When the U.S. Navy needed to train some 40,000 recruits each year to respond to damage onboard ships, it turned to serious 3D games and simulations. By training in a 3D virtual environment, the experience is more “real” and emotionally engaging, which stimulates learning.
“Engagement is a means to an end,” says Curtiss Murphy, technical director at Alion Science and Technology. Alion worked with Raytheon BBN Technologies and the University of Central Florida to design and test the game.
Engagement leads to a more committed workforce with the skills and motivation to meet their organization’s goals and help its continued advancement.
Realizing this, organizations in a wide range of industries are developing serious games and incorporating game elements into training to enhance leadership capabilities, improve customer service, and improve learning and retention for a wide variety of hard and soft skills. These types of games represent one of the newer innovations in the use of gamification.
Recipe for learning
The increasing popularity of serious games links directly to results. Murphy says that the Navy, for instance, saw a 50 percent improvement in recruits’ performance after only one hour with the 3D game and no instructor involvement.
“Games work because they have flow and engagement,” Murphy says. Just like in traditional classrooms, “The recipe for creating those conditions involves defining clear tasks with immediate feedback [flow], no distractions and a balance between difficulty and challenge.”
During the Navy’s damage control game, “the players were engrossed,” Murphy recalls. “I walked up and down the rows, eight inches away from students, looking over shoulders, and they completely ignored me. They were in a state of flow — that point in which you’re so involved in an activity that nothing else matters.”
Analytics provide feedback
Virtual environments needn’t be as interactive as the Navy example to be effective, however. Virtual environments often are designed to mimic conferences, with virtual rooms set aside for specific topics (leadership or presentation tools, for instance). Participants enter the environment and click the room or presentation they want.
In those environments, Eric Vidal, director at virtual learning environment provider InterCall, advises having a virtual host at the entrance to recommend learning paths based upon the development plans for individuals or workgroups.
The big differentiator between physical and virtual environments is the ability to measure learning effectiveness by embedding tracking analytics into the virtual platform, Vidal says. “Understanding your learner is a big deal.”
“Keurig, the ’single-cup’ coffee company, leverages all the analytics from its virtual training environment,” Vidal says. “Executives meet weekly to look at what people did in the site and how they interacted with the content, the environment and each other.”
Through its analytics, Keurig learned that within four months, 52 percent of its training audience had viewed 100 percent of the site’s content, and the length of visits increased from an average of 32 minutes before virtualization to two hours afterward. During their visits, employees attended virtual conference sessions, accessed additional resources and connected with subject matter experts in a virtual chat room.
Anecdotally, Vidal says, the anonymity of virtual environments increases their popularity, particularly among executives. In this safe environment, “They can take an introductory PowerPoint class for example,” without others realizing they are senior executives.
Contact center provider Uptivity doesn’t use 3D virtual environments, but it does use game elements to boost agents’ engagement. Call center agents may answer 50 to 100 calls that are essentially the same, every day, Barry Knack, director of education, says. To keep agents engaged and productive, he combines rapid feedback with competitions based on key performance indicators (KPIs) that lead to badges and ranking on leader boards.