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Virtual Reality Learning


Computer games Graeme Duncan, chief operating officer at Caspian Learning, argues that 3D games are a realistic and essential solution for corporate training programmes.

As organisations learn to cope with ever-changing product ranges, additions to health and safety policies, new financial regulations and legalisation compliance issues, they face the challenge of finding more effective ways to train their large and dispersed workforces.

Furthermore, as staff need to be trained on subjects which, while vital, are often considered dull and overbearing, engaging forms of training need to be employed. This responsibility inevitably falls to HR departments who are increasingly feeling the pressure to find innovative and cost effective ways to engage learners whilst meeting tighter training budgets.

One solution to consider is games-based learning. Available to the workforce at a click of a button via their desktop and across the network, this form of learning has become a real solution to challenging training requirements.

Motivate and engage learners
Games-based learning is a user-friendly learning tool and can motivate and engage learners as well as enliven training sessions more effectively than traditional classroom and page-turning e-learning solutions.

Casual gaming is no longer dominated by the adolescent male - it has hit mainstream. Sony Playstation Portable (PSP), Nintendo DS Lite and the recently launched Nintendo Wii have had a hand in this, but 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'.

A recent report, "Leadership in a distributed world. Lessons from online gaming", by IBM Global Business Services states that there is much to learn from games:

"We do believe the world of massively multiplayer online role player games (MMORPG) – and the behaviour of leaders who guide guilds of globally-dispersed gamers – can offer fresh insights into the development of new leadership capabilities for global enterprises."

Additionally, according to a poll of 500 people conducted by Worldwinner, an online puzzle game provider, games at work can have a positive effect on productivity. Of those polled, 34 per cent said they play during working hours, 52 per cent of which play periodically across the day.

An MD reading this may feel they have significant cause for concern that the workforce is right now enjoying a sneaky round of Suduko online, however, further analysis identifies that 72 per cent thought it reduced workplace stress, 76 per cent thought that it improved their productivity and 80 per cent felt more focussed.

The benefits
Anyone watching children at play can see the evidence that games and learning are not mutually exclusive. 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. For example:

Games enable organisations to overcome the lack of engagement and motivation that is commonly associated with traditional learning methods. Similarities between the science of motivation and the pedagogical strengths of games are almost 'spooky'. Motivational theory shows us we should strive for intrinsic motivation, allow learner autonomy, set goals and provide both challenge and feedback, all crucial elements of 'gameplay'. By appealing to the competitive nature of the trainee, the games also sustain interest in a topic. Ultimately, they ensure that the desired learning outcomes and goals are achieved.

Organisations can create a world or game that has a recognisable look and feel and appropriate corporate branding, increasing the relevance for the learner. What’s more, the more contextual the learning experience the better the transference of this learning, something that realistic 3D worlds can offer. Users can even be allowed to select and personalise their avatar (virtual character) to carry out the learning with. This can help deliver greater learner centricity and feelings of control.

Failure-free environment
In the real world, there are always risks associated with learning on the job because mistakes can easily lead to losses, including employee moral and confidence, and financial penalties.

By replacing, or at least supplementing, on the job training with a games-based approach, an organisation can effectively help mitigate this risk. They can provide their employees with a safe environment in which they can make and learn from mistakes, which otherwise could have major negative impacts. Games also offer employees the opportunity to revisit certain scenarios or tasks to practice and reinforce learning at any time.

These are just a few of the benefits that can be reaped with games; benefits that are otherwise hard to come by in a classroom or page-turning e-learning setting.

Caspian Learning has combined best practice in learning and memory, based on years of cognitive thinking research, with 3D computer gaming technologies. This has resulted in the development of our Thinking Worlds™ authoring engine, which enables rapid, cost-effective development of interactive learning solutions on a standard PC. With a library of over 100 3D environments and 800 3D characters, it is now feasible for HR departments with tight budgets to create games to suit their organisation’s needs.

Furthermore, the flexibility of Thinking Worlds means that trainers can edit any aspect of a game, keeping it up-to-date and extending its life indefinitely. This has obvious benefits in terms of cost, but also means that the game addresses training needs on a granular level.

<Case study: Volvo Cars UK
Caspian worked with Volvo Cars UK to develop a solution that would be flexible enough to train staff on essential topics from legislation to product sales. The training programme also needed to be innovative to encourage participation, easy to update to ensure longevity, accessible to a dispersed workforce, suitable to be used in short sessions rather than half or full-day sessions and finally, be a refresher training tool for those that want to polish their knowledge of a particular area.

Caspian developed a series of five innovative e-Learning applications called Knowledge Drive. The Volvo Dealer Network now uses Knowledge Drive to train new and existing employees in areas ranging from Trade Descriptions, Data Protection & Consumer Credit to Financial Product Sales Training and Volvo Brand Values. Further modules have been added since the first launch using the authoring tools within Thinking Worlds™.

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