Training: Using Games to Embed Learning
By Kevin Dwyer

Too much training is boring. Too much training barely raises itself above level one in Kirkpatrick's four levels of training evaluation. That is, the reaction of students; what they thought and felt about the training. Too much training ignores the learning needs of the participants. Too much corporate training spending is wasted.

Adults have some simple requirements as learners. They have an expectation of being treated as an adult with respect shown for their experience and knowledge of the training topic. Even if they cannot describe what they know in the theoretical terms they are about to learn they still want their experience acknowledged. They have a need to share that experience with others.

Above all, adults have a desire to be active participants in the learning process. They, of course, abhor boring day long presentations where presenters ask for and receive no interaction from the participants. However, they also tend to dislike good interactive presentations which give no scope for learning through experience.

Unfortunately, what adults also have is a predilection that training must somehow be painful and difficult. The old, "no pain, no gain", adage of physical training seems to transfer to corporate learning. They believe that training whilst being lively and fast moving cannot equate to fun.

Mentioning the word, "game", sends most adults into a thought process something like: game equals child's play, equals not serious, equals no learning. The truth is the opposite. Adults learn better through experiential games as part of a coaching learning environment than through a presentation.

A study by Bloom and others published in their book "Bloom's Taxonomy of Learning Domains" demonstrated a structure for design of training that complemented the desired outcomes.

The structure of learning knowledge escalated through six levels; Knowledge (finding out), Comprehension (understanding), Application (making use of the knowledge), Analysis Questions (taking apart the known), Synthesis (putting things together in a different way) and Evaluation (judging outcomes).

Games are good training tools which can be used at all levels of learning objectives using Bloom's Taxonomy.

Quizzes, twenty questions and game show formats such as Jeopardy can transfer knowledge and test for comprehension. Using multiple choice questions in a competitive jeopardy show format reinforces learning and tests comprehension by using multiple choice questions which have at least two plausible but only one correct answer.

Online games and other computer based training games can provide methods to test application, analysis synthesis and evaluation.

A good method of training people to meet learning objectives across the whole spectrum is to use a board game. Board games can be designed to integrate process Eg, a sales process with questions about knowledge of the topics being taught and decisions to test ability to evaluate options within a scenario using the theory being taught tests participants cognitive ability across all of Bloom's structure.

Board games can be developed for almost any topic from an organisation's safety policies and processes to the organisation's three year strategy. Careful consideration needs to be given to the actual design of the board and the parameters which will be impacted by decisions made by the teams. However, a well constructed board game will test the use of theory within an organisation's operating environment.

Using games in a training event improves the learning process by creating an environment where people's creativity and intelligence are engaged and addressing the different ways in which different people best learn; through movement, hearing, and seeing.

However, when games are used as an end in themselves and not a means towards an end, they waste time and can hamper learning and using too many games can destroy learning effectiveness.

Games are best used in conjunction with other learning methodologies, such as presentations and discussions. Games used at the beginning of a program can measure existing knowledge providing a basis for future measurement and can build immediate interest in the training material.

Games used during a training programme can help people discover the learning themselves, which strengthens recall and commitment, practice using new knowledge or skills, or reinforce initial learning. Games used near the end of a program can test knowledge gained and people's ability to apply it in their work environment.

For games to be effective, they must be related to the workplace by providing knowledge, reinforcing attitudes, and initiating action that is important to job success. They must also teach people how to think, access information, react, understand, and create value for themselves and their organizations.

They must be enjoyable and engaging without being overly simplistic or silly. Games must also allow for reflection. That is, they must be debriefed. In many instances they need to be facilitated.

Games have a strong place in an organisation's learning environment. They are very effective learning tools for people. Encourage your people to play them.

Kevin Dwyer is Director of Change Factory. Change Factory helps organisations who do do not like their business outcomes to get better outcomes by changing people's behaviour. Businesses we help have greater clarity of purpose and ability to achieve their desired business outcomes. To learn more visit or email

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