Wharton Interactive’s Alternate Reality Courses: Delivering Deliberate Practice at Scale

What it is.

Deliberate practice is a gamechanger.

It’s a training technique in which an instructor carefully monitors learner progress and provides timely feedback as the learner builds up skills over time. Learners develop expertise that deepens with training.1

How it works for individuals.

Applying Deliberate practice requires five elements:

  1. A step-by-step approach. Learners build up skills from the ground up. This approach requires that each skill is built on top of another, with ongoing assessment of the learner’s knowledge.2
  2. Sustained attention and engagement. Learners must be motivated and interested in pursuing goals, even though the work is hard.
  3. Learning from errors. Learners progress through a series of steps and at every step, they may err; to make progress, they need to learn from those errors.
  4. Desirable difficulties. Learners are consistently challenged and pushed out of their comfort zone
  5. Ongoing, adaptive feedback. Learners receive timely, personalized feedback from an expert instructor who guides their progress.

At Wharton Interactive, we’ve taken the elements of deliberate practice and automated those elements, to deliver informed training at scale.

How we do it at scale.

Built on our pioneering Alternate Reality Courseware gaming engine, ARCs provide:

  1. A step-by-step approach. Building skills that stick requires intentional design and a step-by-step approach. In an ARC, skill-building is carefully calibrated, beginning with foundational concepts, gaining mastery, and progressing to more complex challenges. ARCs track learner knowledge and performance, and then adjust the experience at every point, to maximize learning. Embedded within the ARC narrative are formative testing elements, in-game testing, and post-game summative tests, to ensure that learners attain a high level of expertise.
  2. Sustained attention and engagement. To engage in deliberate practice, learner attention is critical, so ARCs borrow techniques from games and stories to focus attention. Every ARC is a story in which the learner plays a starring role. By immersing themselves in their roles learners live through a narrative arc in which they are deeply invested and in which they have agency - the ability to meaningfully steer the story; learner choices lead them to different scenarios and ultimately, to different endings. In an ARC, learner agency and engagement work together to sustain and deepen learner attention.
  3. Learning from errors. It is often hard to learn from errors. In real life situations, in a classroom or an office, making a mistake does not necessarily lead to learning. ARCs provide a safe space to fail and encourage a hypothesis-driven approach to learning; learners make informed choices and then are pushed to reflect on those choices. In ARCs, learners make initial, low-stakes choices; they can make mistakes, receive direct, actionable feedback, and quickly recover from those mistakes. As the stakes increase, learners can make mistakes that are more consequential but still retain the ability to recover – no error in the game is catastrophic, and every error is addressed by in-game characters and through feedback so that learners know what to do differently next time.
  4. Desirable difficulties. ARCs challenge learners to do something they have never done before at every turn, creating desirable difficulties, or challenges that are difficult but not insurmountable. When learners face such challenges, they are more likely to retain what they learn and are motivated to keep learning.3 ARCs calibrate the difficulty level of each challenge and couple learner decisions with timely feedback. The goal is to stretch the learner’s capacity while providing support and giving the learner enough guidance to iterate and adapt.
  5. Ongoing, adaptive feedback. Feedback is critical to success, particularly if mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities. And it can be revelatory. The ARC tracks learner choices and provides learners with personalized feedback at every step; that feedback is both retrospective (here is what happened and why) and prospective (here is what you can do better next time). Feedback comes in a variety of forms: in-game feedback, non-player character reactions, story consequences, interactive videos, and embedded instruction by experts in the field. ARC feedback can provide learners with Aha! moments as they solve a problem or discover a solution.4

By automating deliberate practice, ARCs harness the science of expertise to deliver effective training at scale.


  1. Ericsson, A., & Pool, R. (2016). Peak: Secrets from the new science of expertise. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.
  2. Giraud‐Carrier, F. C., Fawcett, S. E., & Fawcett, A. M. (2020). SPARRING: A Deliberate Practice Pedagogy for Business Education. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education.
  3. Bjork, E. L., & Bjork, R. A. (2011). Making things hard on yourself, but in a good way: Creating desirable difficulties to enhance learning. Psychology and the real world: Essays illustrating fundamental contributions to society, 2(59-68).
  4. Dubey, R., Ho, M. K., Mehta, H., & Griffiths, T. (2021). Aha! moments correspond to meta-cognitive prediction errors. PsyArXiv. June, 22.