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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Foreword to Simulations and the Future of Learning

Here is a reprint of the foreword to Simulations and the Future of Learning. 
I both love and hate the fact that it seems more relevant today than when it was written in 2003. I love it, because I sense that people are catching up to these thoughts, and hate it, because I want more of this to be obvious and to hope that we have moved on (which has happened in pockets).
One of my greatest pleasures in writing long form is reading the commentaries on my books, including forewords and reviews (and comments on drafts from friends). Besides the obvious egotistical reasons, that I have encouraged so often very smart people to think about my view of the world, and then write about it (so often so gracefully), is just such a thrill!
Anyway, references to my own text aside, Ms. Gery's consideration of learning is just so elegant and prescient and, yes, relevant.

Foreword by Gloria Gery

One of my favorite books is Tracy Kidder’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, The Soul of a New Machine (1981. Reprinted in 2000 by Back Bay Books). Kidder lived with the Data General development team that built the first 32-bit processor and told the story of both the process of building the computer and the dynamics of the team. It read like a novel, though every word was true. It had drama, humor, pathos and ran the gamut of every human emotion. Clark Aldrich’s has achieved a similar effect in Simulations and the Future of Learning. His detailed and fascinating story of the massive effort associated with developing probably the first high-fidelity leadership simulation is practically riveting. I know it sounds ridiculous. . .but it’s true.

On a higher level, Clark compels us to the conclusion that there is truly no other way to learn than through simulations. Having done that, he scares us into the realities and complexities of doing worthwhile non-trivial work. Yet his account—and the understanding of why simulations are so powerful at achieving deep knowledge and probable behavior change, does not preach at us. It makes the reader truly think about the current linear models for learning. It reveals why the kind of analysis necessary to understand the many and interrelated variables in a situation often require us to reconceptualize an entire process. And it humbles us when and if we dare to offer superficial criticism of these intense efforts. His analysis of gaming and how an entire world of game players will probably learn little in traditional environments results in the realization that we are on a collision path with the current generation when we attempt to teach them with lectures and trivial interactions and exercises.

These new learners are highly stimulated, used to complexity, will tolerate uncertainty and intensely study the variables, rules and relationships, and strategies until they “win”: until they “learn.” Just watch any nine-year-old reading Game Boy Advanced strategy books that look like hieroglyphics to an adult. The book is a metaphor for the kind of change necessary for universities and organizations to change their view of e-learning. Unless they do we are doomed to linear instruction punctuated with gratuitous media dominated by content experts who haven’t a clue about what it takes to achieve deep learning and skill. Believe it or not, the book also made me laugh out loud. In addition, I learned more about leadership by reading about the simulation than I have in thirty-five years of management training programs and book reading. These are serious accomplishments for what I expected to be a technical book.

July 2003

My last commentary on this snippet is that it is no wonder so many people are really, really mad at schools and the endless foundations and committees that pretend to improve them but really just enable them.  It is no wonder that smart people, from parents to business people, are just so tired of begging schools to improve.  It is no wonder that when people hear leaders including Bill Gates and Barack Obama say the answer for everyone is to spend more time in and more money on schools, they get livid. 
So it is no wonder that almost two million homeschoolers have done the only thing that will really improve education in the long run - given up on today's schools and committed themselves to finding and even developing real alternative models.  And it is no wonder these numbers are growing.  

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