Designing project management courses using social media and gaming techniques
Project management is a practice-based profession that demands not only a good grasp of project management concepts but also practical experience. Therefore, apart from knowing the theories, it is also important to know how to apply the knowledge and skills appropriately in a specific situation in order to achieve the best results as a project manager.
Social media tools have become very powerful resources for good information if you can screen them properly. A huge amount of information is available on Google, Wikipedia, YouTube, and Slideshare.
Gaming is also a very powerful tool, which can be used in packaging the field experience gained by seasoned project managers. Different scenarios can be offered as challenges to the promising project managers who can live through these situations in a pseudo-real environment.
The author has used these tools in developing learning objects and would like to share his experience with these tools. The author also discusses how to design courses in a Blended Workflow Learning Model by using Social Media and Learning 2.0 concepts.
Training the workforce continues to be an important part of business operations. The advent of technology, like Web 2.0, is changing the mode of training delivery and making it more and more effective for knowledge absorption and application. Approximately, US$135 billion were spent on training by American industries in the year 2007 alone. As industry recognizes the importance of project management in doing business, the training requirement for project management is rapidly increasing.
With increasing globalization, the act of doing business is becoming more and more virtual. Internet technology also helps immensely in getting the work done by the most cost-effective resource and from the best possible location to make the business more cost effective. The virtualization of doing business poses a big challenge to the learning and development community as it becomes more and more difficult to provide training in an ILT environment. On the other hand, it is imperative to provide training in a virtual environment as people are adapting to working remotely with a 24/7 concept.
The other demanding thing from the work environment is the increasing speed of servicing the customer. It is like the competitor is waiting to jump in to grab your customer and it is just a click away. Online business has changed the marketplace by making it more and more agile through the availability of information and online provisioning.
Over the last ten years, the fabric of learning and development has gone through tremendous change because of the innovation in technology and the availability and dissemination of information. The other things that have changed our lives, or rather our kids’ lives, are computer games. Social media has changed our lifestyles and has positively impacted how we gather information and learn things. It is time to review the methods of teaching to analyze the amenability of new media and redefine the mode of imparting training.
Every individual has a specific style of learning that defines his or her knowledge absorption mode based on his or her mental orientation. There are different theories on learning style, the most common one being Fleming's VARK model, (Learning Styles, 2012) iAccording to this model, there are four learning styles:
- Visual Learners
- Auditory Learners
- Read/Write Learners
- Kinesthetic Learners
The kinesthetic learning style is also very much applicable to adult learning, especially in project management, where the students like to try out the concepts through practical approaches. The tools used are exercises, case studies, and role plays that emulate the real-life situation. It is a common practice to use a simulated mock project to train the students in the different aspects of the project life cycle.
With the advent of social media, a fifth style called ”digital learning” has evolved. The new generation of learners, the Gen-Ys believe that everything is available in the Internet. They love their smartphones and believe that everything on earth is possible to achieve through that tiny device. Because of their belief and attachment to the social media, they perceive better if the training material is delivered to them through digital media so that they can access it through their iPad or smartphones. The older generation is also under lot of pressure to learn how to use the social media and they are catching up very well. A recent survey says that people are using social media applications more than the Internet.
Today's workplace is comprised of people from multiple generations. Because of rapid technological changes, we find a wide variety of behaviors in the working styles of different generations.
The following graph in Exhibit 1 shows how different age groups use social media for their personal activities.
Exhibit 1 – Source: ASTD's Social Media and Generations Survey (2010)
There is a major gap between the Baby Boomers (45%) and the Millennials (80%) with respect to the use of social networks. Similar differences are observed in the use of social media, whereas we don't observe any differences in the case of shared workspace because it is mostly used in the work environment and because of company policy, everybody has to use it equally. Wikis and blogs display a similar pattern. Approximately five years ago, when the virtual world (e.g., Second Life) was first introduced, we all thought that it would be a very strong tool for training, where we could use the “private island” concept to simulate the work environment. It is very interesting to see that because of its complex structure it has not become very popular.
Web 2.0 technologies are used to enable collaborative learning, which is also called Learning 2.0. There are three challenges for workplace associate development and performance in adopting Learning 2.0. First, it is a known fact that in the true sense, all learning does not happen in the classroom and it is also not possible to address all the associate development and performance problems in a classroom environment. Second, we must get over the mindset of ‘training is all we do,’ and we must focus on putting more resources on rather informal learning in the workplace. And, third, while designing the items for associate development and performance, we must reorient ourselves to devote more time and resources on building learning interventions that are less dominated by training paradigms but designed to make them more collaborative in nature.
Learning 2.0 and the concept of workplace-based collaborative learning change the paradigm of associate development and demand a redefinition of e-learning. Learning 2.0 takes on more of a constructivist approach rather than a learning psychology approach in which learners, with the help of appropriate learning models, supported by well-designed resources, more and more tend to define their own learning paths based on their own judgment, which is driven by their Knowledge, Skills and Ability (KSA) and learning style. Contrast this with the more traditional cognitive approaches where programs are specifically designed for instructional effectiveness in lessons, modules, and other structures, offering far less individual flexibility.
From the use perspective, Learning 2.0 is perceived more as a resource or reference, where the learner likes to find the relevant material based on his or her personal needs, which could be searching for reference material, asking questions on a subject of interest, or scanning through some literature. Contrast this with scheduled training programs that try as best as they can to approximate the needs of an entire population of learners. For Learning 2.0, the metaphor changes from the classroom to library.
Finally, from a workplace learning and performance professional perspective, Learning 2.0 requires several new dimensions in architecture design, library science, user interface design, community facilitation, collaboration strategy, content analysis, and change management in creation and maintenance of courseware.
These days, parents complain that social media is making their kids unsocial—their kids do not meet with friends, do not come to family gatherings, or don't even like talking to their parents. The truth is that technology, combined with social media and networking, have changed the ways kids perceive things around them, the way they learn, which is basically changing their personalities and behavior. There is an explosion happening in the social media world. There are so many good tools and so many valuable materials, which, if used judiciously, can help in building a good course.
There is an increasing realization that people in organizations learn more informally than formally. The 70 + 20 + 10 model for learning and development is a great way of thinking about informal learning:
- 70% of learning comes from doing
- 20% of learning comes from others
- 10% of learning comes from study
Jane Hart, the founder of the Center for Learning & Performance Technology (C4LPT), has defined five categories of social learning (Chapter 3, 2011):
1. Formal Structured Learning
2. Personal Directed Learning
3. Group Directed Learning
4. Intra-Organizational Learning
5. Accidental and Social Learning
In our context, it is relevant to talk about Accidental and Social Learning, which is where individuals learn without consciously realizing it. Although organizations normally don't concern themselves with this type of learning, it is nonetheless important to recognize that it takes place.
Sometimes a very serious subject is best understood if you add fun to it. Recently, a seven-year-old boy was in the news for saving his 4-year-old sister from drowning in their swimming pool. He administered CPR to his sister and brought her back to life. When he was asked where he had learned how to do CPR, he gave a very interesting answer: he saw it in the movie, Black Hawk Down. I won't get into why a seven-year-old child was watching an “R” rated movie, I will leave that to his parents to decide, but the fact of the matter is that this child was watching the movie for entertainment and in the process he learned something very useful. The interesting thing is that this child didn't realize he had learned the technique because it seeped into his subconscious memory, yet he was able to use it when needed and very spontaneously. This is one of the characteristics of “Funucation,” when “Fun” and “Education” are mixed together, the learner is engrossed in having fun and sometimes does not realize that he or she has learned something valuable without being coerced into a training session and trying to memorize some theories, which would otherwise be pretty boring.
In the near future, we are going to observe a major change in the education industry in how knowledge is disseminated, gathered, and absorbed—starting from kindergarten through high schools, institutions of higher education, and adult learning arenas.
Eric Schmidt of Google talks about how new technologies are going to change education for the new generation, in which multiplayer games will be used to augment the human experience. George Lucas, the maker of Star Wars, is coming up with a new concept, called Edutopia, which is going to change school education with the help of gaming technology (Edutopia, 2011).
Computerized simulation is a great tool and is widely used in project management training, but there is a major difference between a simulation and a game. Simulations take you through a specific situation in the project and offer you multiple options to making your decision and, in the end, offer an explanation and learning points. There are plenty of simulations available with good graphics and learning content on the market.
The project management game, ideally, deals with a complete project life cycle, where the project manager as Avatar, executes the project from start to finish. The project manager, while executing the project, encounters different challenges, as in real life, such as requirement changes, lack of resources, unhappy customers, and so forth. As in real life, we can make small mistakes but we also make some big mistakes, which can lead to cancellation of the project. Again, similar to real life, we encounter situations, in which the decision is not like black and white— there could be a decision that is a best response for the situation, as well as decisions that are not so good. Games are essentially mixed with some fun aspects that differentiate them from simulation. The progression dynamics is the key thing in the game that keeps the player challenged and craving bigger and tougher challenges and the corresponding rewards.
What Does it Take to Make a Game?
Games can be very powerful tools for learning, but making a good educational game is a complex process. It is like making an interactive movie and trying to convert a boring subject into a thrilling experience. Jesse Schell, author of The Art of Game Design (2008) has defined several elements to identify the characteristics of a game. The four basic elements of a game are: mechanics, story, aesthetics, and technology. You need assets with good graphics and animation, strong scripts to make the drama interesting, good sound effects to make it real, surprises to keep people engaged, a bug-free logic to maintain the flow, and of course, you need the learning content that is presented in the form of challenges.
The concept of real digital games in the project management discipline is still in the nascent stage. Let us take a look at PM Game® as an example. PM Game© is designed to give project managers an opportunity to experience the reallife issues faced in a project that can lead to making or breaking the project. The basic understanding here is that there are many good materials available to learn project management theories but there are very limited tools that allow you to learn how to use those concepts in unison to make the right decision in a complex project situation. In this game, the challenges are thrown to the project manager in various different ways, as in real life, such as when the project manager gets an email, the customer walks into his office, or some resources are denied. Exhibit 2 is an example where the project manager gets an email saying the vendor was not paid and he is planning to stop the work.
Exhibit 2A screenshot of the game showing the options available to the player
The project manager has a few options to select from or he can ask his manager, friend, a fellow project manager, or a consultant for help. For making a good decision, the project manager earns points and for major mistakes he loses heartbeats. The countdown clock keeps him alert and on his toes so he can make the decision in a timely fashion. Each decision costs him money, and the initial fund keeps depleting. Mr. Murphy, who is very active in the game, comes from nowhere and makes the project manager's life miserable with challenging questions.
Exhibit 3A screenshot of the game showing conversation between project manager and the secretary
The project manager's adminstrator plays a key role in the game by helping him with information gathering and making the right decision. This signifies a strong cohesive team, which is one of the key success factors for the project.
The scorecard at the end of the game tells the project manager about his performance and he gets promoted to the next level if he does well in the game.
Social Media Tools for Course Development and Delivery
There are plenty of tools and materials available online and sometimes choosing the best is very difficult The basic features of most of the tools are available free of charge but you get enhanced capability if you decide to go for the versions that cost money. It is not possible to evaluate all the tools available on the Internet. Author has selected few tools that cover the main activities related to course design, development and delivery. In general, we need the following functionalities in developing and delivering the courses:
Online Course Design and Development
Rapid Prototyping: There are quite a few tools that can be used during the design phase to develop the prototype. Slideshare is a great presentation tool, which, like Microsoft PowerPoint® can be used to develop the content sequence. It allows uploading a presentation that has been developed on PowerPoint®. It also allows you to develop the content online.
Exhibit 4, Look & feel of Slideshare.com
The greatest advantage of this tools is that they can be uploaded on the web so that reviewers can run the presentation ubiquitously from anywhere in the world and offer comments.
Screenr is another tool that allows you to create a movie of your presentation. You can do the same thing with Microsoft PowerPoint® but, again, here you can upload your presentation/movie on the web for people to review and provide comments. Once you create the movie, you can also upload it on YouTube. Here the advantage is that you can do the screen capture from any documents and then you can add the voice over.
Exhibit 5, Main menu of Screenr.com
Both Slideshare and Screenr allow you to capture the URL, which can be pasted on any other media to make the complete courseware.
Audio and visual are intregal parts of an e-learning modules. There are quite a few tools that can help in editing the audio/visuals to go along with the presentation.
Prism is a free downloadable video conversion tool. Often we receive video files in a format that is not compatible with the media that we are using to develop your course. For example, PowerPoint® does not allow the .FLV file as an accepted format when you want to convert the presentation to a movie; it requires .WMV file format and you can use Prism to convert the file format.
Audacity is another very handy tool that allows you to edit the audio files. You can strip a long audio file into pieces. You can also add some audio effects (e.g., fade-out) using different functions like ‘Effect’ or ‘Analyze.’
GIMP is a photo-editing tool with rich functions like Photoshop and it is free.
SurveyMonkey is a great tool for Level 1 assessments. It is available free of charge for smaller surveys but you can get its full functionalities by paying just US$200 per year.
For Level 2 assessments, you can use the iPresentonline.com, which has complete LMS functions. It does not have all the types of questions that questionmark does, but it has the minimum types and are free of charge
YouTube: This tool probably has contributed the most to the rapid changes happening around us. On the positive side, YouTube is allowing people to learn about what is happening in different parts of the world, for example, like how “Arab Spring” used Facebook and YouTube. On the negative side, however, YouTube has been used as an electronic bullying tool by high school students and has led to the deaths of some teenagers. In the Learning & Development, YouTube contributes in two ways” it can be used as a launching platform for your e-learning courses and also the expansive material that is available in the forms of video clips, and film clips can be used for learning content (e.g., the clip from the movie, Miracle, can be used for team motivation).
Skype is a very popular tool for video chat and people use it as an alternative to the telephone. The free version of Skype allows you to conference between three people and also allows you to share the computer screen.
FreeScreenSharing.com is an online meeting and web conferencing tool that is perfect for screen sharing, webinars, and training sessions. As the name suggests, it is absolutely free and very easy to set up.
Exhibit 7, The main menu of FreeScreenSharing.com
This tool does not have all the advanced features offered by Intercall or QWEST, but it allows you to share the documents or applications online that can be used as tools for virtual learning sessions. The Chat feature allows the instructor to chat privately with individual attendees to keep people engaged in the session.
“Today's business world demands a combination of formal and informal learning, with an emphasis on collaboration, knowledge sharing, social networking, coaching, and mentoring,”(Josh Bersin, president of the research and advisory firm, Bersin & Associates(2004).)
It is different than learning in a classroom environment, where the students come with the mindset that the instructor will flip open their brains and pour knowledge into it. In collaborative learning, students are required to complete their pre-work, which could be reading a book or article, learning how to use a tool through some CBTs, or complete some exercises before coming to the instructor facilitated sessions. In this process, the students have to make an equal effort in the learning process as the instructor and this makes the collaboration between the instructor and the students very effective.
Blended Learning Model (BLM)
Blended learning allows selecting the best learning mode for the specific content. The blended learning fabric may include instructor-led session (virtual or in a classroom), computer-based learning, coaching, print resources, lectures, and so forth.
Blended Workflow Learning Model (BWLM)
In a Blended Workflow Learning Model, the content is delivered using different learning modes as explained in the Blended Learning Model. In addition, after a training session, the students are required to go back to their fields to actually practice the learning in their own areas and then they come back for more advanced knowledge or understanding of the subject. This way they can hone their skills better by actually applying their understanding in real world.
Typically, in a BWLM, students learn the subject using different self-paced learning modes like video, CBT, or recordings mixed with instructor-led sessions and coaching and mentoring. Students are required to go through an incremental learning model that forces them to practice their knowledge in real life before proceeding to the next level of the program.
Social media tools, as explained above, can become the essential components of the BWLM approach, and by using rapid instructional design techniques and the huge online material available in the social media, we can develop the courses faster to keep pace with today's fast changing world.
The Benefits of Using Social Media
In Tune with Globalization
It is quite common these days to have a project in which the resources come from different corners of the world. The project manager is constantly required to interact with different team members who are located in different parts of the world, with diverse cultures, working in different time zones, speaking in different dialects and accents of English and observing different holiday calendars. Therefore, for a global project manager it becomes necessary to enhance their people skills, be efficient in time management to balance their work and life, and practically be a 24/7 project manager. The availability of learning material in social media helps project managers get into the mindset of the virtual world.
Effective Use of Time
More often than not we hear a statement like, “I can do more when I work from home.” It is indeed true that people can deliver more if they do not have to be stuck in traffic. More and more, organizations are now allowing their employees to work from home. According to a recent study of training techniques, the leading reason individuals choose to attend online training sessions or webinars as a replacement for in-person events is the ease of fitting them into their schedules.
The ubiquitous nature of training material available on social media allows the learner to access the learning object from anywhere and anytime, which helps project managers make very good use of their time.
In today's environment, we have employees from different generations (Matures, Baby Boomers, Gen-Xs, and Gen-Ys/Millennial) working together. Tech-savvy team players prefer to learn through podcasts and other informal tools and prefer unstructured, just-in-time learning opportunities, where the learning is delivered in bite-sized morsels. Classroom sessions with PowerPoint® presentations bore them to tears. This is why the social media meet the needs of today's workforce, which is reaching approximately 75 million “Millennials.”
Interacting with real-life scenarios via the computer: Learning simulations present interactive models of processes, events, or circumstances found in the real world that have defined learning outcomes. Gaming techniques emulate a real-life scenario and project managers can experience this by living through this virtual environment and learning things by making mistakes in a safe environment.
The powerful knowledge bases provided by Wiki and other social media provide the basic definitions and concepts of practically any subject; therefore, we can only concentrate on the advanced areas or company-specific contents while designing the courses. For example, the time management lecture by late Carnegie Melon professor, Randy Pausch (2007. is one of the best materials on the subject and is available free of charge on YouTube.
Cost Effective for the Startups
The biggest advantage of social media tools and material is that they are not cost prohibitive. The basic features of most of the tools are available free of charge for the scaled-down version, and the cost for startups to develop a prototype or to deliver their courses to a smaller audience in a smaller setup is very small. For larger corporations, they are very helpful for designing and developing a quick pilot before going on to bigger financial commitments.
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© 2012 Neelov Kar
Originally published as part of Proceedings PMI Global Congress 2012 EMEA - Marseille, France