The solution to complex training course development? LEGO!

Complex and hyper-realistic simulations

Developing HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) courses isn’t exactly child’s play.

Key elements of every HEAT course are the simulations which have to be hyper-realistic. A simulation can differ from a violent hostage taking by a rebel group to a simple interaction in the street with a corrupt businessman.

To make a simulation realistic you need manpower, equipment, a venue and a planning. One simulation is delivered by one or more trainers and several actors. It also includes props (uniforms, medical equipment, weapons etc) and a setting like a war-torn village.

When you have a multitude of simulations, in multiple locations and several participant groups, it gets complicated.

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The end result of simulation planning

When we started organising HEAT courses 15 year ago, it was quite simple. The small number of participants, the modest level of the training, and the limited curriculum made developing a course fairly simple.

This changed as the number of participants went up, the quality of the courses improved to professional levels and the sheer number of HEAT training courses increased.

Managing overwhelming complexity

In the beginning we mainly used Excel as a means to schedule and manage courses. Although Excel is an effective programme, it is highly abstract. We noticed, as our HEAT courses got more complicated, that using only Excel was not enough.

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Teamwork at its best using LEGO

The number of combinations of trainers, participants, actors, equipment and locations (including transport) became overwhelming.

And then I did not even include the factor time and a storyline yet.

When it gets that complicated, it helps when you visualise what needs to be done.

Visualising complexity in three dimensions

Visualisation is one of the key elements in our courses. The idea behind simulations is learning by doing, learning by experience and adapting your behaviour to see what works in (a simulated) reality. The funny thing is, we did not use this key element to develop our own courses.

In the corporate world, LEGO Serious Play is used to visualise complex problems and develop solutions. We accidently came across this Serious Play approach when we investigated new training methods. We thought; why not use this form of 3D modeling for the development of complex courses?

LEGO has two advantages. First, as mentioned, it helps to visualise something complex. Secondly, most people are familiar with these brick toys. With this method you can gather a group of experts round a table and everybody can contribute (a brick).

Because this method enables you to change whatever you want whenever you want, together the group gets more grip on the problem that has to be solved. By using everybody’s individual knowledge and skills, it is easier to come to a solution.

Designing courses in 3D

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Standing around a large map of the training base, developing the course becomes a team effort. The miniature participants, staff, equipment and cars are moved freely around the map by the experts.

This method gives clarity where Excel lacks oversight. The bottlenecks in the planning and impossible combinations can been seen at first sight. As we investigate the different options, slowly a practical and effective planning emerges. After a few hours, we solve the puzzle. The simulations are ready!

And that is what we do during the development and improvement of our HEAT courses. By using LEGO for discussing, sharing ideas, trying out new ideas, we developed some incredible Basic HEAT and Advanced HEAT training courses.