Games And Simulations

Karl Kapp, professor, author and speaker, understands the value of games and simulations in learning. In this two-part interview, Karl covers everything from video games to virtual 3D worlds, their cognitive advantages and future trends in online learning.

Coach: How did you become an evangelist for learning through games, simulations and gadgets?

Karl: Well, I’m not sure I am an evangelist, I don’t think of myself that way. But, in terms of my interest in games, gadgets and simulations, it really started by observing my two sons. I can “blame” them for this whole thing. Whenever we would get a new video game in our house, it would always result in neighborhood kids congregating in our basement investing hours and hours of time trying to reach, and ultimately defeat, the final level. Collaboration, shared vision, working together to achieve a common goal, fun, excitement, and high levels of energy were inevitable when a new video game arrived. And, I have to admit, I enjoy playing video games as well but at first, I didn’t see the potential for learning.

Ironically, about the same time my kids really started to get into video games, many of my clients and fellow faculty members kept complaining about boring e-learning, irrelevant training programs, archaic teaching styles and the increasing pressure to engage learners who grew up with technology and seemed to have little patience for long lectures with little learner interactivity.

About this time, one night I found myself watching some televised poker tournament and I noticed 21-year-olds playing against 55-year-olds—the grand masters of poker—and winning. I wondered, “How can that be?” Why are these young guys…kids really…winning? Then the announcer, as if reading my mind, provided the answer. “One of the reasons relatively unknown poker players can defeat 30 year poker veterans is because of online poker.”

The announcer continued and said that online poker allows a gambler to play as many as eight hands at once against unseen but real opponents. The experience of playing so many hands over and over again while receiving almost instant feedback on good or bad bluffs allows 21-year-olds to gain as much experience in two years as someone who has been playing poker all his life.

At that point, it hit me. If we could leverage the positive aspects of video games—the instant feedback, the constant interaction, the willingness to practice something until it is right, combined with a little bit fun, then we could have an awesome educational platform for all types of learning and education. Almost immediately after that insight, I began to research and write Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning, launched a class called learning in 3D in our graduate program and started to investigate how games and simulations can be powerful tools for learning.

Coach: In terms of online learning, what are the cognitive advantages of learning through games rather than through presentation-style instruction?

Karl: First, it is important to realize that games are not a “one-size-fits-all” solution. We do that too much in training and education, a new technology or technique comes along and we apply it to everything as a great panacea. It doesn’t work that way. For certain types of subjects and contexts games and simulations make sense and absolutely should be used. For some, admittedly small, portion of learning, lectures can be effective.

Cognitive advantages include: repetition—games are played over and over again for a higher score, to beat a colleague or to reach the next level. We know that distributed practice (or spaced rehearsal) is an effective learning technique and a well designed games naturally embody that concept. Another advantage is problem-solving. You can’t get to level two in a game if you can’t problem solve.

Immediate feedback is another advantage. Games provide immediate feedback unlike a test or a quiz which requires time for an instructor to grade and return. Engagement or flow works in video games and simulations and is another advantage. If the learner is absorbed in the learning, he or she will loose track of time and only focus on the game. Another advantage is motivation. Games and simulations tend to motivate learners more than text on a PowerPoint slide.

Perhaps one of the most powerful cognitive elements is transferability. In a well designed simulation, the learner is put into a realistic situation and he or she must act as they would in the actual situation. This makes the learning highly transferable as opposed to learning about something in the environment of a classroom which is not the typical environment in which the learner needs to apply the learning. So, ironically, an electronic simulation can be more realistic than a lecture because of the visual cues of simulations. They provide a context for the learning that can be highly realistic for knowledge transfer.

Coach: What technologies and gadgets could eLearning designers be making better use of right now?

Karl: Well, one area that is near and dear to me right now is the use of 3D virtual immersive environments. Probably because Tony O’Driscoll and I just finished a book on that topic, called Learning in 3D. The book grew out of my frustration with how learning and educational professionals were using 3D worlds.

My first experience in a 3D world was horrific. It was foreign language instruction.  After I was invited to the class,  my avatar walked into a room that looked like a classroom, sat in a seat facing forward, and the virtual instructor showed a virtual slide show as he had us repeat the phrases in the language. I couldn’t believe it. Here was an awesome virtual environment in which he could have had me order from a restaurant in the language or buy a bus ticket or ask someone for directions on a street corner. Instead I was sitting in a virtual classroom. Such a waste.

As learning professionals, we need to leverage 3D virtual immersive environments for real, contextual-based learning. These virtual environments are great learning tools but are not being used properly.Thankfully, there are now wonderful case studies and examples of truly immersive learning in these environments. Again, they aren’t appropriate for every type of learning but they fill a gap that classroom and even page-turning e-learning doesn’t fill.

Read the second half of this interview:
The Future Of Learning Design

Books by Karl Kapp:
Gadgets, Games and Gizmos for Learning
Learning in 3D: Adding a New Dimension to Enterprise Learning and Collaboration

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