Do you need people trained quickly and effectively in important knowledge and skills? Serious games involve learners with the interaction and adrenaline-boost that make learning quick and help it stick. Facilitated discussion during the game can solidify the information. Discussion also builds buy-in for the corporate objectives the training supports. Employees enjoy the interactivity, and most people will select “playing a game” as the preferred learning model when given a choice. In addition, the effectiveness of knowledge transfer to the job makes serious games a good investment for the company.
Games-based learning is gaining credibility and popularity for corporate training. As more and more people play computer-based games for entertainment, corporate employees have come to engage easily with game metaphors and interfaces.1 Instructional designers are broadening their techniques to include game-type activities in both instructor-led and e-learning courses.2
Trainers note high levels of engagement among their learners during games. Deep engagement results in greater speed to mastery and retention. Follow-up assessments of work performance show that employees retain information and skills learned through games, although the greater variety of learning outcomes that may be “correct” for serious games may pose assessment challenges.3
Serious games—interactive learning games—cover a much broader spectrum than the highest-tech, virtual world simulations that get all the buzz but, frankly, are may not be what your employees need. You’ll find more details on game selection and design in the “How do I select or design games for my employees?” section of this white paper.
Serious games are already being widely used in the medical and financial industries, and by emergency first-responders in the public sector.4 Their use is expanding, riding the rising wave of attention to immersive and discovery learning in all industries.
For corporate training, the terms simulation and game mean different things. Business simulations don’t emphasize winning as games do. Some simulated business situations, of course, still contain the game-like element of “winning.” That’s part of the nature of business. Business simulations replicate a workplace “reality,” but let learners safely experiment with that reality. Simulations immerse learners in an experience and can apply to a wide variety of topics. Simulations with a high number of variables may not have the usual behavioral objectives of knowledge and skills that the learners transfer to the job. Instead the game’s objective is to capture participants’ behaviors (tracked and measured in great detail by the gaming software), which then informs real-world management tactics and training for “most effective” procedures and skills.
Business games differ from more free-form virtual world scenarios. For one thing, business games don’t have to be high-tech to be effective. B-games are competitive activities wherein players encounter obstacles within structured guidelines, and make decisions to achieve a goal. Players may interact with one another as well as with the game’s challenges to win the game. Winning may be defined in any way that is most realistically appropriate for the subject and the learning outcomes desired. The most engaging games incorporate at least some elements of situational simulation.
“If you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” This basic tenet of testing applies to serious games, too. Assessment of learning during and immediately after the game may be measured solely in metrics measured by the game itself. The game can provide scores at benchmark points during the game and at the end. Follow-up assessments of the participants’ performance on the job ensure effective learning at, say, three and then six months after completing the game-based learning experience. If employees’ job performance falls below expectations, the same game or other activities can be used to refresh knowledge, skills and enthusiasm. And evaluations of the game itself can identify necessary improvements to the game based on learners’ job transfer of skills and information.
Games have long been used to
simulate dangerous situations by the military, and began to be explored for
serious purposes by the non-profit sector in 2002, when the
Most employees are now familiar with gaming metaphors. Gaming software is more accessible and affordable. Now is the time to get in the game, and get games into your training program. The games you use don’t have to be the highest-tech software to be effective. Gaming software is more affordable and adaptable than ever, but you can introduce any gaming model and medium that works for your company.
At the 2006 Serious Games Summit8, a session on “business and deals” featured Six Games for Cisco: Incentives and Rewards to Increase Learning9 declared gaming a “lifelong learning tool” for IT employees. Findings showed that about 75% of respondents rated learning games favorably, and learning games score higher than slides on engagement in learning and retention of content. After this pilot of six games, Cisco has at least four new games in development for training their employees.
Companies’ adoption of games
as an effective form of training reflects the impact of computer games on the
global economy. Since its inception, the size of the computer gaming industry
has surpassed that of the movie industry in
Because games can be constructed to reflect any set of values, challenges and goals in the workplace, they are a natural tool for learning to solve business problems. We know businesses have long adopted military and sports metaphors. Now business metaphors have spilled over into everyday life. We talk about negotiating to a win-win solution with our teenage children as we do with our workplace competitors. We may also speak of what “level” we have achieved in our careers or project-schedules at work as we do on our PlayStations. Now that our familiarity and comfort-levels with digital games are high enough, and their price point is low enough, game-based learning is spanning the life-work bridge, as well.11
The company wins because employees and customers both win. Highly motivated, well-educated employees produce high quality products and deliver excellent customer service.
Our brains learn well from games. The affinity between the neural mechanisms of play and learning ensure that employees enjoy the learning experience while firmly embedding the information and skills for long-term retention. Trial-and-error learning, one of the most common experiences in daily life, becomes discovery learning in more structured training programs where rewards reinforce the desired behavior.
As always, trainers need to know their audience. Reinforcement can be anything that motivates the learners. That’s why deeply understanding the learner demographic is key – not only to the training’s success, but to their ongoing motivation on the job.
One fundamental rule is that people enjoy experiences that make them feel capable, successful – that enhance their self-esteem. Such experiences include solving puzzles, winning games, receiving recognition and applause from others. So a reinforcement can be anything from an animation or video of applause and fireworks or balloons, to a pure-fun brief game of Whack-a-Mole, to a printable coupon for a 15-minute neck and shoulder massage at the company gym. “Phun” is no longer a four-letter word. Trainers who know what motivates employees will know how to reinforce their learning.
In the last ten years, neuroscience has found out a lot about the brain and how we come to recall what we remember best. Those discoveries have been applied by training practitioners in the latest tactics we use. And that is part of the reason for the growing popularity of games as learning devices. Until we find a way to directly stimulate the various prefrontal cortex areas related to learning and retention, we can use the equation: serious games = serious fun = performance improvement.12
Focus on the standard needs-analysis and don’t let the technology overwhelm you. Game technology can range from zero-tech board games to high-tech simulations. The effect of the game itself on people’s brains is what achieves the speed and retention of learning.
Game design principles can be applied in any medium that you identify as the best for your employees and your training environments. Interactive discovery learning can happen by playing a board game individually or with teammates around a table – or at your desktop computer or at the classroom computers where teammates are playing, too. The learner interacts with the game, with the game’s challenges, with teammates’ competition, with the trainer and teammates in discussions.
You are in charge, not the game. You assess employees’ learning needs to support corporate goals, the same as always. You define learning objectives, the same as always. You structure the content and the learning activities, the same as always. And you put games in where they’ll do the most good, based on sound instructional principles. The same as always. The only difference is that now you know more about how and why games are such a powerful instructional tool.
Now, too, you have a partner in designing the games your employees need – a partner with decades of instructional design success in all media and methods. As your partner, Sealund & Associates understands your goals, your audience, your opportunities and constraints. We can help you as we have helped many clients to strengthen your courses and enrich your employees’ learning for better speed to mastery and retention.
Sealund’s new website for Serious Games provides you with resources to support your training challenges. Examples of interactive learning games and testimonials of clients using the games training will help you to determine ways in which you too can deploy Serious Games.
Learning with Games Conference, 09/24-26/07
Nordic Serious Games Conference, 11/9-10/07
Advanced Learning Technologies Summit, 05/13-14/08
Serious Games Summit at Game Developers Conference, 02/18-19/08