Learning Delivery

The Road to Growth Is Paved With Games

Gaming can boost confidence and resilience among learners.

Gaming has been used in organizational learning for some time, though debate continues about whether it does, in fact, boost learning and garner new skills among learners.

For example, a study comparing video game players to non-video game players published by Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences showed that players are quicker to adapt to new sensory challenges and process information, but a study conducted by The Journal of Experimental Psychology found that action video games do not improve the speed of information processing in simple perceptual tasks.

According to game designer Jane McGonigal, however, gaming may also be able to help employees build resilience and confidence in the workplace.

According to McGonigal, who has been studying the psychology and neuroscience behind video games for 16 years, when people are gaming, they tend to exhibit physiological strengths that are rarer in the real world. Specifically, people are more likely to show urgent optimism (knowing what actions to take to reach a favorable result), a growth mindset (the belief that one can improve over time) and an ability to ask for help.

By implementing gaming in the workplace, CLOs can help employees build these skills in the real world, McGonigal said.

During gaming, the part of the brain that gives people urgent optimism fires up to 50 times a minute, according to McGonigal. This results in an increase of blood flow, making learners more engaged and resilient.

“If there’s a setback, we’re less likely to give up and we stay committed to our goal,” McGonigal said. “That’s because the brain is being flooded with dopamine, which is this incredibly energizing, motivating neurochemical that says, ‘keep at it.’”

Urgent optimism is prompted by video games’ ability to provide immediate feedback, allowing gamers to know immediately whether they’ve succeeded at something. Using gaming can build a culture of feedback, which employees can use to improve their skills. Additionally, learners can ask for help in a video game, which reinforces to them that feedback and help can result in better performance.

“Did I capture the Pokemon or do I have to toss another ball? You find out right away,” McGonigal said. “So with that particular way of training the brain, not only do you believe things can happen, but it’s a result of your own actions — it’s a decision you made, an action you took, through your own agency, using your own skills and abilities, that creates a kind of hardwired belief that you can do things that will result in successful impact.”

Making frequent predictions generates a similar neurological response among learners. As you anticipate you could be right about a prediction, the brain produces dopamine. As such, learning leaders can use prediction-based gaming to help build a culture of resilience. For example, employees could begin every workday by making a prediction about something that might happen by the end of the day, building games and challenges out of predictions.

This can be a prediction as simple as how many emails they will receive in the next hour or what color shirt their manager might be wearing the next day, McGonigal said. The important part is for employees to find out how accurate they were within 24 hours or less. Teams can come up with different questions every week.

“Through your own expertise, your analysis and your intuition, you have made a prediction and you might be right,” McGonigal said. “That’s going to feel really good. However, even if you were wrong, you will find out what the right prediction was and you’ll be able to make a better prediction next time.”

Ultimately, learning leaders can use gaming to help build employees’ confidence in their own skills while also giving them the tools to ask for help, McGonigal said.

“The No. 1 finding that has come out of this field is that game play can build the underlying neuroscience required to anticipate that something good could happen as a result of your own efforts,” McGonigal said.

Marygrace Schumann is an editorial intern at Chief Learning Officer magazine. She can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com.

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