So, today I was interviewed by Training magazine for the October issue, which will be featuring game-based learning. To prepare for the interview, I started listing some predictions I have for the future of eLearning and game-based learning, based on the current trends.
From what I’ve learned from my pals over at Electronic Arts, you need to announce a new release with a bullet list of your five top “features” for the game. So here’s my features list for what’s coming soon in elearning and game-based learning:
- Cooperative play — One of the most popular features that I’ve seen in commercial games is cooperative play. This feature enables players on a team to cooperatively compete for a common goal. We designed this feature into a game design we pitched to Cisco, called the “Network Assault” game. It’s a perfect example of immersive game-based learning. The game is a “capture the flag” mod to the Unreal Tournament PC game. The “Capture the Flag” style game involves teams attacking another’s flag, while simultaneously protecting their own. The cooperative play means that teams need to delegate tasks, searching the level for network patches, firewalls, etc, so they can defend their network, while also seeking viruses and trojans to assault the opponent’s network. This not only builds teamwork but reinforces the principles of good network design.
- Clans or Guilds — World of Warcraft is arguably one of the most popular online games. One reason it is so addictive is that you join guilds and clans, and these online families tend to rely on you. There’s a real sense of community and connection, along with prestige when your guild performs well. Sound familiar? Isn’t this what we’ve always tried to promote in a classroom environment? I predict that eLearning will include more of these components. Imagine an online simulation where players are grouped into teams or clans. They have a common mission — launch a new product line for a fictional brand or retail chain. The missions simulate real world situations, where success depends on meeting deadlines and delegating tasks to certain team members. The feature could work both synchronously (using game engines like Unreal) or asynchronously, where players work on the level individually, then save their game to a Shared Flash object file, so that a team leader or other team members can contribute later.
- Holodeck — Remember the Star Trek episodes where Picard ran a war game simulation to find solutions to those unwinnable situations with the Romulans? Did you ever hear Picard or the crew refer to that as a “game” or “training?” It was living virtually, rehearsing possible solutions and seeing the consequences. Sound familiar? Isn’t that what good user-centric learning should do? The military has been doing this type of simulation for years, but now that the technology has become more commercialized, I think we’ll see “holodeck” in a box, sold as a peripheral to your PC. Now that the Wii has untethered us from the mouse and keyboard, I predict that we’ll soon be interacting in virtual space.
- “4-D” models — Fine, so we have our holodeck in a box, but who’s inside this virtual world? In Second Life, other players inhabit the world. This is fine for entertainment, but for training, we need to make sure that there is efficacy. We can probably extend the Heisenberg Principal to also guess that people don’t react online as they would in the real world. So developers, instructional designers and behavioral psychologists will begin developing and marketing “4-D” consumer models. Based on your targeted demographic/psychographic segment, you could “purchase” 4-D models who will inhabit your Holodeck simulations. This way, your sales force can explore a virtual sales floor and interact with people modeled to respond realistically. These “4-D” models could be downloaded and integrated into a variety of simulation games, so that sale training could become sales practice.
- Modding and user-generated content — So you have your Holodeck environment and now you have a library of 4-D personas to interact with. So what’s the storyline? Here’s where instructional designers, writers and producers will be able to create situations and events. I predict authoring tools that will enable designers to use a simple dashboard to tweak and refine the algorithms, so that they can constantly refine and create new situations and explore “what if” scenarios. This type of control will allow organizations to tailor their immersive learning simulations, encouraging creative solutions to tricky situations — like Captain Picard. And as in the holodeck, by providing variability in the situation, environment and personas, we can truly create a virtual world and revolutionize how we learn to live in it.
Game-based learning? If some of these predictions come to pass, this will be serious technology and have serious implications on how we learn. By then, I don’t think anyone will be referring to any of this as merely a game.