Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Business Solutions: Better Training Through Gaming

An article including LearningWare and Gameshow Pro from the Wall Street Journal:


Business Solutions:

Better Training Through Gaming



April 25, 2005; Page R6

Note to managers: It's OK to let your employees play games at work.

We're not talking about all those hours fooling around at computer solitaire. Where games have their place -- and significant benefits -- is in livening up boring corporate training sessions.

Companies in the U.S. spend about $60 billion a year on training their employees, but there's a good chance much of that is wasted. The reason: Most training sessions are just too dull. (Web-based e-learning classes were supposed to fix that, but in reality they just allow employees to get bored at their own pace.) As a result, employees aren't coming away from the training with the knowledge or skills their employers are paying for.

"Forget learning," says Marcia Sitcoske, director of Cisco Systems Inc.'s Creative Learning Studio, whose mission is to make the company's online training tools more effective and appealing. "People aren't even completing these things, they're so boring."

Training experts insist it doesn't have to be this way. They argue that companies could make their employee-education programs more compelling, and more effective, if they made them more fun -- specifically, more like computer games.

Evidence suggests adults learn more and retain more in courses that incorporate such game elements as competitive scoring, increasingly difficult player levels and fantasy role-playing. But many managers remain skeptical. It's a rare boss who thrills at seeing workers playing games on the job, and adding games to a learning package tacks on extra expense.

War Games

The U.S. military is a lot further along in adopting game elements in training than are most businesses. In part, that's because learning on a computer is much cheaper and safer than in the field, and recruits come from a generation comfortable in the fast-paced gaming world. The best of the military's training games rival the complexity and richness of some of the best videogames. In fact, a version of Full Spectrum Warrior, a training game developed for the U.S. Army by the Institute for Creative Technologies at the University of Southern California, has recently been released for the public game market.

Outside of a few custom-designed applications, such games remain a rarity in the corporate training world; don't look for Full Spectrum CEO anytime soon. Instead, a growing number of companies are turning to more modest courses that mix work and play.

In some cases, the lack of good commercial alternatives has prompted companies to take a do-it-yourself approach. Cisco Systems' Creative Learning Studio, formed in 2001, uses technology, high-quality video -- and entertainment -- to enliven its vast library of online training tools. It now has about 4,500 e-learning courses of varying lengths. One such course, for employees and outsiders seeking certification as authorized Cisco "networking professionals," uses a game to help teach fundamentals of building a high- speed network of shared storage devices. Called SAN Rover (for storage area network), the game requires students to race the clock to gather the pieces -- hard drives, switches and other components -- and correctly put together such a network while dodging crashing asteroids.

The game, which reinforces the skills students learn in classes and from their reading, has been played about 2,000 times since it was introduced last June. "More and more people are learning that gaming can be useful in training in the corporate environment," Cisco's Ms. Sitcoske says.

It's All About Competition

Companies also can turn to simple, off-the-shelf games for reviewing and testing. The games don't even have to be that sophisticated as long as they include an essential element: competition.

Borland Software Corp. wanted to give its sales staff an incentive to master details of its product line before an annual world-wide sales meeting earlier this year, and was looking for better results than with its previous PowerPoint-laden e- learning program. So it turned to QB International, a San Rafael, Calif., e-learning company, to develop online study guides that incorporated a series of games for testing students' knowledge of the material. The simple games, based on such diversions as tic-tac-toe and hangman, featured a series of timed questions. Each member of the sales staff had to get at least 80% of the answers correct on a series of nine tests interspersed with the lessons, and those who received perfect scores were entered into a drawing for five Apple iPods. Everyone also had to take a final comprehensive exam of 100 questions, and the one with the highest score and fastest time received a $3,000 prize.

Though the games weren't very sophisticated, they were enough to motivate the highly competitive salespeople. Scores in the preliminary exams were posted for all to see.

"All of sudden, people are instant messaging each other, 'You're on top today, but you're going down,' " says Wynn Johnson, director of field readiness for Borland, based in Scott City, Calif. "The competition is a motivator."

ERC Properties Inc., a Fort Smith, Ark., builder and manager of multifamily developments faced a crucial training challenge: teaching 355 property managers how to comply with Revenue Service regulations for affordable housing tax credits. Managers need to determine the eligibility of qualified tenants, and penalties for not following the law are huge.

Candace Armstrong, ERC's corporate training director, chose software from Minneapolis-based LearningWare Inc. The software, called Gameshow Pro, provides a series of game templates based on popular television shows. Using questions and answers based on her training materials, Armstrong divides each training class into two teams that compete in a tic-tac-toe variation of "Hollywood Squares."

To test the effectiveness of the games, she compared results from a group of employees who played the game with those of a different group that received the same questions in oral review. Managers need to score 80% on a subsequent certification exam; Ms. Armstrong revealed that 88% of the group that played the game passed the test on the first try, compared with 54% of the group that received the basic review.

"Most training is very boring, especially if it's government-required," Ms. Armstrong explained, "The difference was pretty obvious. People learn more when they laugh."

Write to Michael Totty at michael.totty@wsj.com

Monday, April 19, 2010

Raising the Energy Level by "1000%"

This last week, we received this customer feedback about Gameshow Pro in our inboxes. This comes from Dan S. at Workflow Studios (a collaborator with IBM), and it's too good not to share:

The student reaction exceeded my expectations. My first use of Gameshow Pro was the last presentation of the morning before lunch. The energy level rose 1000%. The students had a lot of fun with it and I hope that translated in to greater knowledge transfer. Unlike a standard lecture where only a few students ask questions or speak up, everyone participated in this exercise. It made them think and process the information. The word of mouth spread so fast in IBM that I had someone who wasn't a part of the class approach me during lunch to see if we'd be playing any games in the afternoon where he could see it in action. I tweeted twice about repurposing the content and the results. I had a former IBMer inquire about it.
One line sticks out to us: "The energy level rose 1000%." Any slight hyperbole aside, THIS is the power of game shows--and it's what we see all the time; in large events, in the training classroom, etc. When the game show starts, everyone is paying attention. It's like someone plugged in the room and electricity is now flowing.

It's also why we're so passionate about using game shows in the training session: they work. They're not just a game for game's sake, they're a tool to engage learners--to convey and review content. This review of Gameshow Pro isn't unique--we hear it from trainers all the time, in every subject area, in every classroom (online or in-person) of every size.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Monday, April 5, 2010

Article: How [LearningWare]* Makes Content Fun in Virtual Environments to Drive Engagement

From VirtualEdge.org:

How [LearningWare]* Makes Content Fun in Virtual Environments to Drive Engagement

By: Frank Spinelli

Content is king. That is the mantra throughout the event industry. Technology is all well and good, but at the end of the day, what keeps users engaged is not graphics but content. And too often, content is left up to the client who may know what to say, but not how to say it in an engaging way.

Studies have shown that virtual event attendees do not stay engaged for as long as physical attendees. Whatever the cause—politeness in a face-to-face context, the anonymity of the virtual experience which allows disengagement for periods of time—the need to create content that not only grabs attention, but holds it is vital to the success of the industry. Minneapolis-based [LearningWare] develops creative and unique solutions to content delivery. With its [product], All Play Web and sister company Live Spark, [LearningWare] has a foot in both the virtual and physical worlds and seeks to keep users engaged in both.

One of the keys to keeping users engaged is to give them a stake in the outcome, according to ... Creative VP Missy Covington. Using games and quizzes, for example, can bring out a competitive drive, one sure way to hold focus. Animated characters (AniMates), voiced by local Minneapolis acting talent, can be a strong complement to live event activities. Live Spark produces both physical and virtual events, and until recently, has produced them as separate entities. They are beginning to experiment with hybrid events, however, the roster of animated characters being one virtual element augmenting their physical events.

One of the topics at this year’s Virtual Edge Summit has been incorporating successful elements of online gaming into the production of virtual content. If gamers willingly spend hours online, the theory goes, perhaps the industry can find ways to recreate that experience in its presentation of content (without the blood and guts). [LearningWare] has taken a playful approach to this theory. By utilizing games and animation, they hope to deliver content in a way keeps users in their seats while maintaining the integrity of the information. When a potential client is advised, “Make sure your content is compelling,” the question of how is often left unanswered. [LearningWare] can provide those answers in a unique and fun way.

*Both Live Spark and LearningWare presented at the Virtual Edge Summit. AllPlay Web, referenced here, is a LearningWare product, though the article references the offerings of both companies