Learning project management is digital gamesplay

Abstract

Shaped by our media rich “digital” world, when we are being informed or taught, we expect the experience to be engaging, effective, interactive, tailored, and on demand. Such expectations set the bar high for Project Management Training, as by contrast, even though e-learning has embraced the internet and multi-media, it has struggled to break the mould from traditional learning methods. The result is that computer –mediated and web based training methods have a 50-80% non-completion or failure rate. Project Management trainers are struggling to capture our attention and minds in order to teach us the skills that mean the difference between success and failure for our projects.

Digital Game-Based Learning (GBL) rises to this challenge by combining the addictive and entertaining power of computer games with the psychology of learning to produce an experience that is motivating and teaches real, measurable learning outcomes with strong retention for students.

This paper will introduce Game-Based Learning and explain how this exciting new field can be applied to teach Project Management. It will show by example, a case study of a multi-player GBL game infiniteams®. Infiniteams® is a real-time online, multi-player e-learning simulation that allows a project team to develop their leadership, communication, and teaming skills as they solve problems and mysteries together on a stranded, remote island.

Game Based Learning is a significant paradigm shift in Project Management education that is re-engaging our Project Managers in an effective and cost-sensitive manner, which is good news for Project Managers, Trainers and Companies alike.

Introduction

While computer games have been in existence since the 1970's, with Pong and Space Invaders in ‘74 and ‘78 respectively, the application of computer games to learning is a relatively new phenomenon which grew from initial examples in the 1980's through the 1990's both for education and business. The subject matter was well documented by Marc Prensky in his breakthrough book in 2001.

The market for GBL or “Serious Games” is growing. Today, major corporations, government and military institutions, foundations, educators, and non-profits are turning to games and commercial entertainment technologies as a new approach to simulations, training, education, and other practical applications. Serious games are projects that apply games, game talent, and game technologies toward problems beyond entertainment. This includes healthcare, education, military, security, management, policy, and much more.

The Serious Games Summit, held in Washington DC in October 2004, drew an overflow crowd of over 500 public and private sector project leaders, policymakers, contractors, military personnel, government administrators, educators, and game developers to a multitracked event that demonstrated the growing influence of Serious Games and the Serious Games world.

The secret to GBL's success lies in a Serious Game's ability to engage a student, then entertain and motivate them to persist through structured challenges that have been designed to practice key skills, teach specific principles and steer the player's emotions toward having a such strong sense of gratification when they achieve specific results that they become memorable and are directly tied toward having gained learning outcomes that are readily mapped from the virtual world of the game to the student's real world.

Essentials for Learning through Game Play

Developing a GBL application is not a simple task. The application has to effectively address a number of essential factors that cross entertainment, motivation, challenge and psychology. These essential factors are detailed below:

  • Stealth learning
    Stealth learning is important in the way that it educates people without them actually realising that they are learning. When people are told they will learn x and y within the hour, they often switch off. Stealth learning leads to greater retention and thus a higher learning potential.
  • The need for reflection
    Reflection, either consciously or subconsciously, is the process where people consolidate daily information into memories and skills. Without reflection, learning is unlikely to occur to a great extent. Reflection allows an individual to contemplate their actions and produce new strategies for similar situations and generally improve in their basic skills. This important concept is enforced in computer games through the use of rules, which force the player to learn through experimentation and inductive discovery.
  • Motivation
    Motivation is essential to learning. An individual will not learn or even approach the task if they are not motivated. An individual requires motivation to spur them on to and overcome more and more challenging problems. In computer games, motivation comes in the form of clear goals. If and when these goals are accomplished the player will be motivated to continue.
  • Ego gratification
    Ego gratification comes whenever the player is successful. Successes need not be great for the individual to receive ego gratification, as long as they feels like they have achieved the task through their own toil, this learning essential will be met. This heightens the enjoyment aspects of the game and will improve learning (see ‘Enjoyment’ below).
  • Smooth learning curve
    A smooth learning curve shows the player that the problems they face are challenging but not impossible. The learning curve should be a fine line between challenging and impossible, always keeping the player alert and on the edge of their performance circle. Sometimes called “being in the zone” - keeping the player in this state makes for a more engaging game.
  • Learning by doing
    Learning by doing is a much more effective way of learning than just being told how to do something. Through performing an action and observing the consequences, the brain links the two events and one learns that when I do x I get y. This is a very powerful form of learning and often results in long-term retention and easy accessibility to that skill.
  • Enjoyment
    A game must be enjoyed for learning to take place. From current research in the area of neuroscience, it is now known that when one is enjoying oneself and laughing, neurotransmitters are produced which change the chemical balance in the blood and brain. These neurotransmitters are required for alertness and memory. When one is not enjoying oneself, one becomes bored and disinterested, memory and alertness suffer in these negative states.
  • Goal Orientated
    A game must be goal orientated. Goals provide an essential focus and structure for learning as well as an end point for either success or failure. Measurable goals allow players to identify their strengths and weaknesses. A game with no goals provides nothing for the individual to work towards, which will result in a lack of motivation and a strong disinterest in the game.
  • Feedback
    Feedback is an essential aspect to learning. Feedback, positive or negative, allows the player to learn how their actions affect the world. For effective learning, this feedback needs to be instant; a delay of even a few seconds has been shown to be detrimental to learning. With the current level of technology, sight and sound are the most popular forms of feedback, however in the near future we will soon be seeing feedback via touch, smell and even taste.
  • Satisfaction
    Satisfaction is essential to any type of learning. If an individual does not feel as though he or she is satisfied with the game, and that it is not doing what it is supposed to be doing, then they are likely to loose motivation, not enjoy the experience, and become reluctant to engage with game-based learning tools in the future
  • Cognitive Engagement
    Cognitive engagement is a necessary condition for learning. Traditional classroom-based methods of learning make individual cognitive interaction more difficult. Game-based learning produces high levels of interactivity, to engage the individual and thus increases the retention of the information supplied.
  • Learner Centric
    Game-based learning provides a refocusing on the individual and a more learner-centric approach. This refocuses the learning experience towards the learner and away from the trainer. This can increase the motivation and enjoyment felt by the individual.
  • Autonomy and control
    A learner centred approach increases the autonomy and control felt by the learner. When the learner feels in control of their own learning and not just passive receptacles, this increases the retention of information due to them taking on more responsibility for their own learning.
  • Psychological fidelity
    Psychological fidelity must be present in all forms of learning. This is the transfer of skills learnt in a virtual world back into the real world. The skills must be relevant and easily applied to the setting for which they are intended.

The table below shows how favourably GBL compares versus other types of learning across these essential factors.

Text Books Videos Classroom based Experiential E-learning Simulations Game Based Learning
Fun and engaging Low Med Med High Low Med High
Experiential learning Low Low Med High Low Med High
Immediate feedback Low Low Med High Med Low High
In-depth analysis Low Low Med Low Med Low High
Accessibility High Med Med Low High High High
Relevant High High Med High High High High
Safe High High High Low High High High
Stealth Learning Low Low Low Med Low Med High
Reflection Med Low Med Med Med Med High
Motivation Low Low Med High Low Med High
Ego Gratification Low Low Med High Low Med High
Smooth Learning Curve Low Med Med Med Low Med High
Learning by Doing Low Low Med High Low High High
Enjoyment Low Med Med High Low Med High
Goal Orientated Med Low High Med Low High High
Satisfaction Low Med Med High Low Low High
Cognitive Engagement Low Low Med High Low Low High
Learner Centric High Low Med High High High High
Autonomy and Control High Low Low High Low Med High
Psychological fidelity High High Med High High High High

Games Based Learning for Project Management

Project Management is, by definition, a practical discipline in which skill is measured by your ability to apply the right principle at the right time in the right situation to get the right result, not merely by knowing the principles. Hence a learning method that promises strong transfer of sound principles and skills to the real, practical world of projects is well suited to Project Management.

The format of a typical corporate training course is a 3-5 day “tell and test” delivery of the principles followed by a short, one time practical simulation with the class attendees. However effective the simulation is in re-enforcing the principles just taught, it is a one time session which most often cannot be readily repeated; hence, sufficient practice or retention of the learned skills will not be achieved. Retention is further hampered by corporate or project “re-entry” after the offsite training course as this is often so traumatic that the gains are quickly swept away as the day job is wrestled back under control.

Game-Based Learning simulations that can teach sound project management principles are ideal for a Project Manager's training, as the principles will be “learned through doing”. Hence, the Project Manager will learn the principles in the way he will have to practise them on a project – in action. In addition, they can be practised or reinforced as often as the game can be played and in the case of team based, multi-player simulations, the PM could actually play live with his or her team. Like other forms of e-learning, GBL simulations also benefit from being lower cost, available on demand, require no travel and can be better managed, typically in stages, along with the day job.

Internet based, multi-player GBL simulations are especially effective in our increasingly global world where “virtual” teams have become the norm. Such simulations can help a team bond and learn how to operate in their virtual form which is exactly the challenge they face each day. Such training is invaluable and cannot be replaced by classroom simulations as by definition this will remove the heart of the challenge to the team and its leader – their relative remoteness.

We will explore one such GBL training application designed to teach a team to become more effective – infiniteams.

A Case Study of a GBL application for Project Management

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Infiniteams is an innovative GBL application that integrates multi-player computer game design theory (and technology) with the psychology of team dynamics and learning, producing a new and innovative training product that is a highly effective vehicle for team development. It is not envisaged that Infiniteams will be used in isolation (as a one-stop-quick-fix), but rather as an additional and flexible tool for HR Development Managers to use as part of their overall integrated development programmes.

The Challenge

Infiniteams is designed to address a common organisational problem. For large organisations to flourish, they require their personnel to cooperate and work well together in teams. These teams might be hierarchical, functional or in the case of Project Management, a transitory team with typically multi-disciplinary members. A great deal of HR and Management effort is put into ensuring that focused teams do understand the ‘soft’ issues involved with working effectively in teams – for example open communication, helpfulness, problem sharing and joint resolution. These are well recognised in Human Resources and Senior Management to be major contributing factors to improving corporate effectiveness. Unfortunately, the teaching of leadership and team building skills can be expensive in terms of time and geographic distribution of people and they do need to be reinforced periodically to enable extension of insight and the continued use of best practice.

The Challenge therefore is how to develop and enhance team skills cost effectively without putting people through “yet another training programme”?

The Solution - Infiniteams

Scenario

Team participants using Infiniteams will find themselves stranded on a remote island, with little chance of immediate rescue, and a variety of problems and mysteries to solve. By progressing through the series of challenging team problems, groups of individuals will find themselves communicating, collaborating and embracing the behaviour of highly effective teams.

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System

Infiniteams operates in real-time with 4-8 players simultaneously working together either remotely or in the same office via their own PCs. Progress can be saved to allow the team experience to be split between a number of sessions.

Principles

The key design principles are:

  • Fully interactive: Infiniteams inherits the intrinsic motivation of computer games through sophisticated game play and personal engagement leading to full immersion into the environment and its tasks, and thereby the experiential learning.
  • Internet based: Dispersed employees can take part without travelling, leading to significant cost savings and the convenience of participants never having to leave their desks
  • Accessibility: Easy to use by people with little or no previous IT experience, and very quick and easy to get the software up and running
  • Relevant: Much of the content has been carefully adapted from psychologically validated exercises; meaning skills learnt in the game can be applied directly in the working environment.
  • Safe: The use of a Virtual Training Environment derived from computer game design theory provides the team with a safe place to explore themselves as individuals and as team, with no associated risk.
  • Clear Results: Feedback is provided through visible outcomes and clear results for each challenge thereby providing direct motivation for the players to progress through the various stages set for them.
  • Fun: Infiniteams is designed to be engaging and rewarding for the individuals and the team as a whole.

Learning Outcomes

Infiniteams aids team development in 7 key areas through a series of ‘Problem Solving Modules’ where each module is specially designed to accomplish goals in one or more of the areas. The extent to which these outcomes have been achieved is captured for subsequent analysis. These areas map well to the General Management, Communications Management and HR Management areas of A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide).

The following table shows the extent to which each Problem Solving Module is designed to accomplish Learning Outcomes in each of the key areas and results in more cohesive team:

Leadership Communication Creativity Decision Making Negotiation Trust Logical Thinking & Memory Team Bonding
Bridge Strong Medium Strong Strong
Flag Less Strong Less Strong
Cell Strong Less Strong Less
Quiz Medium Medium Strong Less Less Medium
Treasure Hunt Strong Less Medium Strong
Swamp Medium Medium Medium Less Medium Strong Strong
Trading Game Strong Strong Medium Medium
Sliding Tiles Less Less Less Less Less Strong
Invisible Bridge Strong Strong Less Strong
Memory Games Medium Less Less Strong Medium
Personal Quiz Less Medium Medium Strong Less Strong
Mascot Creation Medium Strong Medium Strong
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Summary

The market for Game Based Learning (GBL) or “Serious Games” is growing. Today, major corporations, government and military institutions, foundations, educators, and non-profits are turning to games and commercial entertainment technologies as a new approach to simulations, training, education, and other practical applications.

GBL is differentiated from a more traditional e-learning simulation approach by introducing the fun, engagement and immersion only provided by highly interactive computer games which leads to more effective knowledge transfer and retention. Unlike traditional simulation, games have clear goals and objectives and include challenges to be overcome to achieve them. Developing a GBL application is however, not a simple task. The application has to effectively address a number of essential factors that cross entertainment, motivation, challenge and psychology.

Game Based Learning simulations that can teach sound project management principles are ideal for a Project Manager's training as the principles will be “learned through doing”. Hence the Project Manager will learn the principles in the way he will have to practise them on a project – in action. One such GBL application, Infiniteams, integrates multi-player computer game design theory (and technology) with the psychology of team dynamics and learning, producing a new and innovative training product that is a highly effective vehicle for team development.

Infiniteams aids team development in 7 key areas namely Leadership, Communication, Creativity, Decision Making, Negotiation, Trust and Logical Thinking & Memory through a series of ‘Problem Solving Modules’ where each module is specially designed to accomplish goals in one or more of the areas. The extent to which these outcomes have been achieved is captured for subsequent analysis. These areas map well to the General Management, Communications Management and HR Management areas of the PMBOK.

Game Based Learning is clearly an exciting and effective new development in Project Management education that has been shown to re-engage our Project Managers in an entertaining, effective and cost sensitive manner. Future development in this growing area will take serious games into a broader coverage of PMBOK® Guide to challenge the Project Manager and team.

References

Prensky, M. (2001). Digital Game-Based Learning. USA:McGraw-Hill

Project Management Institute (2000) A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) (2000 ed.) Newton Square, PA: Project Management Institute

Outline of inifiniteams game. Retreived from TPLD website http://www.tpld.ltd.uk/products/infiniteams/index.php

Serious Games Initiative and Summit. http://www.seriousgames.org/

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2005, Dusica Gauld & Jim Piggot
Originally published as a part of 2005 PMI Global Congress Proceedings- Edinburgh, Scotland

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