The Guerra Scale: reflections

It’s been five years since Tim Guerra and Dan Heffernan outlined the Guerra Scale, a tool that describes types of online learning. As Guerra and Heffernan noted, their tool described “an increasingly interactive user experience using a one-to-ten scale, in which ‘one’ involves the common experience of simply reading text on a screen and ‘ten’ represents a virtual reality scenario.”
Each step up the Guerra Scale represents a more interactive user experience and, consequently, more complexity, functionality, and development time. The following chart provides a graphic view of the tool.

The Guerra Scale is great as a discussion-starter with development partners about interactivity and the need for a wide range of online learning content. It maps out different methods of effective teaching, explaining the options available to development partners and learners. But we’ve found that the scale needs some modification.

The Future is NOW

First, we can update the chart a bit. It lists “simulations with coaching” as a future capability, but MindEdge currently offers this experience to non-profit and project management learners. Through feedback tailored to the learner’s choices, our simulations provide coaching throughout. (What the authors call “MTV Culture” has made some advances as well—make no mistake that the popularity of simulation-type games such as Rock Band show that popular culture understands the value of a good simulation.)
Virtual reality is no longer a future capability. And anyone who has ventured into a virtual reality environment such as Second Life will see that, though some people find it a rewarding experience, many others don’t–they just end up walking around an unstructured and unfamiliar environment looking for something to do. That’s because throwing participants into simulations and virtual experiences without first providing schema for their understanding and participation is not necessarily helpful.

Is “Best” always Best?

“Obviously, it makes no sense to teach all educational contents using this technology…”

Another way in which we feel the need to modify our understanding of Guerra and Heffernan’s chart is that we don’t think of its “good/better/best” labeling as an indication that learning materials should exclusively fall under the “best” category (levels seven through ten.)
In Sanchez, Barreiro, and Maojo’s “Design of Virtual Reality Systems for Education: A Cognitive Approach,” the authors suggest that virtual environments (simulations of real-world experiences) are only really suitable for abstract concepts that cannot be taught otherwise. They write: “Obviously, it makes no sense to teach all educational contents using this technology, either because they can be directly learned using traditional techniques or because other educational technologies are more effective and cheaper.”

A Mix of Content

Learner feedback has taught us that a mix of content makes for the best online learner experience. Some content is best presented as static text first, before any interactivity is introduced; other content may be taught effectively through a video interview or multimedia; games and simulations have their place in teaching and testing abstract knowledge.
A modular instructional design that mixes levels of interactivity and employs varied learning tools has, in our experience, worked best. It provides variety for the learner, speeds development time, and can deliver engaging and cost-effective training and education.


Guerra, Tim and Dan Heffernan, “The Guerra Scale“. ASTD Learning Circuits (2004).
Sanchez et. al., “Design of Virtual Reality Systems for Education: A Cognitive Approach.” Education and Information Technologies 5:4 (2000) 345 – 262.