How much help is too much?

Having designed countless games over the past 8 years there seems to be an emerging trend. A small, but increasing, number of trainers and L&D professionals seem to be very focused on guiding learners on every step of an online learning experience. They are almost ‘fearful’ that their learners will get slightly lost, or confused for all of 10 seconds and not know what to do. And this leads inevitably to updates at very late stages of development – changes to narrative to highlight what to do next or pop ups to instruct the learner, elements that to a designer seem to stand out like a sore thumb, and in my professional opinion, break the immersion and suspension of disbelief that has so carefully been constructed.

But who or what is really driving this? Is it the learners or perhaps is it the trainers? Do trainers and Instructional Designers feel the need to hold a learners hand through every stage of the learning process, helping them to avoid mistakes, telling them which button to click next or where to go to ensure a high completion rate? Or have learners become so uninterested in training, or so time pressured, that they are now accustomed to not having to think, pay attention, or spend time in training, and therefore not accept training that misses this element? No matter which way I think about this, the learning experience suffers.

What has made us think of training in this way – why do we feel the need to ‘dumb’ everything down? What ever happened to trying something out for yourself and seeing first hand what the consequences are, yes with a little guidance, but with just enough that as a learner, you can logically analyse the situation and make a decision. After all isn’t that how we learn? Isn’t this encouraged in role plays in the classroom, case studies, and group discussions? And that is after all one of the great advantages of serious games and simulations: so why think of them differently?

This also seems such an obvious contradiction between how we use technology in our personal time. Most of us are pretty competent with technology, we know how to surf a web page, check our emails and how to use Facebook. So why have we segmented these same tools and technologies into drastically different silos – what has caused us to make this mental distinction between technology for social use and technology for training? I think the e-learning era has a lot to answer for. It set a precedent (unwittingly!) that 1) if it’s training and 2) it’s digital, then it’s linear, and simple and this precedent remains with us today. Serious Games in contrast, yes they are often digital, but not linear and most definitely not simple. Is this message so dissonant from our understanding of technology in training that ‘it does not compute?’

OK so in an ideal world we could all spend as much on training and development as we liked, there would be no recession, no budgets and learners could experience training as much and as often as they liked – but we have to live in the real world. There are budgets, we have to assess ROI and we have to live and work by the corporate culture. However if you simplify a learning experience to the extent where the learner does not have to truly think about what they are doing, not just which buttons to press, but their choices and more importantly their consequences, then the learner simply becomes a do-er; they no longer learn. In an age when we spend on average 45% of our waking lives immersed in some form of media (as reported today by Ofcom) perhaps we should be giving more credence to our learners to be able to work something’s out for themselves.


One Response to How much help is too much?

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