Innovative training programs often use games and simulations. They can be new and exciting but may not appeal to all employees. Some tips that can up the engagement factor.

It could be a highly immersive game with avatars and branching scenarios, or something as simple as a simulation used to train employees about workplace harassment. But not every employee is enamored with learning delivered via games and simulations. Whether expensive and advanced, or off-the-shelf and simple, games and simulations are a waste of time and money if they don’t engage and satisfy learners. Four Training Top 125 companies and two experts in the field offer tips for creating games and simulations that learners will want to jump into.

Simulations that are most effective are those that take employees out of the lecture, top-down format, and put them in the front seat of the learning experience. At Training Top 125 company PAREXEL, a provider of support services to the biopharmaceutical and medical device industries, simulations are used both in live, face-to-face classroom settings and in self-paced, online training. In the in-person classroom format, learners sometimes are divided into groups that compete against each other in a game show format. When this approach is used, the simulation is technologically simple, maybe just relying on a PowerPoint format. But when the games and simulations are online, they become more technologically complex and immersive. “We have created simulated work environments that learners interact with online to assess their abilities to apply learning provided in previous e-learnings and instructor-led trainings,” says Vice President of Learning and Development Albert Siu, Ph.D. “Additionally, we regularly embed system and tool simulations and interactive video activities into both our synchronous and asynchronous learning programs.”

A simulation allows learners to make mistakes with no consequences before trying their skills out on the job. It also allows employees to help create the training by their reactions to the content. “By introducing games in a controlled environment, we can use them to maximize retention and reduce the amount of lectured content,” says Siu. “Experiencing a system or tools hands-on helps visual and kinesthetic learners to make the most out of their learning experience. Examples of these are the simulations we create for our new system launches, using tools such as Articulate Storyline or Adobe Captivate.”

To really put learners in the driver seat—and as far from the static lecture format as possible—Siu says you can use avatars, or characters, within the online simulations that learners create to represent themselves. “We like to include avatars when possible, so learners can have some control to customize their gaming experience,” he says. “The more the game involves learners in the process and adapts to their decisions, the more empowered and motivated they become.”

Indeed, it is the ability of a game or simulation to make employees active participants, rather than just listeners or observers, that is the key to success. “What makes training most engaging is how involved learners are in the learning event, either by being entertained or being actively involved,” says Star Fisher, senior associate with Caveo Learning.

In the world of aviation, putting the learner in the driver’s—or pilot’s—seat is essential. A simulation where mistakes can be made without crashing a plane literally gives trainees a safe place to test out their skills, notes Anthony Gagliardo, executive director of the Association of Collegiate Training Institutions (ACTI).”Games are applied in a manner consistent with the modern and advanced equivalent to a child memorizing multiplication tables,” he says.

For instance, Gagliardo says the 38 collegiate and private aviation training institutions that are a part of ACTI make use of a visual air traffic and radar simulation. “With large wraparound displays, these systems can involve many students and instructors simultaneously in a single scenario,”he says.”On a simpler level, pilots-in-training also use low-fidelity game-based flash card systems and matching exercises designed to aid in memorization of fundamental information.”

Gagliardo says realism is the key to creating a game or simulation that learners will feel is relevant to their work. “First and foremost, technical accuracy is key. Without this veracity, the tool loses credibility rapidly and becomes a joke within the workplace,” he says. “It’s been my experience that our audience places a higher premium on a tool that is technically accurate rather than one that is game-like or has fantastic graphics/production value.”

Part of making a game or simulation realistic is to make the outcomes for right and wrong responses memorable, says Gregg Collins, head of Instructional Design for the Corporate Learning Group at Training Top 125 company NIIT, a global talent development corporation. “The outcomes of bad decisions need to be vivid and memorable. This is worth calling out specifically because traditional training development processes often strive to take the drama out of the content,” says Collins. “A big part of what makes games such effective learning tools is that they do the opposite. Game designers know—as learning designers should know—that emotional impact helps cement lessons in memory.”

Training Top 125 company Tenaris, a supplier of steel tubes for the energy industry, uses the game and simulation format to train employees at its Induction Camp, a four-week program that brings together approximately 60 newly hired global trainees from all over the world in Argentina, headquarters of TenarisUniversity. Emphasis is placed on the technical accuracy of the simulation, which replicates a process from the initial request for a quote from the customer to the delivery of the final product. “It, therefore, allows participants to deeply understand the Tenaris Commercial and Production Cycles and the complexity of the decisions involved in each stage,” says Maria Laura Garcia, TenarisUniversity School of Management dean.

One way to engage learners is to ask them to play a game they’ve played before— albeit with a twist that makes it educational. That’s what Training Top 125 company New York Community Bancorp, Inc., does. “Our organization utilizes a wide variety of games and simulations to enhance our training programs. We have a trainer tool kit that contains more than 85 customized games and activities,” says Second Vice President, Instructional Design ManagerJoelle Divine, who says such games include Family Feud, Fighting the Gremlins, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and Jeopardy!

Divine says the game becomes more effective when matched carefully to the content— clearly, not all games are right for all content. “Since we utilize a trainer tool kit, which lets our trainers select appropriate games based on content, key learning points, class size, experience, etc., we can offer a variety of ways to complete the training,” she says. “We also have specific games and simulations that are required for certain topics and content.”

Matching content and audience to a familiar game is a formula that works well for games and simulations or “relevant interactive learning events,” says Fisher of Caveo Learning. “Using ‘Scattergories’ as an energizer will cause some to complain because it has no relevance to the actual learning— it is just a game,” she says. “Relevant interactive learning events will not receive the same resistance, because learners can see the value.”


  • Put learners in the driver’s seat of the experience, having the simulation or game unfold based on their choices or responses.
  • Embed learners within the simulation or game by having them create avatars.
  • Strive for technical accuracy, making the simulation or game look as close to the real experience as possible, so learners will see and feel the relevance to their work.
  • Make lessons learned memorable by having dramatic outcomes within the simulation or game when right or wrong decisions are made.
  • Use games learners are familiar with and already enjoy, such as Jeopardy! and then add questions or content related to their work.


By Paradigm Learning

People are their most mindful when they are at play; their senses are fully engaged, their physical and mental prowess is at its highest. If we find ways of enjoying our work—blurring the lines between work and play—the gains will be greater.” —Ellen Langer, Professor of Psychology, Harvard University

When we think about games and simulations, this quote couldn’t say it better. There is no better way to learn on the job than through game-based learning. Since we have been training through games for more than 20 years, we’d like to offer three reasons games RULE in learning and development (L&D):

1. They appeal to the multigenerational workforce. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Baby Boomers are retiring and organizations will count on Gen Xers and Millennials to step forward and lead. Today’s Human Resources leaders face intensifying pressures to engage and align employees with diverse world views and values. Games and simulations make this a possibility by harnessing the teambuilding and guided instruction necessary to transfer knowledge. (And did we mention games are fun?)

2. They give you a return on engagement. A lack of engagement = billions of dollars lost. And when it comes to rules of engagement, there is one key area in which generations converge—learning and development. Games meet the diverse learning styles and technology preferences of today’s workforce. And because of this high level of engagement, they accelerate learning and on-the-job application.

3. They can be in class, online, or both. The universal appeal of games is not dependent on technology or digital media. Great game-based experiences can be digitally based, of course. But they also can take the form of board games, simulations, and hybrids that combine traditional gameplay with technology. In other words, games don’t have to beep, buzz, or be expensive to be effective. There is a lot of flexibility, making games a nice way for adults to learn.

With games, everybody wins: Learners are engaged, L&D is empowered, and the organization gets results.


From the “spinning jenny” that exponentially increased the speed of yarn production in the 18th Century, to Henry Ford’s assembly line that reduced the time it took to build a car by 79 percent, automation has been an essential part of human progress. Automated manufacturing processes, which were revolutionary 100 years ago, now seem so mundane that we’ve stopped giving them a second thought. Yet the automation of more complex processes that require “human” interaction and emotional intelligence—more commonly known as “artificial intelligence” or AI—still seems like science fiction.

However, it’s closer to reality than you may think. Take, for example Amelia, an artificial intelligence cognitive agent created by IPsoft who understands and responds like a human. She can “read” and comprehend complex manuals within a matter of seconds and learn from her human colleagues to help improve customer service, increase efficiency, and maximize revenue. Her potential to positively affect the way business is done is almost endless. In turn, Amelia allows human experts to reallocate their time and energy toward more creative, higher-value pursuits.

For Training and HR professionals, Amelia has the potential to absorb many time-consuming and repetitive processes. For instance, Amelia could help employees navigate selection and enrollment of training courses. This is an area that has been explored by companies such as Royal Dutch Shell that invest significant resources in learning programs aimed at making employees more productive in their roles.

Induction programs for new employees similarly could include dialogue with Amelia to support a wide range of “How do I?” questions. While many organizations have assembled reference materials to cover the most frequently asked questions, cognitive technology could cut through the frustration of not being able to find new information quickly and help new team members become more effective in a shorter period.

Like humans, Amelia has the unique ability to learn. Different from other programs, databases, and AI platforms, she can gain new and useful knowledge by observing the actions of her human co-workers. Just like any smart person, she learns from what she sees and draws on that experience to help a colleague another time.

Unlike humans, however, Amelia is always working, allowing for constant support and instant updates. With these updates, her quality of answers, responses, and solutions reflect the latest knowledge, not delayed knowledge. In other words, she provides the most accurate information at any given time. She also boasts a cognitive engine that guarantees consistency in answers—even with questions that are asked in various ways and in multiple languages.

Today, Amelia is being tested to validate how cognitive engines outperform more static approaches. Cognitive technologies and artificial intelligence already are being implemented to revolutionize not only the way we work, but the way we live by affecting daily tasks, legislation, and the way we organize. With Amelia, we’ve only started to enter the beginning of the future.


By Todd Lenhart, President, SNI (

Video is a top trend in training right now and one that easily can be incorporated into games and simulations. It’s easy and inexpensive to do with all the recent advances in technology, but it still needs to be done right to be effective.

Video doesn’t lie. Once participants see themselves, the power of that experience can affect their ability to make changes. The trainer also can coach them with more precision and help them get more out of the session. There’s more accountability for learning when video is part of the equation.

Here are some tips to help make the most of your next video initiative and make it a powerful training tool:

  • Make sure to have good quality audio/video systems in place. Even your phone is likely capable of this, but don’t just take it out and start shooting. It’s worth taking a few minutes to check video settings, background lighting, and audio quality.
  • Think through the pre-work portion of the exercise before jumping in. If you have someone playing the role of the other side, they need to be well-versed on the material. Otherwise, the training won’t be “real” enough. Sometimes, you can even hire an actor to learn the material and play that role.
  • If you can use a real-world scenario in your role-play, it can be powerful. It gives participants the experience of walking through it so that when they go into the actual meeting, they’re much better prepared.
  • Even a small amount of video, say five to 10 minutes, is like a lifetime when it comes to coaching. A short snippet of a participant role-playing tells the trainer a lot about how he handles himself.

Using video in role-play may be becoming more widespread, but be sure to think through a process before trying it on your own. The power of video is something to harness and leverage to your advantage. It can bring about true change when used the right way.


Lorri Freifeld
Lorri Freifeld is the editor/publisher of Training magazine. She writes on a number of topics, including talent management, training technology, and leadership development. She spearheads two awards programs: the Training APEX Awards and Emerging Training Leaders. A writer/editor for the last 30 years, she has held editing positions at a variety of publications and holds a Master’s degree in journalism from New York University.