Imagine being in a hostile foreign country commanding a unit of fresh-faced soldiers. You want to be prepared, you want to make good decisions and you want to be a leader.
But how can you truly prepare someone for this role? One possible answer is simulations, such as “Outside the Wire,” a WILL Interactive Virtual Experience Immersive Learning Simulation (VEILS), a cross between a feature film and a computer game that immerses individuals into potentially real situations and circumstances.
“Just the opening scene of ‘Outside the Wire,’ where you have people who are being shot and killed [is] enough to awaken lieutenants, who [will] now understand the impact of their decisions — that they’re responsible for lives under their leadership,” said Gayle Olszyk, deputy to the commander for training at the U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools.
“What choices you make are going to impact a lot of other people. That’s a reality that is very difficult to present to an officer in a written scenario. This is the reality of what you’re going to be facing when you get to Iraq.”
Simulations allow participants to see the effects of their decisions play out before them. The skills taught through “Outside the Wire” — leadership, teamwork and cross-cultural communication — are critical in the army, but they are universal skill sets that can be just as important in the corporate world.
“It’s so powerful because people become highly engaged. And it’s really a reach back so that, down the road, when they are in a similar situation under very high stress, it is as though they have a prior experience that they can draw upon even though they obtained that experience in a safe environment,” said Sharon Sloane, CEO and co-founder of WILL Interactive.
“Many of the challenges that chief learning officers and others who are leading the way in education confront is how to make content what we call ‘sticky’ — how to get people to internalize it at such a level that it will be there when they need it in the heat of the moment, whether it’s a budget crisis or a war.”
The U.S. Army Ordnance Center and Schools uses “Outside the Wire” because it says there is no better way to illustrate the cause-and-effect relationship of decision making.
“The Army does a magnificent job in training leaders,” Olszyk said. “But it’s tough to teach the experiences. You don’t want them to get to Iraq and have to experience the learning through mistakes. This [‘Outside the Wire’] allows them in this safe environment to make wrong decisions and understand what the second- and third-order effects are.”
The simulation has two effects: It prepares leaders, and it engages the younger generation.
“At one time, putting materials out in a book format was appropriate,” Olszyk said. “But this younger generation, they like the use of games and that type of technology. They need to have their fear tightened through this type of environment because that’s the reality of what they’re going to face. They are more interested and more excited about doing training this way versus just sitting in a classroom and talking about people’s experiences. This really puts them in those shoes.”