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Engaging PD - Really?

January 4, 2015

When it comes to professional development (PD) of any kind, the first and most important step is Engagement. Much has been written about the challenges of student engagement in K-12. All of the findings apply equally or even more so for the adults/Education Professionals, given the increasing and varied demands on our time. If a participant is not engaged, it does not matter how good the content is or how great an exercise is, it will fail.


Therefore, we need to figure out a method for engagement as well as development. In fact, if we could determine a method of engaging participants that further motivates development, wouldn’t that be great?


Enter – Simulations.


We know that people learn in many different ways. This is exacerbated by age differences as well as cultural and geographical. However, the one thing that is shared by all ages and all cultures is a love of stories. There is much research in Neuroscience with respect to how we interact with stories but it is clear from both research, anecdotal, and our own experiences that we engage with story-driven interactions more actively, with less barriers to learning.


This is why Simulations are such a powerful modality for Professional Development. Scenario-based Simulations harness the power of storytelling to provide engaging and experiential learning opportunities. The more compelling the story, the more engaged the viewer/participant gets in the activity and has the opportunity to live vicariously through the characters in the narrative or to experience the topics being addressed. It is no longer about instruction, but rather about experience. And we all know that Experience is the Best Teacher.  


ELS’ branching scenario simulations capture realistic narratives, based on the real life experiences of the practitioner authors, manifest as a form of “choose your own adventure” exercise. In the simulations, the participant is placed into a series of scenarios in which they are challenged with increasingly complicated decisions they must make. They then experience the consequences of their choices as the simulation follows that ”branch.”


The scenarios are, in essence, mini experiences whose impact is influenced by the depth and applicability of the exercise. For our purposes, simulation can be defined as a complex weave of scenarios that are put together to capture a period of time in the life of a character and incorporates content (leadership, ethics, communication, etc.) with context (environment, people, task, etc.) so that it imitates life. This combination of content and context when placed within the flow of time, enables a participant to experience an issue as it could play out in real life. 


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