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Online Educa 2004

The week before last, I traveled to Berlin to speak at Online Educa, "the world's largest international e-learning conference and accompanying exhibition and also Europe's largest gathering of e-learning and distance education professionals." According to the Website, 1,703 people registered for the conference -- my on-site estimate had been 1,500-2,000, so that sounds just about right.

Unfortunately, my time at Online Educa was limited to the day of my talk, as I had a meeting in Magdeburg the following day. But from what I saw, it was an excellent conference.

Nancy DeViney, General Manager of IBM Learning Solutions, gave one of the keynote speeches, and I was struck by just how much IBM is focused on the e-learning space and how coherent their vision of the future is. Her talk was on the future of learning, and her key points were:

  1. Learners will be empowered to create their own learning experiences
  2. Collaborative learning environments foster breakthrough thinking
  3. Learning embedded in real-time workflow complements formal and work-enabled learning
  4. Learning enhances relationships across the enterprise and its value chain
To a large extent, her points agree with the trends I'm seeing in military training, the near future of which is most definitely collaborative and embedded.

As for me, my talk was titled, "From Videos to Simulations: New Technologies in Training." I've posted the paper I presented (PDF, 149 KB) and the presentation I gave (PDF, 2.75 MB). I talked about a project that's in progress, in which we're converting existing video-based training in port security to simulation-based training for the US Navy Submarine Learning Center.

The short form of the presentation is that for schedule and budget reasons, we opted for a third-person role playing game style interface rather than a first-person shooter style interface. What we've discovered so far is the following (from my paper):

  • Game-engine derived training tools seem to provide a better sense of place than do their video-based equivalents. Given the obvious inherent quality of video footage, this seems counterintuitive until one realizes that the camera within video footage is fixed, whereas in a simulation-based training tool, if designed properly, students can have much more freedom to move and look within a space. This seems to dramatically increase their knowledge of the space even before entering it in the real world.
  • Game-engine derived training tools are far more extensible than their video-based equivalents. Much of the investment in creating a simulation-based training tool -- environmental artwork, character artwork, dialogue recording, animation sequencing, and so on -- can be effectively reused, whether to update existing products (based on changing training requirements) or to create new extensions to existing products (based on expanding training requirements).
  • Flexibility in development can be a double-edged sword. In the production of video-based training tools, the conclusion of filming is seen as a 'hard stop' by customers -- the point after which the content cannot be changed without significant expense. In simulation-based training tools, a comparable milestone (in terms of the customer's perception) does not exist, and so this increases the requirement for the developer to finalize source content as quickly as possible and explain to the customer the implications of changes to this content.
I'm going to be presenting two papers at TESI 2005 (Training, Education, & Simulation International) in Maastricht, Netherlands this March: "Open Source Software and Simulation Learning" and "Game Technology in Security Training." More on those papers soon.


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