For Roger Schank, director of Northwestern University's Institute for Learning Sciences, education theory boils down to one lesson: "What you know is trivial. The real issue is what do you know how to do?"
That's the principle behind the interactive simulation his group designed for Andersen Consulting. The CD-ROM-based program, called Business Practices Course (BPC), simulates the challenges encountered on a typical consulting engagement. Schank's virtual school of learning-by-doing seems to be working: BPC cut training time by 40% and saved Andersen's corporate training university $10 million.
The BPC simulation follows a few basic learning rules:
1. People are more likely to learn by making mistakes than by being told what to do.
2. Education on demand is more effective than education on schedule. Users control the pace and direction of learning.
3. People understand and remember best when information comes in the form of well-told "war stories" from expert veterans. BPC features a dynamic "corporate memory" of video clips culled from hundreds of hours of interviews with experts.
4. Performance can be improved only by performance. Trainees face the direct consequences of all their actions and can scroll ahead to learn the results of their decisions.
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A version of this article appeared in the October/November 96 issue of Fast Company magazine.