On the surface, it would seem that the adoption of a game-based
approach for corporate training and educational initiatives would
be a no-brainer. Games are engaging, immersive and provide
instantaneous feedback on learner actions, and they encourage
repetitive practice of techniques and actions. Well-designed games
expertly combine content knowledge with critical mental skills,
such as identifying and solving problems.
In short, games contain the instructional approach necessary to
engage and educate learners. Yet, the resistance to using games as
a learning vehicle is widespread. Line managers and executives are
famously resistant to using games within organizations. To
overcome this resistance, we must first understand why managers and
others are reluctant to allow games to be used as learning tools.
Many of the objections are not openly voiced but, instead,
objections are articulated as a lack of resources or an outright
rejection of the concept of game. While many barriers to game
adoption exist, here are some of the more common ones encountered.
Perception of games as only entertainment
People have grown up with the understanding that games and
interactive experiences are the realm of fun, play time, or
vacation; education is the realm of receiving information in a
serious, no-nonsense, static, non-interactive fashion with little
feedback or immediate consequences for incorrect assumptions or
answers other than a red mark on a paper.
People tend to accept and hold in high esteem past experiences with
which they are familiar. Most people making decisions about how to
craft instruction in a corporate or academic environment have never
learned formally via a game or simulation. They have no familiarity
with the process, the techniques, or the nuances necessary to learn
via an interactive game or simulation and so they dismiss it as an
invalid method of instruction.
As a result, they hold classroom instruction up as the single best
model for instruction because they learned that way and because it
is so common. This is the idea that game is a four-letter word.
Lack of experience learning via games and simulations combined with
playing games only for fun leads to a perception that
games/simulations arent a serious way to learn.
Unfamiliarity with development process
Creating linear content for a deck of slides is familiar and common
for most organizations. They understand creating objectives,
teaching to each objective by providing content, and testing to the
objective in a very linear style. This is not how a game or
simulation works; instead there are variations, tangential content,
and non-linear interactions.
Instructional design teams are not familiar with this process and
many entertainment game designers dont want to dabble in corporate
or academic game design (not enough mass market). So, the
unfamiliarity with the development process causes hesitation and,
almost more importantly, causes high costs.
The design team typically consists of subject matter experts who
dont understand how to create a game or the nature of non-linear
content and thus causes delays, false starts and cost overrun. This
is due in a large part to the first point, which is that they dont
have experience learning from games, and their educational models
are lecture-focused and centered on linear delivery of content.
Not understanding of the mechanisms in games that make them
It is important to understand that a game is not educational just
because it is a game. Instead, a game is an effective educational
tool primarily because of the high level of interactivity and
instant feedback. Well-designed games engage the learner in a
constant decision making process. The learner is forced to interact
and think through the content and then witnesses immediate or near
immediate feedback based on his or her actions.
The most critical aspect is not the technology, which is the focus
of many when thinking about games. Rather, the most critical aspect
is the design. The design must be interactive and provide realistic
or corrective feedback as the learner progresses and the game must
maintain a balance between anxiety and boredom which is known as
the elusive flow state which is the ideal mental condition between
a task being too difficult or too easy. Adding different levels of
difficulty can help make the game or simulation effective for
different levels of learners.
Lack of understanding of how to integrate games into the
Games and simulations are most effective when they are integrated
into a larger curriculum. Simply having a game available to
learners doesnt mean it will be effective. Intelligently
integrating a game into a curriculum provides the correct context,
the right prerequisite knowledge, and the proper level of
debriefing for learning.
The goal is to provide a complete learning experience that includes
all the elements necessary for the application of knowledge to
address organizational learning goals. But including a game as an
add-on and not an integral part of the instructional process
trivializes the game and lessens the instructional impact. This
perception of a game being an add-on and not really necessary means
that if budgets are tight or time is limited, the game will be the
first item cut.
Perception that playing games is easy and, therefore, not
People often mistake interesting graphics and different game play
elements as signs of an easy instructional experience. They think
because this is a game, it must not be difficult or hard. In fact,
that is not the case. Items like time constraints, the accumulation
of points, and competition against others can actually make
learners work harder to achieve goals than more traditional
learning environments such as the classroom.
Many times, the experience of playing a well-designed game results
in frustration and cognitive dissonance until the player learns the
concepts and knowledge required to be successful. Cognitive
dissonance is the mental process of trying to fit new, unfamiliar
knowledge into a persons mental picture of how things should when
the new information conflicts with existing perceptions. This can
be extremely important in helping to change a persons behavior or
thoughts in a particular area such as customer service or sales.
The process of reducing the dissonance is not simple and can cause
frustration. Its important to set the proper expectation so the
learners understand that game elements exist in the learning
process but they will have to work hard to achieve desired results.
Overcoming the barriers
These barriers are not trivial. They can derail a worthwhile effort
and delay the integration of games into the curriculum of an
organization. However, they are not insurmountable; to overcome
these variables, try a three-fold approach.
1. Educate line managers and others on the elements of games
that make them instruction. Describe the various ways in which
technology provides immediate feedback, problem-solving skills, and
reinforcement of desired activities and behavior.
2. Develop a game. Start with a small game to teach one
specific skill and work through the process. This will help the
organization learn the game development process. This can be
facilitated by working with a skilled vendor who has created a
number of educational games or working with a consultant to help
guide the process to a successful outcome.
3. Integrate existing commercial games into your curriculum.
Games can be used to help teach leadership, communication skills,
and other valuable business skills. Exposing games to learners in a
serious environment with defined educational objectives can help
people to understand the value of games and how they can positively
impact their own learning.
Excluding games from an organizations toolkit of educational
offerings is really not an option given the incredible potential
games have to teach crucial skills such as problem-solving and
creativity. Not using games means an organization is not taking
advantage of the engaging, immersive aspects of the game. But to
introduce games into an organization, you must first understand the
barriers indicated and begin to work on overcoming those barriers.