egrets. We all have them. Whether it’s not saying something when you should have, or saying something when you shouldn’t have, they’re always there. When it comes to e-learning, for me one of the great ones was the lost opportunities in creating the American Institutions III: The Presidency and the Constitution course for the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier. (And their job titles were crazy long, too! Ahem.)
The Presidency and the Constitution course, or PCON, was the second of a SAM-based design paradigm in approaching e-learning at the Center for the Constitution. The goal was to move away from their click-through courses that analysis of learner metrics had already revealed that the duration-based approach was ineffective. Furthermore, the relative success of Constitutional Foundations for Law Enforcement indicated that the newer, SAM-based design process was more successful.
The purpose of this post is to reflect on the differences between the course-as-designed and the course-as-built to the client requirements.
SAM I Am
Although the PCON course was developed and storyboarded to the SAM-based design process discussed in a previous post, ultimately the course was produced to their original design paradigm. Why? Ultimately, the design triumvirate came into play: Cheap, Quick, and Good. Diminishing budget and timelines ultimately meant that the selections were made for them. Thus the course stands on its content rather than the design.
So what did the designed course actually look like? Well, I’m glad that you are allowing me to lead you to that question.
SAM-based design has had a huge influence on me as it focuses on collaborative- and ideation-based design.
Scenario-based Learning and Gamification
One of the primary aspects of a SAM-based design that I truly love is that it engenders dynamic interaction between instructional designers, stakeholders, and subject matter experts. In my experience, directly involving these groups into the design process creates an investment in the design process that cannot be understated. In one case a SME used the course design and its result to show how to effectively create e-learning experiences to their peers, and in another, it engaged with the SMEs thespian hobbies and impassioned them in the design process.
Two tools in the quiver of design that have appealed to me because of their efficacy and broad applicability are scenario-based learning and gamification. Together these tools bring real-world applicability to the learning experience and a means of not only abstracting core motivators but also increasing metacognition and acting as an extrinsic motivator.
The PCON Way
So how did the designed PCON vary from previous courses? Oh, a whole bunch of ways.
SCENARIO BASED LEARNING
As with Constitutional Foundations for Law Enforcement, PCON was pitched to the SME as a form of scenario-based learning. Rather than click-through reading of content, the learner would be introduced to the content as some part of an overall narrative. And what could be a more appealing than drawing from the popular TV show, The West Wing? (An added bonus was that the premise of scripting appealed to the SME who happened to be an amateur thespian.)
Rather than starting with the election of a president, the scholar suggested that we start with their impeachment. After that, the basic scenarios came quick and fast to include all the major topics that were in the scholar’s original script.
I know, I know. It’s a buzzword at the moment, but don’t be distracted by that or older buzzwords that have fallen out of favour such as “edutainment.” Gamification is merely a means of using game theory and mechanics to support individualised learning pathways.
How was gamification used in the designed PCON?
- Selectable Avatars. Player choice into what kind of president they would be is a vital part of creating learner buy-in to the scenario. Selecting an avatar would give the learner certain “powers” (ways of influencing the narrative), as well as start values for certain game variables that were significant in influencing the narrative. For example, an experienced politician might have a greater ‘score’ for influencing Congress and drawing in bipartisan deals, while a firebrand politicians might have greater influence over the public sphere.
- Non-Learner Characters. While regular NLCs would show up in the form of reporters, members of Congress and so on, the primary NLCs that were significant to the learner were their Press Secretary and their Chief of Staff. These NLCs would support the learner in the various narratives by aiding them with the answers to questions, giving advice and information through “presidential briefings,” etc. Access to these NLCs was resource-limited. You could always reach them, of course. In the narrative, you are the president after all. But over-use of them would ultimately begin to negatively impact your “score” as an effective executive.
- Branching Scenarios. Choices throughout the narrative were simultaneously testing learner assimilation of the learning materials (if you selected the ‘right’ response your scenario ‘result’ would increase) and setting the start conditions for subsequent, linked scenarios. As president, did you declare war, or use drones against a certain target? Regardless of whether this was the “right” result, it would change the nature of a subsequent scenario. Thus learners could make wrong choices with an interesting cause (and score less than optimally), or make the right choice and have a different consequence.
- Stress Tracks. The effectiveness of the learner as president was measured with a number of stress tracks that, ultimately, would rank the learner against their peers. As the learner made choices (one type of assessment) and answered questions (another type of assessment) throughout the course, their effectiveness as president would be measured by “Stress Tracks.” STs are really just a numeric measure of… something. Trust. Engagement. Integrity. Corporate mores. In this case, they measured Public Trust and Legislative Effectiveness and, ultimately, Presidential Effectiveness evoking Gallup’s “Approval Ratings” (with some historical additions such as George Washington, James Madison, Abraham Lincoln etc.—could you “beat” the greats?).
The combination of these factors worked to create a truly individualised learning experience.