Learning and Development: Are Games Right for Your Training?

By Emerson Consultant, Afreen McKnight

 Video game controller

Have you ever wondered whether games would work in your learning programs? If so, congratulations! You have joined the ranks of curious learning professionals who evaluate learning trends before using them.

Here are three ways to determine whether games are a help or a hindrance to your learning program.

Educate yourself.

Video games have come a long way since the 1970s. By 2020, the gaming industry will be worth $90 billion. And instructional designers are contributing to the boom; use of video games in educational settings has become incredibly popular.

Games can provide a virtual environment for active learning. Learning space isn’t restricted to a classroom and activities are in the hands of the learners. They might even be allowed to build their own experiences. For example, Second Life encourages building items within the game. Moreover, games provide the learner with an identity enculturation platform (through a game immersion experience).

Research shows learners who have experimented with learning concepts in a virtual world apply them more easily to real-life scenarios (Hung and Chen, 2007). This is because a gaming platform gives players the chance to practice a skill multiple times in a controlled environment. Furthermore, games contribute to a more student-centric experience (Stroup et al. 2007).

Think about ways to use games.

Ask yourself, what am I trying to achieve and how will the game help? Think about the following examples and how they might work for your situation.

  • Introduce a learning module in a fun way to spark interest.
  • Reinforce concepts by letting learners practice using a new system or tool with goals, rewards, and a little friendly competition.
  • Extend practice beyond the classroom into a virtual, realistic world that lets them explore to find the right answer.
  • Create relationships between team members that build a foundation for a social learning community that continues beyond training.

Consider your unique circumstances.

Once you know some ways you might implement gaming into your learning program, think through how that may play out.

  • Audience: Not everyone likes playing games, especially computer-based games. In the words of Prensky (2001), we are either digital natives, born into the digital world, or digital immigrants who have adopted some technology but might prefer the old-fashioned way. Prensky believes digital natives have a shorter attention span, process information faster, and like to multitask. Games are an excellent medium for digital natives as well as digital immigrants with some interest in or comfort with technology. Consider the ratio of natives to immigrants to predict the effectiveness of technology-based games in your solution.
  • Resources: Every project has constraints. Do you have the time and budget to invest in games? The effort it takes to develop an educational game is directly proportional to the complexity of the game. Some games, like Jeopardy, take little effort while others, like MMORPG or virtual worlds, require a lot. Develop a work plan for each stage of game development, implementation, and maintenance. This will help you estimate the investment and impact on your project.
  • Stage: Where are you in the project? If you have already started design or development, it might make more sense to cover objectives with the essentials before thinking about games. If you’re still in planning or conceptual design, you might have the luxury of considering a powerful addition to your program.
  • Measurement: Think about your learning objectives and business goals. Gamification might serve your program well if metrics are important. Many games facilitate pre-game assessments, activities with embedded metrics, and post-game evaluations.
  • There isn’t one answer to the learning games question. Inserting games in your learning programs successfully is both an art and a science. As learning professionals, we look for creative and innovative solutions. We are lucky to have games in the mix!


    • Marc Prensky, (2001),”Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants Part 1”, On the Horizon, Vol. 9 Iss 5 pp. 1 - 6
    • Hung,D & Chen,d.(2007).Context-process authenticity in learning: Implications for identity enculturation and boundary crossing. Education Tech Research Dev 55:147-167
    • Stroup, W.M.,Ares, N.,Lesh, R.& Hurford,A. (in press). Diversity by Design: The What, Why, And How of Generativity in Next Generation Classroom Networks. In R. Lesh, E.Hamilton & J.J. Kaput (eds). Models & Modeling as Foundations for the Future in Mathematics Education, Mahwah,NJ: Lawrence Erlbaun Publishing Company.
    • Statista (2018), Value of the global video games market from 2011 to 2020 (in billion U.S. dollars),Retrieved here.

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