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Nested Feedback: Designing Learning Experiences for Generations for Gamers

Monday, April 25, 2005
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One of the interesting parts of creating educational simulations is the role of nested feedback. At any given point, a learner should be getting feedback on short, medium, and long-term actions, all simultaneously.

This thinking is very foreign to traditional instructional designers, but very familiar to anyone who builds or uses computer games.

I like to think of feedback at intervals of Turn 1, Turn 3, and Turn 9. Turn 1 feedback happens after every turn. Turn 3 feedback reflects on the execution of simple strategies and ability to build capacity; we see the results of multiple tactics. Turn 9 gets to the biggest ideas of success or failure.

Here is a breakdown, focusing on specifics.

Turn 1 Feedback is around:
*Do I understand my options at any given moment?
*Can I map an action that I want to do/ would do in real life to the screen/ virtual world?
*Do I know if I did something really wrong (not always possible)?
*Do I know if I did something really right (not always possible)?

Turn 1 Feedback meets these learning objectives:
+Use of simple process
+Understanding options/tactics

Turn 1 Feedback Uses:
- Voices
- Graphics

Turn 3 Feedback is around (depending on the learning objectives/content/genre):
*Can I influence/ optimize one (primary systems) variable?
*Do I know if I am on the right track?
*Do I know if I have blown any chance of success?
*Do I know where I am losing ground/ need to triage?
*Do I know if I am doing something rather wrong?
*Do I know if I am doing something rather right?
*Do I know what my long-term goal is?
*How does what I do maximize some part of the system?
*How do I traverse some part of the map?
*How do I build some part?
*How do I get some critical competency/ tool?
*How do I control some territory,?
*How do I build some important personal relationships
*Given my strategy, am I executing against it?

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Turn 3 Feedback meets these learning objectives:
+How actions impact a System
+Executing complicated process

Turn 3 Feedback Uses:
- Triggers at milestones reached
- Onscreen graphs and maps

Turn 9 Feedback is around (depending on the learning objectives/content/genre):
*Did I win?
*Can I optimize/ influence many (primary systems) variables
*Did I build what I wanted to build?
*Did I get to where I wanted to go?
*What does victory actually look like?
*Do I understand the trade-offs in my victory?

Turn 9 Feedback meets these learning objectives:
+Understanding Systems
+Use of Time
+Execution of Complex Strategy

Turn 9 Feedback uses:
- After action reviews
- Complex charts and graphs
- Multiple analyses of plays
- Advice for future plays
- Scores
- Consequences of actions taken


When learners first engage the sim, they are focused on Turn 1 Feedback. But after a few iterations, either replaying or continuing on to advanced levels, the learners increasingly focus on Turn 9 Feedback.

One necessity of building these nested feedback cycles is that we have to spend a lot more time thinking about failure than thinking about success. Our increasing challenge is how to help learners recognize, and then avoid, failure. This also gets to a concept of level design, again familiar to gamers and foreign to traditional instructional designers.

The bad news is that this is obviously a lot of work. The good news is that it produces formal learning experiences that teach much more, in much less time, in a format that meets the needs of the next generation of learners.

About the Author
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is a professional membership organization supporting those who develop the knowledge and skills of employees in organizations around the world. The ATD Staff, along with a worldwide network of volunteers work to empower professionals to develop talent in the workplace.
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