Experiential and Game-Based Learning at American Public University System

Concurrent Session 6

Session Materials

Brief Abstract

APUS developed a framework that incorporates active-experiential learning using game-based theory combined with strategic partnerships with industry, universities, and consortiums to propel students into successful careers. This framework creates opportunities for online students to immerse themselves in critical decisions using 3-D virtual environments and assignments that recreate on-the-job scenarios.


Dr. Nicole Drumhiller is the Program Director for the Intelligence Studies Department within the School of Security and Global Studies (SSGS). As the Program Director, Dr. Drumhiller is responsible for and oversees the undergraduate and graduate level intelligence studies curriculums and ensures their alignment with corresponding institutional learning objectives. She is also responsible for the evaluation, mentorship, and development of the department’s faculty to ensure that teaching excellence is met, conducts student-faculty mediation and advocacy, and Chair’s the Intelligence Studies Industry Advisory Committee (IAC), and helps to support university partnerships within SSGS, among other administrative responsibilities. In addition to her work as Program Director, Dr. Drumhiller currently serves as the President of the Center on Transnational Crime and Political Conflict, an educational non-profit organization, and is an Editorial Board Member, for the peer-reviewed Journal of Global Security and Intelligence Studies. She is also a Certified Threat Manager, with the Association of Threat Assessment Professionals and co-Director of the IntelHub, an international collaboration with the University of Leicester in the UK, and Rey Juan Carlos University in Madrid, Spain. Dr. Drumhiller is a published author whose works have focused on group behavior, political leadership, intelligence, and international relations. She has a published within peer-reviewed journals like that of the American Intelligence Journal, and Peace & Change, she has a published book chapter within National Security in the Era of Cyber Espionage and Counterintelligence, and she also publishes within the InPublicSafety Blog. Dr. Drumhiller has presented her work at several different professional conferences to include the International Society of Political Psychology, International Studies Association, Academy of Criminal Justice Sciences, and the Pacific Northwest Political Science Association. In 2018 she will present her work on the IntelHub project as well as a co-authored paper on “Creating a Culture of Collaboration, Resilience, and Academic Rigot in Applied Doctorates,” at the International Association for Intelligence Education (IAFIE): Europe Conference held at the University of Leicester, UK. Dr. Drumhiller was a previous instructor at Washington State University where she taught courses in International Relations, Comparative Politics, Security Studies, Civil Liberties, American Public Policy, and Gender and Politics.
Dr. Karen Srba is the Vice President of Academic & Instructional Technology for American Public University System (APUS). She reports to the President's Chief of Staff. Dr. Srba heads a team of eLearning professionals who design digital, interactive learning content and implements technological strategy for thousands of online courses. Dr.. Srba has over twenty-eight years of experience in systems integration, information security, project management and education. Prior to joining APUS she served as a subject matter expert in project management and was a STEM Innovation Lead and online instructor in Computer Science and Engineering. In addition, Dr. Srba served as a Government Practice Lead and contract manager for over 18 years as a contractor for the Federal Government. She earned her Doctorate Degree in Education Leadership and Management from the University of Pennsylvania and her Master’s Degree in Distance Education Leadership and E-Learning Technology from the University of Maryland University College and an undergraduate degree in Management and Technology from University of Maryland. She also earned several certificates in project management, computer science, engineering, psychology and education.

Extended Abstract

In 2018, the American Public University System, School of Security and Global Studies, and STEM Schools began to incorporate problem-based gamification and simulations into both online and blended learning environments. Experts in the field of neuroscience of learning or brain learning like Dr. Stella Collins and Dr. James Zull, believe that learning must be interactive for long term memories to form and actual learning to take place. The learning cycle consists of, concrete experiences, reflective observation, abstract hypothesis and active testing. The learning cycle is based on the fact that learning experiences are initiated through concrete experience or experiential learning. The brain, using the occipital lobes and the cognitive cortex is better able to translate and produce action in the parts of the brain that stores long term memories when interactive and concrete experiences are provided such as immersive, 3D virtual experiences. By engaging these parts of the brain through direct interactive 3D immersive environments in our courses, APUS is able to optimize student learning and set the student up for success on the job or in a career to make critical decisions and fulfill the job requirements.


By leveraging strategic partnerships with universities who can benefit from course and faculty-based assets, consortia relationships such as FEMA National Domestic Preparedness, Consortium for Homeland Security, and the Naval Postgraduate School, APUS has worked to develop a framework for active-experiential learning based on game theory to further enhance the classroom experience and propel students into a competitive marketplace.  These partnerships have allowed APUS to develop real world simulations that help students put their classroom skills to the test in a gamified environment working to resolve real world problems, requiring real time decision-making.


Among the products developed, APUS is working towards the launch of an Emergency and Disaster Management (EDMG) simulation lab where students partake in several real-life disasters using a 3D virtual reality simulation where they will make decisions both in planning for disasters as well as real-time decisions while the disaster unfolds. In addition, several other simulation-like assignments and forums have been developed throughout the entire program such as developing a vulnerability assessment of the student’s town by using Google Crisis Maps and a new text based emergency notifications that incorporates crisis management into team based discussions and mini-simulations throughout the courses. This immersive technology will be available for students to take in both online and blended learning environments.  Following this pilot, APUS is currently making plans to launch similar labs in the areas specific to Homeland Security and Intelligence Studies which will further engage students in real world decision making scenarios which will help further enhance their pursuits of careers in this field.


In this presentation, the APUS team will demonstrate, engage and involve participants in discussions on how to ensure that 3D simulations and game-based activities are mapped to the concepts in braining learning science that will directly increase student performance. Participants will be able to see and view first hand the simulations using the same 3D technology used in the Emergency and Disaster Management labs.  The objective of this presentation is to collaborate and share new innovative ideas for online and blended environments with other institutions and colleagues who are ready to make the leap into immersive and experiential learning that focuses on student preparation and performance.