The role of games in training sessions – serious business or seriously overrated?

The multinational company where I give English training has introduced several games over the last few years to help employees learn skills intended to help them do their jobs better. While utilizing games isn’t mandatory, it is strongly encouraged. Some people love this way of learning, others find it a waste of time. So why the hype about using games in the training room? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this method of learning? In the last few years there has actually been a fair amount of research put into studying the effectiveness of using games for learning purposes so we don’t need to search for long before we find proof of how popular games can be. This is demonstrated by the sales figures of various game consoles or by the number of subscriptions to online games. This means that there are many people who obviously are interested in playing games and excited to spend their time doing so. Why not combine this enthusiasm with learning goals and create a win-win situation?

VT poster


Not convinced?

Here are some figures* which support the movement:

  • In the US, nearly 170 million people played computer and videogames in 2008, spending a record $11.7 billion.
  • Because of good game design, more than 11 million subscribers spend an average of 23 hours per week immersed in World of Warcraft.
  • In the four years between 2006 and 2010, nearly one in five US workers were expected to retire, to be replaced primarily by 18-40 year-olds who grew up with videogames.

The last figure is probably the most important reason to bring games into the training room- it has become normal to spend time playing games. In the past, those games might have been bingo or bridge, but now they are often computer games. We have access to games in many of our daily life situations- on television, on the radio, on our mobile devices and online. Why not also in the training room?

Using games in the training room

The reason for using games in the training room isn’t to kill time**. It’s to learn and practice valuable skills. There are many skills which lend themselves well to games- improving fluency and speed, creative thinking and problem solving, revision of previously discussed topics and vocabulary. When the games are combined with soft skills like meeting, presentation or negotiating skills, the value (and the level of difficulty) become even higher.

Many of my participants inform me that they appreciate the chance to do interactive exercises (the most basic expression of a game) because they learn easier this way. They also really appreciate the chance to “kill two birds with one stone” or to accomplish two goals at the same time- learn more about a topic and practice their language skills. This idea is supported by evidence from Professor Seymour Epstein at the University of Massachusetts. His theory, the Cognitive Experiential Self Theory (CEST), states that our brains retain and process information in two different ways. One part, our experiential mind, helps us to learn by focusing on what we are doing. This method of learning can happen very quickly and is forgotten very slowly. Our rational mind, on the other hand, focuses on processes. This information is often not retained for a long time however. In order to learn best, we need both parts of our brains to work together. When combined with a discussion after the game, both parts of the brain are activated for learning.

Are you interested in finding out more about how games can be effectively incorporated into the training room? In a few weeks, I’ll review a few popular apps and games. If you want more information in the meantime, contact us below with your comments.

  1. *From–what-it-is-why-it-works-and-where-its-going.html
  2. ** See
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