Playing games comes naturally to humans. From childhood through adulthood, games help us learn through exploration and experience. Although preschools and elementary schools commonly use game play, the perception that games aren’t a serious way to learn persists in the business world. However, when it comes to team building, problem solving, learning new procedures, or practicing new skills, games can provide an excellent way to absorb information through collaboration and trial and error.
Games and Problem-Solving
We’re not just talking about elearning games. (See our post on gamification for trends and research in that area). “Analog” games that involve dice, spinners, boards, cards, etc. offer a fantastic way for learners to explore and practice new ideas. By playing games together, participants can become deeply immersed in even the most complex topics and can create resolutions together while building essential communication strategies.
Games help participants talk to each other and make decisions in a safe environment. When people interact through games, many of the aspects of human behavior emerge: selfishness, generosity, conflict, confusion, and cleverness. But unlike the way reality works, games can easily be repeated. Learning through mistakes is one of the reasons why games are such powerful educational tools. If an assertive person with a bad idea wins over the crowd the first time, a shy person with a great idea could become the leader the second time.
A great example of the power of games in learning takes place at the Pardee Center at Boston University. The small group of practitioners and scholars gathered to explore strategies and decision-making for the climate crisis. The topic was complex, but the rules were simple. For example, participants were each given some beans and had to make decisions about where they would plant the beans according to the number that came up on the die, which represented rainfall. They planned their strategies as a group, but they had to make decisions individually that could result in life-changing consequences.
Types of Learning Games
At IdeaLearning Group, we’re inspired by many of the games we played as kids: Hangman, Life, Oregon Trail, Sorry, Clue, and Monopoly…just to name a few. The most effective games have clear rules and simple mechanics that participants can learn in just a few minutes. They build an atmosphere of shared experience and allow the learners to explore possibilities and consequences.
Most types of learning games also involve life and death, discovery, puzzles or problem solving, acquisition of goods, protection of territory, power, and even some drama. Check out some free examples from Thiagi, who is one of the leaders in training game development.
Designing Effective Games
Ultimately, an effective game should have a clear, relevant purpose and should engage the learners with a meaningful experience. When designing games for the classroom, focus on creating a great flow and a high level of engagement and interaction. One way to do this is to create a flow chart outlining all the interaction points, branching possibilities, and consequences. Planning this out first will help you see all the possibilities from an aerial view before filling in the details.
Some of the best games don’t even appear to be games—they are designed so well that they naturally integrate into the curriculum. The rules shouldn’t be complex or bog down the interaction; engagement with the technique should be secondary to engagement with the actual content. Include a challenge that intrigues the audience and is something they can directly relate with. At IdeaLearning Group, we incorporate brief discussions and reflection points as we play. We also test games to work out the kinks and make improvements before using them in the classroom.
What are some of your favorite learning games? What strategies do you use to develop or play those games?