A little interview with Human Value International
July 31, 2012 1 Comment
Came across this little interview I did a while back for Human Value International and thought I’d share it with our readers! It covers some of the key questions about serious games such as the what, why and hows of the industry.
1. Would you present yourself in shortly to our audience (profile, organisation)?
PIXELearning is a world-leading provider of immersive learning simulations and ‘Serious Games’ for organisational learning and development, business education and marketing communications. PIXELearning combines technology, the creative arts and, most importantly, an understanding of how people really learn in 21st century society.
The company was established in 2002 specifically to provide eLearning experiences which are designed, from the ground up, using game-based approaches and technologies.
The company’s ethos is that technology is best used in a learning context when it allows people to communicate, collaborate, share ideas and knowledge and, apply information and theory in a safe but realistic simulation of real life situations.
PIXELearning have worked on a vast array of projects with a varied user base such as Diversity Training for Fifth Third Bank (US), Call Centre Training for Comcast (US) IT Security for HP MEA-I (CH), Audit Training for KPMG (US), Young Entrepreneurs Training E-Learning Suite (EU funded project) and Energy Wise (EU funded project) to name a few.
2.How comes that you have started dealing with serious games?
PIXELearning grew out of a desire to change the way in which people learned. The founders saw great potential in taking something that has intrinsic motivational aspects and combining it with an educational message. Since the company was founded in 2002, the serious games industry, in its many forms, has seen significant growth and increasing interest in the possibilities. PIXELearning strongly believe serious games have the capability to significantly enhance not only the process of training, but also an individual’s interest in training.
I personally entered the field during my University career when I was studying for a BSc in Behavioural Sciences (Psychology). I went to one of the UK’s (and at the time, Europe’s) leading game development universities, the University of Abertay, Dundee. So I was lucky to be studying in a very creative atmosphere and the university ran regular game competitions, the most well known Dare to Be Digital now draws in participants from across the world. I came across a group of students who were graduating from the games development course and who had spotted a gap in the market; to create multiplayer team building games and luckily for me, they were looking for a psychologist to help them capture and assess player data. I jumped at the chance to combine my professional know-how with a hobby and haven’t looked back since!
3.Why exactly games and why serious ones?
This is a huge topic but games are excellent at using drama, storyline, humour and characters to create a compelling experience which you want to continue with. Capturing the engaging nature of games with the benefits of a safe environment, replayability and of course the fun element is an appealing concept to revitalize the training industry. From a training point of view, the essence of good game design will develop memory hooks and therefore will result in learners not only remembering what happened but also understanding why it happened. If undertaken appropriately, games and simulations are an excellent vehicle for embedding new knowledge and/or skills that can then be immediately applied in the workplace.
For example a simulated environment (e.g. the user support desk), a simulated system (e.g. a production line) or a realistically recreated role play scenario (e.g. a sales meeting) can allow learners to experience something that is too costly, too risky or even physically impossible to achieve in the real world. You would not let your new management trainees run your business but you would like them to fully understand every facet of your business as early as possible. Serious games and immersive learning simulations can help you achieve this.
Replayability is also a key strength of a game or simulation-based approach. Learners can play out a particular strategy or adopt a certain approach. If he/she fails or does not quite deliver the desired outcome, then they can try again with a modified approach. ‘Learning by doing’ and ‘experiential learning’ are possibly overused terms but in this case it is very pertinent to building a deep understanding of scenarios, concepts, processes, environments and systems.
4.How do you convince business people that games are serious and useful?
This is the million dollar question. Games elicit emotional responses in people, whether they love them or hate them; there are few people who don’t have an opinion. It’s always a challenge to convince someone who has a negative view of games of the virtues of a well design serious game but saying that, it’s not impossible. What our customers are most interested in when we first start exploring the potential is the evidence! Evidence of Return on Investment, of increased engagement, of transfer to the workplace; all of the things we as designers and advocates promise them. However as the industry is relatively young (in terms of blue chip corporate training and education) and serious games are seen as a competitive advantage to those organisations who have adopted them, there has been a dearth of business evidence. However in the past 2 – 3 years this is beginning to change. There are more and more organizations who are adopting games such as BNP Paribas, LÓreal, HP, Comcast and even governments are funding serious games projects; this has resulted in increased awareness and has reduced the risk for organizations to take that extra step forward. But at the end of the day it all comes back to evidence, being able to show that serious games can be a serious part of your training content. Over recent years there have been a number of studies published that support the use of serious games or simulations such as Blunt (2009) and Stizmann and Ely (2010) and organizations such as Gartner are now predicting the widespread use of game mechanics in business.
So you have the growing reputation, the increasing evidence, you may ask yourself why is it still a challenge? Well, serious games are still more expensive to develop than e-learning, so in the current economic climate, where budgets are being squeezed you need to prove that your solution is going to be cost effective; that is why PIXELearning chose to develop the LearningBeans tool set. This tool set enables us to compete with high end e-learning and coupled with the proof we are now seeing published provides organizations with serious games as a viable option.
5.What do you think, are serious games the future in the field of e-learning?
Many organizations see the need to adapt their training approach in line with the needs of a changing workforce, a workforce who lives in world of instant access, instant feedback and parallel processing, and who play games. However, there are still many people who are not ‘gamers’ and who have never played a game in their lives: much of what is common sense to someone familiar with games is alien to others.
Despite the numerous opportunities for serious games and simulations, there are of course some training areas which are less suitable. Serious games are great for learning processes or for raising awareness, for example health and safety processes on an oil rig, however they are unlikely to replace (without the need for expensive peripherals anyway) the hands on training required for physical manipulation such as operating equipment.
Where the training industry has gone off track in the past is to try to create a one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to technology rather than truly understanding the needs of the learners and training content. I see serious games as part of a blend of interactive learning tools as well as face to face and hands on training options. I sincerely hope serious games will be a big part of that blend, however QR codes, ARGs, Interactive e-learning, Online Communities, and Smart Phone technology also have a lot to offer. And to underpin all of these exciting advancements in technology is a very exciting change in the way we see learning; a change not in our understanding of how we learn but a change in the acceptance of how we learn.