Combining play with learning is something educators agree is important in childhood. Play also helps adults with learning, stress relief, and creative thinking.
We intentionally build in time for play at IdeaLearning Group. We play games, brainstorm together, and we also openly share ideas—no matter how wacky they seem at first—to discover creative, effective solutions for our clients.
In eLearning, “branching scenarios” let learners make choices, experience consequences, and ultimately get different results based on the choices they make. They’re sometimes compared to the Choose Your Own Adventure book series that many of us loved as kids. On a recent Team Day outing, we branched out in a corn maze at Sauvie Island.
The maze is very elaborate with a theme that changes every year. It includes a series of signs, numbered 1 through 10. At each juncture you have to decide whether to turn left or right. Obviously one wrong turn can result in fruitless frustration.
Before entering the maze, we stopped by the trivia station where we could choose from a dozen or so trivia cards, each with 10 questions. Every question aligns with a numbered station. Our team selected cards with four different themes: Halloween; the history of Portland; “Portlandia” the TV show; and stars/outer space. Our strategy was to cross-reference our answers at each station to ensure we were choosing the right direction.
Our real-life branching exercise emphasized many strategies that we intentionally include in our branching elearning scenarios:
Clearly articulate the goal.
Make sure the ultimate goal is something the learner wants, needs, and understands. Is it a hero adventure? What’s the reward at the end? Will the purpose of the journey be worth it all? At the corn maze, our goal was to make it out alive in a timely manner before the rain started so we could select our pumpkins afterwards.
Provide some indication of what they can expect.
Like in real life, people have roles when they’re engaged in any activity. We all have our unique approaches and strengths. Some people like to jump right in. But others want a general lay of the land first. Giving a time range is a good start, so that people know what’s expected from their commitment.
At one point Shannon exclaimed aloud, “This could take all afternoon!” before asking an attendant how long it would take. She was comforted to find out that 45 minutes was the norm. Determined to discover what was up next before arriving there, Jennie secretly read ahead on her trivia card. Amir, our visual expert, candidly snapped photos as we walked.
Build in prompts that help people make informed choices along the way.
The trick is to make the journey challenging but not overly frustrating. In elearning, the course navigation helps you get your bearings if you find yourself lost in the weeds. It’s important to make sure learners have helpful tools to use. (But we agreed not to rely on our iPhones, as tempting as it was.)
We could have gone into the maze without any prompts, but it would have taken all afternoon and resulted in a tantrum or two. (Shannon also thinks emergency exits would have been a nice addition.) The trivia cards helped keep us on track. And we learned lots of fun, interesting facts along the way. Did you know that the Portlandia statue is attached to a building in downtown Portland that’s considered “one of the most hated buildings in America”?
Other clever prompts built into the corn maze were illustrated riddle signs—like a painting of a pig tied up to indicate “hog tied”—and music playing from atop a small bridge that you could climb for a somewhat aerial view.
Build in ways to recover if you make a mistake.
An effective branching activity lets you make mistakes, learn from them, and recover enough to get yourself back on track. Obviously a dead end in a corn maze is a good indication that you’ve made a wrong decision. At one point when we were off track, Shannon and Emily cleverly situated random corn husks and bark chips as Hansel-and-Gretel-style breadcrumbs to help us break out of the cycle. (It’s a good thing, too, because Jillian was starting to lose her cool when it was clear that we were going in circles.)
At the end of the maze, we realized that printed in teeny tiny letters at the bottom of each trivia card, upside down, were all the answers to the questions. It’s funny how none of us realized this until the very end. The opportunity to cheat was there all along, but we were either blind to it or just too focused on the journey itself.
How does your organization value “play”? Tell us your stories below.