For Christmas, my daughter Sarah gave me a book of photos of last summer’s family trip to Cape Cod. Each page was beautifully designed with descriptions of the events captured in the photos: the great lobster feast . . . the trip to Martha’s Vineyard . . . the day at Old Silver Beach playing in the water. Each page was a different color and had graphics appropriate for the theme conveyed by the pictures. How did she do this? It was a photo book with backgrounds, layouts, and embellishments that she had customized just the way she wanted them. It was template-based and Sarah rearranged pictures, added captions, and chose preset layouts. Tools allowed her to easily organize the page. There’s even spell check and autofill to instantly arrange pictures on a page.

As I read through the book for about the 10th time today, I thought, “This is what we need in online learning simulations!” Subject-matter experts need to be able to create interactive and adaptive game-like simulation activities through easy-to-use tools that use templates with many design options. We know that when learners engage in a simulation, the retention of learning is much longer because they have been involved in learning by doing. Examples include nurses learning how to use a defibrillator to save lives, machine operators recertifying their skills by operating the machine in simulated activities, or bank management training through a suite of simulated psychological activities.

Simulations have typically been custom engagements that could cost $1 million or more by the time the vendor completes and tests the simulation. They look wonderful and are effective, but are too expensive for general use. Vendors like Smart Sparrow in Australia are taking these simulations and packaging them for reuse with adaptive components and making them available in a content library. Just as Sarah chose features to make the photos tell a story, by choosing prepackaged content and interactive components, content creators can get much closer to developing effective simulations that are cost-effective.

I expect that in a short while, I will receive an interactive photo book from Sarah that will have video clips and sounds that she has carefully chosen to make the sights, sounds, and people in the photos come alive.

I’d like to hear about any of your learning simulation experiences.