Educational and Corporate Training Games

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What is Effective Game-based Learning, and Why Does it Work? By NMI White Papers

thinkerWhen education or training feels dull, we are not being engaged and motivated. In other words, we’re not really learning. “Learning” doesn’t mean rote memorization—it means acquiring the skills and thought processes needed to respond appropriately under pressure, in a variety of situations.

We don’t need more time in the classroom to learn how to think and perform in the face of real-world challenges. We need effective, interactive experiences that motivate and actively engage us in the learning process. This is where game-based learning comes in. As it turns out, for many years, video game designers have been producing and refining highly motivating learning environments for their players to enjoy.

Good game-based learning applications can draw us into virtual environments that look and feel familiar and relevant. According to Dr. Susan Ambrose, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Eberly Center for Teaching Excellence, this is motivational because we can quickly see and understand the connection between the learning experience and our real-life work.

Within an effective game-based learning environment, we work toward a goal, choosing actions and experiencing the consequences of those actions along the way. We make mistakes in a risk-free setting, and through experimentation, we actively learn and practice the right way to do things. This keeps us highly engaged in practicing behaviors and thought processes that we can easily transfer from the simulated environment to real life. Research supports the effectiveness of game-based learning in virtual environments—for example, according to a meta-analysis of flight simulator training effectiveness, simulators combined with aircraft training consistently produced training improvements compared to aircraft-only training .

In contrast, traditional, passive training approaches drill us on certain narrow procedures, and then evaluate us on our memory of what we were told. Even when we successfully retain the lesson’s facts and procedures, our behavior in true-to-life situations remains untested. In addition, even the most comprehensive training program cannot cover procedures for every complex eventuality that we will encounter—no matter how thick the binder is. In game-based environments, we learn not only the facts, but also the important, underlying hows and whys. This understanding of deeper, more abstract principles prepares us to perform consistently and effectively, even in new and unexpected situations.