Point/Counter Point: Live Role-Play vs. eSimulations

Point: Robert Coates

The latest “craze” with social and mobile learning will not replace classroom training any more than books replaced lectures, television replaced radio, or video tapes and DVDs replaced movie theaters. Each new innovation in technology provides additional ways of communicating, but doesn’t totally supplant the old ones.

My position is that, as good as eSimulations have become, there are still some aspects of live role-play based skill practice that can’t be duplicated or replaced. What eSimulations excel at are providing opportunities to evaluate a situation and weigh options for responding. It’s at the level of “human” communication, rather than decision-making, that they can’t yet replicate.

Albert Mehrabian and others have investigated the non-verbal aspects of human communication and are often quoted as saying that the meaning of a communication is only 7% the words you say, 38% the tonality, and 55% the body language. Actually, Mehrabian concludes that those percentages are the formula we use for resolving the meaning of inconsistent messages (see Silent Messages 2nd Edition pages 75-58). The point that How you say something is just as or more important than What you say is almost axiomatic. Just changing what word is emphasized in a sentence can completely change its meaning.

It is in this critical non-verbal area of communication that I believe live role-play excels. Subtle communications like tone of voice, timing, eye-contact, and body language play a huge role in our interactions with others. These are also behaviors that can be practiced, improved upon and coached. Currently, technology does not allow us to evaluate the learner’s use of these through eSimulation.

Counterpoint: David Milliken

Just 10 months ago I would have agreed with Robert. But today, because of the many advances that have occurred in eSimulations, for many applications they are actually better. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Level 4 eSimulations (using a rules-based gaming engine) are extremely realistic. Now that developers can create hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of video-based nodes, eSimulations can accurately reflect small changes in tone and body language. Throw in the use of voice-recognition and you have an unparalleled user experience!
  2. eSimulations deliver a consistent experience for every user. Notice that I didn’t say the same experience. That wouldn’t be accurate because, in theory, depending on the number of nodes, hundreds could face the same choices and have the same opportunities, but because of the decisions they made, have a completely unique experience. eSimulations eliminate the variability inherent in a live human role player and can be scored in such a way that they eliminate rater (coach) bias as well.
  3. eSimulations can provide for significantly more practice opportunities than classroom based live-role play. For each live role-play you need to engage two people and optimally three, who often then rotate roles. In the same or less time, all three people could accomplish three rounds of practice each, and probably more, through eSimulation.

However, eSimulations still aren’t for everyone. While development costs have dropped dramatically as developers have improved processes and tools, the relative value of this technology is still dictated by the volume of users who can benefit. While some off-the-shelf solutions can serve small numbers of users cost effectively, if you need to develop something custom, typically you need an audience of 100 or more users for it to be cost effective.

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