Clark Aldrich has long been known for his books, articles, and presentations on educational simulations and serious games. His sixth book, Short Sims: A Game Changer, will publish online as a free ebook Thursday, August 1 (link to the book is at the end of this article). I recently interviewed Clark about his latest work.

BB: Short Sims presents a simple and very effective way to develop and deliver interactive instruction, assessment, and coaching. And you do it in a way that is very specific and easy to execute.

CA: It's the old Oliver Wendell Holmes quote about simplicity: “I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity.” I have gone through my own personal journey of starting simple, getting complex, and now getting simple on the other side of the complexity. I am very genuinely enthusiastic about this methodology. I think it solves a tremendous amount of problems.

How many eLearning books are there where there are not examples of what the author is talking about? For me it's the exact opposite. I want to show people lots and lots of very specific examples.

BB: What you're proposing has a number of benefits that I think a lot of people will be very excited about. There’s the simplicity of development. And instead of requiring hours for employees to play through an educational simulation, a short sim requires only 10 or 15 minutes.

CA: Two paths have to converge. One path is meeting employee needs, but on the other hand how do you meet realistic development cycles? How do you meet sponsors’ needs? How do you meet the stakeholders’ needs? The short sim approach can do both very elegantly and can provide a very short experience for the students.

It should take a developer about 30 hours to create one short sim, which includes a one-hour interview with the subject matter expert and then 29 hours of banging it out, which includes some simple graphics. Which again is nothing at all like what you'd be doing for a game.

BB: Throughout the book you also included content that will help a project manager think about the design and about the production of a short sim. Someone can take this and run with it and actually get a long way towards doing their own short sims and publishing them.

CA: If you have five employees doing this you can be producing one short sim a day. You can catch up on your learning backlog. All learning organizations have a tremendous backlog of content that the organization wants them to do but they can't because it takes so long to build any given course. So the notion of rapidly producing good content, high quality content, effective content, minimizing the formatting, minimizing all those things that can suck up a huge amount of time, is incredibly powerful.

And so you can start not only producing a huge amount of content and catching up with this infinite backlog, you can also again get people in the mood of literally consuming one short sim a day. It's an easy thing to do that's sort of fun and engaging, not arduous, which is part of the notion of a collaborative rather than directed leadership style. But then you can also start pinging your own culture and saying, "Let's learn about stuff. Let me learn where my employees are."

BB: The skillset required to do a short sim is not nearly as big as the skillset that you've got to have available to do a more complex game.

CA: You need a less technical background to do something using short sim dedicated tools, such as Branch Track or even Articulate, both of which I used to create short sims that are in the book. To me it's like using a word processor as opposed to what most eLearning authoring programs are like, which is like using a page layout program. Artificial realities and virtual realities and game engines all require very rare and very expensive skillsets. Obviously that's great for the one or two big blockbusters a year, but it's not great for business as usual. The other problem with the big games is that the skillsets required are so exotic that the games can't be updated very easily. If something changes in the world you can't go into your complex game and make a few small changes to update it, unless you have the original team involved, which is almost never the case.

That’s opposed a program like Branch Track, where you can go in and it takes three seconds for someone who did not create it to find the area where it needs to be changed. If there's graphics that need to be changed, I'm advocating using something like PowerPoint as the graphic driver, which most people know how to use, and if you store the PowerPoint file along with the branching, then the ability to change something is on the order of one or two hours, not five days—if you can find the people with the skillset again.

BB: How are you going to distribute this book?

CA: I'm going to distribute Short Sims: A Game Changer for free on August 1 through the official link for it. There will be no barriers to the download.

Find out more about short sims

On September 19, Clark Aldrich will present “Short Sims: A Game Changer” as Session 501 of The eLearning Guild’s Microlearning Design Online Conference. Learn more about the short sims approach, where it fits in your organization, and project management tips that will help you create your first short sim. Complete program information and registration is available here.