Tuesday, July 18, 2006

End of History?

Have we reached the End of History, or it starts all over again?

For generations, men [and women] have always proclaimed the end of history. Like us, they felt that they have reached the apex of human civilization, at least in terms of the social organisation. It has always been assumed that technology will progress, more and more wealth will be created, new frontiers of knowledge will be explored and new powers will emerge, but essentially the human civilization will go on in its current form.

So thought the Romans, and the subsequent empires after them. Many thinkers thought so, Hegel most notably [who is thought to have invented the modern term], Marx in a different sense [as he thought of a future society which will be the end] and more recent neo-cons [influenced by Francis Fukuyama, who ended up writing the thesis].

But, as all of us know, while the end of history appeared to have arrived at many junctures, subsequent generations always found out that this was a foolish thought. The decline of Rome is of particular interest here : An empire unsurpassed in its power, a clear leader in technology and administrative system, a culture which was fast spreading around the world – does it sound familiar so far – had every reason to believe that they can go on, forever!

Yet, we know what happened, how it happened. Similar stories are littered all through our history. It proves again and again that technological leadership is not enough. There is almost no end of history, and human beings so far have not done a good job of predicting its path.

Yes, I am sure that this is not the end of history, we are heading out for an era-defining crisis again. How and when it will come is not sure, as I said, human beings were never very good at predicting the future. But it does not look good at the moment, and we must prepare for the rainy day sometime soon.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Games-Based Learning : The Hot New Area of Learning

This month’s e-learning network meeting covered a very interesting topic – Serious Games [or, Games-based Learning].

As you know already, this is close to my heart [I see a smile there – oh yes, I am not high on fidelity if you start counting how many things are close to my heart]. Not just because I play NationStates, or spent hours playing Brian Lara’s Cricket. Nor it is because I so deeply loved my stint setting up Neighbourhood Learning Centres back in 1996, when I was so deeply committed to the idea of teaching kids to play SIMCITY. For me, I did learn a lot through sports – while playing cricket or watching it or reading about it [Have you read ‘Never Say Die’?] – team play, discipline, commitment, character and presentation.

The presentations were based on a survey, where 50 large corporations across Europe were surveyed on their perception/ acceptance of the idea of games-based learning. The findings are, of course, suitably vague – most people say it is an interesting concept, but not many people are putting money on it right away.

However, if you think about it, the idea is not at all new. As I said, my school teachers [at least some of them] always knew that playing cricket needs to be an essential part of the curriculum. Monopoly has taught millions about negotiation, and various games have been used – for many decades now – in the business schools. Did you play mock parliament? No, I didn’t go to a college which used the method, but have met people who went to colleges which did.

I am not even sure it is a new concept in corporate learning. As it is, corporate learning itself is an evolving discipline; with major changes happening all over [will write more about this later]. But, use of Management Games in Corporate Learning is a very old practise, and there are many innovations – motivational games, use of humour, team exercises – which dominated the bold and the beautiful arena of corporate learning.

What is new is the use of technology in creating these games, and evolution of a literature around this area. Also, the new interest in this area is generating new sets of analytic and metric tools to trace and measure effectiveness of such tools. There is also a lot of work being done on simulating real-life business scenarios, and data models based on real businesses.

It is an industry in its infancy. There are lots to be done. But, I do see new games emerging which will have real, experiential data models and life-like simulations real soon. These games will leverage the internet and adopt multi-player architecture. And, yes, once someone has already created these games, corporations will put in their money on this too.

Before I sign off on this, an example of game-based learning that I thought is very interesting – try http://www.food-force.com/ and play the game that WFP is using to make people aware of the challenges and the pay-offs of its various food assistance programmes in various parts of the world. Even if you thought of the UN as a convoluted bureaucracy, you will be surprised to see that they have at least taken the lead in games-based learning over the corporations.

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How To Live

"Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the grey twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat."

- Theodore Roosevelt

Last Words

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

- T S Eliot

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