Teaching employees to crunch numbers or write press releases is relatively straightforward, but how do you teach them to be team players? While computer-based learning simulations have traditionally been used to illustrate the technical skills of a specific job role, now the corporate world is starting to employ them to practice and apply soft skills.
“When you’re training somebody on how to use machinery, you can give them diagrams [and] manuals,” said Ralph Vacca, co-founder and chief learning architect at Kognito Interactive, a learning company that creates Web-based simulations and e-learning programs.
“[But] when it comes to soft skills; it’s not step-by-step. The information that’s delivered in the classroom is even more abstract. Take the concept of emotional intelligence, for example. Now people can regurgitate this information if you give them a knowledge exam, but in terms of being able to apply emotional intelligence concepts when actually dealing with people and managing people, it’s just not happening.”
Currently, the predominant training model is that of the trainer in the classroom, but that doesn’t always work as well with soft skill development. That’s where simulations come in.
“Maybe we can give people an understanding of the strategies and the tactics that underlie interpersonal communication [through simulations],” Vacca said. “Maybe [people] can negotiate using particular command tools. Instead of up, down, jump and punch, maybe they can inquire, express an emotion [or] allude to a specific topic.”
As these interpersonal skills become even more critical in the globalized workplace, those in learning have to provide opportunities to practice and apply these skills through simulations and learning games, where employees can make decisions and see the consequences of those decisions.
“Another way to look at a learning game is to imagine a sandbox in which the player has been given a goal and a set of rules in which to play in,” Vacca said. “While the player moves around the sandbox, they begin to see patterns emerge that allow them to better approach and achieve the goal.”
To understand how games and simulations could help develop soft skills in the workplace, those in learning should play with some games, assess their own learning platforms and see if there is a disconnect between knowledge and the application of that knowledge.
“Take an existing training course and re-evaluate its value in developing learners,” Vacca said. “Ask yourself, ‘Does the course truly provide the learner opportunities to practice? Can a game help bridge the gap between information delivery and the transfer of knowledge to on-the-job performance?’”