E-learning, the use of electronic tools like computers and the Internet to deliver content, has emerged as the fastest-growing segment in the field of training and development. And one of the hottest tickets in e-learning is computer-aided simulation.
The military pioneered computer simulation for its pilot and weapons training. Now simulation has invaded the corporate world and is being used to create workplace mockups that test and help enhance an employee’s performance.
At Enspire Learning of Austin, Texas, CEO Bjorn Billhardt believes that the more engaging the simulation, the better. So he adds an element of fun to learning programs.
His company’s 50 employees include a group of film and electronic game specialists who work on custom-designed training programs that can include animation, film clips and game-like experiences for the "players." He says the creative team works "at the intersection of online entertainment, film entertainment and education."
Billhardt was a trainer for a software vendor before enrolling in the MBA program at Harvard Business School in 1999, where he says he was inspired by his professors and courses. He moved to Austin in 2001 to launch his company. Revenue was less than $1 million the first year but has soared by 80 percent. Enspire now has a list of clients from Fortune 500 companies and from the military and universities.
As Billhardt sees it, successful training programs traditionally relied on charismatic teachers who might use humor and anecdotes to make course work come alive. When e-learning came along, early offerings consisted of converting slide presentations to computer files that students could access.
"People thought that all we have to do is put a PowerPoint presentation online and that it would be as effective as a skilled trainer who knows how to use humor, how to wake up an audience," Billhardt says.
Static online training courses are plagued with low completion rates and poor retention. Yet people who can’t make it through a simple online slide presentation will sit for hours watching a movie or playing an electronic game, Billhardt says.
His notion of a way to liven up electronic learning was to borrow ideas from the entertainment industry. "We really are trying to create a very engaging, fun experience," Billhardt says. "We want to make sure that when people watch these online courses that they really are entertained and motivated to learn more."
For one, Enspire created a leadership training program called Executive Challenge. Groups of corporate executives are divided into teams of eight to 15 players. Each team is given a virtual company with information and scenarios tailored to different positions within the company. A sales manager sees one series, a production manager another.
Players work on computers through tasks that are presented in story fashion with colorful images. A player might start as CEO, make some bad choices and be demoted back to midlevel manager. As they work their way through the game, players are tested on leadership skills, teamwork and the ability to make their virtual companies successful.
Pitney Bowes Inc. of Stamford, Connecticut, recently used the system for its managers.
With engaging programs, retention is higher, Billhardt says. Players tend to talk about their experiences for months afterward. Whether game simulation actually produces better managers is much harder to measure, but that’s the case with just about any management training program, he notes. wƒm
Workforce Management, July 2005, p. 60 --Subscribe Now!