How Well-Designed Games Can Stimulate And Enhance The Learning Experience
By Jerry Roche
Serious computer games, as they are designed with the intent of improving a specific aspect of learning, are a “serious” alternative to traditional learning.
Studies over the past decade — including those conducted on business and economics students by the U.S. Department of Defense — prove that more job-transfer benefits are gained through game-enhanced learning as opposed to other modes of learning alone. Since workplace perfor- mance depends on the learners’ depth of engagement during their learning experiences, the more engaging the exercise, the higher the retention of knowledge and transfer of skills to the job.
The game reweards decision-making and reasonable risk-taking; can add coaching along the way; and provides diverse experience in thinking skills themselves.
“There is a rapidly growing body of research that learning designed from the ground up as a game creates an ability to cognitively process and apply learning at a much higher level than traditionally designed training,” notes Bryan Austin of GameOn Learning. “The game itself is based around scenarios where the learners must solve problems and challenges to complete the game. The application-level practice builds the confidence to apply the learning back on the job, and also results in significantly greater retention of the learning.
Moreover, games encourage failure and exploration, according to Dr. Karl Kapp, professor, author, consultant and internationally recognized serious games champion. “In most instructional settings, he notes, “any kind of failure is deemed wrong or ‘bad,’ and learners quickly discover that only one answer is appropriate. So they only focus on one thing: getting the right answer — not necessarily learning the content. In most modern work environments, there are many ways of solving problems, dealing with obstacles and creatively finding solutions — more than one right answer.”
Serious games use multiple intelligences for learning (logical, special, linguistics, intrapersonal, kinesthetic, music); they are immersive, engaging and motivating through new technology and interactions; and the game structure is one with which the younger generations of employees are well acquainted.
”“No matter what age,” Dr. Kapp says, “learners learn best from engagement, and [they] tend to be far more involved and active in a game than they are in traditional instructional situations. We know that engaged learners learn more and are more focused than learners who are passively listening to lectures.
Serious Game Attributes
According to Tyson Greer of Ambient Insight, there are four types of simulation-based learning: physical object/ environmental; process; procedural; and situational.
Researchers Stephen M. Alessi of the University of Iowa and Stanley R. Trollip of S.R. Trollip & Associates compressed these four into two instructional strategies: learn- ing about something (physical and process) and learning to do something (procedural and situational).
Game genre, complexity and platforms are as varied as those found in casual games. But they all share a number of traits, including:
>> Backstory and story line
>> Game mechanics (how the game envi- ronment reacts to player actions)
>> Immersive graphical environment (in- cluding 2-D or 3-D graphics, sound and animation)
>> Challenge or competition
>> Risks and consequences
Mary Jo Dondlinger, an assistant professor of Educational Technology at Texas A&M University-Commerce, says that a well-de- signed game motivates players to spend extra time mastering skills. “A number of distinct design elements, such as narrative context, rules, goals, rewards, multi-sensory cues and interactivity, seem necessary to stimulate de- sired learning outcomes, she says.
Sharon Boller, president of Bottom-Line Performance, believes that games should avoid merely giving learners with a “click-next” experience: “Instead of telling people what they need to know, force them to find it or figure it out if they want to succeed in the game. Make succeeding in the game mirror what it takes to succeed in their jobs.”
Yet care must be taken before exposing serious games to potential learners. “[They] are most effective when the instructor first briefs the learners on what they are expected to learn during the game, the learners play the game, and then the instructor debriefs the students,” notes Dr. Kapp.
What About Time And Money?
The average cost for a custom-built adult e-learning game can range from $15,000 to $50,000 or more, depending on complexity and levels of play. Some games can be bought off the shelf and repurposed for much less.
But “the cost of custom-developed serious games is coming down, so we’ll see them in use more, especially if the learning is strategic or the audience size is large, says GameOn’s Austin. “There isn’t a more effective way to really install key behaviors.
It has been suggested that employee performance improvement is directly related to return on investment (ROI). Whether the game or simulation is part of a blended-media course or a stand-alone course, in many cases it can complement or replace existing course materials cost-effectively, taking the overall program or curriculum to a higher level and positively affecting ROI and corporate profits. Regrettably, there is no specific research data that applies to this generally accepted concept.
Time is another consideration if a certain learning initiative is on a strict deadline, because (unless you can use an off-the-shelf solution) it can take months to create a seri- ous game that will provide the desired results. That problem is not without a solution.
“We’re working with teams that develop game-enabled learning platforms, says Austin. “These allow our clients to develop more engaging, highly-interactive learning in 10 percent of the time required to develop traditional e-learning. [That approach is] great for sales training, call centers and onboarding.”
What The Future Holds
As serious games converge with virtual worlds, enterprise learning environments will become integrated into the actual work environment. This is likely to have considerable impact on game design, as learning designers will need to concern themselves as much (if not more) with organizing and structuring the learning experience as with parsing and presenting learning content.
Here is what some respected analysts forecast:
>> “An increase in the acceptance and use of game formats in more and more corporate learning venues as research evidence comes to light about what particular game types work for teaching what particular content, skills or processes.” (Kapp)
>> “What could create a better first impression for new employees than learning about their new employer by playing games on their smartphone?” (Austin)
>> “More ‘off-the-shelf’ games aimed at corporate-focused topics like leadership, negotiation, problem-solving and other skills imperative for executives and managers of today’s modern workforces.” (Kapp)
>> “Platforms that combine sims with other forms of learning. Learning & development departments will partner more with I.T. as full-bodied sims become the norm.” (Franklin)
>> “More gamification: the use of elements of games to enhance learning in the classroom and online but not necessarily always the development of a full-scale game.” (Kapp)
>> “Social learning being incorporated into new formats such as online knowledge- sharing environments — types that leverage talent in creative ways contribute to exponential rates of corporate growth.” (Franklin)
>> Overall, more serious games in corporate learning as the word gets around.
The gamification market will reach 5.5 billion dollars by 2018, a 67% CAGR according to Markets & Markets. Are you ready?