DevLearn10: Paging Dr. Strangelearn

DrStrangeLearn logoLife as a Mad Scientist can be really, really tough. Sometimes it’s difficult to get the other Mad Scientists to sign on to your amazing discovery, your new way of doing things, your “Eureka!” moment.  Everyone has experienced bureaucratic inertia, office politics, and personal opposition to new ideas and innovation, but at Dr. Strangelearn’s Learning Laboratory, you can equip yourself with vital tools to overcome opposition, maybe even help others “learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.”

Dr. Strangelearn and his army of Mad Scientist friends are all characters in Tandem Learning‘s latest alternate reality game designed to enhance the upcoming DevLearn 2010 conference in San Francisco from November 3rd to 5th. The conference, sponsored by The eLearning Guild, will focus on technology-enhanced organizational learning and knowledge-sharing strategies. The Mad Scientists are being played by learning industry experts whose true identities will be unveiled at the conference and on Twitter. At DevLearn10, there will be sessions at the Dr. Strangelearn Information Stations where participants will have a chance to meet the experts.

This year, attendees of DevLearn10 will be exposed to many new learning strategies, and Dr. Strangelearn’s Learning Laboratory will help DevLearn10 participants handle organizational objections to implementing those strategies when they get back to the office. Through the game, research, case studies, and academic papers are being shared with players to arm them with what they need to convince their organizations of the feasibility and value of new learning strategies.

Players not attending DevLearn10 can play along with Dr. Strangelearn’s Learning Laboratory and learn more about the cutting edge in organizational and social learning. Through the game’s website and a slew of Mad Scientists on Twitter, including Dr. Strangelearn himself, players join teams and collect alphanumeric clues to enter into the game’s website. These clues unlock the case studies and white papers about social learning and technology-enhanced training while getting a taste of how alternate reality games are innovating the ways organizations affect change. Although the game is a little light in terms of plot, there’s also a social element to Dr. Strangelearn’s Learning Laboratory: participants share clues with teammates, and they can discuss the white papers and engage in a broader discussion with Dr. Strangelearn and each other through live chat sessions.

Why implement the alternate reality game as a learning tool? According to Tandem Learning President Jedd Gold,

There are many characteristics of ARGs that make it an enticing strategy to achieve learning goals: The excitement and discussion they generate are exactly the type of energy we want to instill in our learners, and the storyline element is a compelling way to learn about many content areas within a dynamic context. It is also a good strategy for audiences whose time is extremely limited, since it does not require learners to dedicate large blocks of time. Instead, touchpoints with the game can occur for a few minutes a day over the course of a few weeks.

Tandem Learning uses the ARG format for other corporate clients interested in implementing new organizational learning initiatives. For example, for a beverage distribution company, Tandem Learning created a fictional hotel, complete with website, menus, and even a commercial. The beverage company’s sales representatives analyzed data, established strategies, and built relationships through interaction with the characters and in-game events.

At last year’s DevLearn 2009, Tandem Learning created an ARG called Zombie Apocalypse. In this game, zombies had destroyed traditional communication methods (like email and phone), and players had to communicate through social media networks to survive the attack. The goal of Zombie Apocalypse was to expose learners to new ways to communicate and collaborate. Game clues and content were distributed through tools like Twitter, Flickr, Youtube, Facebook, and blog posts. Through the course of the game, participants collected articles and information about how social media can be used to support communication, collaboration, networking, and learning within an organization.

If you’re going to DevLearn10, check out Tandem Learning’s expo booth and the Information Station for the game. Tandem Learning CEO Koreen Olbrish will be speaking about ARGs and emerging technologies that can support learning design at the conference. And perhaps you’ll even catch Tandem Learning team members milling around the conference in crisp, white Dr. Strangelearn labcoats.