The "be the ball" approach became clear to me last night after a discussion with Dave Guralnick who has created learning by doing methods and hundreds of hours of simulations. Dave and I got into a discussion about how to understand the SME(Subject Matter Expert) and scenario, which led me to the following conclusion. There are 3 common ways an ILSD (Immersive Learning Simulations Designer) can use to understand a situation and build appropriate case studies and stories:
- Survey your SMEs asking open-ended questions about the situation (describe the situation, describe common misconceptions...), send out as many surveys as possible, cross your fingers that you get useable results.
- Interview SMEs over the phone or in person. This requires expert facilitation. In my experience SMEs are so close to the job that they do not always see the misconceptions. Facilitation of these meetings requires a certain indescribable finesse to coax SMEs into telling the really ugly situations that make for great case studies.
- Be the ball. In other words take on the role of the SME, shadow a SME, or simply hide out and watch as the SME actually performs in the role. Dave Guralnick mentioned to me that for more then one of his client he as actually played the role as kind of training double agent. Dave not only went behind the counter at a fast food restaurant, he went through the training program was assigned to a store and did the work, all the while taking notes on his experience and building his case studies and scenarios. For another retail client he donned stock-room garb and hung out near customer service to listen in on actual client complaints. From his experience "being the the ball", he created programs that are ingrained in clients memory as unforgettable experiences. On reflecting on my own experience shadowing branch team members, I believe this to be one of the most valid methods of gathering SME content and understanding the learner situation. It is when the ILSD is immersed in the situation can the subtleties, misconceptions, and motivations of the role emerge.
In the best of practice with no constraints an ILSD would use all three methods of content gathering. Given the reality of modern work life you need to use the methods that work best for you and your client. But, I would encourage fellow simulation designers to push the limits with client's and get in the zen state of "be the ball".