SIOP Presentation: A meta-analytic examination of the instructional effectiveness of computer-based simulation games
Presenters: T. Sitzmann
Reviewed By: Benjamin Granger
In a SIOP session on “designing quality training games,” Traci Sitzmann presented the results of a recent meta-analysis that explored the effectiveness of simulation-based training games.
Today, many organizations use training games (aka “Serious Games”) to enhance the knowledge and skills of their employees. The common problem, though, is that the use of this technology in practice has outpaced the research on its effectiveness. So it is still unclear if (and when) training games work.
Presumably, training games keep employees engaged throughout training and motivated to increase their exposure to the training content. Think about it this way: would you rather read text on a computer screen, listen to someone’s pre-recorded voice via computer, or actively play a computer-based game?
In her presentation, Sitzmann pointed out that the term “training games” is very broad. For example, while some games are “fun” and “engaging,” others can be quite “boring.” In addition to differences in the entertainment value of training games, some game-based activities are highly relevant to the knowledge/skills being trained while others are not.
As a notable example, Sitzmann described a game for which the goal was to teach students about the American Revolution. This particular game is a tactical war game that allows trainees to kill enemy soldiers with their own armies. The training content is presented periodically via “pop-ups” that include historical information about the war and interrupt game play (which, I might add, is not exactly ideal when you’re in the middle of routing King George’s cavalry). Clearly, if the training content is significantly less exciting than the simulation, this type of game would NOT be very effective at keeping trainees motivated to learn the pertinent material (i.e., American Revolution History). Sitzmann ended her presentation with several important conclusions about the use of training games for enhancing learning:
(1) Games are more effective when they allow trainees to be actively involved.
(2) The entertainment value of a game does not affect learning.
(3) Standalone games are probably not in learners’ and organizations’ best interests; training games are best when they are blended with other instructional methods (lectures, group discussions, etc.) and serve as practice opportunities for trainees.
(4) To realize the potential benefits of a training game, it should be constantly available to trainees; placing strict limits on the time trainees can play a game defeats its purpose (which is to keep trainees coming back for more learning!).