Or at least the future of this blogspace is. I plan on using this space for short bursts of bemusement, sharing research, updates, and information on our virtual simulation program at the Social Science Research Center. To kick things off, I figured I would share a quick resource that I think anyone poking around here might find useful.

If I had a nickel…

First, I think (at least our) virtual training and simulation work owes some founding respect to Miller’s Law. If you haven’t already been introduced, I am referencing George A Miller’s 1956 article entitled, The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two: Some Limits on Our Capacity for Processing Information. This article is one of the most cited in cognitive psych; and for good reason. (At this point, if I had a nickel for every time this article was cited, according to your friendly neighborhood search engine, I would have: $1,454.95) It has already had a ‘day in the sun’ guiding learning and cognition research… and now, as we learn more about designing virtual environments and maximizing learning outcomes within them, these notes on the limits of complexity return with new meaning.

Virtual storytelling has a serious place in the design process of our virtual experiences. As such, we are learning that we aren’t telling linear stories anymore, and now have 360° of space to engage our audience/trainees. And that brings wonderful potential for engagement and immersion. And the terrifically grotesque specter of distraction. Enter: Miller’s Law. His original article finds that we can hold about 7 things in our brain’s working memory (+2); introducing us to complexity’s role on diminishing effectiveness. Our team recognizes that the responsible design of virtual training and simulation environments is bound to Miller’s Law in this way, and complexity matters.

There are two main implications here. The first deals with how we ‘chunk’ information into manageable bins to move it along through different kinds of memory, and where it finally ‘sticks.’ Designing activities and spaces within these parameters help ensure that learning can occur in something more than a superficial way; it is an experience. The second: our attention is precious and in finite supply. And distraction is costly. It is also an inevitable and constant source of ‘noise’ around our measurements, and that’s certainly true for measurements taken in VR. Designing experiences and activities that make every reasonable effort to limit this noise, has become a guidepost for our developers. Rereading this article while doing work with virtual training environments certainly helped me realize that distraction is natural, beautiful, and absolutely maddening.