Monday, 12 November 2012

Adult Games Based Learning and sim-uni

I thought I’d talk about something a little different this week.  In general, our blog posts talk about how games based learning can be used in schools to teach children a whole host of things.  However, obviously games based learning is not limited to children.  The benefits of games based learning that we have discussed in the past (motivation, meeting the needs of different types of learners, collaboration and so on) are just as true and relevant for adult learners.

According to the Entertainment Software Association: 

  • The average gamer is 37 years old and has been playing for 12 years.
  • Eighty-two percent of gamers are 18 years or older.
  • Today, adult women represent a greater portion of the game-playing population (37 percent) than boys age 17 or younger (13 percent).
  • Twenty-nine percent of game players are over the age of 50, an increase from 9 percent in 1999.

As adults seemingly have so much experience of games and play them so frequently in their recreation time, why can they not be trained using games?  Games based learning is for everyone, not just the youngest portion of society.  People like learning through games because it is fun; you don’t stop wanting things to be fun when you reach a certain age!  Pike’s Five Laws of Adult Learning say that learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun you have.  This is partly because the more fun you’re having, the more relaxed you are and the more open you are to the learning process.  For more information, visit this website.

This blog is brought to you (as you can see on the right) by games-ED.  games-ED produces games based learning (learning simulations) specifically for the education market (from people of primary school age up to university age).  However, the parent company, pixelfountain, designs, develops and delivers learning simulations (games based learning) to adult learners.  Therefore, we have a pretty strong background in this arena.

The following table measures our pixelfountain learning simulations against Pike’s Five Laws of Adult Learning.  This also can be applied to learning simulations (and games based learning) more generally.

Pike’s Law
Learning Simulations
Law 1: Adults are babies with big bodies
Learning simulations are games that allow delegates to learn quickly, on a relevant exercise, without the pressure of the day job.
Law 2: People do not argue with their own data
Learning simulations based workshops allow delegates to construct their understanding.  The workshop is not about telling people what to do; instead it is showing them what they could do.
Law 3: Learning is directly proportional to the amount of fun you are having
Learning simulations (serious games) are fun.  We pride ourselves on the fact that people leave our workshops with a smile.  But, the real proof of the pudding is that we have  had individuals do the same simulation a number of times!
Law 4: Learning has not taken place until behaviour has changed
Learning simulations accelerate understanding and shift thinking.  Long-term evaluation of our programmes shows that learning outcomes have been sustained and changes incorporated.  Follow on work, in the organisation, enables the delegates to take the learning forward.

One journal article that I have come across gives a good summary of some of the themes that occur across the research on games based learning (Foster and Mishra, 2009).  The reported effects of games are split into several sections:

  • Physiological – such as coordination and motor skills but also aggressiveness and obesity
  • Practical skills – innovation / creativity, data handling and technical literacy etc
  • Cognitive skills – systemic thinking, critical thinking and memorising etc
  • Social skills – collaboration, interpersonal skills and informed citizenry etc
  • Motivation – confidence, immediate feedback and exploration etc

The reported positive effects of games definitely outweigh the negatives. There are many positive examples of how games can be used in training and development programmes to teach and develop specific skills and expertise. For example, IBMs Innov8 is a serious game that explains business process management to non-technical people.   However, training games also have wider benefits, which is one of the reasons they work so well.

For these reasons, we continue to be active in this market.  pixelfountain’s latest learning simulation, sim-uni, has just recently been piloted with our partners, The University of Manchester’s Staff Training and Development Unit, at their institution.  The learning simulation is used to train staff across the university, to reduce silo thinking and understand that collaborating across functions can benefit the university much more than working alone.  The pilot was a great success and a short case study of the day can be found here:

This is what Paul Dixon, head of the University’s Staff Training and Development Unit had to say: “The University of Manchester were attracted to working with pixelfountain on their particular style of business simulation as it doesn’t become an exercise in mastering the technology or reducing the learning experience to all huddling around a PC. Instead sim-uni facilitates a rich experiential learning experience and can be used flexibly to achieve a variety of learning outcomes as dictated by the user – be it planning and strategy appreciation, team work and communications or decision making. Our early experience of sim-uni suggests it can be used effectively as a learning vehicle in its own right or as an adjunct to leadership and management development programmes.”

For more information about sim-uni visit our website or download our flier.  You can also follow us on Twitter: @sim_uni.  If you want to learn more about pixelfountain and our portfolio of products, visit:

And as ever, please follow @paulladley on Twitter, games-ED on Pinterest and like games-ED’s Facebook and Google+ pages for blog updates and other interesting games based learning things.

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