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Can game-based learning improve your soft skills?

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17th Mar 2014
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Ibrahim Jabary adds to the debate around the effectiveness of elearning techniques for soft skills training.

Traditional elearning cannot develop soft skills

Most HR and L&D managers believe elearning for soft skills training is not effective. Accordingly, few include elearning courses in their soft skills training programmes. Even those who include elearning components consider the format a secondary, minor addition to face-to-face training. The reason for this is clear: Reading a text, watching a video and answering questions can be useful for conveying basic concepts, but they certainly do not guarantee the development of a complex skill.

Almost all elearning programs for soft skills development are falsely categorised as interactive through the cosmetic use of virtual surroundings and videos boasting about the use of advanced technologies. Under this veneer, such programs still mostly involve reading and passive listening without any actual interactivity.

But, is face-to-face training itself effective for soft skills development?

A lecture or an instructor-led class where the trainer talks through the content of a PowerPoint presentation is itself no way guarantee of effective training. In actuality, even well-designed instructor-led training is rare and requires trainers with lots of credibility, experience, knowledge and communication talents, as well as the difficult ability to draw out individual participant contributions and promote group dynamics.

What matters is pedagogy, not the format

Soft skills development requires practice, even failure, and always feedback, individually observed so as to draw implications from decisions, and all done over a period of time long enough so that behaviours change and new, reinforced habits emerge. For this reason face-to-face training sessions for soft skills development are almost always equipped with practical exercises, role-plays, cases, simulations and other kinds of group dynamics.

These are the elements that make face-to-face training a more effective tool than traditional online training, not the mere fact of being there 'in person'. What if elearning could offer such qualities: Practical exercises, role-plays, cases, simulations, group dynamics? And what if it also had all the advantages of online training?

  • Far cheaper
  • Geographically and user-scalable
  • Able to efficiently deliver standard learning content throughout an organisation.

Let’s say we include simulations and gamification features in our elearning tools. On one hand, the advantages of virtual simulators are undeniable: They create a safe, lifelike environment where users learn and practice in almost unlimited ways, with no risk, little cost and immediate and constructive feedback.

On the other hand, according to various studies, games have superb pedagogical impact. Games present a world where players are receptive to feedback (Yes, criticism) so they can improve concentration and focus, and develop high-level skills such as creative thinking, planning, problem solving and decision making. Crucially, as a hallmark of any great teaching, they increase comprehension and the retention of information.

During the last years, security forces, emergency services, pilots, operators, surgeons and others have used games and virtual simulators to train for the 'real world'. Most of this use has been aimed at technical skills training but what if we could use games also for training soft skills too?

Game-learning: The future of soft skills training

Game-based learning will become an optimal training tool for soft skills development only if it fulfils the following five criteria:

  • Compelling content
  • Clear emphasis on practical application
  • Interactivity and experimentation
  • Genuine skills development through practice and feedback
  • Motivation for students to learn and, above all, to complete the course they begin.

In fact, these are criteria any kind of training should fulfil regardless of format. Game-learning is able to offer these five characteristics. But game-learning is not gamification or serious gaming or game-based learning. When I coined the term 'game-learning' or 'g-learning', I referred to an online training tool that integrates a complete course, a video-game and a simulator.

Truly effective g-learning requires a simulator sophisticated enough to imitate personal interactions and capable of giving valuable feedback. This is extremely complex and there are few companies with the technology, the time and the resources to develop such a product. Although g-learning for soft skills development is still in its pioneer stage, we can already find extremely positive experiences worldwide. Over three hundred companies around the globe have trained their employees on the highly-valued soft skills negotiation and time management using 'Merchants' and 'Triskelion', two g-learning programs developed by Gamelearn.

Companies and Institutions such as Axa, NHS Wales, Johnson&Johnson, Dalkia, Santander and more have implemented 'Merchants' and 'Triskelion' with the following results: A completion ratio higher than 86%, a general test result of 9.6 points out of 10, 98% of students recommend this programs and 99% think that they can apply the contents they have learned to their jobs.

Conclusion

Intelligently combining virtual simulation, gamification and quality content, g-learning can significantly improve soft skills development. The results achieved so far by pioneering g-learning products are clear evidence of success and show an obvious trend: Game-learning will become a mainstream tool for soft skills development in the coming years.

Ibrahim Jabary is a game-based learning expert and founder of Gamelearn.

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