5 Things No-One Is Telling You About Learning Games

Following on from very a successful seminar session on gaming mechanics at LT15, and the subsequent LSG webinar on the same subject, one thing has become very clear  gaming in learning is a highly controversial subject.

Some people refuse to recognise gaming as a learning medium, whereas others love the idea of using gaming, but aren’t sure where to start. Others are already embracing the chaos, and seeing impactful results, like McDonald’s. But what if games are more than just a gimmick, and could add real business value to your organisation?

Here we tackle some of the most common learning game myths and show that learning games are for everyone, not just the brave minority.

1. Games Aren’t Just For Kids

All too often we hear: “Gaming is unprofessional – my staff aren’t 16 year old Xbox fanatics, so gaming isn’t relevant for my business’ learning”.

For many, gaming is seen as being ‘childish’ or only relevant to a small minority of the workforce. In fact, there’s a lot of debate around whether gaming actually has a place in workplace learning at all…

This is by far the most common concern around introducing gaming into workplace learning. We know that perception of the validity of a game within an organisation is critical, particularly when it comes to compliance or mandatory training.  What if only Gen Y want to play the games you design?

Trust us, everyone wants to play games.

When used in the right context, gaming can have a place – as long as it is serving a purpose (and not just there because the Learning Designer thought it was time to design a game). Use elements of what makes games work, and embed those elements into your learning design.

The compliance piece is still there, but now it becomes challenging, engaging and (dare I say it) fun to complete. Age is just a number, and as long as you’re incorporating the key mechanics of great gaming design such as competition and reward, learners will keep on coming back for more, regardless of how old they are.

After all, isn’t designing a piece of learning that staff enjoy and actually want to do the holy grail of elearning design?

2. Your Organisation Can Embrace Gamification

First things first: we need to tackle this whole ‘gamification’ thing and the stigma that surrounds it.  If you know you will get pushback for suggesting a game element to your organisation, simply don’t call it a game (‘G-word’ probably isn’t a viable option either).

Sounds simple, but it works. For years the RAF have been covertly using games (and saving money) when training pilots.

Do you think RAF pilots would say that they play games to learn? No, they would say that they use ‘simulations’ or ‘scenario-based learning’  but aren’t those just different words for games? Both are perfectly acceptable forms of learning, which, as it happens, rely totally on gaming mechanics to make them work successfully.

The flight simulators that they use simulate the real world. They grant the user the opportunity to practice their skills in a ‘safe’ environment, and, with practice, help them to improve their performance, or hone their skills.

Would trainee pilots say the simulators they use are childish or patronising? Of course not, but then their bosses probably don’t have that opinion either. The RAF recognises the benefits of letting learners try, try, and try again, in a safe environment whilst offering constant and immediate feedback, to achieve better results when it really matters.

Aren’t tangible outcomes and better results what we are all trying to achieve when we design a piece of learning? Regardless of whether it’s called a learning game or not, we should be focusing on learning outcomes and results, not what the learning is called.

3. Learning Games Don’t Have To Be Expensive

It is a myth that games need to be multi-million dollar 3D extravaganzas. Asteroids didn’t have that in the 80s, nor does Candy Crush today. Both have proven to be hugely successful games that people continue to come back to. It is all about the game mechanics, not the whizz-bang and bling bling…

As learning games don’t necessarily have to rely on the use of the highest-end kit, graphics or sound to make them effective, you can use gaming in your business for less than you might imagine.

Even if you are creating your own learning in-house, you can use elements of gaming design that will enhance your elearning at no additional cost, other than, perhaps, investing a little more time at the design planning stage.

4. You Can Design Games That Will Meet Learner’s Expectations

You may be thinking that by creating learning games, you have made a commitment to deliver the next Grand Theft Auto; and you may be worried that learners have high expectations about what a game should offer.

However, their high expectations are not necessarily what you might imagine them to be. Our feedback tells us that, in general, learners are looking for something that makes them ‘feel’ how they do when they play those more complex, Hollywood-inspired games.

It seems that whizzy 3D graphics and surround sound don’t necessarily make a good game; rather the logic employed, the sweep of a perfectly judged learning curve, the story telling level design – basically the mechanics of the game, are what makes a game the experience that people love.

When you are considering the look and feel of a learning game, why not ask your users for their input. Second guessing your audience’s perceptions can cost you hours in wasted time.

They already know what works for them, so tap into that knowledge.

5. You Can Prove the Business Value of a Learning Game

At City & Guilds Kineo, we are often asked if games actually add any value to a learning journey. We all know that measuring the ROI of any piece of learning is never a straight forward process, and using gaming is no different.

Before we look at how to measure ROI, we need remind ourselves of the benefits to the learner that using a game/simulation can bring. A key point to remember is the ability to practice  and make mistakes  in a safe environment, prior to being let loose in ‘the real world’.

To demonstrate the impact a game has on the business, we need to look beyond the traditional, “how many people have completed it” measure, and look at actual business results that have changed since the users completed the learning. Allowing learners to practice, by using game mechanics, helps to change behaviours, rather than just increase knowledge.

Because of this, test results aren’t a good measure for ROI – instead we need to look at wider business results to indicate a culture change. This could be an increase in sales, customer satisfaction scores, reduced staff turnover or other success indicators your business may have.

This is exactly what McDonald’s did. Using pre-existing data, they adopted a simple model to help measure the success of the Till Training Game (and the results were astonishing).

Game On – But Hedge Your Bets

The key here is gradually progressing with learning games.  Your industry may not be ready to jump head-long into gaming just yet, but you could definitely be ready to adopt a range of gaming mechanics into your elearning.

So don’t go all in: you need to crawl and walk before you learn to run. Instead, why not pick your favourite gaming element and subtly add it into your next learning design? Measure the results and that just might be enough to convince those budget holders to commit to a learning game next time round.

Simple things like including a league table based on the results from a compliance quiz, or increasing the difficulty as a user works through a number of scenarios are simple techniques that make a difference to your learners’ experience, all thanks to games and gaming mechanics.

And if the boss asks, just don’t mention the ‘G’ word.

If you’re interested in talking to us more about how learning games could make an impact in your organisation, get in touch. We’d love to help.