3D methods. I have seen people opening spreadsheets in Second Life and I wonder why. The argument may be made for synchronous collaboration but does the effort, obstacles and cost justify this over 2D methods, webcam conferencing and non 3D synchronous tools?
Alot of everyday training and learning will not fit in the near term, and then theres the issue of focus and skills of the L&D practitioners. The reality is that education and training is struggling to implement web 2.0 tools. The flexible, instant, creative access to technology that we have in our private homes is rarely replicated in organisations. The recent Learning Technologies conference sparked much soul searching, debate and gnashing of teeth around the lack of learning innovation being demanded and provided by buyers and sellers. This debate is familiar throughout the Edtech blogsphere and 3D learning will need to take its place in line.
But innovation will find its way and there are many sectors and organisations that are ready, willing and able to blaze the trail – the military, healthcare, energy, strategic consulting, emergency services, executive education and manufacturing sectors are already ahead of the curve for business critical performance issues. Many other areas, such as construction and retail, are ready to implement for areas of their business goals. This will continue and will generate more case studies to fuel growth and change the culture. As technology improves and design skills are acquired then more mainstream organisations will adopt – but I think that this will take a little time, for good reasons.
Walking the walk
Thats my bit of balance . For the book, well I have already admitted that I am a Believer. For those to be converted and for the industry as a whole I think it shifts the focus for the better. Those that wondered how will now wonder no longer. For many years the community, be it Serious Games or 3D Learning has been alot about talking. Enough already. For Tony and Karl, its about the doing. Learning in 3D is doing just that.