Elearning Needs Tools for Scenarios, Flows, and Decision Branching

The elearning industry needs tools that visualize learning scenarios for learner decision paths, storyboards and simulation branching. Activity in this area seems to have submarined and it needs to resurface.

Where is the innovation in approachable, ease-of-development for elearning? We have access to all theses cool virtual character, simulation and multimedia capabilities. Expectations run higher and higher with each new release of a millionth game or “bullet-time” movie CGI effect.

However, when we want to get great elearning done, we are still left with hand-waving, white-boarding verbal metaphor communication with a Flash expert. What gives?

Elearning had a plethora of new visual tools for creating content in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s including Authorware, CBTExpress, IconAuthor, Lectora Publisher, Quest and more. Recently, "Rapid Elearning" for “SME Empowerment“* seems to be the flavor of the month, though high-end elearning content still gets developed in Authorware, Flash or ToolBook (or general purpose tools like Java, or proprietary purpose-built tools & workflows).

I want a tool that lets me, a somewhat tech-savy instructional designer, to script and visualize 80-90% of the scenes, effects, judging, remediation, enrichment and branching of simulations and scenarios. I want to see the paths through the simulation and decision process. I want to easily prune the deep branches of the decision tree to make learning more time efficient, but leave enough breadth and depth to give in realism in consequences and complexity. I want to add points for a fast-path, demerits for recoverable false-steps and stiff penalties for hazardous decisions and actions.

I need ALL of that more than I need drawing or animation tools. A graphic designer or animator can do all those things well, and I’m not ever matching their proficiency. However, there is too much instructional design theory and design to easily, effectively communicate my intent to a programmer via a simple script or block of PowerPoint slides.

Why is this SO HARD? Can’t new tools be built now that are friendly for web deliver, and instructional design of scenario-based learning? Project management tools seem to handle contingent, critical path and parallel tracks quite well. Role-playing game & MUD tools and engines accommodates rules and scenarios.

Are there tools from other use cases and applications that can be the basis for what we need?

Here’s what got me started on this rant. John Dowdell of Adobe had a nice succinct post on Diagramming interactivity. About the same time, the ElearningPost blog had an entry The Basics of Branching Logic that refers to a Jay Cross interne Time Group blog entry on decision games that I had also read. Couple all this with the high-value long-running series of simulation posts by Clark Aldrich at the ASTD Learning Circuits Blog.

There is clearly a need for an approachable, powerful means to author scenario-based learning and decision games.

*Thanks my friend and colleague Eric Rosen for the cool 60’s-sounding terminology the “SME Empowerment Movement” as an alternative for the now ubiquitous "Rapid Elearning."