Haji Kamal is probably one of the most famous elearning scenario examples in the public domain. When designers talk about scenarios this seems to be one of the ones everyone knows. Why is it so good?
Connect With Haji Kamal, to give it its full title, was developed for the US Army by Cathy Moore and the elearning company Kinection. It was one element of a wider blended programme for soldiers to increase their understanding of and empathy for the cultures of the countries in which they were fighting.
The title screen: start as you mean to go on
Notice how the title screen is unlike any typical elearning introduction. There’s no ‘At the end of this module …’. There’s no spelling out pre-requisites or who it’s intended for.
We’re told only:
- it’s based on a real event (a recorded conversation between a soldier and a Pashtun leader in Afghanistan)
- there are multiple ways through the game (note game, not course or module)
- how long you can expect it to take.
At bottom right we’re pitched straight into the story: “Your lieutenant is young. He’s new. He’s about to screw up – unless you give him good advice.”. The title screen is more like the trailer for a TV programme than an elearning course.
Helping Lieutenant Harrill
It’s not stated who ‘you’ are, but your job is to help Lieutenant Harrill, fresh from the US on his first deployment, to gain the trust and co-operation of a local leader, Haji Masoud Kamal. Two squad leaders, Sgt Ramos and Sgt Butler, are introduced to act as ‘angels and devils’ debating what the lieutenant should say.
This gives a chance to bring out principles – the principles behind the best action but also the reasons the learner might pick a wrong action. When the two sergeants have had their say, you have the choice of what you recommend Lt Harrill should say.
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By making it third-person in this way (you are not Lt Harrill) we give some comfortable distance and the chance to think more critically about the choices. Cathy chose third-person for this because, among other reasons, soldiers are sensitive to rank and role, and this was for all ranks, not just lieutenants.
Comic-strip format: true grit
Like The Broken Co-worker, this module uses the comic strip as its metaphor. There’s no video, but a skilful use of highlighting and colour changes gives a sense of action. The images themselves came from a stock photo site and put through a filter to look like line drawings. Kinection user tested the graphic approach. Soldiers were shown a variety of comic styles and this gritty photo-to-line filter was the one they chose. It’s easy to imagine their reaction to typical elearning childish cartoon styles.
To increase the dramatic effect, the to-and-fro debate between the two squad leaders is conducted in audio, with the face of the speaker highlighted. There’s an option to turn on captions if audio isn’t suitable.
You progress through four or five decisions (offending Haji Kamal too early means you have to restart), each one a simple choice but with the two squad leaders debating – and thus exposing – common reasons for failure. They’re both credible characters, with neither of them being the ‘goodie’ or ‘baddie’.
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The debrief for Haji Kamal was always done in face to face discussion. It was too important to leave to a few screens of elearning. This was challenging stuff for most of the soldiers, well outside their comfort zone. They needed time to discuss the ramifications and think themselves into how they would behave differently in their next deployment.
In fact Cathy discovered that the soldiers preferred doing scenarios on paper in a group context to doing them onscreen individually. They weren’t fans of elearning but they did enjoy the decision-making form of learning and if paper was how they wanted to do it, paper was the way. The success of the project was down to the fact that everything was credible and nothing was patronising.
Haji Kamal was so well executed and well received that Kinection now offer a series of similar scenarios for returning soldiers dealing with trauma and PTSD. (https://www.warriorstories.com/)
Try Connect With Haji Kamal here: http://www.worldwarfighter.com/hajikamal/activity/
You can find out a lot more about the story behind it on Cathy Moore’s page about it, particularly in the comments section: http://blog.cathy-moore.com/2010/05/elearning-example-branching-scenario/