I’ve been an environmental, health and safety professional for 19 years and have been providing training for nearly that long. As any health and safety trainer will tell you, communicating information about state or federal regulatory standards are not particularly fun. The challenge for trainers in our profession is to find ways to engage our trainees and to maintain their interest. If trainees are interested they participate and remember the material. If the memory and experience is strong enough, behavioral change takes place. That is ultimately what we are after-a worker who uses his/her knowledge to engage their mind and body; keeping themselves and others safe on the job.
Games have the power to engage trainees in this way, leading to those results. The fact that a properly constructed and implemented game can be an effective learning tool is not a secret. The concept of game-based learning has been around for about 10 years now and is gaining more and more attention. Many white papers describe increased retention rates with the use of a well thought-out game. In fact, the recently-formed organization called the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) is a collaboration of F95zone collegiate institutions that looks at how video games can be integrated into formal learning for grade school children. The G4LI work should yield research results that are also applicable to adults. After all, what are adults but kids in big bodies? Video games aside-there is a wider implication for the effectiveness of games in general. For instance, I still remember several of the questions I missed in the Trivial Pursuit games that I played some 25 years ago. That is the power of a game-the information sticks with you as a result of a fun, and sometimes intense, activity.
There are several key elements to consider when selecting, constructing and using a game for training purposes. They include:
o Using Teams or Individual Participants:- team participation offers the opportunity for a collaboration of knowledge and “skill sets” to solve a problem. This fosters teamwork and does not alienate or single-out someone for a lack of knowledge. Teams also limit someone from “hiding-out in the back of the room”-they are accountable to their team. Be mindful to divide the group into fairly matched teams-you don’t want lop-sided victories. However, the advantage of one-on-one “game quiz” review-administered through the use of a classroom handheld “clicker” or on-line via a learning management system (LMS)–is that they allow for individual performance to be tracked and recorded.
o Are Your Questions Easy, Hard or Impossible:- the quality and level of difficulty of the content being covered must be selected carefully. If the questions are too easy or too difficult, participants check-out. It is a good practice to make sure you know a bit about those attending a training session and prepare the game accordingly. Are the participants novices in their knowledge or veterans in their vocation? A game that allows a progression of content from simple to difficult usually works well and offers a “little something for everyone”.
o Customizing Your Content:– game content should be reflective of and support the learning objectives and the training material covered. Having the flexibility to customize game content and other aspects of game-play is beneficial. Computer game programs offer that flexibility and add a bit of the real “look and feel” of game-show style games (i.e. “Who Wants to be a Millionaire”, “Wheel of Fortune” or “Jeopardy”).
o Game-play Dynamics and You, the Host:- the host is responsible for preparing and managing game-play activities. This aspect is often overlooked and can make or break the game-play experience. A host lacking in energy and not willing to foster participation will result in a less than entertaining time. The host is responsible for the pace of game-play, being the “judge” in the event of a dispute and for ensuring that learning principles are reinforced (i.e. extended discussion on topics and reflection back on training completed).
o Game-Appeal:– chose a game that will meet the needs of (and appeal to) a variety of learning styles and requires the use of as many senses as possible. A “one-size-fits-all” approach is not a good idea. A game that demands physical activity (writing, raising a hand, ringing a bell, etc.) is a must. Offer “fabulous prizes” to the winners (and losers). The prizes don’t have to be fancy-it could be vendor supplied safety trinkets, candy bars labeled “think safe” or something funny from a dollar store.
o Purpose/Intent of Gaming:– have a clear objective and purpose for using a game. The use of a game prior to a training session allows the instructor to gauge the knowledge base of his/her trainees. The use of a game in the middle of a multiday event helps to break up the boredom and fosters participation. The use of the game at the end allows for an evaluation-how well did the students grasp the material (and how effective was the trainer at communicating the information)? In most cases games are used to review or refresh on covered content rather than introduce a subject. Although, the sky’s the limit, use your imagination!