In a previous post, I stated that real interaction in learning happens in the learner’s mind, and not via the mouse. Someone has asked for clarification on this point.

I traced down the origin of this distinction, and it comes from a great thinker on workplace learning, and keen advocate for active learning, Thiagi Thiagarjan.

I think the best way of explaining this distinction is with real examples. Not too long ago, I was asked to review a couple of eLearning programs. These are both simulations. One is designed to teach the learner about the intricacies of project management, the other is designed to teach the learner how to set up a corporate social responsibility initiative in his / her organization.

The project management simulation starts off in a promising way. You are put in charge of a project that you must steer through to completion. However, the program takes a very linear approach. You click through the program and things happen to you. As the project manager, you really do not control anything and you make very few decisions (maybe the designers think that this is a fair representation of project management!). Eventually you find yourself at the end and the course tells you that you learned a, b, c, and d about project management. Because things just happened to me in the program, I didn’t feel I learned anything. There was a lot of clicking with the mouse, but it was not real interaction.

The corporate social responsibility simulation also puts the learner at the centre of the action. You are the person charged with building support in a company for a corporate social responsibility program. However, unlike the project management course, there is no straight linear path that you click through to the conclusion. You get the lay of the land, get to hear from others in the organization, and you make key decisions and immediately see the impact of those decisions. You are allowed to make mistakes, but you can also attempt to recover from these mistakes. All along, there is a running a score on the screen that lets you know what level of support you have built in the organization for your initiative.

The first simulation was all about engaging the right fore finger with the mouse, and the second was all about engaging the mind to think through problems, make judgments and decisions, see the results of your decisions and then re-adjust your strategy. There’s a big difference in these two approaches. The second approach is one is the one that engenders real learning.

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