Winning Trends In Games & Simulations

Today’s learning games and simulations feature increasingly sophisticated technology, including virtual reality, immersive experiences, lifelike avatars, and cognitive games.

When employees need to learn a new skill, or a fresh way of approaching development is called for, games and simulations continue to be a popular option. Once thought of as something only a cutting-edge and well-funded company would opt for, games and simulations for learning now come in a wide variety of formats and a range of price points. They also feature increasingly sophisticated technology, including virtual reality, immersive experiences, lifelike avatars, and cognitive games.

Here, one Training Top 125er and four game and simulation providers share their experiences and trends and offer pointers on how to create a program that best meets your organization’s needs.

NEW HIRE, NEW GAME

At Training Top 125er Mariner Finance, games and simulations are a key way the company trains new employees. “All operational-based employees are expected to master a variety of systems, which are used to conduct business,” says Assistant Vice President, Instructional Design & Programs Austin Meredith. “To quickly learn and master these systems, the Learning and Development department crafted e-learning that encompasses a simulation-based approach in which the users first watch how to complete a step, and then get deposited in a safe environment (simulation of the system) in which they can repeat the action that was just watched/ learned.”

Meredith says the learning that results from the simulation is impressive. “We have found that knowledge retention and self-evaluation are increased versus prior versions of training that did not include this modality. In fact, time to proficiency was reduced from six months to one month,” he reveals.

“The overall increase in speed to system proficiency means learners are able to become customer-facing 80 percent quicker, which, in turn, drives results and reduces typical onboarding impacts on subject matter experts who are assisting new hires. This creates a sustainable performance environment through the onboarding phase,” says Jeffrey Casey, senior vice president of Learning and Development. Total time the simulation enables Mariner Finance to save for new hires to become system-proficient: more than 10,000-plus hours a year.

READY VIA VIRTUAL REALITY

Sometimes it’s not enough to have a replica of a company system or business scenario. Some companies want learners to have an immersive experience. Virtual reality (VR) technology is one way to do that.

Users don headsets with goggles (or a cover with a screen over their eyes), that project a threedimensional-looking scene. Users also typically wear headphones to hear the sounds of the environment, or situation, that is being simulated. The headsets are readily available, with prices that have come down since the technology was first introduced to the public nearly 20 years ago. But providing compelling visuals and audio—and a compelling story or scenario— remains a challenge. “Training content needs to be specifically created in order to display properly inside a VR headset,” says Dave Hodgson, North America sales and distribution director for Zeiss Multimedia Devices, producer of VR One Plus. “For companies to benefit from the in-depth, lifelike simulations employees can experience in the virtual reality environment, they need to invest in the creation of this content up front. The cost to develop VR content can add up, especially with the current lack of availability when it comes to qualified talent to produce in-house content. But it can be done, and the rewards heavily outweigh the cost of putting in the time and effort on the content creation side.”

Hodgson says that despite the content-creation challenges, adoption of virtual reality as a training tool has never been greater. “The most exciting thing happening in mobile VR right now is its widescale use across so many different industries,” he says. “It isn’t just something gamers use at home while playing a video game anymore. Fortune 500 companies are using VR for training employees; educators are utilizing VR in the classroom to help students learn through more immersive activities; and hospitals are using VR to help patients relax and experience things outside of hospital walls.”

TOOL TO TEACH CYBER SECURITY DEFENSE

The danger of computer hacking has been in the news often lately, with both company and customer information breached—in fact, even information related to the last U.S. election was compromised. With so much at stake, companies are turning to simulations to train IT personnel to guard against hackers.

One such system is Zero Threat from Eukleia Training, which is part of Learning Technologies Group plc. “It aims to train staff in the daily habits that can protect an organization from cyber attack,” says Eukleia CEO Michael Sacks. “It was important that the learning was engaging, and Zero Threat offered an immersive gaming experience to help address the problem.”

Learners are placed in control of a simulated network, and are asked to defend it from a constant onslaught of cyber threats. If security gets too low, outbreaks of malware breach the network and steal data. “Every action learners take in the game, every threat that attacks, and every malware outbreak comes with a bite-sized piece of information that increases their understanding,” says Sacks. “They can optionally click to see more information about subjects they become curious about. Real-life examples also are included to further show why this is important.”

Sacks says companies that have used the simulation have reported encouraging results. “Learners have reported dramatically increased awareness of cyber security issues after playing the game, and described behavioral change in areas including use of devices such as USB keys, caution regarding phishing e-mails, and use of public WiFi,” he says. “They also described a change in their attitude toward security measures, going from irritation at measures such as software updates and password changes to an understanding of why these are important.”

CREATE A TRAINING AVATAR

When providing online training, it can be difficult to establish a bond between employee and instructor. One way to forge that bond is to give instructors the ability to create an avatar of themselves, so they are more of a presence in the course.

Voki, a tool from Oddcast Inc., allows teachers and students to create their own animated talking avatar, and use it to interact with others. “Our text-to-speech technology supports more than 25 languages and multiple dialects. This allows foreign language learners an effective vessel for communication and self-assessment of their progress,” says Oddcast CEO Gil Sideman. “The software also can be a great distance-learning tool, allowing trainers to connect with their pupils with their voice and likeness as opposed to basic text or e-mail.”

Sideman says the tool also can be helpful in customer service training. “It allows you to create an interaction, with talking characters substituting for reallife customers for the purposes of training,” he notes. The system now boasts 6 million registered users across the U.S., with 1,000 paying classrooms across the country. The technology, says Sideman, is a good fit with the collaborative style of corporate interaction that has become popular. “The increase of technology in training in the form of tablets, Chromebooks, and smartboards, as well as the increase of technology in trainee/student homes, has provided not only the ability to introduce new and advanced technologies, but also to build group-based environments/ communities around these technologies,” he says.

WINNING THE SALES GAME

Sales is a competitive field, so it is only fitting that training be delivered in a format that replicates that sense of competition. The 1HUDDLE training game platform allows salespeople to train for their role using a mobile game, explains 1HUDDLE CEO Sam Caucci. The game is a mobile platform (iOS and Android) where employees can log in and complete a training in a fun and interactive manner—anytime, anywhere. Games on the platform reflect a specific module, or learning concept, with each game randomizing anywhere from dozens to thousands of unique questions based on the material the learner struggles with most. At the end of the game, players can see real-time feedback and a scorecard with their leaderboard rankings against those of their co-workers.

Caucci says companies that use the 1HUDDLE platform to onboard and up-skill their workers do so in order to:

  • Make training accessible so employees can participate, even when it is not mandatory
  • Increase revenue per customer
  • Drastically reduce onboarding time (by as much as 70 percent)

The proof is in the sales figures: Caucci notes that the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team experienced a $10 million increase in sales after 50 sales reps trained using 1HUDDLE.

QUICK TIPS

  • Replicate a technological system employees will have to use effectively on the job. Allow them to practice in a safe, consequence-free environment.
  • Enable learners to become “immersed” in their training environment. Use virtual reality headsets with goggles and headphones that make employees feel they are inside the place, or situation, they are being trained to face.
  • Train on cyber security defense by having IT employees experience a simulation of a hack attack.
  • Create an avatar to represent the instructor, and possibly the learners, in an online training program.
  • Use games to create a sense of competition among sales reps, and to enable them to practice sales techniques.

Using Video Games to Improve Decision-Making Skills

By Andrew Strong, Head of Decision Solutions, Correlation One (http://www.correlation-one.com/)

IARPA (Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity) is an organization within the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. The organization seeks to generate revolutionary capabilities for the U.S. Intelligence Community, and funds academic and industry research projects at the cutting edge of science, technology, and engineering.

In 2011, IARPA funded the Sirius project, a program that sought to train intelligence analysts on cognitive biases and decision-making. Cognitive biases are recurrent, predictable errors in decision-making processes (think “confirmation bias,” “groupthink,” or “anchoring bias”), and they affect all types of intelligence analysis. In fact, cognitive biases have been partially blamed for both 9/11 and the Iraq War.

The challenge with cognitive bias mitigation is that these biases are hard-coded into how the human brain functions. Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman discussed this at length in his landmark book, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” Everyone has cognitive biases, and even if we are aware of them, they are still difficult to overcome.

The Sirius program offered a novel approach to cognitive bias mitigation: “serious” video games. Video games historically have provided effective training environments for high-risk scenarios such as flight simulations or military operations. Game-based training is effective because it is immersive, interactive, and lacks the fail risk. The Sirius program sought to apply the same approach to decision-making skills. In the intelligence community, decision-making can be just as high risk as military operations, and game-based training could allow analysts to fast-track the experience curve.

Sirius developed a five-year program, and invited six research teams to create de-biasing video games. They then ran experiments that compared the impact of video game training to a control group that watched instructional videos. The results were profound. Measured based on percentage point increase, the games were up to three times as effective as the videos. They tested participants again eight to 12 weeks later, and found that the control group reverted to their prior levels, while participants who played the games often saw their scores improve. The video games had equipped participants with a decision-making skill set, which then was reinforced by real-world experiences.

Beyond the intelligence community, applications for cognitive games are vast. Good decision-making is one of the most important factors of long-term business success, yet it is rarely addressed through systematic training. Moreover, cognitive biases impact decision-making in a variety of disciplines and industries—from investment management to hiring and recruiting to sales and marketing to artificial intelligence. With the Sirius program proving the technology’s effectiveness, expect cognitive games to become more prevalent in the future.

Virtual Reality at Russia’s Largest Bank

Training in 2017 is going to the next level. To be more precise, it turns to virtual reality (VR) technologies in order to become more engaging and easily scalable. This is not a futuristic concept, but rather a successful practice adopted by Sberbank, the largest bank in Central and Eastern Europe.

Created in November 2016, Cerevrum Inc.’s platform called Skill Hub VR was first implemented in the main educational program of Sberbank Corporate University in February 2017. Developing the staff’s soft skills is always hard and costly as it is only efficient when practiced in situations as close to real life as possible. Obviously, perfecting such skills while working poses a number of threats to any business. Sberbank estimated that potential loss of clients or failure of a contract was too high of a price to pay when there is a tool to develop soft skills in a risk-free environment. Skill Hub VR is a breakthrough solution for corporate education and e-learning in VR, which allows companies to train, evaluate, and manage their employees’ soft skills using realistic VR simulations, as well as to set up long-distance communication between staff and trainers.

One of the platform’s modules—a 360-degree video experience aimed at fostering empathy and compassion—evoked an instant strongly emotional response from its users. Picture that you start seeing the world through another person’s eyes. Literally. You instantly notice how every life feature seem distinctively different from what you are used to. Three hundred participants of the “Sberbank 500” program put on VR headsets and saw—and felt—for themselves what a senior struggling with visual and hearing impairments had to go through in order to complete a necessary bank payment. These 300 managers of all levels were so immersed in this VR experience that many of them had tears in their eyes as they took off the gear. Some 97 percent of users admitted having an intense feeling of empathy—of a kind they never felt before.

Thanks to the product’s expansion and scalability, this 360-degree experience eventually will be watched by Sberbank workers all over Russia. Hopefully, it will encourage them to be more attentive and thoughtful when interacting with customers.

How important is this kind of emotional training? Considering that a client’s trust is difficult to gain in today’s competitive economy, it is successful communication that often makes a crucial impact on a client’s decision-making. Meeting, being immersed, and interacting in a virtual environment provides an unprecedented opportunity for effective training with high focus and engagement levels. Skill Hub VR proves that VR technologies have more than entertainment value to offer. They foster connections and help companies become more successful.

 

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