BUSINESS G AMES, S IMULATIONS and D ISCOVERY M APS ®
Improving Corporate Training Results
with Discovery Learning Methodology
By Catherine J. Rezak
You’re sitting in a training room listening to a speaker who seems quite passionate about her subject. You thought
the subject would interest you, but your brain just doesn’t seem to be clicking in. You check your watch. It’s only been
15 minutes. You wonder about dinner tonight. Should you take the family out or bring in some pizza? Wait. Pay Corporate learning professionals can’t
attention. What did she just say? It certainly sounded important. Maybe a co-worker is taking notes. Where’s Todd? afford to waste time or money on
training programs that don’t produce
Oh yeah, over there. But he seems to be dozing. Pizza it is. You check your watch again: 20 minutes. Or maybe tacos.
results. Discovery learning is a proven
Sound familiar? As a learning professional, you can’t afford to waste time—or money—on instructional approach that actively
training programs. And while keeping learners’ attention seems like a basic consideration, it can be involves participants in the learning
a real challenge. process. Techniques like business
It’s not surprising that brains go elsewhere during a lecture—brains just aren’t made to be games, simulations and Discovery
Maps® are all part of well-designed
talked at. Talking, no matter how animated or passionate, doesn’t provide enough stimulation for
discovery learning sessions. All of this
our brains to work … and so they don’t. And if our brains don’t work, we don’t learn. Period. leads to accelerated learning, high
Organizations today, facing increased competition from all areas of the globe, need educated knowledge retention and motivated
managers and employees who can solve problems, work in teams, understand complex issues, learners who can successfully transfer
deal with fast-paced change, and learn new skills quickly and effectively. This means that training what they’ve learned in a classroom
Island Center, 2 701 North Rocky Point Drive setting to their jobs. In this white
Tampa, F lorida 33607 organizations need to provide learning opportunities that effectively address these issues in ways
paper, you’ll learn about the five
(813) 287-9330 that produce high retention rates, resulting in bottom-line results as employees take their new
characteristics of effective discovery
www.ParadigmLearning.com skills back to their jobs. learning experiences, the steps in a
If lectures and other “sage on the stage” approaches don’t work, then what does? discovery learning design and the
BUSINESS G AMES, S IMULATIONS and D ISCOVERY M APS ®
Enter discovery learning. advantages of discovery learning over
What Is Discovery Learning? in great demand, discovery learning can help organizations offer facilitated discovery, actively exploring information in order to combination, set it apart from other learning methodologies.
training that works quickly—and well. find connections with what they already knew and forming Team Problem Solving: During a discovery learning session,
Discovery learning is a powerful instructional approach that guides conclusions from this exploration. The teacher’s role was to help raise learners engage in problem solving with other learners, using their
and motivates learners to explore information and concepts in order A Brief History of Discovery the interest of learners, guide them in discovery and ensure relevance combined knowledge and experience to achieve a goal. Small
to construct new ideas, identify new relationships, and create new Learning of the exercises. teams—generally two to six learners per team—work together to
models of thinking and behavior. Over time, the term “discovery learning” was often used to explore, discuss, analyze, make decisions, challenge assumptions and
As early as 1916, an American philosopher, psychologist and
When they are well designed, discovery learning educational define this process. accomplish other tasks. This approach “protects” learners (“I’m not
educational reformer, John Dewey, studied the concept of “learning
sessions are highly experiential and interactive. They use stories, alone in this activity”) while it provides powerful peer reinforcement
by doing.” In his book on the subject, Democracy and Education,
games, simulations, visual maps and other techniques to get
Dewey argued that it was critical for teaching to go beyond the
Discovery Learning in Corporate and feedback.
attention, build interest and lead learners on a journey of discovery
presentation of facts. Social interaction during the learning process,
Education Hands-on Learning: Active participation by learners in
toward new thinking, actions and behaviors. exploring information and ideas helps get brains engaged in the
he believed, was critical so that learning could be integrated into Discovery learning techniques began to find their way into the
The discovery learning approach incorporates three learning process. Physical engagement might mean moving game
students’ lives. His core concept was that developing problem- world of corporate education in the early to mid-’90s. Initially,
key ideas: pieces around a game board; assembling, prioritizing or integrating
solving and critical-thinking skills was more important than some training suppliers and corporate training professionals began
1. Problem Solving: The learning design must guide and items to solve problems; engaging in rehearsals or games; or
memorizing facts. His thinking was often referred to as “progressive to incorporate discovery-oriented exercises into their existing
motivate learners to participate in problem solving as they physically moving around the learning environment to accomplish
education,” and it significantly influenced the educational field training programs. Traditional training, however, continued to
pull together information and generalize knowledge. assigned tasks. Getting learners moving and manipulating gets
throughout the 20th century. dominate until several pioneering training suppliers began to offer
2. Learner Management: Learning must be learner-driven them learning.
The concept of students as active, participating, collaborative innovative new programs and services that used more-robust
so that participants, working alone or in small teams, can Guided Discovery: Learners must be guided along a path
learners was studied by other psychologists and researchers discovery learning approaches.
learn in their own ways and at their own pace. toward discovery of ideas, concepts and information. This requires
throughout the 1900s. Jean Piaget, a biologist and philosopher, One of these companies, Paradigm Learning, began designing
3. Integrating and Connecting: Learning must encourage two things:
focused his research on the thinking and reasoning processes. In discovery-based programs in 1994 and offering them to Fortune 500
the integration of new knowledge into the learner’s existing 1. A learning design that builds ever-increasing
works that were published in the 1960s and ’70s, he demonstrated companies in the form of classroom-based games and simulations.
knowledge base and clearly connect to the real world. understanding and comprehension in learners without
that children were not “empty vessels” to be filled with knowledge, Since that time, more than 1,000 organizations have used Paradigm’s
Discovery learning works because it ensures that learners’ brains causing frustration or apathy. Challenging yet achievable
but instead were active participants in building their own programs worldwide. This article describes Paradigm’s perspective,
are engaged in the learning. The learning environment promotes activities allow learners to stretch their thinking and
knowledge base. approach and techniques as they have evolved since 1994.
strong involvement—participants may be manipulating pieces on be successful. (A test of a good learning design: look for
Jerome Bruner, an educational psychologist, studied cognitive
a game board, working with other learners to make a decision, or
learning theory in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s. Bruner looked at learning Five Characteristics of Effective scrunched-up foreheads followed by smiles and facial
pulling together seemingly disconnected pieces of information from
acquisition and proposed a discovery-oriented approach for schools. Discovery Learning Experiences expressions that indicate “aha” moments.)
a variety of sources to solve a problem. Because it engages learners’ 2. A learning facilitator who is a guide rather than a
He promoted the concept that learning is a process of creating new The content of learning programs is critical. Equally important,
brainpower, discovery learning accelerates the learning process and teacher during the learning activities. Facilitators provide
ideas based on current and past knowledge. Students, he found, however, is the process for delivering that content to learners. A
results in higher levels of retention than more traditional learning initial guidance, monitor progress, steer learners back on
could be more successful learners by working in environments that discovery learning experience has several characteristics that, in
approaches do. With learning time in short supply, and learning track if necessary, ask questions to ensure understanding,
2. Acceleration of Learning: Because discovery learning Discovery Learning: Online or Live? subject that is difficult for learners and may not be attractive enough engage with the story line and participate within the team.
programs are so highly engaging, learners quickly begin to hold their attention online, if peer experiences and/or knowledge A business game is a competitive activity in which players,
using their minds to digest new information, make Many of the techniques of discovery learning can be used effectively can help others learn or commit, or if learners will need to use the within a structured set of rules or guidelines, contend with obstacles,
connections to their previous experiences and pull within an online environment. Games, simulations, models and skills within on-the-job teams, the classroom is the more effective make decisions and work toward a goal. Challenges abound,
together disparate pieces of knowledge. Assimilation of other strategies can be used to help learners work through the delivery approach. and players interact with one another individually or as part of a
the program’s content, therefore, is accomplished more exploration and discovery of information, concepts and ideas. team—to “win.”
easily and quickly. Using these techniques can make online education more engaging A Cautionary Word about Games should be designed with a clear focus on building
3. Acquisition and Retention of Learning: In self-report and effective. Business Games and Simulations learners’ knowledge and/or skills. That means that it’s not enough
studies and post-session evaluations, learners consistently There is, however, a key drawback that can be more or less as Learning Tools for the experience to be “fun.” Unlike games marketed to consumers
report and/or demonstrate better understanding and significant, depending on the educational issue being addressed. that usually don’t have a learning objective, business games must
Since games and simulations are being used more frequently in
recollection of information and skills after receiving them Team (peer) interaction is easier in a live session and can be incorporate guided choices that lead to well-defined learning goals.
corporate education, it is important to understand what they are and
experientially, when compared to more passive learning powerful as issues are explored together toward higher levels of For example, a board game on business finance and strategy in which
how to use them well.
approaches. understanding and commitment. For example, when one of our learners run a company to see the impact of business decisions on
A business simulation replicates a slice of reality from the
4. Transfer of Learning to the Job: Because well-designed clients was implementing a very comprehensive—and expensive income statements and balance sheets will have to offer decision
work environment. It compresses time and allows learners to
discovery learning approaches mirror or illustrate learners’ —new technology solution, online education that focused on how “choices.” In this way, “outcomes” of the various choices can be
experiment with and experience that reality in a safe environment. A
actual job environments to use the new technology was clearly aligned with learning objectives.
simulation promotes intense
and because they have “The post-course evaluations say it all. ‘It was the successful. However, getting “Our employees need to be engaged by training A decision-making “free-for-all” could
learner engagement and can
most fun and interesting class I’ve ever taken,’ one employees to understand it and methods that stimulate their senses and keep them be fun, but wouldn’t necessarily lead to
clear job connection be used to educate in a wide
participant writes. ‘Makes me want to learn more,’ commit to using it was another involved in focusing on the issues. We’ve tried the
activities and exercises variety of subject areas. important insights and knowledge.
writes another. ‘Fun and so easy to stay engaged,’ traditional book and lecture methods but found that
built into the experience, story. Only when the company Business games should also be designed
another participant writes. ‘I found myself wishing that Business simulations games and simulations really turned the lights on
learners are more likely to college finance and accounting had been delivered with elected to gather groups of inside people’s heads.” so that no person or team fails. To keep
should be true to a work
transfer new knowledge or a similar approach.’” employees together to work
environment so that transfer – International Thompson the competition engaging, a design
– Expedia through a guided discovery can certainly incorporate “degrees” of
skills to the workplace. of knowledge learned to
Discovery learning programs experience did the lightbulbs winning. However, participants who feel successful will be more
the job is as easy as possible. For example, a simulation that places
take more time and expertise to design than traditional training begin to go on about what the new technology was intended to do willing to internalize the learning and use it on the job.
learners in a fictitious company dealing with a work-appropriate
programs. This is, no doubt, why few external suppliers and internal and why it was so important to the company’s success. Discussion
project as a way to learn project management skills will be more
training professionals use this approach when building their and dialogue were needed to make that level of acceptance happen.
successful than one that places learners on a deserted island and has
Discovery Maps®: One Type of
educational offerings. However, there seems to be growing evidence Some other things to consider: Given the sometimes
them build a boat. Simulations should also be designed in ways that
Discovery Learning Application
that use of this methodology can make a big difference in how higher dropout rate of online learners, it is important to assess
use the full spectrum of the senses—incorporating written, verbal A discovery learning application that is gaining wider and wider
quickly and effectively learning is assimilated and retained. the importance of the subject and/or communication to the
and visual tools—so that learners with different learning styles can acceptance, especially in larger corporations, is the use of “maps” to
organization. If it is critical to ensure that learners “get it,” if it’s a
communicate with and educate employees around organizational
issues. Colorfully illustrated table-sized graphics—Paradigm
and context. This makes employees much more likely to grasp the
issues, become committed to the changes, and understand their own
How Expedia Accelerated Its Managers’ Learning
Project management and business acumen training employs discovery learning approach
Learning refers to these as Discovery Maps®—are designed to capture roles and responsibilities.
messages and information relevant to the company’s strategic
issues. These maps form the visual foundation of one- to three-hour Conclusion Expedia, the world’s leading online travel provider, relies To address the issue of developing business acumen,
experiences during which small teams of learners, guided by activity
heavily on project teams to tackle complex sales, operational Expedia chose another business game—Zodiak®: The Game of
Rapidly changing technologies, marketplace globalization, aggressive
and customer service issues that require increasing speed and Business Finance and Strategy.
cards and other exercise materials, explore and discuss concepts, competition, escalating costs and an ever-growing war for talent efficiency. By allowing small teams of learners to run a fictitious
information and ideas. mean that a company must provide ongoing—and effective— Expedia executives realized that these project teams would company for three business years, Zodiak® helped Expedia
In some cases, game elements, case studies, simulations and learning opportunities for its employees. work more efficiently if team members and team leaders shared a managers understand how organizations earn and spend
critical-thinking guides are incorporated into the learning experience To be successful, these learning opportunities must impart baseline knowledge about project success and if they understood money. Going beyond basic financial literacy, the game
to provide interest, variety and on-the-job application tools. the financial and strategic issues that were critical to achieving strengthened their understanding of what it really takes for a
the most important knowledge and develop the most critical skills.
the company's goals. Expedia needed learning experiences company to make a profit and generate cash.
Discovery learning maps can be especially powerful when They must motivate learners to want to learn. They must educate that would meet an expressly stated learning goal: make sure How have the learning experiences worked? The
companies need employees to understand organizational employees as rapidly as possible. And they must transfer the learning employees can join a project team and contribute immediately. post-course evaluations say it all. “It was the most fun and
changes—what they are, why they are important and what is to the workplace. There was one other factor in play for Expedia in choosing interesting class I’ve ever taken,” one participant writes. “Makes
needed for a change to be successful. Discovery learning’s place in the learning programs. The company's culture is fast paced and me want to learn more,” writes another. “Fun and so easy
Because map sessions are visual and “Regence’s Discovery Map was designed to employees love being challenged. to stay engaged,” another participant writes. “I found myself
corporate educational arena is clear. It
be experienced by all employees and stresses With that in mind, Expedia looked for training that wishing that college finance and accounting had been delivered
engaging, and because they guide small is a powerful training methodology for
two key points: what our company is doing would be both fun and comprehensive. According to one with a similar approach.”
teams of employees to work together and what we want our employees to do to today’s—and tomorrow’s—workplace. training executive, “It would be unconscionable to sit Expedia ■
as they learn, participants “discover” contribute to the overall success. Three years ■ employees in a room and have somebody lecture to them about
information in the form of both content ago, [Regence’s] transformation [consisted of ] the basics of project management for a day. They would just
words on paper. Now we can ‘see’ what we’re wither and die in that environment.”
doing, and that’s motivating!” Expedia turned to discovery learning to tackle both
– Regence Group improving project management skills and improving business
acumen. Countdown®: A Strategy Game for Project Teams,
is a discovery learning simulation that focuses on building
successful project teams and kick-starting new projects.
Learners are quickly immersed into a fictitious company and
manage a project from start to finish. They are bombarded
with incoming emails, voice mails, project changes, budget
problems and more and learn to use such PMBOK® tools as
a Gantt Chart, Project Scope Document, Work Breakdown
Structure, and Responsibility Matrix. They also learn concepts
and behaviors required for project team effectiveness.
Hyundai Leadership Gets Up to Speed Making Play Productive
Discovery learning supports leadership training
Four fundamentals ensure that significant learning takes
place during discovery learning activities:
Hyundai Motor America, based in Fountain Valley, California, During Impact5, Hyundai managers are engaged in a
is a subsidiary of Hyundai Motor Co. of South Korea which competitive business simulation. Teams of participants manage • People learn more intensely by seeing and doing—
employs 68,000 people and has annual sales exceeding $57 a department within a fictitious company and see the impact not by being taught.
billion. of their decisions on the company's financial success. They face
Over the years, Hyundai had found its leaders in the the challenge of getting results, struggle with personnel issues, • People use their senses—sight, sound, touch—in
two usual ways: by bringing them in from other companies deal with interdepartmental relationships, and balance tactical ways that enhance learning.
or by promoting them from within the company. Hyundai’s and strategic decisions. They get blindsided. They regroup.
research, however, turned up an interesting statistic: of those They analyze. They take action. And they learn about being • Thinking is encouraged and mistakes are OK.
executives brought in from outside, only 22 percent remained part of a larger leadership team whose individual and collective Both lead to discovery.
after five years, while 75 percent of those promoted from within actions affect employees, customers and the business as a
remained after the same time period. It became obvious that whole. • Connections are made to the real world of work—
homegrown leadership was worth cultivating. This fast paced and highly interactive learning experience so learning sticks.
Hyundai executives decided to create a comprehensive makes the knowledge and skills learned throughout the entire
leadership development program—an intensive “MBA- Hyundai leadership program come vividly to life. “It just ties
style” course—that would focus on educating and growing everything together,” says Tom Dell, Hyundai’s manager of
accountable and skillful leaders. training and organizational development. “We read books, we
A key part of the overall leadership program is a discovery give presentations, we talk about what leadership is and how
learning experience called Impact5: The Business of Leadership it works, but Impact5 is the way we apply everything we’ve
Game®, which helps participants learn the responsibilities talked about.”
of leadership, understand how their decisions are directly ■
linked to short- and long-term business results and ultimately
embrace their leadership roles. speaker at corporate learning events, including
About the author: Catherine J. Rezak American Society of Training and Development
Catherine J. Rezak is chairman and co-founder of Paradigm (ASTD) annual conferences. She has appeared on
Learning, a training and communications organization specializing CNN Financial News and has had articles
in the design of business games, simulations and Discovery Maps®. published in such journals as Strategic Communication Management,
Paradigm Learning has created highly acclaimed business games the Journal of Organizational Excellence and Project Management Network.
and simulations in the areas of talent leadership, business acumen, From 2003-2006, she served as president of ISA – The Association
project management, team building and leadership. Cathy focuses of Learning Providers.
on a variety of projects, most notably in the areas of new product ■
development, marketing and client relations. She is a frequent