Experiential learning is not a new concept; one of its founders, John Dewey, introduced the idea as far back as 1938. Using the digital world to simulate an infectious disease pandemic isn’t uniquely new either. A memorable example of the latter is a ‘glitch’ in the online role-playing game The World of Warcraft. In 2005, players experienced a ‘glitch’ in the game, which inadvertently created an infectious disease outbreak scenario. This incident is known as Corrupted Blood. While unintentional, the consequences were considered useful, as players exhibited very similar behaviors as what is seen in a real outbreak scenario. These behaviors included players showing empathy for those infected, trying to help infected players and trying to isolate oneself from the spread of the pathogen.
What is novel about O2’s approach is combining didactic and experiential methods with readily available technology, bringing the digital world into reality. While there have been other efforts (such as the BBC Pandemic Project) O2 is novel in that it is not a retrospective algorithm-based simulation. O2 is grounded in real-time, human interactions based on an invisible threat; this distinction provides vital insight into how human behavior may affect an outbreak itself.
Using simulations that combine didactic methods with experiential learning, individuals can come to better understand the importance of evaluating their decisions in a time of need and crisis. These experiences may increase empathy for suffering areas, as students experience first-hand how challenging it is for a scientist fighting a disease, a healthcare worker aiding patients or a government official executing an effective response to an emergency. O2 not only provides a safe and realistic platform for teaching and learning at any level, but also drives interest within the STEM fields towards projects oriented towards public health and the wellbeing of the global society.