Wednesday, August 25, 2004

The future of workplace simulations

The fascinating article "The War Room" in September's Wired magazine shows the present of military simulations (or the near future) and the future of workplace simulations. A lot of this parallels what I've been saying about how augmented reality will affect certain types of training. (See this entry from June and this entry from April.)

As the Wired article describes, Pentagon experts, videogame developers, f/x artists, and research scientists have partnered to create the Institute for Creative Technologies, a r&d group at the University of Southern California, to help better prepare military recruits for the front lines.

Flat-panel displays, sub-woofers, and computers running Windows and Linux help create the immersive environment that will be launched in September among a group of Army, Marine, Navy, and Air Force personnel at Fort Sill, Oklahoma. (Picky note to Wired writer and editors--corpsmen are Navy personnel who serve Marines' medical needs. Marines are just called Marines.)

The military will save big bucks with this technology. A three-week live exercise in 2002 costs $250 million. The total price tag for ICT for the past five years was $45 million. But, this kind of immersive training isn't being implemented just because it's cheaper or because it's cool. It's because the military needs to do a different kind of training. Instead of rote learning, Wired says, the Pentagon now needs its recruits to learn higher-level thinking and decision-making skills. Diplomacy is needed in the middle east, not just shoot when you hear gunshots.

I think the discussion of the military's new training needs is really important and useful, not just for those of you involved in military training but also anyone who needs participants to learn thinking and decision-making skills rather than memorize facts or definitions and so forth.

The article goes on to say, "To teach recruits how to navigate complex situations, ICT's virtual training packages are built around the oldest form of immersive experience: storytelling." The head of the Army's simulation office, Michael Macedonia, talks about the importance of this: "The big challenge isn't getting the technology right...We're almost there. The challenge is, Do we have the right story? Does it map to reality? Are we teaching the right thing?..." These are the same questions other types of trainers are asking. (Here's a blog entry I wrote on storytelling and games.)

Training via immersion in simulated environments has been shown to increase learning speed and retention, Wired says. This immersion is different than accessing a simulation on a computer screen at a desk. Simulations via immersion, or augmented reality, is the future of many types of workplace learning, in my opinion. What might it be able to do for your learners?

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