Clark Aldrich and Support for Learning

I’ve completed a section regarding Aldrich’s thoughts on the use of games to support learning… and the support of games for learning.

Like Prensky and Gee, Aldrich too was concerned with ways in which games and simulations could offer support for learning. One of his design criteria for Virtual Leader was that “all subsystems would reflect and enrich the learning” (Aldrich, 2004, p. 98) and he aimed to create an interface that would “represent the actual activity at some level” (p. 173) . At the same time he struggled with how to score a simulation because “tight metrics and open-ended play” seemed incompatible (pp. 190-191). He openly acknowledged that “it will be harder to evaluate simulation-based content” (p. 218) than traditional text-based content, in part because “as with life, people might learn different things” (p. 219) from a simulation.

Several other design issues related to support of the learner were highlighted by Aldrich. He considered “one of the biggest long term issues” (Aldrich, 2004, p. 212) to be the balance of free play versus guided play, or how much the designer should help players along. This balance is related to the success of what Aldrich (2005) called “the frustration-resolution moment” (p. 243), the first encounter with frustration in which “students should expect to resolve their frustration in the learning experience” (p. 243). Another issue was the need for simulation designers to resist the temptation to model too much, and to instead “aim carefully, narrowly, and then go deep” (Aldrich, 2004, p. 216) in their modeling.

Aldrich was interested not only in how games and simulations might support learning, but also in how to support the use of games and simulations for learning. When he first urged teachers to explore the experience of playing video games by saying “log in a few hours of playing” (Aldrich, 2004, p. 17), he followed this closely with “then spend a few minutes sizing up the experience” (p. 17); reflection was an important element of learning with games or simulations for Aldrich. In fact he suggested that learning from simulations might require brief “learning sabbaticals” from a normal work or home environment (Aldrich, p. 214).

Because of the importance of reflection, the role of an instructor was critical to Aldrich, but not in a traditional sense. He felt that their value comes from “one-on-one contact with students” (Aldrich, 2005, p. 245), and that with the use of simulations, instructors could move to “the higher-value role of coaching and diagnosing, rather than the lower-value role of lecturing and grading” (p. 131). Instructors might also serve to help learners avoid reaching the point where they become “cynical and try to exploit the cracks” (Aldrich, 2004, p. 219) in a simulation. Though “instructor supported simulations are significantly more costly to deploy, [they] are more flexible to evolve on the fly, can provide more handholding, and result in more transformational experiences” (p. 61). Aldrich considered the face-to-face symposia conducted with a roll out of Virtual Leader to be critical to its success (Aldrich, 2004, p. 207). In fact, he concluded that with the use of simulations, classrooms will not disappear, but will rather be used as “set-up and support of a simulation’s core learning” (p. 215). He even quoted Jane Boston of Lucas Learning Ltd. as suggesting that “in some simulations, guided practice may be needed before starting the actual game” (Aldrich, 2005, p. xxxi). However, he did caution that “everything [live instructors] say to everyone more than a few times should eventually be encapsulated in the technology [because] the goal is not to replace instructors, but to keep them adding customized, user specific coaching” (p. 257).

Over the weekend I will be writing the section on Aldrich and 21st Century skills. Then, even though there is much more I would like to include, it will be time to pull together this draft of the depth portion of my KAM. I can’t wait to move onto the application portion and then onto something new that will build on all of this.

Thanks as always for reading… and a special thanks to those of you who occasionally leave comments or email me about these topics. The feedback and encouragement is appreciated… and motivating.


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