Gaming with Generations X & Y

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As Generation Y slowly starts to penetrate the international workforce, and members of Generation X take on the job roles and responsibilities of their baby boomer predecessors, it has become apparent that traditional training methods are not enough anymore. It’s not that traditional training methods such as lecture-based sessions are useless — it’s that more training delivery methods are needed to reach the wide-ranging traits and skill levels of these generations.

Training games are one learning modality quickly gaining esteem with educators, especially when it comes to training those individuals who grew up playing video games and using computers and the Internet as forms of interactive entertainment. Marc Prensky, founder and CEO of Games2train, said gaming solutions for training are a great way to motivate and educate people of all ages.

“Nothing works for everybody, that’s the first thing — there’s always going to be people who want something different,” he said. “The real issue is motivation. Most training is about a subject matter that no one is out running after to learn. A game is a great way to motivate people, and that is regardless of age because the baby boomers just eat up ‘Jeopardy’-like games, ‘Millionaire’-like games and other quiz games. Games give people a way to get through the material and enjoy the process.”

Prensky began developing training games when the first Macintosh computers were introduced in 1984. He said Macs allowed him to build gaming training solutions with no trouble. “The idea of engaging people in a situation that they found interesting and challenging was something that worked,” he said. “The first game I made for training was for an airline. It was called ‘Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego’s Luggage?’ I have also worked with other people who have built games. For example, ‘Ping the Router,’ which was developed by Ascolta. In this game, users have to do increasingly difficult tasks that were in some kind of game context.”

Today, gaming training solutions are growing in popularity among corporations, schools, higher education and the military. Most of the gaming solutions, however, have been more simulative rather than knowledge-based training because of their inborn interactive qualities — Prensky said online games are best employed to reinforce information learned or in conjunction with other learning modalities. “Gaming solutions are great for IT-related learning or practice because IT is all about things breaking down and being a hero to fix that,” he said.

Specifically for members of Generations Y and X, the design or structure of gaming solutions are boundless because they are already accustomed to learning through complex games. “Generations X and Y like games of a certain type,” Prensky said. “They tend to be more difficult for them in many ways because they like games that are more complex, whereas the older people are happy with games like ‘Jeopardy.’”

In fact, Prensky said designing gaming solutions for aging workers is a little more challenging because they are not necessarily comfortable with learning from games because they never had to. “A difference is older generations are not used to learning anything from games except trivia,” he said. “The younger generations are used to learning really complex skills and having to use those skills to achieve complex goals. The people that play the complex games — where the goal would be to save the world — are used to learning in the context of those games an enormous amount. That includes things like working with each other, taking risks, making interesting decisions.”

Identifying the best training solution for the task and audience can be often easier said than done. Nevertheless, Prensky stressed the importance of providing learners with training modality options. “What does matter, especially in the corporate world, is to give people a choice,” he said. “You can’t just hand people a game and force them to play it — it is then no longer a game for them. There has to be a nongame alternative to doing this training, otherwise you won’t have everyone engaging in doing it. What we have found is that roughly half of the people start with a game and say, ‘That was nice because we can through it more quickly.’ Other people will start with the nongame way and say, ‘This was really boring,’ and then go to the game option.”

Gaming training solutions are all about engaging and motivating learners. And it just so happens that Generations X and Y enjoy learning through competitive, interactive learning modalities. “Mostly the advantage of gaming solutions is motivation because learners are having fun,” Prensky said.

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