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Building a Case for Game-Based Learning

Amidst the sudden onset of a global pandemic, organizations around the world had no choice but to pivot entirely to all-digital learning and training modalities. Many enterprises found the quickest way to adapt was to deliver live training via video conference, however it wasn’t very long until they noticed their employee’s limited capacity to actively participate in video conferencing in the long term. While these events propelled many firms to examine game-based learning as a possible alternative to fill the gap, other teams have been sheepish to take the plunge. In this blog, I discuss a variety of approaches to championing game-based learning initiatives in your organization. 

Lean in on effectiveness 

The research is in. And it keeps coming in. The effectiveness of digital learning games as a learning modality in corporate organizations has been proven. In addition, digital learning games score high on engagement and their ability to promote long-term retention in learners of all ages. And according to research firm Metaari, the corporate training game market is set to grow an estimated 47.5% by 2024. While templated learning games may offer a nice break from lecture-style learning, all templated games are some version of drill-and-skill or light assessments – they are not games in which people learn. Learning games need to be engineered towards specific content which is why we recommend custom learning game development. 

For example, using Cool Choices, a digital card game we created to help educate players about energy- and resource-saving behaviors, the Milwaukee Fire Department found that engine houses who embraced the game used 3.1% less electricity than the same period a year prior, while non-participating engine houses used 3.5% more electricity than the same timeframe the previous year. This is simply one example of how we’ve helped organizations achieve measurable business results using game-based learning – for more, I’d recommend checking out our game-based learning research roundups

Cool Choices screenshot

Cool Choices (Cool Choices)

Align your project with your organization’s most strategic initiatives…

Look for a way to align your project with your company’s most strategic initiatives. Maybe your company has declared that this is the year to lean hard on customer acquisition. Or perhaps you are focusing on recruiting the next generation of talent. Digital learning games have been used to create results along both of those dimensions.

One of our clients came to us because their organization was pressing hard on the innovation pedal. The CEO had announced that everyone at their company, from engineering, to operations, to product development, and yes, professional development, was to dig deep to find a way to spur innovation and position their firm as a leader in their field. Too often, professional development departments are relegated to “cost center” status – but this client knew that they could move the needle with a digital learning game for professional development. Clients who have been most successful at gaining buy-in for their digital learning game projects have justified the spend by aligning it with their company’s most ambitious goals.

…And/or align your project with your organization’s biggest pain points

Another approach is to align your corporate training game project to your firm’s biggest pain points. One organization rep I spoke to explained that the problem in her industry was a surplus of “how to” content and a lack of content that developed their talent’s behaviors and mindsets for achieving results. Digital learning game design, when done right, can be tuned to not only teach content but to develop behaviors and mindsets that stick with the learner long after the power button is turned off. Generations is a project focused on upskilling underserved populations who were struggling to find meaning in their work. In early pilots of the game we developed for them, 100% of pilot participants said they would prefer to learn via the learning game we created for them as opposed to traditional learning modalities. 

MSI Retail Sim

MSI Retail Sim (McKinsey and Company)

Track and measure

It’s tempting when doing something radical at your organization to keep it under the radar in case the whole thing flops. I can understand being tentative, but if you are asking for the type of investment required to make a digital learning game for your company, someone will want to see results.

As a part of the Discovery process we undertake with our clients, one of the first dimensions we explore is their need for assessment. Because these learning games are a digital tool, there is ample opportunity for data collection and analytics to measure things like knowledge acquisition, engagement, and progression. This enables you to build a quantitative case for the effectiveness of the game as a learning tool. 

Broaden your learner base

Logic dictates that you can justify your spend more easily by spreading that investment over the largest number of people. Most of the clients I speak to about investing in corporate training games think about how the whole organization can benefit from them. Think about what gets covered in your onboarding program. Are there certain methodologies that you teach that would be fodder for a digital learning game? Do you have mandatory training like document security standards that might justify the investment? 

I also like to ask clients to think about change. Is your organization going to experience a radical transformation in the next 6 months where you are looking for a solution to gain organization-wide adoption quickly and effectively? 

That being said, the opposite can sometimes be true. Digital learning games are ideal to teach complex and specialized systems-based subject areas in high risk and high reward areas of your business. Sales departments, for example, are proportionally small compared to the rest of the organization yet they are responsible for most, if not all of the company’s revenue, which in itself justifies the investment.

Another way to make the case for your digital learning game is to think of multiple applications for your game. If the game was conceived of as an internal professional development game, could a limited version of the game be released to the public as a customer acquisition tool or for promoting brand awareness? In a project we worked on with Rowan University, we created Contents Under Pressure, in which chemical engineering students are trained to better understand the ethical implications associated with making decisions in a chemical safety environment. While the game was meant as an intervention for first-year undergraduate students, they have found applications of the game in the private sector as well as high school STEM and career education initiatives.

Contents Under Pressure screenshot

Contents Under Pressure (Rowan University)

Another one of our customers approached us after discovering that a lesser-known competitor had a branded educational game out on the App Store that was steadily gaining traction and was creating a lot of buzz in their industry. Don’t let your competition get a leg up on you!

There are also numerous cases where digital learning games are used as recruitment tools. One well-known project was an effort launched by the Army called America’s Army where the public was invited to play an online game around military exercises and skills which served as a recruitment tool for new candidates. So when you think about investing in a digital learning game for your organization, think about if it might make sense to put a limited version out to potential candidates to teach them about your firm and position you as a forward-facing, innovative place to work.

If you are thinking about launching a digital learning game project in your organization and need some help forming your own case for investment, feel free to contact us!

For more game-based learning insights, check out these related articles:
How Nonprofits Can Harness the Power of Games for Impact
Working With an Educational Game Developer
Discovery Phase: A Low-Risk Introduction to Learning Game Development

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