“Serious gaming” can be a learning tool

Jackie Launder from Human Performance shares hers view on “serious gaming” as a a learning tool.

June 15, 2011

Recent research was conducted with the purpose of exploring the relationship between the use of serious games and learning.  The findings of the research project established that participants using the game scored significantly higher than others who did not, says Jackie Launder from Human Performance, a practice within The IQ Business Group, one of South Africa’s leading independent management consultancy.

“Within the research a number of studies demonstrated the effectiveness of serious games and simulations for cognitive, emotional and psychomotor learning.  According to these studies serious games motivate learning, offer immediate feedback, consolidate knowledge, support skills development and application, aid learning transfer and influence changes in behaviour and attitudes,” says Launder.

At this point you might be wondering what serious gaming might be?  It is defined as a game that is designed for something other than sheer entertainment.  The word ‘serious’ in fact refers to the application of games in performance assessment, training and development, education, viral marketing, promotion, recruitment, awareness campaigns, scientific exploration, emergency management, city planning and engineering.
“Serious gaming is a young methodology,” states Launder.  “Play performs an important role in psychological, social and intellectual development and the play associated with games is an important construct of learning.”

A game in itself is a set of activities involving one or more people playing.  A game has goals, constraints, payoffs and consequences.  It is rule-guided and must often be story-based to become really engaging.  It also involves some aspect of competition, even if that competition is with oneself.

“Stories are one of the most fundamental and powerful learning experiences available to us.  If that concept is applied to produce an imaginative well-executed game, it will result in an interactive story-line that the user can engross themselves in.  Participation in these stories can change learners’ relationships to information by encouraging visualisation, experimentation and creativity in finding new ways to tackle the game,” she explains.

Research shows that first person perspective PC-based serious games are intrinsically motivating and can facilitate learning.  “There must be an element of sense making, such that the learner understands the link between the information and its application to a task or environment.  If the learner is able to understand the outcomes of using or understanding information, then they are more likely to retain it,” she says.

The serious game environment can be optimally utilised for informal learning in general and for industrial learning in particular.  She says, “serious games enable engagement in learning activities that are normally too costly to resource or too dangerous, difficult or impractical to implement in the classroom.”

Launder says that keeping players motivated to continue playing is however a challenge. “The game technology needs to draw the player into the game by making it immersive through realism and challenging tasks.  Serious games can deal with infinite amounts of content and afford differing levels of challenge, which can be instantly updated, customised and modified to adapt to the user’s skill level.”

Significant learning benefits of serious games have been found to include use of meta-cognition and mental models, improved strategic thinking, insight and development of analytical skills.  “Serious games can support both ‘social learning’ and ‘situational learning’ and optimises learning in three broad categories:  skill-based, cognitive learning and affective knowledge such as attitude.  For these reasons, I predict companies and individuals encountering serious gaming as a form of learning more often,” concludes Launder.

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