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Why use Training Games?

One recent LinkedIN discussion that drew a lot of interest asked “Why do we use Training Games?”  So many people liked and commented, that I wanted to synthesize the conversation and pull out the highlights. Whether you’re using games to improve communication and listening skills, advance leadership skills, or build teams, these 40+ reasons why they work so well are sure to inspire you.  Thank you to all the contributors, and especially to Krzysztof Szewczak who posted the question.

Following I’ve included an outline of the highlights, organized thematically. Below that are excerpts of contributor’s comments.

Not-Real-World Experiences are liberating as they…
1. Reduce threat
2. Build confidence
3. Give time to reflect
4. Create a safe environment
5. Encourage risk taking
6. Feel less threatening

People learn by doing, so games offer…
7. Recent, shared experiences
8. Opportunity to develop your own insights
9. Personal Ah-Ha Moments
10. Increased participation
11. Ability to DO more

Games are brain-friendly and aid retention, thereby promoting…
12. More memorable experiences
13. High learning intensity
14. Emotional experiences
15. Subconscious learning
16. Hands-on learning
17. Use of multiple senses
18. Laughter
19. Our “inner child” comes out
20. Creativity
21. Self-learning

Games change the tempo of a meeting, allowing you to…
22. Break the ice
23. Unwind and relieve stress
24. Transition
25. “Flip time”
26. Promote deeper thinking

Games impact the learning environment by…
27. Improving focus and motivation
28. Increasing relaxation
29. Breaking up the monotony
30. Boosting energy
31. Making it fun

Games build community, inviting…
32. Group cohesion
33. Team-building
34. Engagement of quieter learners
35. Improvement of class culture
36. Appreciation of different perspectives

Games offer opportunities to practice new behavior and…
37. Change from within
38. Move from theory to practice

Games provide rich fodder for conversation and debriefs…
39. Transparency and explaining WHY
40. Reflection

But, maybe we’re better off not calling them “games”…
41. Not “FUN”
42. Think “C.O.R.E”
43. “Activities,” not Games
44. Don’t call it anything

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Create a shared (and recent) experience

Not-Real-World Experiences are liberating

  • Reduce threat:  Games take the threat out of what maybe a difficult or challenging subject, creates positive team and individual competition, adds the FUN into facilitation and fact finding. Helps support emotional learning without the vulnerability. Pat Tyler.
  • Build confidence: Game experiences can boost confidence. Steven Drezner
  • Time to reflect: After the game has finished it allows time to reflect on whether they have the desired skills for their role or have been conditioned by their experiences and have “learned habits.” Jonathan Pitchfork 
  • Safe environment: Experiential exercises allow teams to do very different work together and as a result see the ingrained patterns of behaviour that occurred in the game but also in their daily work together. Other exercises allow individuals to practice new awareness or a newly learned skill in a safe environment to help them embody and refine their understanding preparing them to effectively transfer that wisdom into their workplace. Jenn Lofgren CPHR, MCC
  • Take risks: Humans love to play. Playing is more than a learning strategy, it is a simulation of reality, allowing us to try something different, take risks, experiment, fail, and grow, without pressure. Playing exposes our humanity without masks, letting us act “as real”, and making possible a whole new way of understanding each other, working together and achieving goals. Pablo Luengas 
  • Less threatening:  Games are a fun way for people to review material and discuss relevance. They also make it less threatening to clarify any misunderstood info. Mark Evans

Learn by doing

  • Recent, shared experience: Games are a great way to create a first-hand personal experience related to the topic of the training, and the game experience then can be debriefed together with the group. I found that the depth of learning is much bigger when there is recent personal experience participants can relate to. So, games are not simply for breaking the ice, but for providing a fertile soil for learning. Robert Cserti
  • Develop own insights:  People learn best when they gain their own insights rather than being told. Simon Leckie
  • Experience Ah-Ha Moments: Participants have their own ah-ha moments, rather than being told what the learning point is. Sujatha Menon
  • Increase participation: Games and activities enhance participant engagement. It’s all to do with neuroscience. Julie Edmonds
  • Learn more by doing:  People learn by doing better than any other ways. When they play, participants get the sense of ownership rather than feeling guests to the training. Hany Adel

Games are brain-friendly and aid retention

Retention

  • Games are more memorable: From a cognitive standpoint, games create memory markers. The more vivid an experience, the more markers our brains create around an experience or chunk of information. When the time comes to recall information, if it was reinforced by many markers, it will be easier to recall. This is especially helpful when content is dry or formulaic. Throwing in a few games keeps the learners engaged, but also functionally improves their ability to recall (and later apply) the content that they might otherwise have glazed over. Suzanne Corbett
  • High learning intensity: Learning and behavior change are most often linked to Explicit Memory (consciousness), Declarative Memory (facts and events) and Episodic Memory (experiences) – Richard Atkinson and Richard Shiffrin – 1968. Games provide the highest learning intensity outside of trauma. Bill Yetman
  • Evoke emotions:  Training games are a great way of creating the space for people to work with any new knowledge they have acquired in the session and apply it. The experience can also help to anchor the learning – a positive experience will evoke emotions that are long remembered after the event itself. Recalling the experience reminds us how good we felt, strengthening the neural connections every time we bring it to mind. Simon Leckie 
  • Subconscious learning: Training games allow the learning to slip in by the side door so to speak. By passing the conscious gatekeeper enabling the subconscious to explore, analyse and accept concepts that may on the face of it have been rejected.  Patricia M. 
  • Hands-on learning: Hands-on learning ensures a higher degree of emotional involvement as well as information retention. The experience in itself evokes positive emotions in most participants. Junie G
  • Use of multiple senses: Training games use three senses not just one. Generally, laughter is involved too which is proven to activate memory receptors. Laughter, doing, thinking and listening are 4 ways to impress on the mind. David Featherstone
  • Laughter: Learning and laughing at the same time, can really help learning stick in one’s memory bank! Chris James Fun: Games engage learners and allows them to integrate themselves into the content. They are also great disruption. They break up the monotony of training and if used correctly, leave a lasting impression on the participant. Because games are kinetic you tie muscle memory to the concept, which allows the learner to access that memory easier in the future. Aja Millar
  • Bring out our “inner child”: When adults play, inhibitions, fear and anxiety turn off and we become more receptive to learning new concepts/topics. Also, games set in friendly, light and joyful environment register in the brain quickly and become positive, happy and long-term memories. Suchitaa Paatil 
  • Creativity: Games stimulate the creative and cognitive sides of our brains!! Pat Tyler
  • Self-learning: Many adults don’t like to be taught.  They prefer learning by themselves. Games often result in stronger buy-in and fit well with the adult learning theories. Tommy Fung

Games change the tempo of a meeting

  • Break the ice: Quite often I have to deal with diverse groups, where participants’ nationalities differ. Irrespective of the age, sex, nationality and level, people love activities and they work bring people together. Saif Rahman
  • Unwind and relieve stress: Activities can help players unwind. They provide a break and some fun to those who are over-stressed from work and life. Saif Rahman
  • Transition. I use activities to introduce new topics. Learning transfer is relatively easier. I use canvas sheets, colors ,symbols and detailed lesson plans for sequencing them.
  • Flip time. Depending on the topic, I might encourage my participants to present a part of the session. I give them ample time to prepare and work as a Coach. I challenge them to present a topic and have activities. This works well as I believe that the best form to learn something is to teach and practice. Saif Rahman
  • Change Tempo and allow for deep thinking:  I like games to change the rhythm of the meeting, but more importantly, to let people explore and think more deeply about concepts that have been introduced. It’s a chance to let ideas percolate a little. Carol Bleyle

Games impact the learning environment

  • Improved focus and motivation: Although I could teach exactly the same thing in a simpler, traditional way, I prefer to use different methodologies, because it keeps students focused and motivated. Games can also create relaxing learning environments, allowing people to learn in a new and enjoyable way. Mihaela El Azzi Petrov
  • Relaxation: The games help to relax the mind, and open up locked up/shut up mental faculties to be reactivated, this in turn creates active participation in the training. Erican Turyahama
  • Break up the monotony: Games can also break up sections of a course that might be more information heavy (especially when dealing with technical or slightly dry topics), and there’s a lot to be said for energizing learners by getting them moving/up on their feet! Anna Bezodis
  • Energy boost: I use games to boost participants’ energy and level of interest in the session. Munaza Azeem
  • Fun: I train preschool teachers. The more fun they have the more engaged they seem to be and the more the material I am teaching them seems to stick. Trainings do not have to be boring. We need to train the brain and games wake up the brain! Renae Lingafelt-Beeker

Games build community

  • Group cohesion: Games help in bringing about group cohesion where each participant aids the others in attaining their goals. A well-planned game and the debrief that follows is much effective than a long lecture in hammering down a point. Vineetha Aravind
  • Team-building: Games encourage collaboration and team-building. Laura Browder
  • Engage quieter learners: Games stimulate the development of team building skills. They allow students to get to know each other and can help you identify leaders and followers. Facilitators can also identify and engage the quieter students. Greg Wills
  • Improvement of class culture: Games increase the intensity of a peer learning environment. The social interactions provide an opportunity to relate with other group members in a positive way. This ultimately improves the class culture and facilitates meaningful learning. Jacade S. Hanson
  • Appreciation of different perspectives: Using games helps people connect and be more open to various perspectives even if they contradict their own beliefs. Kavitha Prakash

Opportunity to practice

  • Change from within: A training is intended to bring a change in the individual. But change can come only from within. Training games help the participants to bring their learning into practice and thereby reinforce it. As they understand the need of change, they will be ready to change. Vineetha Aravind
  • Moving from theory to practice: Most people understand the theory when it’s explained to them but going through the motions shows them that it’s often not that easy to do. It’s often easier to remember various steps after having made mistakes or to understand why you should say/do things differently when you’ve been at the receiving end of e.g. badly worded feedback. Minda Carl

Opportunity to Debrief

  • Transparency and explaining WHY:  I think that beginning with a brief explanation of “Why are we doing this,” as well as a meaningful debriefing. are highly necessary. I saw great games spoiled by poor debriefing and simple games converted into a learning opportunity by an appropriate positioning at the beginning and a relevant debriefing after. Stefania Luca
  • Reflection. Game expert, Thiagi, always said that the whole value of a game is in the debrief. The exercise or playing of the games just gives the fodder for discussion. It’s up to the facilitator to draw out learning points about, a) what happened; b) how it felt; c) what was learned from the experience; and d) how it can be applied to real-world challenges. Susan Landay

What to call them?

  • Not “FUN”: I really don’t like to use the words “game” or “fun” While lots of “activities” “experiments” and “exercises” are “enjoyable,” the moment a trainer tells me “we are playing a game and I am going to have fun,” I fear I will have anything but. Steve Robson
  • Think C.O.R.E.: I use this language instead: Closers, Openers, Revisting and Energisers. rather than games and fun. Tracey Davis
  • “Activities,” not Games: “Learning Activities,” not “Training Games.” Graham Nugent
  • Don’t call it anything: You don’t need to give it a name, just ask your group to form themselves into teams and get going. Ryan Barretto

Game Resources

  • Trainers Warehouse
  • Office Oxygen
  • HRDQ
  • RSVP Designs (UK)
  • Northgate Training Co. (UK)
  • Growin Game

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