The Importance of Games in Learning

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More than any other, the “millennial” generation that is coming into the workforce has been raised on games. From “Grand Theft Auto” to “Mario Kart”, from “World of Warcraft” to “Gears of War,” members of this cohort eat, sleep, live and breathe games of all kinds. Gen Xers can game with the best of them too, having grown up on classics such as “Pac-Man,” “Q*Bert” and “Asteroids.” And a few baby boomers also have caught on to video games, although generally not to the extent that the successive generations have.

Gaming truly has become an industry — and not just in terms of video games. Indeed, billions of dollars in profits have been generated through games of chance found in casinos all over the country. In particular, Texas Hold ’Em poker has caught on not only as a popular card game but also as a spectator sport of sorts.

With games associated so closely with leisure, it’s not hard to understand why people who run training programs might not immediately consider them as a tool for study. After all, games are just diversionary and can’t convey much in the way of meaningful knowledge, right?

Not so. While no educational strategy should rest entirely on games, these platforms can bring a lot to the training table. For one thing, they’re an engaging and fun way to transmit information. What’s more, younger professionals are beginning to expect and even demand these kinds of training experiences. Because of their backgrounds, they respond well to these offerings, and vendors would do well to consider adding training games to their suite of products, if they haven’t already.

The market for training games is still somewhat sparse, so don’t expect to find a whole lot out there right now. There are a few reasons for this. The first — the mindset of “Games are for fun, not for learning” — was alluded to earlier. But even if games were universally accepted as a training tool, it wouldn’t necessarily lead to many more of them. They’re not easy to develop, especially video games, which involve substantial time, money and effort. And for training providers, keeping up with the rapidly changing world of certification is key.

A notable exception is Cisco Systems, which has rolled out a series of learning games designed to help IT pros learn fundamental IT skills and concepts such as binary language and routing and switching terminology. While these don’t always align directly to the company’s certification programs, they are a useful tool for introducing novices to new areas of technology that Cisco’s credentials cover.

As design tools such as Flash become more robust and easy to use, you might see a greater proliferation of these learning games. If you’re looking to get into gaming for the purposes of training, though, you don’t have to wait for vendors to roll out these programs — on your own, you can come up with games that help you learn the subjects a certification covers.

Should you opt to do it yourself, there are a couple of suggestions for creating a good training game. First, make it multiplayer. Involve colleagues who are on a similar career path and are pursuing the same certification or at least an analogous one. The competition will make it fun and help get everyone involved to participate fully.

Also, feel free to mine the gaming landscape for ideas. You easily could take the format and rules from games such as Trivial Pursuit, Jeopardy, Taboo and even Pictionary and incorporate technical terms and concepts into those.

Game on!

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