Learning about Scrum with Lego. Throwing a ball around to practice not to interrupt others. Or building spaghetti towers to learn about something. Yes, I have done it all and the outcome often was similar. Energy was high during the exercise, feedback on the course was great (when the timing was right) and there was some learning involved. The value/effort ratio of using games in a training course never seems to pay off. That is why I am replacing games in my courses.
Form over Substance
Having fun in a training course is not the goal. I do want participants to be engaged during the training and I want them to experience real learning which have a sustainable effect on their professional life. That goal is what gives me the drive and energy during every training course. And I carefully craft my classes where each component, every anecdote has a certain purpose and is fulfilling a certain purpose. I like to have fun during a course and rarely I have a group where people are not having fun. But that is not the goal of a training course, we are working on improving ourselves and learning is not always fun, learning happens in real life! It’s work! If you join a training for fun and to have a good time I would spend my time elsewhere. If you need a game to make people have a great training, you should consider the goal and content of the training. Games are fine to use but the takeaway should be spot on.
Games eat time boxes for fun
During training courses, Games hijack your timetable. During last XP days I have never been more creative. The number of games being played was enormous; I saw tweets from people who were considering taking their children next year because of the amount of games being played. In most cases the game itself took so much time that, getting to the ‘moment suprême’, the point where you will actually learned something didn’t fit in the time slot. So what was the effect, well people who joined the session to learn something spent their valuable time playing Lego. I have to confess; in my session we played a small game as well to simulate resource scarcity using two different economic models. However, this only took 10 minutes out of the 75 minute session, the rest of the time was spent on explaining the concept and in-depth discussion.
Besides the purpose of a game should be clear and the time spent on getting to a learning effect, the scientific proof for the use of games in classroom settings is still absent.
There are serious obstacles, both ethical and practical, with conducting randomized control studies into whether students do better with one kind of learning approach versus another – Suzanne de Castell, dean of education at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (source)
There are some positive science-backed effects for using games in training. One being, retrieval practices that is a strategy to get information out of the mind. This act is a powerful tool to strengthening the information embedding in our memory. For example, you might think you know which are the five values of Scrum. Unless you try to come up with them yourself, you don’t actually know. Second effect is spaced repetition. Basically this comes down to repeatedly get back to the knowledge learned using several time intervals (minutes, hours, days, weeks).
As you read these two effects you might want to argue that these effects are not limited to using games.
Alternatives to games
So if I no longer use games in a training course, what do I use? Well, I use various ways to enhance learning during a training course by telling stories, have people solve cases. Spreading the changes of learning for each learning style present. An interesting tool I am using more often is Liberating Structures, great microstructures to facilitate communication and learning.