Self Authoring and Collaborative Design in Leadership Training
As we discussed in our last blog post on leadership, the challenge we faced when working with the professional coaching team Essential Impact was creating simulated leadership and coaching case studies which had “a heartbeat”. It is very easy to generate case studies, there are qualified simulationists who do so. What was needed was a design that permitted the cases to encourage mastery through repetition, pattern recognition and rewarded the player for exploring more challenges. How does one go about replacing the physical presence of a professional coach with a self-operating interface that enables learners to gain usable job skills in what can be a difficult field of practice?
In our early work with Victoria Eastwood from Essential Impact, we had to organize the project into creative phases. The technical part was not that demanding, our chief architect had skills to do so in a time efficient way. So we focused on the building of the game system from a multiple perspective framework. Essential Impact is an award-winning coaching company so we knew their content was strong and successful in the marketplace. Our concern was to find a way to scale training in coaching skills across many employees using an app.
- Listen to the content expert and determine the competencies and objectives of the game system.
- Create a mock-up of a user dashboard to navigate cases and simulations.
- Create a game strategy that encouraged exploration and achievement.
- Create a game concept that stretched beyond the initial level of training to take a long view.
In this case, the client, Victoria was a very creative person with extensive IT knowledge and experience so it was reasonable to have her design the game ideas, with our design team acting as a reflective whiteboard to run ideas past. Early decisions about the use of fantasy were made by Victoria and determined to be a good game concept. She had no prior experience with game design, but like our clinician scientists who designed games in medicine, she had a knack for coming up with strong ideas. Had she been less creative we would have worked with her more to introduce a theme and narrative.
The next step was to take the core concept, an exploration game, and build a game engine to permit player actions. In concert with Victoria, our design team created a console for the player and then attached functionality to it. In this case, the game was about building a virtual community based on one’s skills at solving management problems. So the dashboard permitted players to select their navigation on a map and each location was called a planet in the prototype, where cases could be archived. This gave the player agency in two dimensions: a) they could choose their learning path and b) they had to make decisions about which content they could explore using the game economy.
The game strategy then came next, where we set up an economy whereby not only did you get a passing score on a given simulation of coaching, but you could get partial scores. Each response you might select out of a branching tree had a weighted value such that you could repeat a given case and improve over time, or make mistakes with feedback. This helped us fight the dreaded “algorithmic” approach to simulations, where once you complete one, you know how to do it.
We wanted to convey that coaching is an art, where subtle changes in what you say had weighted outcomes. There was a best path, but there were also second best, third best path and so on. The strategy and coding had to align so that instructors could change cases on the fly or add new ones, or add daily challenges and team challenges at their discretion to make it “breathe”. This had to be self-operating but open to instructor inputs which did not disrupt the game economy and scoring structure. Not as easy as it sounds.
The next phase was creating a game concept whereby each time you completed a case with in a given planet, you gained planet “faction” reputation. This is an idea used widely in role playing games such as World of Warcraft, where you gain rewards based on how many quests you complete to gain faction-specific rewards. For example, doing a lot of cases on planet A might unlock a better space ship to travel with, whereas doing a lot of cases in planet B might unlock the ability to survive random events in the game which could threaten your position.
The final phase was creating a talent tree, whereby players could select special abilities in the game that enabled a particular style of play, such as gaining more points for doing specific case types. This permitted customization of experience. In short, we were building an exploration game that used achievements in coaching to unlock new challenges and encourage repeating certain cases to master skills. This was a seamless learning and game system which we all felt good about after the prototype was completed.
This ties into leadership in that the way we train leaders is traditional time on the job and hiring for capacity or soft skills. The gap between how we want leaders to function and what they are capable of doing because of their gap in capacity or soft skills is not easily reduced. Nor is the training to do so, coaching, scalable in a realistic way. By building an app that measured progress and rewarded repeat play we hoped to bridge that gap. The game, after several months of work, was now complete in its first iteration.
Next post we will discuss how we beta tested the system and utilized it to create the final working build. We presented these data at LearnFest 2017 in Toronto a couple of weeks ago.
In short, leadership and soft skills can be taught using a game app on a mobile device. The main barriers are lack of imagination and will, but with a strong team one can do it.
Until we meet again, keep on looking up!
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