Bridging the gap between abstract training environments and the reality of everyday life is always a challenge. This can be particularly true when we are looking at high stress situations: training people to deal with emergencies that, by their nature, tend to emerge suddenly and be chaotic in nature. Today i want to look at examples of how we can practically use social learning environments in this type of training. I’ve been talking to some teams involved in emergency planning that are interested in how we can enhance the learning and create more effective ways of preparing people for real life emergencies.
A great way to think about this is through the creation of scaffolded simulation environments. A scaffolded environment is one where we create a central story, which is fixed, and we surround it with social elements, which are more fluid. In this case, the central ‘story’ is created and owned by the moderator, who will work with the trainees in the room, whilst the fluid elements are played by actors, communicating through social media, outside the room. Whilst they are working within character, they can retain fluidity in how and when the interact and will respond to delegate input.
The purpose of this approach is to recreate some of the challenges present in the real world: the need to diagnose, to prioritise, to gauge the validity of sources and to process in real time and, not least, how to deal with black holes. It’s one thing to work with sources of information that we have, but the ability to identify and deal with the missing pieces is crucial in an emergency.
By surrounding a simulated environment, which happens at a specific point in time, with a social learning environment, which can be spread out over time, we can get the benefits of both. The social learning element allows for challenge, for support and for the creation of a shared narrative about what has happened. The challenge is important as it’s part of the reflection on what actions were taken and the thought processes that we followed to get there. If we don’t reflect on underlying thought processes and out problem solving methodologies then we won’t be able to develop them, to discover new ways to approach familiar situations. To learn is to change.
Within the context of emergency services, the supportive element of social learning environments can also be significant, helping individuals to rationalise and cope with disturbing situations. Whilst less than ten percent of people go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder after emergencies, it’s thought that immediate support is valuable and the nature of communities is that they form a safe environment to share experience and take feedback.
So, a model for training around emergency response would have a learning journey that looks like this: learners would be present in a room, taking in feeds from a variety of ‘life’ simulated sources. From this information, and supported by the moderator, they will need to construct a shared view of what is happening and devise strategies for intervention and deployment of resources. Following the ‘live’ element, we can use the virtual learning spaces to deconstruct the activity and explore the methodologies used and thought processes that underlay them. We can use appropriate challenge within this to explore whether appropriate activities occurred and we can provide support in terms of strategies to include the learning in our everyday practice.
This is just an elementary overview of how we can use social learning technology to support and enhance a real world training event, but i feel that this scaffolded scenario based approach is valuable, capturing something of the dynamism of the real world whilst still being a controlled and moderated, structured learning experience with specific outputs. If it supports the transition from abstract learning environment to everyday reality, it will be worth doing.