Fresh from DevLearn 2012: Entertainment and Training

Creating engaging online training was discussed in a variety of ways at DevLearn 2012. Without a doubt, the most fascinating ideas and interesting correlations to entertainment came from Jon Landau, Oscar-winning producer of Titanic, Avatar, Dick Tracy, and many other movies. Mr. Landau observed that in both movies and training, we want our audience to leave the experience feeling rewarded and fulfilled. Our job is to make our audience care. We want our training to resonate with the audience and be meaningful. 
Estimated reading time: 3 minutes
There were many impressive aspects of Jon Landau’s keynote address, Braving a New World: Innovation in Avatar and What Lies Ahead. It was fascinating to see behind-the-scenes clips showing how the speaker’s phenomenal movies were created. While famous for cutting-edge use of special effects, Landau recognized that in film as well as in training, ideas are more important than technology and tools
He also touched on the cost of using advanced technology. For example, on average, it takes 12 months to create a movie. In contrast, Avatar took five years. I can think of lots of parallels in training. When you create custom interactions, more development time is required than when you use “out-of-the-box” interactions available in rapid e-learning development tools. However, when is the last time you were wowed by an out-of-the box interaction? Choices between sophisticated and ordinary interactions often come down to issues of time and money. We have to make practical decisions, but practical often does not have a wow factor. With many budgets and time restrictions you have to look at where your extra effort will have the biggest impact.
From a creative perspective, Landau advocates writing a design plan without regard for what is possible. He says you should always think about what is best for your project. Interestingly, Avatar was written in 1996, but the technology to make the film was not available until many years later. Similarly, when we design training, we should think first about what is best for the project. We don’t have the luxury of waiting years for technology to enable development of our programs, but we may be pleasantly surprised when we find innovative solutions.  
The producer spoke about the importance of 3D effects and claimed that 3D (such as we experience in Second Life) shortens learning time, deepens learning, and increases retention. Research tells us that conducting training in the same environment where work takes place increases transfer of skills to workplace performance. We also know that higher numbers of handles or cues in the training environment increase later recall. An immersive, 3D world has the potential to create more cues for later recall. 
Having recognized the power of technology, in the end, technology is just a tool and it is the people behind the technology that make a difference. In training, we have to:
  • think about what problem we want to solve
  • make the problem relevant to our audience
  • create realistic scenarios and/or environments
  • create a meaningful connection with our audience; then
  • give people time to process and apply new knowledge and skills. 

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