Living Our Mission: Learning is Built into Project Ares, Thanks to Victoria Bowen, Instructional Designer at Circadence

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Victoria Bowen has worked in the instructional design field for about 35 years – primarily developing e-learning with a smattering of web development, SharePoint development, and Learning Management System administration. She holds an undergrad degree is in psychology, a master’s in special education, and doctorate in curriculum, instruction, and supervision with emphasis on instructional design.  What that means is that she knows how people learn and what aids and interferes with learning in training products. Victoria worked an IT security services company and then transitioned to a training role with the Air Force’s Cyberspace Vulnerability Assessment/Hunter (CVAH) weapon system. “I was responsible for the training database and the app store for several versions of CVAH.  I also developed user guides and training materials,” she said. Victoria served in that role for about nine months before joining the Circadence team.

Since September 2013, Victoria’s main job as an instructional designer has been to analyze training needs for Circadence products. She helps assess target audiences for Circadence products to determine learning goals and objectives for the product designers. She establishes the behaviors that a user would be assessed against, after engaging with the product, to ensure learning has occurred. Victoria also suggests ways to evaluate those behaviors to optimize product utility. In doing so, she prepares training outlines and documentation and writes content development processes and learning paths. Mapping Job Qualification Requirements (JQRs) tasks to training tasks is a regular function of Victoria’s job alongside mapping National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) standards to training tasks. She ensures the core skills addressed in our curriculum creation tool Orion™ align to defined NIST standards.

Applying instructional design theory to new technology

What keeps Victoria returning to her desk every day is the challenge of learning and applying instructional design theory to cutting edge training technology. Although the old rules still apply, Circadence is leading the way in developing new rules and research on how learning happens and best practices for simulations like Project Ares®. We know a lot about constructivism as an underlying theory, but to apply it gaming environments like Project Ares is new and fascinating,” she says.

The challenge of applying theory to technology is complicated by the fact that new books about instructional design and cognitive analysis and processing are published frequently. And there are new online articles every month. Also, there is a growing emphasis on instructional analysis before beginning training development projects, so there is a growing emphasis on analytical skills for instructional designers. These skills help us design the right training, just enough training, and just in time training for learners.

“Ensuring we are constructing an environment in which the player is constantly learning, not just performing a task or activity is essential.  We need the player to understand the what, when, how, and why related to the tasks they perform in the environment.  For deeper learner and better retrieval from long term memory, we also need the player to understand how their tasks relate to each other.” Victoria says. “Furthermore,” she adds, “we want the player’s understanding and performance to progress from novice to intermediate to expert. That doesn’t happen just by repetition. There must be instruction too.”

Instructional design within Project Ares

For the Project Ares Battle Rooms and Missions, Victoria collaborates with cyber security subject matter experts to write the learning objectives and assessment criteria, provide role-based learning content outlines, identify gaps and redundancies in content, and review product design to ensure high quality instructional design aspects. For inCyt™, she’s written the scripts for several of the cyber security lessons. Finally, Victoria also reviews and identifies instructional design issues such as scrolling text and text display not controlled by the user, “both of which interfere with cognitive processing by the user and adversely affect transfer from short term to long term memory,” she adds.

“I have a different challenge every day and I like challenges. I’m also fascinated by cyber security and enjoy learning more about it every day. Instructional research has consistently supported that interactivity is the most important component of instruction regardless of delivery method. We have a very interactive environment and that’s great for retention and transfer of learning to real world application.”

Victoria’s passion for intelligent learning systems dates back to her time in school. “When I was a poor graduate student at the University of Georgia, I paid around $25 a month in overdue fees to the library so I could keep the AI books I checked out longer. (Once they were turned in, professors usually got them and could keep them up to a year.) There were only about 25 books on that topic at the time. Today, it is remarkable to see what our AI team can do with Athena.”

Why persistent cyber training matters

The cyber world is changing very fast. People need to learn constantly to keep up with their job requirements. Cyber challenges are not about cookie cutter solutions. It’s important that the cyber operator learns cyber problem solving, not just cyber solutions. By jumping into a training program and being able to craft different approaches to solving problems and test those approaches, the cyber professional can learn skills that directly help them do better on the job. Plus – a big plus – the training is fun!

Inside inCyt: The Benefits of Gamified Cybersecurity Learning (An Interview with Cassie Brubaker)

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Here at Circadence, we are dedicated to taking cybersecurity learning to the next level. We do this through gamification that is accessible to all ages and ranges of knowledge on the subject. Our own Cassie Brubaker, co-creative director on our security awareness mobile app inCyt™, helped us understand the differences between learning and training, and how games can bring value to skill building in the technical world.

Why does cybersecurity really matter in today’s interconnected world?

C: When we don’t understand something, we don’t feel empowered. So, when I think about the importance of cybersecurity and cyber awareness, it’s more a story of empowering people to take back control of their lives. It’s a story about not being scared to live your day-to-day life because you understand [cyber] and you’re in control of it and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

I get that everybody needs to make their companies more secure, but I think it comes at a personal level too. If you feel in control over your personal life, you’re going to be a better contributor to your entire business, you’re going to be a better contributor to your family, you’re going to be a better contributor to yourself.

When we learn more about cybersecurity, we are empowered. Given your expertise with game development, what are the differences between learning versus training?

C: Games provide an inherently clever method to promote learning. There is a place for training, but in my mind, it’s a lot more formal. Learning has a broader application for me. It can happen in all kinds of different moments. You never know when you’re going to learn something new and that’s the magic of it. Training is more like, “let’s get this piece of information across in this specific way.” With our game inCyt, I’ve had so much fun trying to find all the different ways you can learn. You can play it again and again and it’s a little different every time. I can’t guarantee what lesson you’re going to learn when you play today and I don’t know what lesson you’re going to learn when you play tomorrow, BUT you’re going to learn something because you’re engaging with a well-designed product that has been crafted in such a way to give you all kinds of realistic experiences as it pertains to cybersecurity. 

Let’s talk briefly about inCyt and how it uses gamified learning.

C: inCyt is a mobile app that builds cybersecurity awareness. It is designed to educate everyone on fundamental cyber concepts and attack methods. It does this through two learning paths:  a concept learning component and gameplay component for individuals or teams.

The solution is taking the common perception of cybersecurity and flipping it on its head. Cybersecurity, as it exists today, does not conjure up feelings of peace and comfort the way you might expect from a field focused on security and safety. inCyt brings a radically different approach to the existing landscape – one that invites anyone and everyone to step out of the darkness and take their first step towards cyber enlightenment. One of the cool things about this product is that you’re learning organically about cybersecurity as you play, but you’re just having fun battling with your friends. The more and more you play, the more the cyber concepts start to sink in because you’re seeing them applied in real-world scenarios.

Who should play inCyt?

C: inCyt has been designed to reach all ages and experience levels. It’s ultimately designed for people who know very little about cybersecurity, but because we’ve built it to be playful and with a bit of strategy, even people who are cybersecurity professionals could play it and enjoy it. One of the things we found in testing within the company is that people who do this for a living will play it and say, “I think I could actually use this with my family, they don’t understand what I do.”

What is the ultimate value in a game like this?

C: The ultimate value of inCyt as a product for any company is that it is first and foremost fun for your employees to play. They are going to jump in and not going to feel like they’re being put through some mundane training exercise. There are two different ways that were teaching employees about cyber awareness. One of them is what I call “organic lessons” and that’s what happens primarily in the gameplay itself. We give players a bunch of cyber tools and allow them to experiment through gameplay and find what strategies work. In doing this, we’re creating employees that think one level bigger, more strategically about the “whys” and the “what’s” as opposed to a memorized list of rules that need to be followed. Nobody likes that. After learning the basic cyber concepts, players can compete in the gameplay portion of the app.

When working on inCyt, how did you address different learning styles?

C: In terms of different learning styles, that’s really where we’ve gone into playtesting as our method to lean against. Everybody wants something a little bit different when they play – some people want all of the answers up front, they want to know exactly how to use it and they want to know why they’re doing it, while some people want to experiment. Through those playtests, we’re able to make variations of the gameplay that hit the largest range of learning styles. It’s really from a human engagement level, less of a theoretical learning style level. That’s why the playtests have been so helpful for us.

For more information on the benefits of gamified learning, check out the below-recommended reading.

 

Recommended Reading:

The Importance of Gamification in Cybersecurity Training

Why Gamification is the Answer You’ve Been Looking For

Benefits of Gamified Learning