Angel Greenby , instructional strategist

Recently, I became intimately aware of how valuable training can be. Now, you might be thinking that, given my job, this would be something I was already very much aware of – and you’re right, in theory I was. However, when my mother recently underwent surgery for a brain aneurism I was very grateful that the doctor performing her operation was properly trained.

The doctor who performed her operation, like many healthcare professionals, honed and perfected the technique he used on my mother by operating in a simulated training environment – using realistic scenarios and allowing him the opportunity to make mistakes on simulated patients, instead of real.

There are many examples of times when people have tipped their hat to training for their ability to handle emergency or difficult situations – think Captain Sully Sullenberger’s statement “That’s what we’re trained to do” after safely landing an Airbus A320 in the Hudson River.

DoctorCoincidentally, just prior to my mother’s medical situation, I had the honor of meeting and beginning a project to create e-learning for one of the world’s leading manufacturers of patient simulators for healthcare training. Between meeting with this client, the research I performed for the work we will do for him and the situation with my mother, I am more convinced than ever that in order to build skills and increase performance of learners, we must simulate the events they will experience in real life.

Of course, not every skill you need to create training on will have life or death consequences, like those of Captain Sully or my mom’s neurosurgeon, but they do have consequences. And the most effective manner to teach those skills is to show the consequences of the action. The power of scenario driven simulation-based training simply should not be ignored in creating effective learning experiences.

You may be fearful that developing scenario driven simulations will be too costly and time consuming, especially if you are the only person in your training department. The good news is this is a false assumption; not all simulation based training is expensive or time consuming. It can be – Captain Sully spent two days in a $10 million flight simulator. But likely, for the types of skills you are likely looking to create e-learning on – maybe its project management, compliance, a new software functionality or even customer service – you can work within any budget to simulate these experiences. All you need to do is write content that gives learners the opportunity to make choices based on a realistic scenario.

The essence to developing a simulation is to focus on the action that is taken and the consequence that results from the action. The patient simulators give real life responses, including crying and increasing blood pressure, due to the actions taken by the doctors, nurses or EMTs interacting with them. Their actions create a consequence – a realistic consequence.

Consequence based simulation provides learners the opportunity to experience, in a safe environment, failure. Yes, that’s right – you want your learners to fail. You want them to make mistakes. In our heart, we all know that the best way to learn is through making mistakes. Yet, we ignore that intuition.

Have you found yourself developing training that is designed only for encouraging learners, for building their confidence? “Great job! Everyone gets a trophy!” Too often, we provide learners with the information they need to know and then hope that in the moment, they will interpret that information and use it to their advantage. We take steps to avoid making our learners uncomfortable, allowing them to struggle or figure things out on their own. This is the worst mistake we can make. When things are easy in training, it is expected to be easy in real life.

But, what happens in real life when a caller becomes irate? When an ethical decision navigates between being immoral or illegal? When a missed safety violation leads to a costly infraction? When you have to suggest a meal on your menu for a person with a peanut allergy?

Ask yourself, which will be better recalled by the learner? A bulleted list on slide 15 or the time they failed miserably in a simulated event very similar to one in real life and how they tried again and again until they finally got it right?

I’m glad my mom’s doctor had the latter.


Angel Green

Angel Green is a senior instructional strategist for Allen Interactions’ Tampa studio, where she is responsible for providing consultation and instructional design expertise to clients, partnering to build engaging, interactive learning experiences. With nearly 15 years of experience, Angel has worked for organizations such as IBM, MetLife, and PricewaterhouseCoopers, and holds both MS and BS degrees from Florida State University. An accomplished speaker, Angel has held positions as an adjunct instructor of public speaking and is past president of a Toastmasters International chapter. She also frequently blogs on Allen Interactions’ e-Learning Leadership Blog. Angel is the co-author of the Leaving ADDIE For SAM Field Guide. Find Angel on Google+.