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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

When Do Learning Games Make Business Sense?

T+D Blog - Serious Gaming in the Workplace asks the question:

Is serious gaming being taken seriously in your workplace?

It is time to change the perception of "gaming" among CEOs and other corporate executives. It is a valuable learning tool that is taking too long to become a mainstream part of everyday learning.

However, I've been wondering for long time about when the added costs of building games really pays off.  Last year in Training Method Trends I showed some data from the eLearning Guild that had games and simulations decreasing as a modality.  My guess is that right now with pressure on training budgets, there's significant pressure on spending on games.



The Upside Learning (disclosure) white paper Do You Need Games In Your eLearning Mix? (see also their great blog post - Top 100 Learning Game Resources) of course comes out and tells us that different kinds of games make sense based on different learning needs and that there's a place for them.

I concur that there's pretty significant backing that game-based learning results in better learning transfer rates

But transfer does not equal ROI.  I've done some initial search for back-up that the added cost of developing learning games is worth the cost, and I've really not come up with much of anything.  There are some great anecdotal examples, but the real question is up-front:

When is it worth the added cost to turn a learning experience into a game?  And how do we know that going in?

The justification is often a bit hard.  There's an emotional response among some buyers that games equals waste.  But even beyond overcoming that challenge, I see it as a bit hard to go from additional transfer angle.  Couldn't we get transfer using another approach at a lower total cost?  Are we trying to justify in additional seat time that learners would spend if it wasn't a game?  Is it true that seat time is less for the same transfer for games?

This relates to the question of the Business of Learning.  I'm not sure that by creating games you really are going to be able to sell enough additional product or create enough added value that it justifies the additional expenditure.

What's the business rationale for spending on games?


Anonymous said...

Games can be a great way to break up the monotony of all-day corporate classes. The extra time invested pays off because you keep learners engaged longer.

John said...

I agree that frequently "game-based learning results in better learning transfer rates". The word "game" engenders serious resistance from management, however, making IDers shy away from games, in my experience.

You have made me think in a new way about using games. You asked "When is it worth the added cost to turn a learning experience into a game?" Assuming there is an added cost, and considering that game-based learning does indeed increase learning outcomes, shouldn't the question be sopmething along the lines of

"How can I justify cutting corners and not turning the experience into a game?"

Unknown said...

I agree with John. Semantics plays a big role in how we market learning initiatives. Games places a connotation in peoples minds of play first, learning second. Same goes for "informal" learning ... sounds passive, unproductive ...dare I slacker comes to mind. Putting it into another context, if the former president would have referred to increasing troop levels into Iraq as Escalation, visions of Vietnam would have been recalled. "Surge" was easier to support due to the vision it conjured.

Amit said...

Talking of semantics - I wonder if different vendors use the term 'serious games' for similar type of stuff. Some of them do pass off ‘casual/simple games’ as ‘serious games’, and ‘interactivities’ as ‘games’. Customers do need education.

If the term 'games' has a not-so-positive connotation, could we use 'game based learning' or 'learning games'....ideally this should be part of the roll-out plans (where the vendor could guide the client's HR/Training department with such aspects).

I believe games are the future of learning.

Tony Karrer said...

I hear you on the naming. I wonder what the alternative is? Simulations seem well known and respected as a term. But many games are not really simulations.

Clark said...

The short answer is: when it really matters.

I'd have to say that the justification for a learning game (ahem, immersive learning simulation or ILS) is when there's either a) a significant skill shift required (contrary to existing practice; complex), or b) lots of practice is required (nuances; important to have it dead right).

You can use scenarios if only a little practice will get it right, but realize that, next to mentored real performance, ILS/serious games are *the* best practice. Of course, with real performance, mistakes can be costly, and individual mentoring doesn't scale well, so when you *really* have to have it right (even as part of a process to get to mentored real performance), ILS/serious games are your best too.

Tom Abeles said...

hi tony

It seems to me that business should consider amortizing the cost over several common businesses. Then specific costs for a particular company would be substantively reduced.

Multi-client studies are common. Why not multi-client games.

Jon Aleckson said...

Hi Tony:
I would be curious to know how many corporations are considering developing serious games during this recession. My guess is that Jane Bozarth is selling a few more copies of her 2005 book- "eLearning Solutions on a Shoestring".

Tony Karrer said...

Jon - from discussions all budgets are depressed, but simulations still sell. Not sure about games. And I bet you are right about resources for quick and cheap eLearning development.