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2/23/2009
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For Serious Business Training, Nothing Beats Computer Games

Cost savings and better retention are behind growing adoption of "serious gaming" for business training.

Conventional wisdom has it that if you hear something, you'll retain 25 percent, if you write it down, 50 percent, and if you do something, you'll retain 75 to 80 percent. According to IBM and a growing number of experts, the learn-by-doing principle and the basic economics of software are behind growing adoption of "serious gaming" for business training, enabling students to cost effectively "do something" in a virtual environment.

"If you strip away all the techno-wizardry, games are essentially highly experiential software applications that foster deep levels of cognitive activity and higher-level thinking skills," explains Eliane Alhadeff, an analyst and consultant who bills serious games as a tool that can lower training costs. "Games engage people psychologically -- they can be very emotional experiences -- and they also engage people physiologically… The key to serious games [success] is prioritizing entertainment over pedagogy. It doesn't matter how good the teaching is if no one wants to play."

David Wortley, director of the Serious Games Institute at Coventry University in Britain says that military and health are two areas where serious games first garnered broad interest. "Both have a high level of risk and cost involved in training staff," he says, which makes them attractive candidates for computerized simulation. Wortley offers disaster management and emergency response as other strong areas for gaming-based training given the possibility of simulating hostile and dangerous situations, but he says he is "increasingly seeing use in business applications, to train [gamers] in business disciplines."

Wortley cites use of work-process simulations by Microsoft's Windows security team as an example of broad industry uptake, and he points to IBM's Innov8 as an example of games technology and knowledge developed for entertainment being repurposed for business use.

In this Innov8-based BPM game, an avatar for Mike, the CEO, inspects a 'business monitor dashboard.'
In this Innov8-based BPM game, an avatar for Mike, the CEO, inspects a 'business monitor dashboard.'
(click image for larger view)
Originally developed based on an interactive shooter game from Vicious Cycle, the Innov8 serious gaming platform is currently used to train students in business process management (BPM) at more than 100 universities (click on the Innov8 "business monitor dashboard" screen shot at right). The gamer learns "the anatomy of a business process model [by] running around finding clues, interviewing people, and completing puzzles," explains Phaedra Boinodiris, IBM Serious Games Product Manager. "When you discover what's wrong, you can collaborate to find ways to change the model to improve business operations."

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