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This introduction to using play in training and learning will cover the following:
Play is becoming more and more important in new educational methods for professional training. For many years now, Serious Games have been discussed as a tool for making learning more fun by using games designed for educational purposes. Except, even if these Serious Games have proven to be very beneficial, they are not a miracle solution and can be ineffective if they are poorly implemented. Here, we are giving you our 5 top tips for integrating play into your training sessions in an effective and appropriate manner.
In order to learn how to bring play into training, we must first be clear on what a Serious Game actually is. There are many definitions, but we like to use a definition given by two video game creators in 2005 as a point of reference: Michael and Chen defined it as, “A game in which the primary purpose is other than pure entertainment”. According to this definition, Serious Games could potentially be applied to a multitude of different sectors: education, publicity, health, communication, politics, defence, humanitarian aid, religion, art… This article is focused exclusively on games designed for the education sector.
According to this definition, a Serious Game is not limited to a video game format, although this is the most common; it can manifest as any type of support. Although the idea of using play has remained fairly popular over time, it saw a sharp decline at the end of the 1990s, with the fall of what is now called ‘edutainment’ (Kellner, 2007). In the first half of the 2000s, a new trend revived the concept, under the guise of ‘Serious Games’, by refocusing almost exclusively on video games (Djaouti, 2014).
We can, nevertheless, wonder how and why it is in our interests to use Serious Games during training sessions. Many writers have scrutinised the use of the gamification of learning through video games, aimed at both children and adults. The key asset in the usage of Serious Games is the overall improvement of the students’ motivation and investment in learning. The numerous articles and essays on the use of games over an extended period clearly show that Serious Games create a significant rise in student motivation (cf: Malone, 1981 ; Wastiau et al., 2009). Gamification also offers learners a safe space in which they are invited to think and reflect.
The majority of educational games are based on a trial-and-error style of learning: the student mentally constructs a “hypothesis” to test in the game, which will either by confirmed or denied. The student must then revise their hypothesis until they find suitable solution. Thus, a ‘good Serious Game’ is one that offers players information which will help them to construct an appropriate hypothesis on their own (Sanchez, 2011). The use of educational games also allows the educator to take into consideration the range of abilities and other disparities within a group (Kafai, 1994). Each student has their own space in which they can progress through the game at their own pace: a student who requires multiple attempts of a section in order to understand the solution can start over without fear of judgement from their peers. Equally, a student who succeeds on their first attempt will not feel frustrated by having to wait for their classmates to catch up. Finally, some Serious Games favour educational interactions between students, in the style of multi-player games which facilitate the implementation of Zones of Proximal Development (Vygotsky, 1985). An extensive study of the advantages of these games can be found in “Serious Games for education: Use, create, help others to create?” (Djaouti, 2016).
Our first tip for using games wisely is to be aware of the line between play and learning. If a game prioritises enjoyment too much and neglects the educational aspect, then the game will lose its meaning and the objectives will not be fulfilled. The opposite issue is also possible, and much more common. We must not set out with the assumption that the slightest playful interjection will transform educational content into a game. A Serious Game must be entertaining, engaging, stimulate a desire to win and capture the attention of the learner. Being remaining aware of the line between the playful aspects and the educational aspects, you can attract the player’s attention whilst meeting the requirements specification – it’s a win-win situation.
A game must not be used simply for the sake of integrating modern teaching techniques into your programme. It must have a genuine place in the course and be cohesive with the learning content. The Drimify team specialise in gamification and can guide you in forming a strategy, as well as selecting well adapted solutions.
Choosing the correct game should not be underestimated. There are various types of Serious Games: behaviourist, constructivist… (Egenfeldt-Nielsen, 2006).
Furthermore, the quality of all existing Serious Games is varies depending on the skills and/or educational intentions of its developers. However, as with all other educational tools, it is difficult to reach a conclusive judgement on the true quality of a Serious Game. To make a game pertinent, the selection process would have to be carried out by each teacher, taking into consideration their students, learning objectives, and work methods. A Serious Game targets a specific need at a given moment, within a specific concept. Therefore, some theoretical learning may be more effectively taught in a traditional classroom set-up, whereas others will be better suited to Serious Games. Only the teacher is able to make this decision.
It is advisable to think ahead when it comes to logistical constraints which could put a stop to the use of Serious Games. The reality is that Serious Games are an investment which come at a cost: availability of computers or suitable equipment to play the games, authorisation from management teams to purchase software and hardware… Anticipating these restrictions will avoid any unpleasant surprises.
In order to simplify the introduction of online training, the best solution is to offer students the opportunity to complete their learning directly on their smartphones, at their own pace. Drimify’s solutions are designed with a ‘mobile first’ and ‘responsive’ (adaptable) approach which is also compatible with computers, tablets, touch screens and interactive kiosks. This makes them extremely accessible and increases engagement levels.
As with all kinds of training, Serious Games must be adaptable to suit their audience. We all adapt to things differently, whether it’s a game or learning. Some people can very quickly master complex game mechanisms, but that is not the case for everyone. We also advise you to carefully analyse your group and observe how they respond to games in advance. If this is not possible, it is best to provide simple game mechanisms which are accessible to everyone.
Our final piece of advice is without a doubt the most important: the teacher is the key to a Serious Game’s success. The game does not replace the teacher. The majority of studies on the efficient use of Serious Games show that the role of the teacher is pivotal to the success of the activity. For example, a study carried out in 2007 by Habgood showed that a collective debrief on the activity ensures that students get as much as possible out of it.
To make the games offered even more relevant, it is best to develop games directly in line with your content and work with gamification professionals who will help you to launch yourself more smoothly into the concept of gamification. Due to its expertise and the wealth of projects it has dealt with over the years, the Drimify team is well equipped to help you bring about this added value and add a new dimension to your project.
These five tips should help you to successfully integrate Serious Games into your training course. Although doing so may not be easy at first, with the right help and a good approach, it will become easier and easier to achieve convincing results.
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