Truths about using games as a teaching tool


The Truth about using Games as a Teaching Tool Believe it or not, many instructors/managers do not see games as a serious teaching tool. It may be hard to admit, but, in some ways, they're right! In most cases, their beliefs have been influenced by a variety of factors, the most common of which is their personal experience seeing how games are used in a classroom. To make matters worse, many instructors who use games are unknowingly reinforcing the negatives that so many have about using games.

In this article, I will show you why it is not the game's fault; it really comes down to how instructors are using games. Think about this, when you see a poor PowerPoint presentation, you don't blame PowerPoint do you? Of course you don't, because it's not PowerPoint's fault. The fault lies with “how” it's being used or misused. We know PowerPoint can be used for good, but unfortunately many users go to the dark side…sorry about the analogy but it is so true. Regardless of whether you are using a game or a PowerPoint presentation, you need to remember that these are simply tools that can help you deliver your information. Once you've learned some basics for use, you can truly leverage the power of these presentation tools.

To help us understand how a game can deliver information, we need to take a look at the misconceptions many instructors have about games. To keep this article fairly short, I will present what I believe to be the two most common misconceptions. By understanding these misconceptions, we will have a clearer idea of how we can use a game to effectively deliver content.

Misconception One:
“The game contains the material that I am teaching, so therefore it is educational.”

Truth:
This is like saying my PowerPoint presentation contains lots of facts and statistics, so therefore, people will learn from it. The fact is, regardless of whether you are using PowerPoint, a game format, or any presentation tool, your effectiveness as an educator is measured by how well your audience absorbs the information you've presented. The presentation tool is merely the delivery vehicle. When using a game to teach or review, we need to take some basic steps to help ensure our audience will get the most out of it. Our goal in most cases is, to not only deliver the information, but to help our audience understand it. Delivering information is easy, I can spew out information all day long, but getting people to absorb the information and make sense of it is really what we are looking for.

By using game as a delivery method for your information, it changes the dynamics of a presentation, whereas PowerPoint tends to be a one sided interaction with the class being passive learners, a game on the other hand turns your class into active learners, where they become part of the learning process.

Misconception Two:
“My class loved the game, therefore it was a success!”

Truth: Just because the students rave about a game doesn't make it a great educational tool. In many cases, instructors are trying to bring some fun into their training. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but we need to remember what we are there to do. I remember many years back, when I told a manager how my attendees were always commenting on how much fun my classes where and how much fun I made the training (Tip: Never get too full of yourself!). She made it clear to me, in a very stern tone of voice and with a raised eye brow added for effect, “They are not here to have fun, young man. They are here to learn!” I realized, looking back on it now, that I was expressing what I thought was the most important measurable of my training session - fun. She was more concerned about the course objectives being met. If I recall correctly, the course objectives did not make any mention of an outcome, like “having fun” or a “having good time.” I do, however, remember thinking of my boss as some what of a prude at the time and old fashioned in her ways. But now, as I look back on it, I understand where she was coming from. (I do believe she really thought training should not be fun, but I got her point.) Her primary measure of a course's success, was whether or not the teaching objectives where being met. Hmmm…...what an interesting concept!

My experience, working with instructors over the years, to determine how to get the most out of a game format in the classroom, has helped me to understand and unlearn (if you will) what I've learned about games. There are presentations that I have turned into games, and have found, that I am able to deliver the same information as in my standard lecture and the game dynamics, made the process made the process much more effective, and of course the class enjoyed the learning process much more than my traditional PowerPoint presentation. Does this mean I am throwing out PowerPoint? Absolutely not! They both have a place, but games are now something I use on a more frequent basis, especially for those hard to sit through talks.