Saturday, August 27, 2016

7 weird ways the porn industry leads in VR (and what we can learn from it)

Sex was not invented in the sixties and it is likely that our prehistoric ancestors were pretty turned on to the use of sex-tech, which has been dated back to at least 26000 years. The dildo predates agriculture, and there’s enough examples of usable phalluses to state, with some confidence, that this was a common object in prehistoric culture. A case has also been made for the ‘venus’ figures, especially those with exaggerated sexual features, as being a form of early pornography.
The porn industry has always been quick to grab the opportunities that innovations in technology offered. In painting, print, photography, film, videotapes, telephone, television, the web, online payments, streaming video, webcams and now VR. In marketing and commerce, they pioneered progression from free to paid services, from video to live, pop ups, local offers and personalised recommendations. These have have long been a feature of porn sites.
Sex, like all most forms of human activity, is a 3D affair. It involves the intimacy and physicality of the 3D human form. It is a natural for VR. Virtual sex gains a lot from ‘presence’ – the actual feeling that you are there with someone else. It is ‘presence’ that will make this fly. It’s one thing to watch, quite another to feel as though you are actually there, with that person, or actually having sex with that person. VR is not watching sex it’s having sex.
Pornography is the creation of fantasy sex. Those fantasies can now be very real. If you want an idea of the effect of early content on people experiencing VR sex for the first time, watch this.
1. Content – human presence
VR content is a mainstream standard category in many porn sites. They have been experimenting with VR long before any consumer VR hardware was available. One thing they quickly learned was that the full 360 degree was unnecessary. Most sex is in one direction, so they limited the fixed field of view to 180 degrees or less. At this level, you are still the voyeur but the sense of presence is increased and you have the ability to look around. What some who have used Naughty America’s passive porn in VR is a sense of being there but also an experience, not of small figures on a small screen but on a human scale.
We should listen to this as it is exactly what we need to learn about the use of VR in learning – presence, the human scale, the idea that we can simulate human experiences in soft skills and all of those things we regard as difficult to teach.
2. Interactive – human touch
To participate, one needs to add the sense of touch. The haptic side is exactly what has been offered for centuries through sex toys. This has been supplemented with VR, so that the sex toy is accompanied by imagery of a real or graphically created partner(s). Even before any commercial VR was available as a consumer device, there were people working on mechanical masturbation devices matched against the 3D vision of someone you are having sex with. Tenga developed a masturbator that synched with a VR image back in 2-14. Much of this took place in Japan, with dolls providing the haptic stimulation. This ‘haptic’ market had been dominated by sex dolls, and by dolls we mean something way beyond cheap plastic blow-up balloons. 
This married Japanese businessman fell in love with his doll (‘she isn’t just after money and never betrays me’). These figures are now being used with VR to add the haptic dimension. The use VR with AI programmed dolls are also being made, where you choose the personality and your partner talks back.







A full body sex suit has been developed that delivers touch all over your body with a sex toy. Synched with VR you get the sensation that someone else is touching you. It was invented by, you guessed it, the Japanese company Tenga. It’s actually an April Fools joke but for the full weirdness of this potential idea, here’s the video.
The haptic dimension has obvious applications in healthcare, where one has to investigate, apply CPR and so on. It is also applicable in the manipulation of objects in vocational skills. We get a glimpse here of a direction of travel as the haptic moves beyond hand controllers to full body sensations.
3. Interactive live
Live performance, where the performer operates a joystick that controls a device over the internet has been around since Realtouch in 2009. It can also be synched to videos and VR experiences to deliver. There are also, wait for it, mind controlled dildos. You think that is odd, wait for teledildonics.
4. Teledildonics – do it to each other
Ted Nelson coined this term back in 1975.Teledildonics is already here, with physical, hands free masturbators, for men, women and couples. We used to call on the telephone. Now we Skype and Facetime, next is VR and Teledildonics.
Products such as Realtouch have been around since 2009. It’s quite a design piece, with movement, heating and a lubrication reservoir. A couple of years later Lovense launched iMan and iLady, then Max and Nora, which could work remotely over Bluetooth. LovePalz Zeus and Hera are also for couples who want two way control. The idea was that each device reacts to the other – faster/slower, tighter/looser.
The new kids on the block are Kiiroo with Onyx and Pearl. Pear and Onyx are paired devices that callow sex at a distance with your partner. Onyx is for men with ten rings that can send and receive signals. Pearl is its female partner device, with a vibration motor and five rings.
If you’d like an idea of what sex at a distance is like watch this VICE video, where a couple try this for real. The woman masturbates the dildo and he, remotely experiences the sensation in his vagina device. The guy describes it as half-way between masturbation and real sex – in other words, it’s getting there.
5. Context and fantasy
There’s even a service in Las Vegas that allows you to experience VR in your hotel room. It provides VR porn in a room built to look like the hotel room you’re actually in - to add realism.
Porn has always been about fantasies and hyperreality has been around for years in the popular anime porn as well as exaggerated fantasy figures. VR means that anything is possible in terms of created fantasy worlds. There are literally no limits to what the imagination can dream up and turn into a sexual experience. You can literally have sex with anything, anywhere at anytime. There are already some pretty weird stuff out there – expect more.
6. Group sex – virtual bachannal
As multiplayer VR develops, group sex is also possible and, guess what, it’s already here. 3DXChat avatars and in the game they meet, chat, date and have sex. You can be anyone and operate on a fantasy level with other like-minded fantasists.
This is the sort of world that facebook envisage in social media. They know that the real social world is 3D, as opposed to the current positing of text and 2D images. Zuckerberg bough Oculus Rift for $2.3 billion - that may be a bargain if he has bough a huge chunk of the future.
7. Sex education & therapy
Many moons ago I produced I an interactive version of The Joy of Sex, complete with Mr & Mrs game, instructional pieces and so on. It was designed for couples and not porn at all, although the boundary, as the original book showed, is not at all clear. There may well emerge, therefore, some positive applications for VR in sex.
Virtual Sexology, an educational site for sex, is already up and running.. Actually what the say is that this is the world’s first fully interactive lovemaking tool, a safe space for learning how to have great sex using VR. The site has a sexologist discussing the possibility of both sex education and therapy.
Future of virtual sex?
We have to be honest here. Sex is a powerful human instinct and its application in satisfying basic human urges will be huge. One can therefore expect a huge amount of innovation here in the quest for realism and beyond that, fantasy, as well as some interesting consequences, in terms of regulation. This may well be the area that drives VR and exposes the many issues, good and bad, that VR raises for us as a species.
VR may challenge the very concept of what sex will be in the future. It takes technology beyond the simply visual realm into the participatory and on to levels of realism, even hyperrealism, that have never been possible before. VR offers not flat images and video for the voyeur but being there, experiencing sex as if it were real.
Will the virtual world be so alluring and enjoyable that the real world pales by comparison? Will virtual sex be cathartic, excessive or damaging? What are the political issues? Will boundaries be transgressed? Will we all experiment more? How will it be regulated? There’s a range of issues here than will need to be tackled.
The technology is always ahead of the sociology, so we need to start thinking about this now. Porn will lead the way in making us face up to the realities of virtual reality.
Conclusion

The porn industry has been quick to pick up on embryonic VR technology and we have much to learn from how they have gone, and are going, about this. The porn industry has always been a frontier for consumer technology. If it works there, it will work elsewhere. Look to the effect ‘presence’ can have on human experiences, supplemented by haptic devices and you literally get a feel for where this is heading. Beyond this who knows? We can dismiss all of this as an intrinsic evil or embrace the opportunities, while being careful about the consequences and effects.

 Subscribe to RSS

Friday, August 26, 2016

10 ways to get started with VR in learning – a primer

So here we are at the start of a VR journey that has only just begun. The first raft of consumer devices are out there – from cardboard and cheap plastic goggles that work with smartphones to headsets with external sensors, hand control devices and 3D audio. Facebook bought Oculus Rift, Samsung are in there, PSVR is in the gaming market. Vive are out there. Google have a platform. Everyone’s playing with this stuff.
I have experienced dozens and dozens of different VR experiences. Let me tell you that all of them have blown my mind. Immersive VR repeatedly reminds me of the power of technology, not as something we use as tools and machines, but to truly interact our minds. The recent example of VR to rewire the brains of paraplegics so that they gain some control over their previously inert limbs is a glimpse of a future where the brain itself can be changed for the better by technology. That is the game we as learning professionals are in – changing minds for the better.
If you are in the learning game, you should at least be aware of its possibilities as it delivers some unique and exciting learning opportunities. It is clear that VR delivers some marvellous benefits in terms of attention (full-on), motivation (exciting), experience (experiential learning), learn by doing (often ignored), context (real) and therefore transfer and retention. But what can you do if you want to use VR to educate or train? Here’s a quick, practical primer.
1. Immersive photographs
The Mars Rover is a good example, where you feel as though you are there on Mars. Geographical and geological locations that benefit from this 360 degree view. Try these free locations, such as the Temple of Karnak in Luxor - some are astounding. This 360 view of the inside of the International Spacestation is great. One can set learning experiences around this image – ask learners to find stuff, annotate, explain things. One can also do the inside of a building, vehicle, whatever. Here’s one of the Supreme Court in the US.
360 degree photos have been around on Facebook for years. You simply shoot a panorama on your smartphone, open the Facebook app and post to share the photo. You can either turn with your finger or move the phone. To take thinks into proper VR, with newer Samsung phones you’ll see an icon tat says ‘View in VR’. Touch that, insert your phone into a Gear VR headset and you’ll see it in fully immersive VR. This is a great way to get started, play with ideas or prototype.
2. Immersive moving video
You place a 360 degree camera, such as a Ricoh (£300) in the middle of the space you want to video. This could be inside a vehicle, in a classroom, office, gallery, hospital ward, outside location – anywhere. Press play and you will have a full 360 world of action recorded, not in as high a definition as the photographs shot in option 1, but usable video.
I’ve seen this used for teacher training, where an entire lesson is captured and used to train that teacher through feedback or as exemplary lessons for other teachers. Hundreds of short 360 degree videos have been shot and are replayable through VR. News items from the BBC are plentiful on YouTube. Not for profits have high impact, emotionally charged videos on climate change, refugee issues and endangered species. In education I can’t think of few subjects that would NOT benefit from the use of VR. Maths, physics, chemistry, biology, drama, geography, history, languages, business, design, art, vocational subjects and soft skills can all potentially gain from the creation of 3D videos.
This approach is great for attitudinal training, where an issue, incident and shift in viewpoints is needed. The fact that the learner has no choice but to be fully attentive means you can hold them and deliver emotional impact with the learning outcome that results in high retention. I can remember, in details most of the VR experiences I have had that tried to deliver this type of attitudinal shift, from being shown retreating glaciers, rare White Rhinos, refugees landing in Greece, the guy who was going blind. There are dozens of these on YouTube. I love this one on Pluto's icy surface. This one on Mars. You can illustrate the inside of a an aircraft cockpit, even stand with David Attenborough, as dinosaurs come up to you. VR 360 degree videos are of use when you want to show motion or real people doing things in a space. They are cheap and relatively easy to shoot.
3. Immersive graphic worlds
Sometimes, rather than simply point a camera and shoot a still or moving image, you have to create a world with graphics. This frees you to create anything your imagination comes up with. It may at the tiny, even molecular level, an ideal hospital ward, or an impossible environment, such as the deep ocean or out in space, in a war zone, inside a nuclear reactor, out in the solar system, on Mars being near a black hole.
The advantage of created graphic environments is the ability to allow navigation, as well as the creation of other graphic entities within that world, objects, avatars and so on. It is a manipulable world of bits. You will need to build your world using a 3D graphics package, like 3D studio, then use a tool such as Unity, Unreal or Stingray to build your experience into a functional 3D learning experience, deliverable on specified devices. So you've created a world but where do you go from here? Interactivity. This is where things get trickier.
4, Navigate through worlds
If you want to string still or video environments together to give the user choices on where to go, either by cuts, fade down/fade back up, as used in video or, if in a graphically created world, moving through the environment. This can be done by simply looking at options and pressing a directional pad on the headset (Samsung Gear) or with a controller (Oculus comes with a Microsoft Xbox controller). This greatly expands your possibilities in learning. You give the learner choices and can create levels, progress, games. Navigation is possible but involves programing and hte creation of instructions and a usable user interface. It can be done but needs professional design and coding.
5. Hotspots
Hotspots for pop-up explanations, explanatory videos appearing, graphics or audio is pretty straight forward, as you;re mapping hotspots to the sphere or world you've created in VR. You need to identify hotspots as hotspots. never confuse the learner with hotspots that look as though they're interactive but they are not. One can imagine learning scenarios that get the learner to actually click on things they need to find and identify. One can embed PowerPoint, videos, animations, whatever.
6. Manipulate objects
The next level is to allow learners to manipulate objects. This can be useful in doing experiments, building things, maintenance tasks and so on. I’ve put together pipes and components inside a nuclear reactor, lifted and used safety equipment on an oil rig, grabbed a clip floating around in space to clip myself to the Space Station, before floating around on the outside, used hand controllers to shoot things in games and pull over protection shields. This is all possible with hand controllers, which have buttons and triggers for grabbing, releasing, shooting etc. This is tricky with mobile VR as they tend not to have hand controllers, all manipulation having to take place through the touchpad on your headset. But Oculus and Vive have separate controllers which allow both hands to do things in 3D spaces, as well as grab and so on. Haptic feel is also coming.
7. Avatar interaction
Avatars (human-like characters) can be created and programmed to move within 3D created VR worlds. This allows learning interaction with pre-programmed avatars. Doctors with patients, sales people with potential customers, managers with employees and so on. This is fine for pre-set encounters and directed training, useful in sales, management and soft skills. You have to cope with interaction, either through preselected text options (your questions, requests etc) and their replies. Beyond this lies speech, spoken by you the learner and the avatars you interact with. One interesting aspect of experiential learning is tutor directions and interventions. This can be fed live into your ears by audio or the tutor can be an avatar within the created world. I’ve seen this work well in technical training on oil rigs. There is also the future possibility of tutor support through chatbots. I've been experimenting with these AI-driven chatbots and they can be trained to respond to questions, requests for action etc.
8. Multilplayer interaction
Take all of the above and more, in worlds that are real, created, built and where you can meet, communicate and interact with your friends, business colleagues, customers, teachers whoever. It is no accident that Facebook bough Oculus Rift for an eye watering figure of $2.3 billion. They know that this is where social media is going. The real world is 3D, social media is currently 2D. Fully populated worlds, you can enter, play in and do things beyond our current imagination are coming. It’s frighteningly exciting. This may sound outlandish and way down the line but complete learning environments like this are already on with VR, multiplayer and tutor intervention.
9. Create things
In the outer limits of VR, you can already create your own 3D paintings and sculptures and walk through them. I like these applications. You can choose your brush, create images in a 3D space, stand back look at it, walk through it, stand inside it. This open world, where you create what you want, has an allure that has attracted millions of young people in Minecraft, who do this as a matter of routine. When they can climb inside these worlds a new level of creative effort will have been realised.
10. Hybrid real/virtual VR
You can go on rollercoasters where you wear VR but experience all the thrills of a real rollercoaster with extreme G-forces. What you see through VR is a rollercoaster in a created graphics world, in space, wherever. The VR experience is synched with the actual ride. You can even choose which virtual world to experience and now interact in space battles, at, for example Six Flags theme park. They use Samsung Gear headsets and can enhance the experience even on the oldest of rollercoasters.
VIDEO
I’ve sat in chairs that vibrate as I unlocked the air lock on the International Space Station and used my hands to grip onto handles to pull myself out. If you want to explore, walk, even run, through 3D worlds, a rig in which you stand and walk without moving can also be purchased. The VIVE headset allows you to walk about within a pre-defined cube, made visible from within. External cameras have been added to some headsets. In the porn industry all sorts of ‘objects’ can be used in the simulated of 3D sex (teledildonics). The line between the real and virtual is indeed blurring. It’s AR (Augmented Reality) meets VR (Virtual Reality) meets RR (real reality).
Being practical…
Couple of things to remember with VR. By all means play around with the medium but it needs careful thought and planning. Know what you want to do, choose the right level and understand the limits of the tools you use to capture and create experiences, as well as the tools used to create navigation, interaction and manipulation within those worlds. You have to understand where to place cameras (sitting or standing) and be careful with lighting. Audio is also important. Understand also, the resolution of the final output. It may say HD but the resolution on video will be far worse than that on stills from the same camera. The cost of coding a VR experience is open-ended. Then there’s your target devices – mobiles (selected), Oculus, Vive…. All of these? Remember that these are not easy to deliver via an LMS and SCORM is tricky.
Conclusion
The first three options (1,2,3)allow you to simply create learning ‘experiences’ that are linear and directed. They are cheap to produce, unless you want exotic locations. The next three (4,5,6) allow the learner more freedom with fuller forms of interaction, other than simply looking around. From 7 onwards, things get complex and expensive. If you're interested in doing a project contact me.

 Subscribe to RSS

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

7 FAILS in the way we practice 'failure' in learning

Failure, as we know, is a fundamental part of learning which I have explored elsewhere. Yet failure, in practice, is often used in learning to hinder rather than help learning. It too often becomes defined in practice as a deficit technique, rather than a formative feature of progress. Here’s seven examples of how failure can fail learners.
1. Language of failure
Far too much emphasis is put on final, summative assessment, at the expense of formative assessment, confusing and importing summative habits into formative processes. The summative language of ‘pass’ and ‘fail’ is a mutually exclusive opposition that makes little sense in formative assessment. We take a dualist attitude and transfer it, mistakenly, back across to the entire process of learning. Too many teachers and online learning programmes default to the language of failure, rather than the language of learning. The fact that you have yet to know or master something is a state of ‘not yet knowing’ not failure. Yet the red pen culture and lack of knowledge about feedback, deliberate practice, memory and the role of failure in all learning is endemic.
2. Language of gifted and talented
My heart sinks when I hear parents use these terms about their kids. Even worse, are schools and teachers, who should know better, using a whole raft of terms associated with these fixed ability terms. Attributing success to ‘talent’, ‘ability’ and being ‘gifted’ is disturbing from a head teacher or teacher. You don’t have to be a Dweck freak to realise how destructive this language is in learning. It fixes attributes and therefore demotes effort and practice. It also gives learners a get out clause. Even the learners who succeed with high marks stop at the pass mark and ignore the remainder. The rest, if they are branded as failures (not talented or gifted) will make less effort and many will drop out
3. Hands-up anyone
A good example of awful teaching practice is the ‘hand up anyone’ technique, beautifully exposed in Ferris Beuller “….anyone, anyone.”. The teacher asks a question. This is good as it forces the learners to try to recall the answer but only the ones who know the answer put their hands up and the rest feel deflated. The introverts are excluded, tehre's not enough time for true reflection. It makes no sense. The process of learning needs to be kept positive at this level, not some lazy ritual where people are embarrassed, even castigated for not yet knowing.
4. Whole task assessment
Rather than create, active, effortful learning experiences, where failure is part of the learning process, we set whole tasks and simply repeat those tasks. You don’t learn to write by simply writing, you learn hundreds, indeed thousands of small rules around spelling, sentence structures, punctuation, style and so on. It’s lots of tiny acts of failure and correction that lead to success. The ‘whole language’ movement, for example, led to decades of bad teaching and poor literacy, as it failed to recognise the role of failure in the learning process. Whole task teaching and assessment is the route to self-doubt and failure.
5. Essays
The ‘essay’ is a lazy and vastly overused form of assessment. A Professor of Pharmacology once complained to me that her University forced her to set essays for her Pharmacology students, which she found ridiculous. Smart students simply memorise essays for exams, so they are far from being an adequate form of summative assessment. Hand written essays encourage this as it is difficult to engage in critical writing, which always involves redrafting, structural change and rewriting. Waiting for weeks (the norm) to get a grade back (with scant feedback) on an essay, is a ridiculous form of formative assessment. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve come across parents writing essays for their kids at school and, unbelievably, University. Then there’s the simple fact that you can buy them. Encouragecheating and you’ll get cheats.
6. Marking as end-point
Unnecessary marking is another technique that confuses summative with formative assessment. Professor Black rightly criticises teachers for being over-zealous with marking, when they should be promoting learning. His advice is to drop marking during the formative learning as it does more harm than good. Let’s say a few get a pass by crossing some threshold, let’s say x%. Even with these learners this will act as an end point, leaving 100-x% of the knowledge or skills absent. That’s not good in healthcare, where that 100-x% can kill. It also demotivates those who ‘fail’, so that more damage is done to the whole cohort. For a more detailed account of why marking sucks, see here.
7. Deficit model
The education system is too often seen in terms of a deficit model, a dangerous conceit. Structurally it is layered like rock and the learner has to punch up through these layers while many fail to punch through at each stage. This deficit model, where the system is always failing, with failed schools and failed standards, pushes politicians and professionals towards a deficit model that defines the domain, policy and practice. The glass is always half empty as the language of failure is allowed to dominate. League tables, winners and losers , do little other than promote a culture of failure.
Conclusion

Failure is the end point for too many in this process. To promote and see ‘failure’, not as a means to an end (learning) but an end in itself, is to misunderstand its fundamental role in learning and memory. Sifting, sorting and ultimately abandonment, is to fail to understand the true joy of education and learning. For too many the end point is being branded as a failures. Turn this on its head and see failure as a state of becoming and you turn a fixed entity into a dynamic process and opportunity.

 Subscribe to RSS

Friday, August 12, 2016

5 levels of FAILURE used to succeed in learning

Peter Thiel, in his excellent Zero to One, warns us about fetishizing failure. He hates the old mantra about entrepreneurs having to fail to succeed. Failure, he thinks, can hurt those that fail, as well as the collateral damage that failed businesses bring – job losses, people not getting paid, suppliers with unpaid bills and bankruptcies. He has a point but in the learning process, failure that is limited to the individual, is most certainly a good thing. This blog is called PlanB, in recognition that we have a lot to learn from failure. In fact, it is an essential and, some would argue, necessary condition for learning.
Critical thinking
This may be a bit non-PC but what made Europe a dominant force in culture, commerce and science, was the critical thinking that developed in Ancient Greece. This continued, with a long Dark Ages interlude, when religion all but extinguished this mode of thought, to the development of the scientific method and the idea that all knowledge should be seen as subject to scrutiny, tested, and even then still open to future challenge. Quine applied this to all knowledge. It has held us in good stead.
Learning through failure
Learning is cognitive improvement. It is all about moving on from one mental state to another that improves performance. These small steps forward are, in fact, built on many of small failures. You learn to drive a car by adjusting thousands of small acts of over-steering, going too fast, too slow, taking the wrong line on the road, braking too hard…. You learn by building on many, many small acts of failure. Learning to write means making lots of spelling, punctuation and stylistic errors, eventually getting there over many years. The feedback loop try-fail-learn-repeat lies at the heart of the learning process. Unfortunately there is often a fear of failure in education and training, sometimes even a blame culture around failure. As an antidote to this, here are five levels of failure that one can use when learning or designing learning experiences.
Level 1. Failure recognition
We have all experienced those small, sometimes big, sometimes catastrophic experiences of failure, even humiliation. The teacher that told you that you’d never amount to anything, the exam failure and so on. Actual failure is compounded by the fact that the learning game is soaked in the language of innate ability not development and learning. From ‘Gifted’ children to ‘Talent management’, professionals use the bizarre language of fixed ability, often without realising the consequences.
The first step on the failure curve, therefore, is to recognise and encourage what Dweck calls a growth mindset. This does NOT mean endless praise, which can seem inauthentic and get counterproductive. It does mean encouraging learners to strive for improvement and, importantly, not let failure be the road-block it so often is at school or in other areas of human endeavour. The simple recognition that failure is normal, happens to everyone, and, when seen as the natural step towards improvement, can be turned from a negative to a positive, is a mainstay of good teaching and learning.
Level 2. Tons of tiny steps
Mathew Syed’s book Black Box Thinking draws on many examples of successful learning through failure. One stands out. When David Brailsford announced in 2009, that Team Sky would win the Tour de France ‘within five years’ no one took him seriously. Within three years Bradley Wiggins became the first Brit to win the race. Sure, he had a goal but that is never enough. A focus on ‘leadership’ and ‘goals’ is never enough. It is all about what Brailsford calls ‘marginal gains’, tons of tiny steps, all adding up to bigger success.
In any learning domain this is all about breaking things down into their constituent parts, mastering identifiable competences, and getting them right. So much education and training remains aloof in high levels of abstraction, hazy platitudes and generalities. What is often needed is attention to detail. This is now commonplace in sports’ training but not so common in education and L&D. It should be. In teacher training, for example, far more attention should be paid to specific things one can do to improve your performance as a teacher, through mentors or video captured performance and feedback. If it’s about actual practice, lectures on learning theory are not enough, deliberate practice and improvement really do matter.
Level 3. Deliberate practice
Anders Ericsson studied the role of practice in sport, music, medicine and other domains, where learners move from being novices to experts. He identified several characteristics that distinguish ‘deliberate’ from simple ‘repeated’ practice. First, concentrate, as there is no real learning without attention. Second, break down the task or skill into its constituent parts, so that one you build positively on failure at this micro level, rather than get discouraged by massive failure at the macro level. Third, focus on feedback from failure, either by yourself or by a coach or teacher, as conquering many small failures is the engine at the heart of learning. Fourth, increase the challenge to accelerate the rate of progress. Push yourself beyond your comfort zone, accept the fact that you will fail but embrace this as the price you pay for progress. This is called deliberate practice and upward trajectory based on overcoming failure.
Level 4. Catastrophic failure
Let’s up the stakes once more. Safe failure in dangerous or lethal tasks is the most obvious examples of failure as a means to a good end. Pilots can crash and burn on flight simulators. Doctors can train on surgery and other simulators without harming or killing patients. Emergency service personnel can deal with fire and other incidents without anyone getting hurt or dying. Why do all pilots do simulator training? They go down with the plane. Maybe we should see most, if not all competences, in that light. We should be allowed to push ourselves and accept that safe, catastrophic failure is a force for good.
Simulations, boosted by cheap, consumer price AR and VR will happen over the next decade or two. This will bring realistic, contextualised, learn by doing, attentive learning, that allows as much failure as is necessary for effective and speedy learning, way beyond most classroom training. This is a fantastic opportunity to push learning away from its current theoretical bias towards more realistic practice and success – real performance.
Level 5. Reboot
Let’s push this to one more level. An even stronger form of failure is Reboot failure, where you identify failure, stop and send the learner back to the start of a level or learning experience. This is the secret sauce in successful gaming. You shoot away, get killed, get sent back to the start of the level and try again. Why is this such a successful and addictive feature of gameplay? It’s all to do with accelerating learning. You, in effect, learn how to learn. Being subjected to failure checks your progress (constant assessment), sends you back (repetition) and motivates you to try again with greater effort or knowledge (learning). It’s a virtuous cycle.
This is the one feature of gamification that I like – Reboot failure. Forget all of that Pavlovian froth – collecting emeralds, silver coins and running around pac-man mazes, and focus on risk-reward failure within levels. Allow the learners to try things and fail. But when they fail, the equivalent of being killed in a shoot ‘em up’ game, send them back to the start of the level to start again. Don’t be scared to punish failure as it not only delivers repeated practice but the learner comes back eager to overcome that failure.
There is even a games’ genre that takes this Reboot failure to another level – survival games. In No Man’s Sky, procedurally generated, never-ending, you explore a vast universe of planets but if you die, you get reset back to the start of the game. Get the right balance between challenge, failure and success and you have a multi-million dollar game or a brilliant learning experience.
Conclusion
The most spectacular successes in human progress have been grounded in the recognition of failure. From the critical thinking of the Greeks – pre-Socratics, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle and others – through to the scientific revolution, where we see the world as something to be subjected to challenge, testing and falsification. Potential failure or falsification has led to astounding advances in art, medicine, engineering and technology.
The airline industry is an admirable example of the relentless pursuit of safety and quality through learning from failure. It’s in their DNA. If only that attitude and process could be applied to education and training. Yet the opposite seems to true. We wallow in the world of gifted programmes, summative assessment for selection, lectures, essays, talent management…. The world of learning is a failure factory, not in the positive sense of learning from failure, second chances and progress but one of selection, road blocks, disappointment, discouragement and real failure. As professionals, we seem to have lost our critical faculties, stuck in a time warp of old theory and models that were never verified in the first place; lectures, hands-up anyone, Maslow, Myers-Briggs, Learning Styles, Piaget, NLP, Kirkpatrick. This is not good enough. It introduces certainty where there is nothing but ideological belief and unverified theory and practice. We need to think critically and see failure as part of what it is to learn.
Bibliography
Thiel P. (2015) Zero to one. Virgin Books
Syed M. (2016) Black Box Thinking
Ericsson, K. Anders, Krampe, Ralf Th. and Tesch-Romer. Clemens (1993) The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406
Ericsson K.; Prietula, Michael J.; Cokely, Edward T. (2007). "The Making of an Expert". Harvard Business Review (July–August 2007).
Ericsson, Anders K.; Roring, Roy W.; Nandagopal, Kiruthiga (2007). "Giftedness and evidence for reproducibly superior performance". High Ability Studies.


 Subscribe to RSS