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Understanding the gamification of learning

Karen Higginbottom

Gamification of learning

Creating games around your learning can help embed knowledge more effectively than simple classroom sessions, says Karen Higginbottom. So how can you incorporate games into your training environment?

Gaming has featured for many years in the learning and development agenda ranging from board games on scenarios such as accountancy and contingency planning to quizzes to stimulate learning. 

So why are games so useful for embedding knowledge? Games fulfil a human need to be engaged and entertained but they also have a serious purpose whether building teams or solving complex problems. The appeal of games-based learning is looking at the principles of what makes games engaging and translating that into the workplace, comments Ruth Stuart, learning advisor at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD). “Games can help you build relationships and collaborations with other users and quite often with games, you have to complete a task collectively so it’s about working with other people.”

There is also an element of reflective learning, says Stuart. “People will do quizzes and role-playing games which will give them time to reflect on what they have learnt.”

It’s the engagement factor which explains the appeal of game-based learning, argues Graham Cook, managing director for RSVP Design, which designs and sells games-based learning tools. “People can understand the concept and theories relatively easy but games help transfer the theory to practise.”

The starting point for the design and development of games-based learning is to work out what kind of behaviour the organisation wants to build or change, explains Cook. “Most of the games that we have developed are used for softer skills such as communication skills.”

One of RSVP Design’s games is known as ‘Shaping The Future’. This is an activity that runs over a 24-hour period and is all about change, explains Cook. “Most change projects tend to fail in organisations not because they are ill-conceived but because people don’t embrace or believe in the change,” he says. “What we can do in a simulated game is increase the pressure on a simulated business and then people need to decide how that needs to change and put change in place. Then people can make the link to what happens in that activity and what happens in the organisation.” Cook cites Motorola as an example of a client who has used ‘Shaping The Future’ to instigate a large change management project in the finance side of their business.

Learn through experience

Games can be used across all sectors, says Andy Harris, training director at Ultimate Learning Resources, producer of interactive learning materials. “All our learning material is mapped against ILM and for each of the units we’ve a set of experiential learning tools that go with each unit. The exercises that we bring all have a theory in a situation which is artificial and is exaggerating the behaviour we’d get in the workplace and embedding the theory by making parallels in the workplace. We’ve a combination of challenges and visual images that are related to the players in the workplace.  It’s a video-audio learning style and uses the creative side of the brain to get solutions and the logical side to go over the theory.”

One of Ultimate Performance’s games is called the ‘Bermuda Triangle’ which requires people to moves a series of balls around a platform and seven people hold a device so all the players get to play their part. “One of the members is blindfolded and represents a new member in the team who has to be told by the other team members where to move the ball so they have to explain in precise language. It’s about communication and team building,” explains Harris. The company has used this game recently within the NHS to get diabetic nurses to understand the needs and viewpoint of a newly diagnosed person with diabetes. 

In the current economic climate, many organisations are using games-based learning to develop leadership skills, adds Cook. “Leadership is still a pretty strong area as many organisations are coming out of a recession and in order to thrive, they need strong leadership across an organisation.” RSVP offer a T-trade negotiation skills activity which is used in leadership programmes within the IMD business school in Lausanne.  The exercise, which involves face-to-face individual and team negotiations over a series of meetings, demands that three teams build relationships which will survive the challenges of the negotiation process while working to achieve their own team goals.  They negotiate to build complex, multi-coloured cubes which have different values and by exchanging, buying and selling components, they seek to set up deals that will allow them to maximise the return from their resources.

Organisations are now starting to expand on the use of physical games and introduce digital gaming as a learning method, comments Stuart. Examples of e-gaming that can be used in learning include business simulations which enable teams to tackle tasks together in a virtual environment in different roles, she adds. “There are also massive online multiplayer games such as Second Life, which enable an organisation to have a ‘training arena’ as part of a virtual game or games which replicate use of real-life technology such as flight simulators to increase technical ability.”

Leading the pack

Games often include an element of reward which is the concept behind Fuse Universal’s Fuse platform, a secure social media platform that enables video content to be created, shared and rated by employees within an organisation.  “There is a leaderboard that exists within the platform where employees can gain points for sharing knowledge,” explains Steve Dineen, chief executive for Fuse Universal. “The ultimate game is to create a learning culture where everybody learns from each other.”

But the use of games-based learning by organisations is still relatively limited, according to a learning and development survey by the CIPD in 2012. The survey revealed that only 12% of organisations were aware of this learning approach and integrated it into their learning approach for employees and even more worryingly, two-fifths of organisations aren’t aware of games-based learning. 

It appears as if games-based learning has yet to be fully exploited by organisations in the UK.

Tips for organisations to evaluate game-based learning

  • Be clear on the learning goals and purpose before considering game-based learning
  • Focus on who will be using the game and in what context first
  • Know your workforce, what type of gaming they will engage with
  • Consider alternative platforms: Physical traditional games, Digital desktop based or mobile interactive games
  • Understand what metrics you are seeking to affect, such as employee engagement, leadership capability or training compliance
  • If working with a gaming developer or provider find out how they measure success of their products and what evidence they have of the benefits
  • Ensure that the product is aligned to your learning needs, such as increasing collaboration between teams
  • Understand all the costs involved, and the details of any leasing arrangements Measure the success of the use of game based learning. This could be achieved by analysing specific metrics, or by conducting a pre and post-intervention survey, conducted at least 4 weeks after the intervention 

Source: Ruth Stuart, CIPD 

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