Virtual worlds, simulations and social networking are hot topics these days, but the reality is most business people do not have a lot of gaming experience. If one shows the average professional person a gaming scenario — for example, a quest in Dark Age of Camelot where you find the dwarven quest giver, then go kill the ghostly gnolls, then return and get piece of chain mail armor — they are not likely to see that the process of (1) set task, (2) perform task, (3) reward results which the game represents is exactly what we do in any learning scenario. The problem for business professionals is they can’t easily make the leap from an elf riding on a bat to how a business analyst learns to assess risk. The graphic representations make the scenario too far fetched to take seriously, even when the learning process is the same.
An online game is not the same as a virtual world, even if it is played with an avatar. Traditional games have challenges/obstacles to overcome and an end state of “win” or “fail” or “finished”. Virtual worlds, which are primarily social, do not. Many of the large multiplayer games like World of Warcraft and Everquest and City of Heroes blur the lines between gaming and social worlds. These MMOGs have milestones that most traditional games would have called “the end”, yet they continue to add new content and new quests or develop a backstory to keep players involved. This makes it challenging for creating simulations for business users — to find a visually interesting platform that will enable enhanced human knowledge or interactions, yet not depend upon unfolding an imaginary backstory as a game does.
One of the early attempts to use virtual quests was by San Diego State University. In the late 1990s, they created web quests to tease students into exploring the Internet, rather like research treasure hunts with specific objectives. Education UK, a not-for-profit group composed of UK educators, has built upon that approach in Second Life, and uses a method for designing effective virtual quests for adults and community groups that includes six stages:
The TASK stage tells the learners what they are going to do and what the end result of their activities will be. The PROCESS stage outlines how to accomplish the task, and gives clear guidance or steps about how to organize their activities and information. They use RESOURCES provided by the instructor (quest giver) that will help them to accomplish the task. Make it clear how the instructor will EVALUATE the results, so the learners can prove they have completed the task. The evaluation should map to the desired outcomes described in the Task phase. The CONCLUSION provides a reward for the learner, which may be a tangible item (in the virtual world or in real life), public acclaim, or a congratulatory pat on the back. The quest may include multiple parts/stages in a journey toward a broader goal, or it can be a one-time stand alone activity.
Quests can be themed. Quests can help learners to become familiar with a new area or lead them sequentially through learning a new concept. Multiple reward choices for completing a quest allow a learner to work toward goals that matter to them personally. Quests can be a source of information/knowledge that learners cannot get in any other way. Quests provide opportunities for learners to work together as a team and accomplish a goal they couldn’t reach individually.
Educators who are experienced with simulations know that learners engage the content of a course or lesson in different ways, but adults universally want to participate in their education. Adults learn by doing. Clicking a “next” button between screens of text is not the same as “doing”. Adults want their brains to be challenged. That is one reason why the concept of questing has so much potential for virtual learning scenarios. Recent research by Nick Yee of the Daedalus Project has shown that players become personally entwined with their avatars. Virtual quests let the user take control and think about their own learning experience, which at the same time carries forward a persistent effect into the real world.
Here is an example of a quest from World of Warcraft. Business people who don’t play online games might have trouble seeing themselves spending time on something like this. Educators will immediately see the parallels to a good learning experience. The challenge for educators today is to find ways to incorporate useful and interesting quests/tasks into a simulation environment that is both fun and palatable with their organization’s norms.
Supplies to Tannok
(Summary) Deliver the Crate of Inn Supplies to Tannok Frosthammer in Kharanos.
(Narrative from the quest giver) Hey! You look like a hearty adventurer. If you’re planning on braving the pass, do you suppose you could bring a package to the inn in Kharanos? You were planning on stopping at the inn, right? If you make it through the pass, you’ll definitely want to take a breather there.
Anyways, bring this to Tannok Frosthammer, the innkeeper’s assistant. I can’t get through the pass myself, and it’ll be days until a Mountaineer escort comes through!
(note: the learner has carried an item to this quest giver to complete a prior quest)
Ah, at last, the supplies from Hands! I was beginning to worry, we’ve had scarce word from Anvilmar ever since the troggs overran the pass. Thanks for bringing this to me, (insert name). And please, make yourself comfortable. You must be tired after your journey.
Provided: Crate of Inn Supplies
Rewards: Tough Jerky x5 or Refreshing Spring Water x5
The learner is offered a task (and can accept or decline). Some hints are provided about the location needed to complete the task (“Kharanos” town and “through the pass”), and that there might be obstacles or danger to overcome (“If you make it…”). The objective is stated clearly (“…bring a package (provided) to the inn in Kharanos” and give it to Tannok Frosthammer). The reward is clearly indicated (5 tough jerky or 5 refreshing spring water). Depending upon a player’s character type, they will have a preference for one reward or the other, so they get to make a choice.
It’s not a big leap to see that this quest structure can equally apply to new hire orientation or diversity or customer service training. It’s the process of questing, putting the learner in control of their learning experience through choices, providing a scripted experience that conveys the information the learner needs to know to succeed, and offering appropriate rewards that has value. There is also the “fun” factor. Learners are more likely to be engaged with the content when they can interact with it in a novel, creative or personally interesting way. That is what makes virtual worlds such an exciting new learning platform.