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Born to learn

We are all born to learn. Logicearth publishes between 2 to 4 blogs per week and we love to hear how you learn in the workplace. We'll keep you updated on the latest developments in learning technology, brain science and organisational development.

Dilemma based learning design

This week's blog post is a guest post from Ken Thomson of Dashboard Simulations, based in Northern Ireland. Over the past 5 years Dashboard Simulations® have been using dilemma based design to create a world class portfolio of comprehensive, realistic business simulation games.

Good learning design is around dilemmas not decisions


One of the challenges for a learning designer is how to work out which aspects of a topic will bring the most value to a community of learners. A technique called dilemma based learning design is particularly helpful if the learning topic is one which has grey areas such as influencing others or managing a business or team or department.

Dilemma based learning design suggests that in any job or team or organisation there will always be a small number of dilemmas which bring most of the challenges and good performance is largely down to how well the people resolve or square these dilemmas.

I sharply contrast dilemma resolution with decision-making: decision-making involves right and wrong answers, but in the case of dilemmas there is always some pain or compromise or trade-off involved no matter which option finally gets picked.

There are two types main of dilemma: Leadership dilemmas and Business dilemmas. Leadership dilemmas are nearly always present in a similar form whereas the specific Business dilemmas depend entirely on the nature of the role or organisation.

Dilemma based learning design in leadership


A good example of a Leadership dilemma is working as part of a collective team. You may have very strong views on something but sometimes you may have to run with a collective view of the team which is different from your own view. So you need to resolve the dilemma of whether you push a decision hard based on your experience or you back off based on your judgement that either the team know best. Or else, it does not really matter one way or the other at the end of the day! This applies whether you are a team member or the team leader.

Dilemma based learning design in business


A good example of a Business dilemma is Product Mix. Let’s imagine the market is starting to tell you they are less attracted to your old faithful Product A, but want more of your new Product B instead. It is not ideal for you to just switch, as you may have lots of Product A stock and production facilities, and it may be much more profitable than Product B. You have a dilemma!

You can either react to the market by switching towards Product B or you can try to lead the market by trying to change your customer preferences back towards Product A, through, for example, marketing and/or discounting. Which one will be effective depends on the interplay of a number of things, one of which is the degree to which your company is perceived to be a market leader or market follower in the product area. Market leaders can change behaviour much more easily than market followers!

The diagram summarises the 5 Leadership dilemmas and 5 Business dilemmas that I most commonly encounter in my discussions with top practitioners and subject matter experts in organisations.

Dilemma-based learning design

Creating dilemma based learning design content


In my world, I am typically looking to construct team business simulation games by combining 3 leadership dilemmas with 3 business dilemmas. I know from experience that if I design a game with fewer dilemmas than it will probably not be sufficiently realistic and challenging. On the other had if I have more dilemmas, for example, if I went mad and built in all 10 dilemmas then the game would be too complex. It would also lack cohesion – a bit like a film designed by committee with some romance, cowboys and science fiction. [Actually come to think of it just like the film “Cowboys and Aliens” with Daniel Craig].

So when you are talking with a practitioner or subject matter expert don’t just ask them what they do or even what decisions they have to make. Ask them what dilemmas and trade-offs keep them awake at night. If you can build the learning around this you are much more likely to create a totally engaging, valuable and enjoyable experience for them.
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Comments 1

Guest - Dilemma based learning design | on Tuesday, 28 October 2014 14:17

[&] I was pleased to contribute a guest article for Logicearth Learnings excellent blog on the topic of using Dilemma based Design to maximise value, sharpen focus and reduce unnecessary complexity in experiential learning experiences. You can read the full article here. [&]

[&] I was pleased to contribute a guest article for Logicearth Learnings excellent blog on the topic of using Dilemma based Design to maximise value, sharpen focus and reduce unnecessary complexity in experiential learning experiences. You can read the full article here. [&]
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Monday, 20 February 2017