Learning & Training


Our approach to designing learning and training activities comes from over twenty years of practice in a wide variety of learning and training environments. The core of our approach, called TranceFormational Learning(R), includes these key elements for successful learning and training:

1. Participants will be drawn into an engaging personal experience during the activity that evokes an emotional response from each participant. This personal engagement is the secret of good games, and can easily be used to enhance learning and training activities.

2. Participants will be presented with activities in which they demonstrate their ability to demonstrate authentic mastery of the objectives being learned. Activities will ask participants to “Do” the things being learned rather than watching and completing activities “About” the materials.

3. TL activities provide the ability to monitor and report on participant performance that meet the requirements of the organizations, and provide feedback that make sense to the participants in ways that will enable them to take more direct control of their learning.

Guiding Principle:

The most critical element of a successful learning activity is the personal experience learners have as they participate in the activity. TL believes that we can use key elements of highly successful games to create similarly engaging experiences in learning and training. This does not mean the activity is a “game”, but that the experience during the activity uses the same psychological and emotional “hooks” that create the strong game experience.

Game designers create their games by focusing on two worlds: the world of the game, and the world of the player. We believe that same approach can be applied in the design of learning and training activities. The success of TL activities supports that belief.

In short, by focusing on the creation and maintenance of an engaging personal experience for participants, the activity creates the “Trance”-like experience of TL, similar to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi‘s concept of “flow”. The result is increased attention, increased time-on-task, increased meaning, increased retention and overall increased learning.


CASE STUDY IN LEARNING: Four-Year University

Challenge: We were asked by a four-year school to redevelop a series of undergraduate online courses that were experiencing low student satisfaction leading to low retention rates. The courses were designed following common design strategies focusing on alignment of objectives, clear measurements of student performance, following a policy of standardization for all of the school’s online coursework.

Approach: As we reviewed the existing courses, we found that while the courses were well-designed to meet the needs of the institution, there was no focus on the learner-experience in the courses. When students voiced dissatisfaction with the courses, the defense was that the courses were “academically sound”, The official view as that the students “have to shape-up and do the work”.

After introducing the concepts of TranceFormational Learning(R), we were asked to redesign the courses to focus on the learner experience, while still maintaining a high level of clear and measurable assessments to provide the “academic soundness” required.

We made the following key changes to the courses:

1. We studied the community of students who would be taking these courses to develop an understanding of their “world” outside of the classroom.

2. We reviewed the learning objectives of each course to understand the entire flow of the learning that was to be mastered through the set of courses.

3. We analyzed each objective to identify how it might be experienced in the “real world” by someone working in that field; the situations that might require master of each objective, how levels of mastery might be applied in the real world, and what results might come from each level of mastery.

4. We combined our findings to design a “story” that would take learners through a scaffolded series of experiences that authentically challenged them to demonstrate mastery of each learning objective, just as it might be demonstrated in practice in the “real world”. This story ran through all of the courses so there was a “conscious continuity” throughout the entire series, providing an experience that made sense to learners. Each activity challenged learners to “do” the objectives, rather than to be tested “about” the objectives. Since performance was based on authentic practices, the results of performance were based on the real results that might have been experienced, which means they made sense to the learners.

5. To help develop the TL “experience” of the courses further, students were asked to assume the role of a “character” that might realistically be going through the experiences represented in the courses. By interacting in-character, we found learners more willing to explore new directions, more willing to take meaningful risks, and more willing to engage with others in the courses.

Outcomes: A review was conducted one month after the first release of the courses. Results showed that student satisfaction was one hundred percent. Student engagement and participation was similarly high. The university’s standard policy for online courses required students to post to class discussion boards “at least three times a week”. The average number of post for students in the new courses was thirty-five posts a week. The only criticism we received about the courses ws that the results had “blown the curve”, and students were irritating some other instructors by constantly talking about the new courses.


CASE STUDY IN LEARNING: Two-Year Community College

Challenge: We were asked to teach and consider redesigning a face-to-face course on basic technology skills for an at-risk population of adult learners beginning a specialized program in health care. The existing course was designed following standard practices, essentially following a tutorial-based textbook. The greatest issue was low retention.

Approach: As we began teaching the course, we studied the community of students involved, to understand their “world” outside the classroom and what risks it created for retention. We compared that with the format and content of the text and course activities, and found what we believed was a serious gap. The coursework was acceptable for traditional students, but the students involved were not traditional. They were fully capable of learning the materials, but their world outside the classroom was not supportive of traditional learning activities, and few students had any level of support or encouragement outside the classroom. The course was required for their health care program, but there was little personal meaning in the course, especially since it covered technical issues that many of the students already believed they understood. Our primary goal became trying to create that personal meaning, with the belief that it would enhance motivation and retention.

We made the following key changes to the courses:

1. Since this was a course in a health care program, we created a “story” for the course that provided each student with a “virtual patient” they had responsibility for.

2. We then redesigned each activity and assignment to represent an activity the student might perform in a facility where they were caring for their virtual patient. As would have been the case in the real world, each activity or assignment the student completed had the possibility of having direct impact on their virtual patient. All assignments were presented on formal letterhead from the facility to further enhance the story experience.

For example, for an activity using Microsoft Word, students were informed of an outbreak of an infection in the facility, and they were asked to do the research to create a suitable sign to put on patient doors, giving accurate instructions for the use of personal protective equipment. If a student’s work was less than satisfactory, in addition to a “grade”, they were all informed that because improper instructions were posted, the virus has spread, including to some of their virtual patients.

Outcomes: The impact of the virtual patients led to ongoing increased interaction among the students, creating an atmosphere of collaboration and support since each student’s performance held a potential impact for others. The discussion of the virtual patients led to other students, instructors and staff talking to the students about the experience, creating campus-wide interest in what the students were doing. The overall result was a significant increase in attendance, engagement and overall retention.


CASE STUDIES IN TRAINING: Nursing Continuing Education

Challenge: A nursing organization wanted to create an online training activity to improve visiting nurse skills in conducting home visits, specifically focusing on evaluating dementia and the possible need for hospitalization intervention. The training had been conducted using video and video-conferencing, but participant satisfaction was extremely low, and actual skill development was limited. We were approached by a colleague asking us to help design a new approach for this training.

Approach: Based on the content and goals, this appeared to be a possible application for the use of an online, 3D virtual environment. Using that approach, we designed a small neighborhood with houses, one of which was the home of an elderly couple. The couple were created as scripted “bots”, with the ability to move and to participate in conversations, and respond to questions. The trainees were provided with character “avatars”, asked to enter the 3D environment and carry out a home-visit as they would do in the “real world”. While in the activity, trainees could converse with the residents, observe their appearance and actions, listen for miss-matched messages, using their normal resources to conduct an authentic evaluation visit. Depending on the situation, the bots could be programmed to behave differently, representing good days, and bad days, just as would be found. Following the visit and evaluation, trainees were then asked to participate in discussions to review their actions and decisions.

Note: We also created a basic introduction activity for trainees unfamiliar with the 3D environment. This also include interactive “bots” to provide the experience needed to overcome any fear of a “learning curve”. Once engaged in the experience, the “learning curve” disappeared.

Outcomes: The use of the online, 3D environment and bots led to a significant increase in both trainee satisfaction and learning. While trainees were asked to complete the activity once each week during the course, most trainees returned to interact with the experience multiple times, exploring different approaches to observe the results. A key element in the experience was the development of an emotional connection between the trainees and the two residents. In discussion, the “bots” were discussed as if they were real, which opened the door to extended exploration of the emotional stresses of caregivers in the real world. This was an unanticipated learning experience for the activity.