I feel my age when I realise that 2 decades have passed since I started a secondment to the Scottish Police College as a police recruit instructor.
Fast forward through 20 very quick years and I have witnessed the evolution of training from predominantly classroom-based, to distance learning packages, e-learning modules and more recently to the significant growth in game-based learning.
Against a backdrop of ever-increasing demands and the need to minimise abstraction from the workplace, the idea of game-based learning which is accessible in a way that mirrors our digital lifestyles is extremely attractive. But can it satisfy all learning styles?
To answer this question, I need to rewind to my professional development as a police instructor, which included a course in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP). NLP is the practice of understanding how people organise their thinking, feeling, language and behaviour to produce the results they do. By identifying individual learning preferences, that is to say visual, audio (both self-explanatory), kinaesthetic (touch, feel) and auditory digital (self-talk or labelling) and applying them in developing and delivering training, this will ensure that students ‘representational systems’ are best met and therefore improve the learning experience.
Being inherently sceptical (as most police officers either naturally are, or quickly become) I wasn’t convinced until I observed the approach being used by a trainer to support a student who was struggling with legislation definitions. By simply asking a number of model questions the trainer established that the student was predominantly a visual learner and further probing identified that he was able to recall, in detail and at the drop of a hat, some very complex recipes from his previous occupation as a chef. Through this approach, we were able to help him understand ‘how’ he learned (in this case by ‘visualising’ recipe cards in his ‘mind’s eye’) and then replicate this process into his organisation and recollection of the problematic legal definitions, with remarkable results.
I always consider learning styles in developing and delivering training. And the good news is that game-based learning lends itself well to this approach. The use of high-quality 3D environments, with the freedom to explore and engage with objects and avatars, not only provides context but stimulates those with strong visual and kinaesthetic learning styles. The inclusion of audio briefings and feedback will engage those whose learning style has a strong audio preference and ‘help sheets’ and ‘aide-memoires’ will satisfy those who, like me, need lists and bulleted summaries, something that anyone with a strongly auditory digital learning preference will immediately identify with.
So, design your game-based learning to be engaging but also in the knowledge that your audience may not have the same learning system and preferences as you. Some learners will jump straight in and attempt the questions, learning through failure and rehearsal. Others will carefully listen to briefings and introductory content, explore the environment or read supporting resources first. Some, like me, will still consider taking written notes whilst immersed in the game…
It’s all related to individual learning styles and gratifyingly, game-based immersive learning provides not only a digitally based learning opportunity for a digital world, but a medium for content which can engage all types of learners.