High Tech/High Touch Learning
Today we can deliver learning across a spectrum of technology use (high tech) to people (high touch). This page explores this in the context of business simulation.
From my first days using computers "personally" in 1967 I saw them serving two purposes - improving my productivity (I estimate that I saved myself five man-years in my first six months of relatively sparse computer use). More importantly, I see technology as improving my effectiveness, capability and creativity (for example, although my first book was written using a typewriter and a pen, my second book was written using a word processor - this reduced the time required to write by 60% but, more importantly, allowed me to revisit, revise and hone the text - in other words produce a better book).
|High Tech/High Touch
The High Tech/High Touch Spectrum
Business Learning across the Spectrum
Simulated Experience and the Spectrum
Business Simulations and the Spectrum
We live in a world where, arguably, every task involves to a varying degree people and technology. Some tasks are people centric (high touch) and others technology centric (high tech) [Naisbitt, 1 & 2]. Arguably applying business wisdom is high touch as business is not black and white, nor is it grey rather. I see it as iridescent with speckles. However, as discussed here, using business simulations to develop wisdom is a combination of high touch and high tech.
Moursund  sees High Tech/High Touch as two intersecting Venn sets - with one set representing the area where technology contributes better and one set where people contribute better. The sets intersect where both technology and people contribute. Today, the pervasive impact of technology means that I feel that there is a gradual change across a High Tech/High Touch spectrum where in the center there is a wide area where people working with technology is best. (My experience and judgment means that I feel that this central zone is the "sweet spot" and, consequentially, is central to my business simulation design and use.)
To the extreme right (people best) we have tutor and learner intensive learning activities - discussion, role play, case study and the lecture (although, perhaps, the lecture is Low Tech/Low Touch).
To the extreme left (technology best) we have technology intense learning activities and, at the extreme, we have the situation where the learner uses e-learning forlornly.
In the middle we have computer aided or assisted learning where technology is used to support and enhance the role of the tutor and of the learners - my business simulations fit in this area.
There are several reasons why I feel that for business simulations learning should be assisted or aided by technology but, equally, I believe that people are a key part to making business simulations provide effective, efficient and consistent learning.
What People Provide
With my business simulations there are three people (high touch) elements - the individual learner, the participating teams and the tutor.
The Individual Learner provides prior knowledge and experience but it is unlikely that this will be sufficient.
The Participating Teams provide a mix of prior knowledge and experience together with an environment where the learners must present and promote their views. This means that they learn from each other, think deeply about business and consequentially learn effectively and efficiently.
The Tutor, I feel, the tutor cannot and should not be abolished but for business simulations (and for that matter all adult business learning) his or her role is different. He or she is not an instructor (the fount of knowledge) who thoughtlessly transfers factual knowledge. Instead of delivering teacher centric instruction (low touch & low tech), learning needs to be participant centric (high touch). This changes the teacher's role to one where he or she enables learner controlled learning - facilitates it and manages it (high touch).
So, high touch provides two of the crucial learning elements (the learners and the tutor) but there is a third (high tech element) the simulation technology.
What Technology Provides
Besides providing for a better simulation model, technology supports tasks, the tutor, the learner and the learning process.
Simulation Model: The Simulation Model is central to a business simulation and although the calculations required can be done manually by a person this seems to me to be a waste of time. If the calculations are done by the learners this wastes their time and where it is done by the tutor this limits the time available to coach and challenge. Further, if the calculations are done manually, then the scope of the simulation model is likely to be severely limited and the chance of errors high. This is why I do not provide low tech, board games (even though these can deliver learning)
Task Support Technology helps the core business simulation tasks  - administration, facilitation and managing learning - where administration involves ensuring that decisions are processed quickly and correctly, results provided quickly and accurately. I use the term facilitation to describe reactively providing answers to learner's questions and the term managing learning to describe proactive coaching and challenge.
Tutor Support Technology helps the tutor to facilitate and manage learning and is separate from but interconnected with the simulation model and the technology enables and makes tutor support possible.
Learner Support Technology parallels the Tutor Support and primarily supports facilitation (help answer questions). But, additionally to some extent, it automates learning management with timely challenges and coaching
Process Support Technology helps in two areas - with the use of the simulation and with providing an engaging and challenging learning "journey".
As a consequence, I feel that computer business simulations embody the perfect fusion of high tech and high touch.
The position of my business simulations on the High Tech/High Touch Spectrum depends on the type of simulation with the three main types (Direct Use, Tutor Mediated and Computer Enhanced Role-Plays) being positioned across the spectrum. The positioning below is based on use rather than design. For design, the creative/artistic aspects moves the Direct Use and Tutor Mediated simulations towards the right (High Touch) but design for learning process and effective and efficient tutoring and use means that there are still significant High Tech aspects.
Direct Use Business Simulations
Here each team of learners use the simulation directly on their own microcomputer. This transfers administration, a significant part of facilitation and a some of the learning management from the tutor to the learners with the tutor peripheral to the learning process but not eliminated from it. Consequentially, I position these business simulations furthest to the left as they require the greatest support from the technology.
Tutor Mediated Business Simulations
Here the tutor takes decisions from the learners, enters these into the microcomputer, simulates and returns results to the learners. Thus the learners are not directly involved with the technology and the technology needs are less than for direct use business simulations but not to a great extent, This is because with the tutor directly involved there is a need to support the trainer as her or she facilitates and manages learning. Consequently, I position these simulations in the middle of the spectrum.
Computer Enhanced Role-Plays
When working for Honeywell Information Systems and Ashridge Management College I was often involved in running conventional role-plays. Commonly (possibly always) I found that these had two problems. First, instead of reaching a win-win agreement each party wanted to win (at the expense of the other party). And this led to them "inventing" constraints and needs. Second, the financial aspects of the negotiation were (necessarily) trivially simple. I overcame this problem by providing each party with their own simulation model that would be used to evaluate the impact of their proposals. Not only did this prevent invention but also allowed one to have realistically complex financials. In many dozen runs and except on two occasions, this led to win-win resolutions. With computer enhanced role-plays, technology use is minimal and so are to right of the spectrum.
Originally when thinking about High Tech - High Tech it seemed logical to transform the two intersecting Venn sets of Moursund  into a spectrum that allowed a gradual change in the mix of tech and touch. But on reflection, especially when thinking about the lecture as a Low Tech - Low Touch methodology I felt that today High Tech - High Touch is two dimensional.
In the diagram above, I have positioned four training methods in two dimensions - The Lecture (Low Tech - Low Touch), classic E-learning (High Tech - Low Touch), Business Simulations (High Tech - High Touch) and Group Discussions (Low Tech - High Touch). And I feel that you can position other training methods across the matrix.
1. Naisbitt, John (1982) Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives Warner Books, New York
2. Naisbitt, John (1999) High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Search for Meaning Nicholas Brealey Publishing Limited, London
3. Hall, Jeremy J. S.B. (1996) Business Simulation: Virtual Business Experience Hall Marketing, London
4. Moursund, David (2004) High Tech/High Touch: A Computer Education Leadership Development Workshop International Council for Computers in Education, Eugene, Or
5. Hall, Jeremy J. S. B. (1994) Computerised Tutor Support Systems: the tutor's role, needs and tasks in The Simulation & Gaming Yearbook Volume 2 eds. Roger Armstrong, Fred Percival and Danny Saunders Kogan Page London.
Most recent update: 15/06/14
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