Virtual Immersive Environments: From Theory to Practice, Part 6: It’s a Poor Craftsman Who Blames His Tools

December 14, 2010

I’ve been a musician for most of my life, and over the last several years I’ve focused my energy on the mandolin. The mandolin is a diabolically complex little instrument, and I became fascinated with the way they were constructed. So, perhaps ill-advisedly, I purchased a mandolin kit and set about building one myself. Initially, I thought it turned out rather well, looking like this:

And I kept feeling that way until I played it. The tone was not unlike a cat battling a raccoon in a submarine. I was crestfallen; I had used the same tools and the same materials as the pros, and it looked pretty good. Why wouldn’t it sing?

So what does this have to do with VIEs? Simply this: producing great results means having more than the right tools—it means having the right skills. I have seen too many organizations go through an arduous process in selecting their VIE platform, only to have the whole effort fall flat when the platform fails to magically change everybody’s lives. I wouldn’t expect to go to Home Depot and buy some wood and tools and come home and magically be a great cabinet-maker. I would expect to spend some time honing my skills—or, failing that, hiring someone who already had great skills to do the building for me.

The rules of instructional design don’t change because we’re working in a virtual environment—they may expand, but they don’t change. Poor tools may sabotage great design, but poor design can’t be overcome by great tools. If you need some ideas on great design, I’ll make my 50th recommendation of Karl Kapp and Tony O’Driscoll’s wonderful book, Learning in 3D. Or feel free to read the other entries in this series.

I’m using VIEs to make this point, but really, the point is pretty universal. Great technology doesn’t create great design; great designers create great design. But great technology makes great design really sing. If you have both, you have magic.

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