“Pong,” one of the earliest arcade video games in the 1970s, has been eclipsed by online, multi-user simulations where people compete or work together to reach a common goal. Consumer game systems such as the Microsoft Xbox and Sony Playstation 3 allow thousands of competitors to interact in virtual environments simultaneously. As more people, corporate employees included, play on such consoles for entertainment, they are becoming more comfortable with them at work. With this in mind, learning leaders are broadening their development techniques to include game-type activities in both instructor-led and virtual settings to boost engagement and make learning stick.
Games are immersive, engaging, provide instantaneous feedback on learner actions and encourage repetitive practice of techniques. Well-designed games combine content knowledge with critical skills, such as identifying and solving problems, and are not necessarily dependent on virtual interactions. Some organizations are using their physical training environments to engage teams in competitive gaming and simulations.
“We are continually looking at ways to take advantage of emerging technologies so that the classroom learning experience is highly interactive and experiential,” said Cheryl Tidwell, director of sales administration and learning at Humana. “Simulations help us expand our ability to appeal to different learning styles. As we are aware, people learn in very different ways. These technologies drive the learning for some in ways we would not be able to with a traditional learning environment.”
In Humana’s Winning Major program, teams of five salespeople act collectively as a salesperson for a robotics company. They handle three clients over three virtual years in three rounds of computer-based simulations held in a physical classroom. The objective is to understand the customer’s business and build relationships higher and wider in each account. The team with the highest cumulative revenue wins.
“They are free to experiment and try new techniques and approaches without fear of hurting bottom-line results or feeling foolish, and they apply the feedback instantly,” said Lori Wohlgemuth, manager of learning at Humana. “Yet because the simulations are completed in a team environment, they become very competitive. This competitive element adds a bit of tension, which appropriately stretches our sales associates out of their comfort zone, resulting in a more robust learning experience.”
Learning leaders note high levels of engagement during simulations, which they claim results in greater speed to mastery and retention. According to Keith Hazen, vice president of client services at Intrepid, a learning services provider, this shouldn’t be surprising as consumer games have had a captivated audience for decades. As organizations start to incorporate gaming technology into the classroom, he said they will be inspired by platforms such as Microsoft’s Xbox Kinect.
“As many companies revisit the idea of an onsite corporate university, the opportunity to integrate new technologies in the overall design of the classroom is exciting,” Hazen said. “Instructor-led learning has continued to flourish rather than stagnate. We are seeing greater integration of technology in the classroom as opposed to using technology solely as a means to eliminate the classroom.”
Over the years, McDonald’s has transformed its Hamburger University from small restaurant-based classrooms to large-scale, lecture-style teaching to facilitated group learning. The organization has invested more than $3 million to modernize classrooms. New classroom layouts allow for greater social learning among students and closer interaction between the facilitator and class.
“The classroom is ‘in the round,’ so there is no front of the room,” said Diana Thomas, vice president of U.S. training for McDonald’s. “Each of six team tables includes a large, high-definition display screen. These screens can display whatever the facilitator sees as appropriate but can also display from local laptops during small team simulations.”
One of the university’s offline simulations places learners in stressful situations within a restaurant where individuals must respond within seconds to resolve issues. Once back in the classroom, they are divided into small teams to conduct a root-cause analysis of two of the issues and devise a corrective plan to present to their peers.
The individual and team portions of the simulation are designed to challenge learners’ old behaviors, reveal how decisions impact their team and the restaurant, and to broaden their perspective. They learn how well they lead under pressure and whether or not they can effectively communicate across and up to positively affect the business.
“Outside the classroom is where knowledge, comprehension and application occurs, and inside the classroom is where analysis, synthesis and evaluation occurs,” said Kimberlee Lewis, instructional design manager for McDonald’s. “Together these places enable discovery and growth.”
Ladan Nikravan is associate editor of Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at lnikravan@CLOMedia.com.