If you’ve been thinking seriously about investing in simulations to round out your learning and development offerings, you’re not alone. More and more companies are enjoying the benefits of this realistic learning tool, and are taking advantage of the gaming quality in many new products to appeal to younger employees.
“Our clients are recognizing that games are an important platform for entertainment and an important platform for learning,” said Jim Wexler, executive vice president, Brand Games. “A generation has grown up who never knew a world without videogames, and to them it’s like TV, the movies and sports.”
These new game-influenced learning simulations appeal to the under-40 age group of internal customers or employees, and Wexler said that organizations use them to actively engage this audience in employer branding, to communicate a corporate mission or to deploy learning and development interventions. “The idea is that if you can make the company the focus of a game or a simulation and reflect the business precepts and strategy that’s being communicated, you might actually get the employees to pay attention,” Wexler said.
NASA, the CIA and pilot schools have been using 3-D simulations to teach complex processes for quite some time because they’re engaging and effective, and it’s simply too costly or too dangerous to teach what’s necessary in a real environment. However, companies are still new to using simulations to teach complex concepts such as management skills or hard skills and technology training. “The same technology the government is using to teach soldiers how to save lives is the same technology that your little brother is using to solve riddles on his home PC. It’s all come full circle. This is the way, and it’s available for all of the topics our chief learning officers are trying to teach like management and communication skills, ethics and so on. We created a series of simulations for Merrill Lynch that depict the business process of doing work in an investment bank to help them recruit and then orient young workers. It’s a good place to work, but they were looking for a different kind of worker, and they really wanted to stand out in the crowd. They wanted communicators, right-brain thinkers. We created three different simulations, and the focus of it was a fictitious wireless company called Communico. The gig was, can you take the world of investment banking and make it into a fun, immersive game-like simulation, and the results were good,” Wexler said.
“They achieved their goal of drawing a different kind of candidate to the bank and used it on campuses with candidates,” Wexler said. “They have continued to use it for people in MBA programs and graduate schools where they break people up into teams and use this as support for instructor led learning sessions. The instructor says, ‘Let’s do a deal.” They look at Communico, make decisions and plow their way through. They went so far as to deliver both the simulations for the students, prospects and also for new employees to participate in. They even made Communico coffee mugs, T-shirts and banners so that it was like a real company. If you were under 27 and saw this chance to use your game-playing skill set and problem-solving abilities to dive into this business problem, you might have gotten engaged and would certainly say to yourself that ‘Merrill kind of gets me. They speak my language.’”
Johnson & Johnson has used gaming simulations in its Campaign for Nursing’s Future, a program to teach better management skills to nurses making the transition to nurse manager. Often when nurses are promoted, they must make the transition almost immediately, and until this program was developed, there was no curriculum in place to help them adjust to the demands. “While you’re a problem-solver and a dedicated person, you didn’t learn about management in nursing school,” Wexler said. “We helped J&J help the unaffiliated community of hospitals and their nurses nationwide formalize the hard-won knowledge of the best and brightest nurse managers in the country into a simulation. It’s a leadership development tool that’s being deployed this summer that will go into thousands of hospitals, and now when nurses are tasked with becoming nurse managers, there will be this how to road map in a digestible, intuitive, easy-to-use simulation format so that they can go to it.
“This videogame-based teaching tool helps you, in a fun and fast-paced way, challenge yourself to see if you can do what it takes to be a nurse manager. Module by scenario-based module, what would you do to, say, build a team? It’s not arcade style, but we’ve got a clock running, there’s a score and right there are coaches and mentors, the voice of experience, to give you tips and reinforce each answer with reasons why. This is not Web-based. Many of our things are, but this is given on a CD. They can take it home and have some fun with it, share it, and 30 to 45 minutes later, they have become well-versed in the hard-won knowledge of nurse managers. It’s a simulation that takes the precepts of video gaming and applies it to leadership development,” Wexler said.
Whereas complex simulations were once used only by government or by organizations that had to simulate work processes at any cost because they had no choice, many organizations can rely on simulations today to train their workforces. “Nowadays the toolkit is there,” Wexler said. “The response is there from the audience that makes it worth pursuing for companies, even in situations where you wouldn’t think so. It’s not a fighter pilot. It’s a 38-year-old nurse, or a young kid who works at Best Buy and needs to learn how to sell cell phones better. Or it’s a chef in a restaurant who’s got to learn how to do 44 recipes, and you don’t want him to waste 44 pounds of shrimp in the process.”
Wexler added, “You go see ‘Fantastic Four’ on Saturday night, then you go home and play X-Box for three hours, and on Monday morning they expect you to pay attention when they give you the e-learning PowerPoint module on compliance? You’re just not going to do it, and corporations are realizing that compliance, getting everybody on the same page, retention and such are worth a lot of money. So it’s worth it to invest in your people, identify fast-trackers, look for the ones who need support and use their language to provide learning. It’s like anything else. You have to mix it up.”