Ruben Hamilius, founder of Business Games Ireland, shares why he believes game-based learning can offer a ‘safe, immersive environment’ for training staff.
In the newly remote working world, many companies have had to turn to virtual training. But could game-based learning help? And what would that look like?
Ruben Hamilius, the founder of Business Games Ireland, can offer some insight. Hamilius was born in Belgium and has worked in brand management and start-ups in Switzerland and Singapore. More recently, he relocated to Dublin and established Business Games for “engaging, fun and interactive training” that can be applied to day-to-day business.
Here, Hamilius shares his own experiences of game-based learning and why he believes it will play a part in the future of work.
‘I always say classroom training is like learning how to swim the butterfly stroke by looking at slides with pictures. You get the theory, but the reality is very different’
– RUBEN HAMILIUS
Have game-based approaches to learning typically been used in workplaces?
Game-based learning has been around for a long time now. More progressive organisations have been using game-based approaches in training to overcome some of the challenges of traditional classroom-style training.
While working with multinationals, I sat through my fair share of classroom training. At the risk of sounding like a bad student, I forget most of the learnings by the next day. This is known as the ‘forgetting curve’, and it is a very real thing. I always say classroom training is like learning how to swim the butterfly stroke by looking at slides with pictures. You get the theory, but the reality is very different. Throw in distractions like Instagram and WhatsApp, and chances are your student is texting under the table rather than paying attention.
Organisations have begun to recognise this and have evolved to ‘blended-learning’ programmes. This mixes classroom training, e-learning and gamified experiential learning in a curriculum. Most adults are active participants in our own learning, constructing our understanding of new concepts and experiences by relating them to what we have known before. Experiential-learning games then complement the classroom by allowing adults to reinforce learning by doing. In other words, time to get into the pool and start swimming.
Are there benefits of game-based learning over more traditional methods?
Right off the bat, games are immediately more engaging. When players are engaged, the level of recall and understanding naturally increases. The beauty of games is also the fictional world built to contain the storyline, characters and learnings. Because it is not exactly real, workplace barriers and risks are removed. Players are open to help one another, solve problems, make mistakes and try again after failure. It is a safe, immersive environment to learn and this often brings out the best version of a player.
Lastly and very importantly, games are interactive. Numerous studies demonstrate that our brains remember knowledge better if we actively participate or interact when learning. It is difficult to interact with or feel emotionally invested in a PowerPoint slide, but nobody wants to let their team down in a game.
How do game-based learning approaches typically work? What do they involve?
The most important factor is to determine what the learning objectives of the game are. Are we looking to impart factual knowledge as part of the new-hire induction? Establish a set of black and white rules as part of compliance training? Or rather is the purpose to influence behaviour? If so, what behaviour do we want to see more of or less of, to introduce or to eliminate completely? It is important to be selective in this area, as more objectives will not lead to better learning.
Put simply, the game is an alternative reality where players face challenges and complexities while pursuing goals. For example, it is possible to design a completely fictional storyline or create a hyper-realistic business simulation.
Team interactions can be competitive or cooperative. Challenges can be solved by creativity or negotiation – or both, or neither! Every game is designed to be fun and educational, but these are always a function of the learning process. Again, it all comes back to the learning objectives.
Very importantly, after a game we always do a comprehensive debrief where players are asked to reflect on what happened and formulate insights. This is when learnings are cemented and tied back to the real world.
Will game-based learning fit into the future of work, do you think?
Yes, I believe so. As remote working becomes our new reality, it is more important than ever to reassess your training curriculum. What worked in a face-to-face office setting will not translate online perfectly, and multiple distractions at home make it more challenging to get the right focus and engagement from participants.
While the pandemic has thrown us all a curveball, what we can predict with confidence is that virtual training will become a vital part of our toolkits. We need to critically assess if this type of training is, at minimum, on par with what we could deliver while face to face. Repurposing existing content and formats for online is a good stopgap measure, but what it doesn’t take into consideration is the drop-off in engagement that is inevitable when you’re training remotely.
Online sessions can become predictable and repetitive. Coupled with at-home distractions, experienced by many employees, this can mean participants can tune out very quickly. Interactive, engaging virtual or hybrid approaches can help tackle this risk. In pre-Covid times, we were willing to let go of quality when it comes to virtual training, because we would only occasionally run remote sessions. In this new age, we have to move on from the idea that it is acceptable for virtual training to be less interactive, less immersive and less fun. The time to accept a compromise is over.
How can organisations start a new game-based approach?
For anyone starting out incorporating game-based learning into the training curriculum, I would recommend keeping one foot in the known and one foot in the unknown. In other words, start by using game-based activities to complement a robust existing programme.
When you design the course content yourself, add gamified learning elements on a topic where you’re already a subject-matter expert. Use the medium you’re most familiar with first, be it a classroom set-up or a virtual learning environment.
Just like the core value of game-based learning, you need to learn by doing. Start with a pilot and keep reflecting on what works and what doesn’t. Be sure to do active debriefs with the participants, be open and responsive to feedback and improve your games with every new session.
Are there challenges they need to be aware of in advance?
I have been designing game-based learning activities for a few years now, and there have been certain challenges that pop up again and again.
First, it is a fine line between fun and silly. When designing business games, it is important to be able to be on the right side of that line.
Second, be a master of the virtual tools you are using. Unexpected technical situations crop up all the time when running virtual games. You don’t want to be glitching in the midst of a 200-person game.
Third, be crystal clear on the learning priorities. Because games can be so expansive, it is tempting to stray off the path and introduce unnecessarily complex elements. Stick to the objectives and design your activities around them. Simplicity is key.