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Where is game-based learning headed? An Interview With Sharon Boller

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I interviewed Bottom-Line Performance President and industry thought leader, Sharon Boller to learn more about current game-based learning trends and where this learning strategy is headed in 2017. Sharon has been writing and speaking about game-based learning since at least 2008. She hits the road this fall with Karl Kapp to deliver a series of workshops on learning game design, and rumor has it a book is on the way in 2017. Her hands-on work with clients gives her a unique perspective on how games are currently being used for learning and what trends we will see in the year ahead.

What are the current trends in game-based learning?

Today, a lot of people try to use or mimic common game show-style games in eLearning courses. We’re still stuck trying to figure out how to do things that have to be SCORM compliant. That’s the now, but the good news is that people are at least trying to come up with different solutions that are more game-like as opposed to boring training material and simple recall games.

Where is game-based learning headed in 2017?

More and more learning games will be designed as casual mobile games that people will play on their phones. The focus will be less about what we can stick in a traditional eLearning course and more about reaching people on the device they most frequently use, which of course, is their phone. Mobile learning lends itself really well to these micro-learning experiences that people want.

Another trend we’re going to see is mobile learning stop being labeled as a trend and viewed as more mainstream. We’ll also start to see more robust games that help people use judgment and build decision-making skills instead of just procedural knowledge.

We’ve seen clients have great results with this approach, both using Knowledge Guru to deliver games on mobile devices and with custom mobile games we have designed and developed.

How do you see virtual reality making its debut in the learning game world?

Virtual reality is going to be a little different from other things that have come along. Mobile learning has taken a long time to reach adoption. But virtual reality won’t have the same extreme curve because it’s not very expensive; you can buy a virtual reality headset for just a few hundred dollars. This will help make adoption a lot easier and will create a virtual reality uptick in our industry.

When can we expect to see this uptick in virtual reality adoption?

I don’t think virtual reality is tomorrow, but I think you’ll start seeing people using applications and believing they can make virtual reality happen in the next couple of years.

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What makes virtual reality so appealing?

It’s the emotion. Virtual reality immerses people in natural environments that they would otherwise never dream of experiencing in reality. It emulates such realistic situations that it triggers the same emotions you’d feel if you were actually there in real life. Game-based learning has a similar effect when the games evoke strong emotions in players. And emotion is key for embedding memory. So when you can do something that evokes emotion, you’ve created a much more powerful learning experience as opposed to a flat eLearning course with basic scenarios that simply tell you what happened.

So emotion is one of the reasons games are a good learning tool? What does learning theory say about the connection between emotions and learning?

Learning theory is organized into three domains: the cognitive (thinking) domain, psychomotor (physical) domain, and affective (emotional) domain. What you find is that if you don’t engage the heart or affective domain, oftentimes you can’t bring about change. So what’s emerging are these games for change or games in this affective domain that try to change our minds or attitudes about certain things.

Can you give an example of a game you played recently that incorporates virtual reality?

There’s a free game online right now called Lifesaver. Lifesaver uses stories and games to help people recognize the value of learning CPR. To play the game, you use the spacebar to do compressions and then you get feedback on whether you’re doing the compressions too fast or too slow. So this whole emerging arena in learning games is focused on games that relate to the affective domain.

This is why virtual reality could be especially beneficial for medical device and healthcare companies. You can operate on someone in virtual reality and there’s no risk. Yet it gives players a series of experiences that evoke those key moments of a surgical operation in a way that is faithful to the emotional experience real surgeons have in the operating room.

People will make the transfer to virtual reality a lot faster after they realize that instead of putting someone in the operating room, out on the factory floor, or in a mining environment, operating a $2 million piece of equipment, they could design a virtual reality experience and have meaningful practice without the liability.

Are there any other game trends you think may emerge in the next few years?

I think we will see resurgence in board and tabletop games and people actually coming together. One thing we’re seeing already is greater interest in solutions that let people connect in real-time. People recognize there is a space for games that allow for socialization. One of the cool things I talked about in my recent blog post on Pokémon Go is that even though it’s a digital game and people play on their own, it also fosters a sense of community and personal connection with others.

We’re also seeing more and more clients who choose to include a high-end tabletop game as part of a product launch meeting or instructor-led training session. The “Feed the World” board game the Mosaic company included in their Brandon Hall award-winning curriculum is a great example.

Access the 2017 Learning and Remembering Report to view the results and analysis of our Learning and Remembering Survey.

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Six Truths About Implementing a Learning Game that Gets Results

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I love games—but that does not mean I think a game is the appropriate option for every learning situation. I do not think it will always equal the most effective or efficient means of helping people learn. In fact, I wrote a post recently clarifying how games differ from learning games because a lot of people are thinking about commercial video games when they contemplate incorporating games into their learning strategies.

If you are a chief learning officer or training manager/director who is trying to figure out whether games should be part of your learning mix—or how best to use them—here are six truths for you to consider:

1) Games and simulations require expertise to design well; you have to understand game design as well as instructional design. They require several rounds of play testing and iterative design to produce a game that fully engages your target audience AND achieves the desired learning and performance outcomes. They do not fit well into a “let’s draft it, pilot it, and finalize it,” three-step process. You may need to go through 5-8 iterations to get a custom game right. If you attempt to implement a game that you have not thoroughly tested, you are likely to be disappointed by the results you get.

2) Games are not a panacea. They do not spark crazed excitement in learners just because you say the word “game.” You have to market a game and plan its implementation just as carefully as you would any other type of learning solution. A game is not a cure-all for everything that might ail your training initiatives. Ideally, you have defined a clear purpose for the game and carefully integrated it into your learning solution—rather than inserting it as an afterthought to try to incorporate a “fun” activity in the learning experience. Make the game meaningful and tightly linked to your desired knowledge and skill outcomes. Learners are smart people. They will figure out if a game lacks relevance pretty quickly, and they will reject the experience.

3) A game is best suited as PART of a learning solution rather than as the entire learning solution. For optimal learning, games need to be set up and debriefed in some fashion. They can be a great reinforcement for learning, a great opportunity to practice a skill, or a great opportunity to create a shared experience that then transitions into something else. If your implementation does not include integration with other learning components, the game will be less effective as a learning solution than it otherwise could be.

Example 1:  Several years ago I designed a daylong workshop for a pharma company on single-payer systems (the rest of the world vs. a multi-payer system, which is the U.S. model). The day began with a 45-minute game/simulation called Access Challenge. The game objective was to get your drug onto a customer’s formulary. What made the simulation unique was that the pharma teams were selling to government agencies on different planets, who each had a different type of payer system and different population issues/concerns. The simulation was a level-setting experience for participants so everyone had a shared experience of working with single-payer systems before we got into the details of the day. After learners completed the simulation, we had an excellent foundation for the remainder of the workshop, which was not game-based.

Example 2: We recently were fortunate to earn a Brandon Hall Award in the games/simulation category, along with our client partner, ExactTarget. ExactTarget used Knowledge Guru to create a game called MobileConnect Guru, which was part of a training initiative designed to prep employees, resellers, and distributors on the launch of a new product. The game provided multiple repetitions of key content and was the last component learners completed prior to the product’s launch. ExactTarget’s results were impressive, but the game alone would not have gotten them these results. They designed a highly effective multi-method approach to helping people learn and remember. We describe this “recipe” for learning and remembering in a Bottom-Line Performance blog you can find here. 

4) Your stakeholders are often poor judges of what the target audience will like and find useful. Do not trust the stakeholder group to deem what should and should not be implemented. Your stakeholders are not your target. What they themselves are intrigued by might be deadly dull to your target learners. Conversely (in our company) what the product dev team likes might be way, way too game-y for anyone else in the company. Match the game to the audience, not the people paying for it. This is a tricky business, but it can be done.

5) Recognize the power of games in helping people learn AND remember. A well-designed game incorporates many elements that foster long-term retention. A well-designed game has high replayability, which means learners will naturally get numerous repetitions and practice sessions—which is essential to remembering. They provide frequent and voluminous feedback, which is essential to learning something correctly in the first place. They will incorporate a variety of game elements that foster a desire to play. Some games will even leverage a strong story or narrative, which has a high correlation to long-term memory. (Stories engage our entire brain; the brain literally “lights up” when a story engages it.)

Example: Cisco uses the Knowledge Guru game engine as part of its new sales association program (CSAP). Players consistently rate the games extremely high in terms of their value in learning AND remembering (4.93 on a scale of 1 to 5). A game can combine knowledge recall with scenarios that allow the player to apply the knowledge in a job context, which is a powerful memory-builder.

6) The more effort required to learn to play the game, the less cognitive space available to learn the content. If you feel strongly that you only have 30 minutes available for learners to play a game, then do not implement a game that easily requires 30 minutes just to figure out the rules of play.  Unless you are designing an immersive simulation, keep your game’s objective and rules pretty simple.  The game’s complexity needs to match the amount of time you believe learners will spend playing the game. If you are planning a complex, immersive simulation, then your implementation strategy needs to allow time for players to fully engage in (and learn from) the experience. This probably means 3 hours, not 30 minutes.

If you want a deep dive into learning game design, I wrote an entire white paper on designing learning games. You can download it here.

If you want more info on learning and remembering, check out my white paper titled When Remembering Really Matters. It talks about games and much, much more.

 

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Chance vs Strategy: Which Works Best in Serious Games?

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If you are creating a serious game to help your employees improve their performance, the type of game you create depends greatly on the type of job your employees have. Are either of the following statements true?

  • Day-to-day work is highly reactive in an “anything can happen” environment. Employees complete tasks such as responding to varying customer needs or emergency situations.
  • Work is based on organization, planning and foresight. This might be the case for sales managers, executive leadership or even individual contributors who must carefully plan and execute project work.

Depending on your situation, you should include an appropriate amount of chance or strategy in your serious game that reflects the work environment. As always in game design, you’ll want to avoid game elements that are irrelevant to learners. Gadgets and gimmicks within a game serve as more of a distraction than an engagement tool.

Sharon Boller talks about this at length in her learning game design blog series. With so many different game elements and game mechanics to potentially include in a game design, instructional designers new to game design often struggle to find focus and direction. We think about the “fun” of commercial games we have all played and enjoyed and try to incorporate all of this into games for our learners.

The result? Games that are distracting, out of focus and ultimately ineffective for learning.

The two game elements most commonly misused are chance and strategy. The usual mistake? too much chance. Would-be designers add lots of “surprises” to their games thinking it will make the experience more fun. The other mistake is to include strategy or chance in a game when the real answer is to use neither. Sometimes, the best corporate learning games focus on just a few game mechanics and game elements so mastery of the content can be brought front and center.

Consider the following examples Sharon gives in her blog post on game elements:

  • Is my game unintentionally creating win states that are largely achieved by chance or a specific sequence of events? (This can happen more easily than you think. We recently played a board game where it became clear over several game plays that the person who got to go first—which was determined by age—had a much greater chance of winning than the person who went last.)
  • Do I blend strategy and chance in a way that mirrors the skill I want my player to learn, or the context in which they will have to apply the skill?
  • What control do players have  in the real world over decisions? How do I design that into the game?

Don’t forget that chance and strategy, while seemingly very important, are only two of the many game elements available to you. A game does not need chance or strategy to be fun or effective for learning.

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Case In Point

Knowledge Guru’s game play is essentially simple and straightforward. Why? Each game is really a template of sorts for whatever content you put into it. If the game had too much chance, it would undermine scenario questions where learners must formulate a strategy. And if the game had a strategic focus, it would distract learners who need to learn how to respond to seemingly random situations in real time.

Instead, Knowledge Guru includes the following game elements:

  • Story
  • Aesthetics
  • Rewards/achievements
  • Levels
  • Theme
  • Competition

So, what about strategy and chance?

You probably already know if your learners’ jobs involve more chance or strategy. Whichever is more true for them, be sure to include the appropriate game element in the game they will play.

The bottom line: When designing a game, you should never include a game element or game mechanic if you do not understand how it is linked to the desired learning outcome.

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The Importance of Aesthetics in Serious Games

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First impressions matter in almost every situation – including game play.

Aesthetics are a huge part of the game play experience. If the game doesn’t LOOK appealing, then players won’t want to play even if the game has a great game goal and rules. Conversely, a game that may be “just okay” from a game play perspective can be elevated by strong aesthetics. This fact can be a plus in learning games where content might be a bit dry but a great theme and aesthetics can help create an enjoyable experience.

Compare these two game boards. Which one makes you more curious about playing the game?

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What about these game characters and images? Do they make you curious and want to play? What other information is being shared via the aesthetics in the game? (Answer: Progression, topic, what to do next, theme, overarching mood, etc.)

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Aesthetics do several things for you in a game (any game – including serious games).

For example:

  • Set a mood and reinforce a theme or a concept
  • Immerse the player into the game experience and help them suspend reality so they can play the game.
  • Offer cues that can guide performance and communicate a player’s status and progress.
  • Facilitate understanding of game play, making it easier for a player to figure out what to do.

Are you in the position of hiring out game design and development? Terrific! Our team would love to chat with you.

If, however, you are NOT in this position and are instead a team of one, here are some resources for you. If your skill set doesn’t reside in the graphic design arena, my first vote is for you to hire a graphic designer to help you. The hourly rate for a solo freelancer is typically around $75/hour. Ten to 20 hours of a graphic designer’s time can probably get you all the art assets you need for a basic game.

If you have no budget for a graphic designer, here are a couple of other options to check out for digital art assets:

http://opengameart.org — has some nice graphics bundles you can download and use in your digital games.

http://elearningtemplates.com/elearning-activities/ — has cutout people and graphics as well as some “game” templates (they aren’t really games, but are gamified activities.)

You can also check out this site to purchase game components for board games or card games at a reasonable price. Available items include tokens, dice, game boards, cards, chips, money, etc: https://www.thegamecrafter.com/parts

How Much Story Does a Serious Game Need?

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In serious games, story is a narrative that either weaves through an entire game or sets up the reason you are playing the game and elaborates on the theme. The type of story and level of detail you need will depend on your learning goal.

Some in the corporate learning field get nervous about using “too much” story for obvious reasons. Will the story be too “out there” for some learners? Will a story that is too detailed exclude certain learners or make them feel the game does not apply to them?

Should I use a story?

Sharon Boller wrote extensively on this subject in her Learning Game Design Blog Series. When deciding whether to use story, or how much story to use, it’s important to ask two questions:

  • Would story add to this game? Include story when you need to evoke emotion in players and motivate them to play.
  • Can story be used as a learning tool? Research shows that incorporating story and even fantasy elements into games can help embed memories. You also might be able to make the story mirror a real-life situation for learners, either literally or metaphorically.

 

Should I combine my story with a theme?

When we think of story, we often think of theme at the same time. A game’s theme is essentially a backdrop or collection of aesthetic elements. In the board game Smallworld, the theme is a beautifully illustrated fantasy island with many topographies. The story connects to the theme: you are one of many races vying for control of a small island that is not big enough for all of you. The game’s story is simple and intentionally vague, but it is effective because it is combined with a lovely theme and well-done aesthetics.

Smallworld board game, ® Days of Wonder

Smallworld board game, ® Days of Wonder

How much story do I need?

The level of story will depend on how immersive your game needs to be. For a complex game teaching high-level skills, you might require a level of story bordering on simulation-worthy realism. For a game teaching foundational knowledge and simple skills, a complex story might be unnecessary.

Each time we develop a new theme pack for Knowledge Guru, we try carefully to develop a story that is simple yet fun… and does not distract from whatever content users put into the game. We also carefully link the game’s story to the aesthetic elements of the theme.

Knowledge Guru theme pack

In the new fairytale-themed “Knowledge Hero,” players learn about a Dark Wizard who has locked up all the knowledge in the land.

These simple stories create a feeling of interest and novelty, yet have nothing to do with the actual content or “knowledge” the user has inputted into their game.

New Knowledge Guru theme packs

Even when the theme is pretty “out there” (like our new Space Aliens theme), the story is always fairly straightforward.

You should also consider how a simple story can be more business-centric, which will be more suited to certain players.

Knowledge Guru business theme

We created three different “business” themes that combine a corporate feel with fun and whimsy.

The truth? The type of story and amount of story you need completely depends on your learning goal. Make sure story is being used as learning tool and not a distraction.

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning (Free Download)

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

A growing body of research supports the use of serious games in the workplace. And thanks to a year of successful implementations in corporate settings, some great case studies now point the way for organizations ready to use games for learning.

Whether you want to use a true serious game, a gamified solution, or a combination of the two… it’s a great time to do so.

While research shows that people learn more from games than other learning solutions, many L&D practicioners still do not know why games work… so they avoid using games entirely.

If you think you want to use a game for learning, you first must become familiar with the types of “fun” in games, what’s required for real learning to happen, and the ways games can link the two.

We’ve created a new guide to help you accomplish this. The content, researched and written by Knowledge Guru creator (and BLP president) Sharon Boller, takes the mystery out of using serious games in the enterprise. It’s a simple thing, really: become familiar with the ways people have fun in games, identify the common principles all effective learning solutions share, and then carefully map the two together.

And once  you map the “fun” elements of your serious game to the elements needed for learning, you’ll also want to employ some research-based learning principles to actually help people remember the content after they’ve learned it. Are your game mechanics and game elements actually mapped to the cognitive tasks learners need to perform on the job? Are you taking advantage of the latest research on how the human brain best commits knowledge to long-term memory?

The guide, titled 4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning, is available as a free download.

4 Ways Serious Games Link to Learning

The 12 Corporate Learning Content Areas… and Where Games Fit

Corporate Learning Content Areas

When it comes to game-based learning, 2014 is the year of theory moving into practice. An increasing number of organizations are planning initiatives to include games in their learning solutions. The research has been validated and plans are being set.

But if you’ve never designed a game before, or tried to include a game in your training, where do you begin?

The answer, of course, depends on the type of training you are developing. The 2013 ASTD State of the Industry report includes a wonderful table with the twelve most common content areas found in corporate training. Some of these content areas are rather broad, but they are a great starting point for visualizing the types of training we frequently develop. The content areas are shown below:

12 corporate learning content areas

The type of game you might create will vary widely for each content area. I’ve included a general suggestion or two for each content area below, but the list is not exhaustive! Use the suggestions as a starting point.

Managerial and Supervisory:

Soft-skills training often (but not always) works best in face-to-face situations. Why not use a role playing game to give learners situational practice? Rote Q&A, points, and badges will be of less value.

Mandatory and Compliance:

This is the sort of information we need to know, or our organization needs us to know. Since it often requires memorization, compliance training can be tedious. Consider a game that puts the content in a fun setting and employs some research-based learning principles to help people memorize the information faster.

Processes, Procedures, and Business Practices:

Processes and procedures are often foundational knowledge, just like compliance. Gamifying the process of basic memorization will work well here, but make sure you add context when possible. Even a game centered around Q&A can have context if you add highly relevant scenario questions.

Profession or Industry-Specific:
This topic is admittedly broad, so our suggestion for a game should really be “it depends.” Assuming the subject matter is applied, your game must be a realistic simulation of the work environment, or at least of the cognitive task being performed.
Sales:
Sales training is often face to face because of the interpersonal element. Why not try a tabletop board game? If you need to train virtually, some vendors offer highly immersive digital games where players hone their negotiation and persuasion skills. These approaches can also be helpful, as long as they are not overly simplistic. Since you are designing a game for sales reps, why not make it competitive?
IT and Systems:
The subject is highly technical, and the information often must be memorized. Give learners a game that rewards them for being thorough and helps them reinforce their knowledge through the game’s mechanics.
New Employee Orientation:
New hire training is often basic and foundational. Elements like badges and leaderboards are helpful here because new employees can see how they stack up with others and even form some social connections.
Interpersonal Skills:
A tabletop board game is ideal for soft skills training… especially one that involves scenarios and active communication with other players.
Executive Development:
So many things go into executive development. Resource management and territory acquisition games are excellent for developing strategic thinking.
Customer Service:
A simple card game with customer scenarios can work well here. If the customer service environment is often rushed (such as for food service workers), consider adding a timed element to the game.
Basic Skills:
Basic skills are another type of training that often falls under “foundational knowledge.” Points, badges, and leaderboards are a good start, as you are trying to keep people motivated to learn what they need while knowing that the content itself is not so exciting.
Other (Quality, Product Knowledge):
People need to know it… and this type of training often involves either memorization or knowing where to locate the right information when needed. The game should either employ learning principles that help people memorize quickly (spaced learning, repetition, feedback), or reinforce where they should go to locate the information.
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How to Promote a Serious Game to Learners

If you’re about to launch a serious game in your organization, you’re probably pretty excited about it… and rightfully so. Games are often more engaging and effective than many other learning solutions, so learners should be in for a treat. You might even think that because your game is fun, or at least more fun than the webinars and instructor-led sessions learners are used to, that people will flock to it and start playing.

If you build it, they should come, right? Wrong… unless you promote it.

Yes, the L&D department has to also double as an internal marketing team when it comes time to roll out a new learning solution. Even if learners will benefit from playing a serious game, or even genuinely enjoy it once they start playing, it’s still a new task or set of behaviors you are trying to encourage.

We share the example of Knowledge Guru user ExactTarget frequently because of the bang-up job they did when they first launched their MobileConnect Guru game company-wide. ExactTarget (now a SalesForce.com company) specializes in digital marketing, so they know what they are doing when it comes time to get the word out and get players involved.

ExactTarget did many things right when they launched MobileConnect Guru, which is a big reason why hundreds of players logged significant time in the game… and drove real business results for the company. Let’s take a look at some of the methods they used to promote the game to learners. Consider using some or all of these methods within your own organization to get a serious game off the ground.

Make a Scene

Do you have TV monitors around your office that display company news? What about a bulletin board? Whatever you have, use it! ExactTarget displayed advertisements like the one below all over their offices during the first round of gameplay to turn the game into a big event. They also furnished prizes to the top scores, investing a few hundred dollars in providing incentives people would actually want. Use whatever resources you have available to make your serious game a big deal.

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Integrate it into the workflow

ExactTarget has its very own internal social network called 3sixty that’s used for training and communications. Instead of just sticking a hyperlink to the game somewhere deep within 3sixty, you can see how ExactTarget placed the game front and center, integrating it with the rest of the product training. ExactTarget even added a cute “Meet MobileConnectGuru” section and added the weekly leaderboard to the home screen. Nice!

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Keep it Consistent

Like a well-planned curriculum, a marketing campaign has to have a long tail with plenty of reinforcement. Rather than posting a banner ad or sending out a single message promoting the game, ExactTarget created multiple banners and internal advertisements to promote MobileConnect Guru for the duration of the game play experience. You’ll see that the advertisement below, while similar to the first image we showed, is different. Think of ways you can get creative and do more than the bare minimum when rolling out your game.

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Don’t Forget About Email

Most professionals still live and die by the inbox. That’s a good thing for ExactTarget (they do email marketing!), and also a good thing for you when you want to promote a serious game. Another tactic ExactTarget employed to get players to register for the game and start playing was email messages. The email below is a simple HTML message, reminding people about the game and the prizes available. It’s simple and to the point.

ExactTargetpromoemail

 

If you don’t have an email client available for use internally, consider setting one up with a free provider like MailChimp. MailChimp is free to use for up to 2,000 email addresses, so chances are you can use it to send some mass messages to your team. If you are using Knowledge Guru to create your serious game, the internal email tool lets you email players once they have created an account.

Reinforcement is key

No matter what serious game you are launching, or what resources you have available to market it internally, think through how you will remind players consistently that the game is available to play. Try to plan at last 3 or 4 different emails spaced out over time, and consider using other internal tools and communications platforms to get the word out. Get managers and supervisors involved early and remember to focus on the fun.

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DevLearn Post-Conference Resources

We had a great deal of fun talking games and gamification at DevLearn 2013. Whether you attended Sharon Boller and Karl Kapp’s learning game design workshop, visited the Knowledge Guru® booth in the Expo, or attended our learning stage session on ways you can build your own games, we are grateful for the opportunity to connect and share with you.

In the learning stage session I gave with Leanne Batchelder, Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself, I called out some specific resources we would send to you after the conference. Here they are:

Scroll of Knowledge: Game-Based Learning: Why Does it Work?

This downloadable PDF outlines the four requirements needed for learning, then maps them to game elements and mechanics that match. The scroll is a great introduction to the world of games. If you’d like to see the sources and research studies associated with the scroll, contact us.

View Game Based Learning Scroll

Event Slides: Powerful Learning Games You Can Build Yourself

Our learning stage session summarized the recent research and case studies surrounding the use of games for learning, then showed you how you can use Knowledge Guru to build your own learning games. See the slides below.

Business Cases for Serious Games

5 Business Cases that Call for Serious Games

No matter what learning solution you think you want to produce, it’s important to identify the learning need (and business need) before starting a project. Do you really need a new gamification platform, or are you trying to follow the latest trends? Is mobile learning a must-have in your organization, is it just another upper management whim?

Serious games are worth a look when you want to improve performance in an organization, but one size does not fit all. In a recent blog post on GamaSutra, Andrzej Marcewski points out that “serious games” is too broad of a term to actually be useful. Saying you need a “serious game” can mean so many things, from a simulator to a teaching game to a “meaningful game” as Marcewski puts it.

Our definition of serious games is the same as what you’ll find on Wikipedia: “games with a purpose beyond pure entertainment.” This definition is indeed broad, and means a wide variety of games, with various levels of immersion, can all share the name serious game.

It’s easy to imagine how simulating an operating room or a cockpit can be used to help people practice, but what about situations where games and simulations don’t seem as obvious? We find that many organizations are faced with a problem more fundamental than helping people practice complex skills: helping employees acquire basic knowledge. For employees, it’s usually not fun to do this.

Business Cases for Serious Games

Here are five common business situations where a serious game can help:

  1. Your product launch cycles are too fast, with little time to train sales and support teams: A well-designed serious game that helps people learn product facts and features can save significant time and money over traditional training methods. Instead of emailing a series of PDFs and Powerpoints, or making people sit through a boring webinar, design a fun game that allows players to learn and memorize the material as they play.
  2. Your new hire training is boring and ineffective: Most people dread the obligatory courses and presentations they must endure when starting a new job. Other companies don’t have much of a system for training new people at all. If the onboarding process is not standardized, employees will end up with major knowledge gaps later in their jobs. Consider incorporating a serious game into new hire training to make learning company facts, policies and procedures more palatable.
  3. Customer-facing roles in your organization must know (and easily recite) large amounts of complex information: It’s important to help people acquire an in-depth knowledge base in a field, but it is also extremely helpful to show people any go-to “talking points” they need to help them perform better right away. Once again, a serious game focused on the memorization of facts can help ease this challenge.
  4. You are switching over to a new IT system that no one knows how to use: IT rollouts are a huge headache for basically everyone. Most of the time, we learn the ropes of a new system by muddling through lots of trial and error. A serious game can make the experience of learning a new system much more efficient.
  5. You must comply with a new safety certification that no one knows anything about: Once again, a serious game designed to help people memorize and retain information can help you here. Even when employees understand the importance of regulatory compliance, they rarely want to take the time to learn the ins and outs of a set of procedures. A serious game makes a ton of sense when dealing with OSHA, HIPAA and other compliance situations.

Simulations and complex games are often top of mind when people talk about serious games. There are plenty of places on the web to learn more about these types of games, while the more painstaking task of helping people acquire basic information often gets overlooked. Use the five business cases described above to inspire you as you look to find ways to apply serious games in your organization.

Our own Knowledge Guru game engine is designed to help people acquire knowledge. You can learn exactly how it works by scheduling a demo.