Press Kit Contact Buy Clark Aldrich Designs Bio Books and Articles Blog, Facebook, and Twitter

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Five Sample Branching Stories

I created these simple examples of interactive media.  (For some organizations, I have created between six and twelve of these short stories for ethics review classes and orientation.) My favorite compliment is when people tell me it is very hard to play any of them just once.  I wrote an article on some of the techniques called Simple But Effective Branching Story Techniques, which was later incorporated into the (now beta) version of Designing Sims.

And thanks to the tool-provider BranchTrack for making this so easy.

Be the Hacker


Car Pool


Audio File


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

#unrules26 - Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.

Unschooling Rule 26 (#unrules26) is: Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, 
  • Current Scorecard Rating:   OMG! Thought-leading breakthrough
It is almost impossible not to believe play is absolutely essential to mastery.  In my preface to my earlier book Learning Online with Games, Simulations, and Virtual Worlds, I described this composite scene, as model of how we learn:
A five-year-old girl visits a swimming pool at the beginning of the summer, and is terrified.  But with some playful challenges from her father, she works up her nerve to dip her toe in the water.  She has entered a new world.  
Slowly, she begins playing games on the pool stairs.  She imagines the water is the ocean, and she lives in an undersea world, where her father is the king.  She begins to splash with other children.  In playing, she is learning how this new world works.  The pool then becomes a comfortable environment for her and her friends to spend time.   
Finally, she begins to deliberately challenge herself.  It is not enough to be in the shallow end; she wants to learn to swim to the deep end.  With the coaching of her father, she pushes towards the dark and cold, experimenting with strokes, sometimes getting mouthfuls of water.  She gets frustrated, and then excited with each new skill.  It takes time, and progress is uneven.  Two steps forward may be followed by one step back.  But by the end of the summer, she has become a competent swimmer, and could swim to safety in many different environments, from other pools to lakes to beaches.
There is so much consensus on the critical role of play, from the ground-breaking work of Jean Piaget to a  CNN Opinion piece: Want to get your kids into college? Let them play. Despite the compelling case made, an entire generation of school kids has already gone through middle school and high school since Dr. Gee's What Video Games Have to Teach Us About Learning and Literacy came out.

Every five years, there is a new intellectual appreciation for the role of play.   At the same time, the amount of free time necessary for play is reduced.

There are two, opposite approaches to play, one is the sandlot model of self-structured play, and another is the little league or computer game, with high degrees of structure and affordances.    

  • The first kind of play is unproductive (in the short term), and so schools won't do it.  
  • The second kind of play takes a lot of creativity and charm.  It takes leadership, not management.  So schools can't do it.
Some recent coverage:

08/06/2014: NPR: Scientists Say Child's Play Helps Build A Better Brain
  • [C]hildren need to engage in plenty of so-called free play, Pellis says. No coaches, no umpires, no rule books.
03/19/2014: An article in The Atlantic (A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.) supported the need for real play, including
  • Kids once took special pride in “knowing how to get places” alone, and in finding shortcuts adults normally wouldn’t use.
  • If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence. The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much...  A playworker is always nearby, watching for impending accidents but otherwise letting the children figure out lessons about fire on their own.
For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Sidebar: Schools that don't encourage "genuine play" in a subject-matter sacrifice both competence and conviction

Funnily enough, the most successful academic use of "play" is not, as one might expect, the extension of successful socializing and educational play from kindergarten to subsequent first and second grades. In fact, we are seeing the opposite here, with more directive style content and approaches being pushed down to younger ages.

Rather, the biggest use of "play" in academics is coming at the graduate school level, where "simulations" and "role-plays" are being used, almost inevitably media-assisted, to develop skills in the next generations of doctors, business people, and lawyers, just to name a few. In other words, the closer to the point of the real use of content, and the more sophisticated the content, the more play is encouraged.

This is because competent graduate schools understand that the goal of learning is: Competence + Conviction = Comfort

Competence is a pretty well understood idea. It is the ability of a learner to apply the right skills.

But developing conviction in a student for any subject matter is even more important. Conviction is the enduring understanding and drive in the learner to do the right thing.

I look at the conviction level by gauging:
  • How do people actually behave when no one is watching, and/or when stressed?
  • Can people improvise to appropriately adapt learned approaches to situations not explicitly covered in the material?
Ultimately, comfort comes from the combination of the two. And comfort, unlike the awareness of facts, lasts for decades. Comfort is reinforced and made stronger by the productive world.

As an aside, all of the identified "non-universals" of society require conviction, and include:
  • Model Based Science
  • Equal Rights
  • Democracy
  • Focus Culturally on Similarities over Differences
  • Slow Deep Thinking
  • Legal System over Vendetta
  • Perspective Drawing
  • Theory of Harmony
  • Agriculture over hunting and killing
From my own work, I have framed out a design approach to begin the conviction developing process using simulations:
  • Allow students to experiment with their traditional behavior. Allow them to do what they would naturally do. Then show not only the immediate, apparent, and high-probability consequences (which are often positive) of their traditional behavior, but also the long term, hidden, and/or "unlikely" but possible consequences (which can be devastating). Allow the player to experience emotionally the direct devastating consequences.
  • Visualize the "invisible system" - the flow of events that people can't normally see, but leads to any devastating outcomes.
  • Allow students to repeat the scenarios (which means they can't be too long, or rely too much on linear content), and then "discover" for themselves the right way of doing things.
  • Include the little feedback signs to teach players what are signs in the real world that indicate a straying into risky behavior.
  • Put the student in novel situations that require improvising based on their earned knowledge.
  • Present tailored, not generic, after action reviews/debriefings.
Play is the oldest form of education. And any parent that relies on, or any organization that hires from, institutions that don't use play will get people with only brittle, superficial, and transient knowledge at best.

See also:
Unschooling Rules 26. Biologically, the necessary order of learning is: explore, then play, then add rigor.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Recording of Clark Aldrich's Unschooling Rules Presentation

Here is my presentation from The Homeschool+ Conference: http://www.homeschoolconference.com/

The book is Unschooling Rules, and if you liked it, please feel free to write a review on Amazon.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

#unrules09 - Sitting through a classroom lecture is not just unnatural for most people, it is painful.

Unschooling Rules 09 is, Sitting through a classroom lecture is not just unnatural for most people, it is painful.
  • Current Scorecard Rating: OMG! Thought-leading breakthrough
The industrial school model of the last few years has mandated students of all ages spend more time sitting through lectures and other classroom situations.  Now, the press is acting as if those people suggesting sitting in classrooms all day is pretty horrible are thought leaders.

On one hand, classrooms are being increasingly understood to be where learning dies.  On the other hand, classrooms meet schools' desire to be more like factories, while MOOCs have experienced a spike of popularity.

Here are some citations challenging the "more is more" model of classrooms:

7/10/2014: Slate: The Body Learns - For years we've been telling kids to sit still and pay attention.  That's all wrong.
  • "For example, Margaret Chan and John Black of Teachers College of Columbia University have shown that physically manipulating an animation of a roller coaster—by sliding the cars up and down the tracks and watching the resulting changes in kinetic and potential energy, as shown in a bar graph—helps students understand the workings of gravity and energy better than static on-screen images and text."
7/8/2014: Washington Post: Why so many kids can’t sit still in school today
  • "Fidgeting is a real problem. It is a strong indicator that children are not getting enough movement throughout the day. We need to fix the underlying issue. Recess times need to be extended and kids should be playing outside as soon as they get home from school. Twenty minutes of movement a day is not enough! They need hours of play outdoors in order to establish a healthy sensory system and to support higher-level attention and learning in the classroom." (Link)
  • "I wasn’t sure if the American approach had ever worked very well. My students in the States had always seemed to drag their feet after about 45 minutes in the classroom."
For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Sunday, June 22, 2014

#unrules50 - Outdoors beats indoors.

Unschooling Rules 50 is, Outdoors beats indoors.
  • Current Scorecard Rating: Yes, but be realistic
6/19/2014: Edutopia article: Expansive Classrooms: Taking Learning Outside
  • "If you had to sit down and write out the top five most inspiring places you'd ever visited, I bet "the classroom" wouldn't be one of them. Create some memorable outdoor learning experiences for your students, and you'll be rewarded, too." (Link)
  • Take Me Outside Day - A Canadian initiative focused on getting students outside for part of their academic day.  (Link)
For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Presentation: Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich

There were some technical glitches at the front of this, but please soldier through them! It gets better. There are also a few pauses as the chat room discusses some issues.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Clark Aldrich Interview with Bert Martinez, on Unschooling Rules and Serious Games

My segment starts around 17:00.

Current Business Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with MoneyForLunch on BlogTalkRadio

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

#unrules52 - Under-schedule to take advantage of the richness of life.

Unschooling Rules 52 is, Under-schedule to take advantage of the richness of life.
  • Current Scorecard Rating:   Let me think about that, just not now
This entry has been bumped up from Crazy Talk, in part based on the article in The Atlantic: A preoccupation with safety has stripped childhood of independence, risk taking, and discovery—without making it safer. A new kind of playground points to a better solution.

Here is one quote:
  • My mother didn’t work all that much when I was younger, but she didn’t spend vast amounts of time with me, either. She didn’t arrange my playdates or drive me to swimming lessons or introduce me to cool music she liked. On weekdays after school she just expected me to show up for dinner; on weekends I barely saw her at all. I, on the other hand, might easily spend every waking Saturday hour with one if not all three of my children, taking one to a soccer game, the second to a theater program, the third to a friend’s house, or just hanging out with them at home. When my daughter was about 10, my husband suddenly realized that in her whole life, she had probably not spent more than 10 minutes unsupervised by an adult. Not 10 minutes in 10 years.
For the most recent Unschooling Rules scorecard, see: http://unschoolingrules.blogspot.com/search/label/Scorecard

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Jeff Sandefer: Education Entrepreneur is Remaking Education at All Levels

It was during one of the conversations I had with Jeff Sandefer that I got the bug to write Unschooling Rules.  (I still remember the exact moment with perfect detail.)  I believe he is the leading education revolutionary today, and his achievements may better shape the future of structured learning programs than anyone else alive.

Here is an interview he recently gave:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Imagining a One Thousand Dollar MBA

China and India and so many other countries are fully engaging the global economy from both the supply and demand side. As a result, innovative companies are breaking price barriers that were once thought impermeable.
We have already seen the sub-1000 dollar computer. Then the sub-500. And now the sub-200.
We have seen sub-4000 dollar cars, thought impossible by Detroit. While they are not perfect by the glossy standards of American companies, these vehicles fit a critical demand. One can also reasonably expect the cars' manufacturers to become increasingly powerful on the world stage. Meanwhile the cost in emerging markets of so many other services, such as cell phones minutes, are tiny fractions of their US counterpart. Every year brings more breakings of price floors - the equivalent of beating the four minute mile - in market segment after market segment.
There is one race that may be under the radar of most, but has huge implications. That is the global race to the sub-1000 dollar MBA.

Why the 1K MBA?
The need for a low cost MBA is both obvious and less so. In the obvious camp, there are highly populous nations that need to put vast numbers of workers through MBA programs to become their emerging business leaders. These are people who would be fighting for the privilege of getting an 80 thousand dollar MBA if they were in the United States or Europe.
But there are less obvious markets as well. In all countries including the United States, in most corporations, there are entire swaths of employees, from directors to vice presidents and higher, who are without formal skills in everything from financial management to project management to leadership. This “winging-it” middle management – who often resemble MBA’s in everything but skills - represent tremendous penalties to shareholder value. The lowering of MBA’s costs will greatly increase their adoption by these employees who desperately need the skills.

New Design Principles
Creating the 1K MBA will require some significant re-engineering. New principles will have to frame the design.
Before we go any further, we can anticipate the predictable response from the existing MBA vendors, including institutions and professors. They will say that it is impossible to create equivalent value proposition at this new price point. They will say that attempts are even fundamentally dangerous, as they will necessarily create cheap imitations and degree inflation.
Given that, here are some of the necessary principles for the new MBA:
  • The mission of the 1K MBA programs must remain the same as existing MBA’s. The quality has to be very high – in selective places better than current top rated programs, including Harvard, Insead, or Wharton.
  • Collectively, the 1K MBA programs will have more than ten times the number of graduates than all of the current MBA programs combined. The emphasis will be on high volume, not elitism. (This puts greater pressure on the role of quality content and rigorous certification.)
  • The human component of delivery has to be greatly minimized. Rather than offloading the marquee professor to the teaching assistant as is currently the practice, the programs will require the better capturing of deep content from the marquee professor in the technology itself wherever possible.
  • The programs will leverage distance learning technology and methodology
  • The programs will leverage simulation technology and methodology
  • The programs will leverage social networking technology and methodology
Obviously, as stated in the above principles, there will be a reliance on technology that will necessarily preclude some participation in the developing world where technology is scarce. But the continued rapid spread of technology, as well as the necessary value provided by the technology, makes this a necessary trade-off today that will increasingly be mitigated in the long run.

Technology Part 1: Distance Learning
One of the three core technologies is around distance learning. This is necessary to eliminate the need for travel, room and board - all major current costs. This also increases starting and ending time flexibility. Finally, it allows some students to get MBA’s while also holding jobs and being productive in their family and community.
There has been much progress in the areas of distance learning over the past five to ten years. Early mistakes have been made, and best practices are now established.
Unfortunately, most distance universities currently have to make a significant choice between the following two insufficient models:
  • Low cost/flat content. Some distance universities have flat content, but delivered at a relatively attractive price point. The universities, including many that define the distance learning marketplace, have seen the value of their master’s programs decline.
  • High cost/rich content. Some distance universities, such as Full Sail University’s Masters of Educational Media Design & Technology, have rich programs with high student engagement and satisfaction, but not delivered at a significantly lower cost than face to face. This is in part because of the very involved role of the instructors.
Technology Part 2: Social Networking
The second of the three core technologies is social networking. This has currently been increasingly and successfully integrated into leading distance learning programs, including through using Facebook and YouTube, and through new tools integrated into course management systems such as Moodle.
The experience of working through challenging content with a set of peers over time must be maintained and even improved. "Classes" are critical, and maybe even better assembled than through chance today. Meanwhile, textbooks will be over time replaced by open-source online material.

Technology Part 3: Simulations and Serious Games
The third critical piece of technology is simulations and serious games (collectively called sims). It is not an overstatement to say that sims are necessary for any 1K MBA due to their combination of engagement, effectiveness and scalability.
This is because, unlike the talking-head videos and interactive workbooks of first generation eLearning, sims are super-media. They:
  • Cover twice as much content in half as much time (4X improvement), due to their richness and interactivity.
  • Develop knowledge that decays at one-fifth to one-tenth the rate of directive learning (5 to 10X improvement). Sims develop passion and commitment through kinesthetic experiences.
  • Aggregated over time, cost one tenth (or less) per student per hour (10X improvement) for delivering content. This is because many sims, as many computer games today, are stand-alone, with instruction built in. Sims can therefore hugely reduce the amount of rote work done, allowing fewer professors to add greater value to more students.
Sims also can enable the inclusion of content that just couldn’t be covered using traditional methodology, typically in the areas of “learning to do” rather than just “learning to know.” This is done in part through careful level design, including interactive environments and challenges. This new approach is critical, as a current sharp criticisms of MBA programs is that students don't graduate with skills--they only have learning and have to figure out how to apply it, to the detriment of many companies who hire them early in their careers.
From a capitalization perspective, the cost of creating a critical mass of sims is relevant but not insurmountable. From scratch, sims cost about 100K per finished hour. This will require investment up-front in sim based content that pays off over five to seven years, but usable over an infinitely broad marketplace.

Need for Lead Designers
The technology already exist. What is needed, and is currently in short supply, are lead designers – people who have actually created large numbers of proven sims, not the academics who currently speculate about them. This is an art and science. But the grammar of this new discipline is covered in

Current MBA Programs will be endangered
The propagation of the 1K MBA will challenge the existing models. It is conceivable that the United States will loose the bottom half of their MBA programs every five to ten years moving forward indefinitely and asymptotically. Harvard and Wharton are safe, but the overall market will shrink.

Impact and Conclusion
The 1k MBA will have multiple positive impacts. First, it will improve the standard of living of millions. It will increase the productivity of people, and at the same time curb inflation driven by higher people costs during booms. Further, it will provide a new role model for all education. It will soon impact other disciplines, and schools in general.
And the cascade effect brought about by successful low-cost, sim driven alternatives to traditional higher ed, while painful to schools in the short run, could have the long-term effect of bringing the postindustrial revolution to education.