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When Games May Not Work: Limitations of Game-based Learning

Game-based learning, with its ability to create an engaging training experience and motivate learners has proved to be an effective training solution for organizations. Games create an immersive learning experience and encourage experiential learning. The interactions these games provide help the learner understand information, tools, and materials in a much better way. These benefits have encouraged more organizations to adopt game-based learning. But like any good thing, game-based learning has its drawbacks. This blog will highlight some of them and help you avoid pitfalls when implementing game-based learning.

Excessive use of game-based learning

Too much of anything is bad and this includes game-based learning as well. The excessive use of game-based learning can lead to needless competition among employees to win badges and medals that are an integral part of games. This can bring with it some of the following risks:

  • Learner focus shifts to winning rather than learning, especially if the rewards assume more significance
  • Shifts employees’ focus away from collaboration
  • Diminishes the importance of cooperation and sharing of ideas

Prevent this by avoiding these pitfalls: 

Do not use game-based learning always: Do not assume that every employee will love a game-based learning experience. Include it only if you feel it will meet the learning outcomes and will have popular appeal. Every course may not fit in with the game-based learning model and it may be a misfit in some courses and may not work in helping achieve the learning objectives of the course.

For instance, a course on workplace harassment when gamified, might not appeal to some employees. You can avoid this by deciding where game-based learning can work and where it cannot. However, the best strategy is to blend game-based learning with other instructional delivery methods. For example, while a course on workplace harassment can be a normal e-learning course, assessments can be game-based and use scenarios to test the decision making skills of employees.

Avoid shifting the focus away from learning: At times in game-based learning, the concept of having ‘fun’ overshadows the real purpose behind the training. The excessive use of elements such as points, badges, rewards, or even backgrounds and sounds that are redundant can shift the attention from learning. This causes the risk of losing track of the learning motive and forgetting that the real purpose is to facilitate learning. A constant focus on learning is an important aspect to consider when developing these courses.

Failing to measure results: One reason game-based learning works is because it can give you the analytics of how your employees are learning. It will help you track and measure the progress of the learners in the course. When designing the game, do not get caught up in only its design. You should be prompt in measuring the results so that you can provide a better learning experience for your learners in the future.

When games may not be the best option

Certain instances may not warrant using game-based learning for your course. When the course contains too much information, having a game will make the course longer and may even confuse the learner.

Some content may not be appropriate for game-based learning; sensitive topics such as sexual harassment may not be appropriate for a game-based learning course. Games require a context; you should provide a background to the game. A lack of context to the game will fail to support the learning objectives.

At times technology cannot support game-based learning; before you design your course, ensure it can meet the learner’s need to play on multiple platforms – desktop, laptop or mobile.

Best Practices

Game-based learning can bring you the desired results if you keep these following tips in mind:

  • Aligned with business goals: The games should tie up with the business objectives of having a training program – improve efficiency, minimize mistakes, and increase engagement.
  • Get management on board: Management may dismiss game-based learning as a waste of time, you must get them on board by providing convincing arguments in its favor.
  • Tied to the learning objectives: The game must be designed to help learners achieve the desired outcomes of the course.
  • Provides immediate and real time feedback to employees: The feedback provided, whether positive or negative should help the employee learn and progress in the course, which will help him transit it to his job.
  • Match player’s capabilities: Games should not be so difficult that they overwhelm the learner or too easy that they offend his intelligence.

Game- based learning can succeed, provided it is used in the appropriate way. There is no doubt that game-based learning provides an engaging and positive learning experience but remember do not go overboard seeing it as the silver bullet that can make training instantly effective.

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