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The games people play


HyperconnectedThe digitally native, the media savvy, the hyperconnected, Generation Y, call them what you will, they're continually immersed in a connected, digitally rich world, which leaves them underwhelmed by tradional learning, says Graeme Duncan. He calls for the training industry to get to grips with their needs - or lose their attention, motivation and skills.

In the boardroom, the MD and product managers are discussing plans for launching a new line of goods. In the meeting, you're asked for a decision on which stores should receive the goods first, based on your knowledge of sales and marketing. You're on the spot and it's decision time. It's do or die. You go with the first thing that comes to mind. It's the wrong decision and single handedly you've negatively impacted the company's profitability, product strategy and reputation.

All is not lost. You go back to the beginning of the performance simulation game, gather more knowledge as you go and replay the test.

Today, more and more businesses are beginning to see games-based learning as a real option for employee training at all levels. Increasingly, they are teaching management teams about business acumen and decision making, improving sales and customer service for mid-levels and engaging manual workers in health and safety. The growth has been fuelled by mounting evidence for gaming as well as improved success levels and more responsive learners.

Evidence for gaming

Casual gaming is no longer dominated by the adolescent male - it has hit mainstream. Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), Nintendo DS Lite and the incredibly successful Nintendo Wii have had a hand in this. However, it's the games that require IT skills, literacy, numeracy, hand-eye co-ordination, strategic thinking and collaborative skills that have brought the concept of gaming to a wider audience and broadened the appeal of 'learning while playing'.

"Today, more and more businesses are beginning to see games-based learning as a real option for employee training at all levels."

Educational games like 'Brain Training' for the Nintendo DS are making gaming technology the first port of call for learning and development professionals who are seeking to engage the media savvy or digitally native workforce. 'Brain Training' and 'Brain Age' sold more than 8.5 million units in just 18 months. This makes it one of the top three DS games of all time and shows the power of fusing learning goals with games' approaches.

A new generation of learners exist called 'digital natives' or 'media savvy'. They are constantly immersed into a connected, digitally rich world, which leaves them under-whelmed by traditional learning experiences, both at school and in work. The industry needs to understand the desires, behaviours and even brain makeup of these younger people - or risk losing their attention, motivation and skills. A recent US report shows how these media-savvy individuals are the most creative part of the workforce and yet the most disengaged learners when it comes to traditional methods.

Today, more and more learners are engaged with new internet applications. The rise of Web 2.0 technologies allows deployment of these games over the web which is enabling wide adoption.

Analyst and industry recognition

Many industry commentators and analysts are supporting the use of games and simulations technology in the corporate and government training sectors. They've suggested that games and simulations have the power to re-engage learners, develop skill sets that are needed and provide a highly productive learning platform for this changing workforce.

Gartner* for one predicts an 80% likelihood that the majority of corporate elearning projects will include games by 2011. This is likely as a result of the level of interactivity they can deliver, the improved engagement they can capture and the risk-free learning that is possible.

In Europe, the Apply Group recently polled* the industry and their potential clients and made similar predictions for the growth in use of games and simulations in learning. Two thirds of respondents predicted mainstream adoption of a 'serious games' approach. The client responses alone would equate to over 25% of all global fortune 500 companies having this strategy embedded by 2012.

"It's the games that require IT skills, literacy, numeracy, hand-eye co-ordination, strategic thinking and collaborative skills that have brought the concept of gaming to a wider audience and broadened the appeal of 'learning while playing'."

Cegos Group, a training provider, recently ran a comprehensive pan-European survey which found that corporate organisations in the UK are leading the way in training practices. The survey found that UK organisations are training more staff and have embraced innovative practices, including elearning, blended learning and mobile learning, to a greater extent than their European counterparts.


It's clear that evidence for performance simulations for learning is growing, but why is it increasingly important for the UK to offer engaging training for its workers? There are three major drivers of growing interest in games and simulations for learning. They are:

  • The sheer numbers of "disappointed, disillusioned and disappeared learners" that exist at work and in education, Sir Michael Barber, former head of the prime minister's Delivery Unit and author of 'The Learning Game' (1996)*
  • The need to dramatically improve workers' skills to prosper in the global economy (Leitch Review)
  • The realisation of the motivational power of games, particularly to the digital native and media savvy generation
  • This market is pulled at one end by the hugely successful computer games industry and its obvious success in motivation. It is then pushed at the other by the need for more skilled employees and to help those that the traditional system has failed. Some exciting examples, such as Nintendo's 'Brain Training', are opening up the consumer's eyes to the power of games in learning.

    Interactive gaming enables organisations to provide training that is motivational, learner-centric, personalised, contextualised, gives immediate feedback, and allows users to practice in a safe 'failure free' environment. The evidence for this way of learning and training is mounting and its very compelling. Organisations need to realise that this form of training is growing and that gaming has become a core part of they way in which we learn, work and play. Performance simulations are beginning to win where tradition is failing.

    For more information
    * The Gartner predication, the Apply Group poll and Sir Michael Barber's quote can be found in a whitepaper 'Games and evidence' (Part 1 - Market, prevalence and academic evidence, Whitepaper) written by Donald Clark who is a board member of Caspian Learning and Ufi.

    * QuestG's report: Harnessing the passion and skills of the media-savvy workforce.

    Graeme Duncan is the CEO of Caspian Learning. Caspian Learning is a provider of 3D learning based games applications to the education, public, private and defence sectors. For more information go to


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