Immersion or collaboration?

In something I’ve just been involved in, I realized I had a question.  I’m a fan of scenarios (read: serious games), to the point that I’ve written a book about how to design them!  I’m also a fan of social learning, and consequently argue for the benefits of collaborative assignments.  They both have the opportunity for powerful outcomes.  The question, naturally, is which makes sense when?

This is an important question, to the point that I’ve recommended it as a critical hiring criteria: that a candidate can not only articulate when you should do which, but also articulate how to do both.  Really, if you’re responsible for learning design, you need to go farther: when would you use scenarios, role-plays, or collaborative assignments?  How would you capitalize on the experience, formatively?  How would you design such a practice?

This gets into not only your pedagogical philosophy, but also your meta-cognitive ability.  Before you read my answer, take a moment and think: what’s my answer?  Seriously: what is your answer?

In short. my take is on the nature of the task the learners will be performing in the real world. Will they be performing individually, or will they be working as a member of a team?    There are processing differences (I do recommend that there is collaborative reflection after an individual learning scenario, to get meaningful processing).  Regardless, the core nature of the real world task should be closely aligned to the practice situation. If they’ll perform alone, make it a scenario. If they’ll work in a group, make it  a collaborative task, or a multi-player scenario/role-play.

Regardless, it’s worth checking: who’s your audience, what are your learning goals, and what is the most appropriate practice.  So: immersion, or collaboration?

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