UNC Kenan-Flagler Insights

Got Game? The Use of Gaming in Learning and Development

April 19, 2013 By Heather Harreld

gamesBelow is an excerpt of a white paper by Kip Kelly, director of marketing and business development at UNC Executive Development.

Video games—and the people who play them—have changed dramatically since 1948, the year the first video game was patented. Generations of gamers have grown up and entered the workplace, and video games have made the same transition, extending their influence into companies around the globe. Many organizations are increasingly using gaming technology in their learning and development (L&D) programs to help build the next generation of business leaders.

As video games grow in popularity and sophistication, more organizations and government agencies are embracing them to support L&D efforts. A recent ESA study found that 70 percent of major U.S. employers use interactive software and games for L&D purposes, and nearly eight out of 10 U.S. employers plan on doing so in 2013.

Video games can be broken down into three categories: casual games, advergames, and serious games.

Casual games are for entertainment purposes only and can include everything from the solitaire game that comes pre-loaded on most computers to complex, multi- player games like Uncharted, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, and Battlefield 3. Although learning can occur when playing casual games, it is not the intended outcome.

Advergames advertise a product, organization or cause. They can be fun, but again, learning is not an intended or designed outcome.

Serious games are designed to improve learning and to result in measurable, sustained changes in performance or behavior. Serious games have been used in emergency services training, military training, and health care settings. They allow players to apply what they have learned in an L&D experience in a safe, simulated environment. For example, health care professionals can practice a new medical procedure using a serious sim game before trying it in the workplace. There is also evidence that serious games can develop soft skills like emotional intelligence, communication management, and critical problem solving and collaboration skills.

Serious games are increasingly being used by large U.S. employers to recruit, improve communication among managers and their staffs, and to train employees and new hires at all levels in their organizations. IBM, Farmers Insurance, the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. Army, Nortel, Cold Stone Creamery, McKinsey & Co., SAS Institute, and Digital Equipment are just a few organizations using serious games in their workplaces.

Serious games can also be a valuable information source for employers. Serious games can yield insights that organizations can use to assess performance, identify patterns, and predict behaviors in situations that may occur in the real world. Senior leaders can use these insights to gain a better understanding of individual and organizational capabilities, to identify potential talent gaps and to help organizations become more innovative. Organizations are using serious games to tap into the knowledge and experience of the entire organization, and in some cases, beyond the organization to “crowd-source” new ideas.

Video games have been around for years, growing in popularity and sophistication. Most of today’s workers grew up playing these games, so it comes as no surprise that organizations have started to use gaming technology in new and exciting ways–including talent development. Well-crafted serious games are used to develop and reinforce skills and competencies. They can be used to safely practice tasks that require rapid and accurate responses, but their potential applications are much broader. Serious games can closely approximate actual working environments, while allowing players an opportunity to safely take risks, develop teamwork skills, creatively problem solve and collaborate, and to experiment and innovate.