By discovery - not delivery

In Clark Aldrich's recent outpouring of insights on his blog, he gave us a beautiful example of developing skills while playing a game:

In Half Life 2, as one example, there are creatures that are mounted to ceilings with long tongues hanging down that grab things and pull them up to eat them.

One technique to inform the player might have been an encyclopedia-like screen giving some information about these creatures. Another would be to have a virtual colleague say something like, "Careful - those tongue creatures are hungry and once they grab you, it's over."

Instead, Half-Life 2 carefully builds the skills in the player, and then pushes it. They first show the player what these creatures do by, in this case, having an unwary crow get scooped up. Then they expose the player to simple situation with a single creature. A few levels later, the player has to get through dozens of these creatures using increasingly clever techniques, including hybrid strategies learned from other parts of the game.

This is learning without being told, taught or kidnapped. The content is not delivered, it's discovered. When we are down in the trenches getting told to deliver content, we naturally live in fear of:
    • failing to deliver the content (transfer the skill, meet the learning objective)

    • sending the wrong message (getting misinterpreted, distorted)

    • getting criticized by managers (losing respect or credibility)

    • losing the learners' interest (boring, useless, preachy)
More often than not these fears come true. The fear locks us into the mindset that delivers content. There's no way to let the learner discover whatever is needed to solve the problem, avoid the danger or change the situation.

This new breed of designers that "create learning experiences" will put those fears to rest. They will avoid the "content delivery mindset" like they avoid getting shot at, falling into traps or running out of resources in a computer game. I suspect they will have lots of successful experiences playing games and changing strategies to advance to the next level. This new breed of designers will realize how much they learned and how they learned while playing around. They will set up the learners to discover what they don't know and how to get it -- while immersed in useful situations. They will set the learners free inside experiences designed for discoveries.

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