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UX: Why games make learning more engaging and rewarding

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User experience is at the heart of everything we do at Ososim. We know that to fully engage participants in our digital learning experiences, they must be easy to use, memorable and fun, as well as deliver on learning and create long-term change.

Nat Headshot

We spoke to user experience and user interface expert Nat Al-Tahhan about why games are such a brilliant vehicle for learning.

“Fun is not the opposite of serious. It’s the opposite of boring. If you are trying to teach something, you want it to be fun, enjoyable and for your employees to have a good experience.

If we think back to who we learnt best from at school, it was the teachers who made things fun. Who were so engaging and passionate that their enthusiasm inspired us. As young children, playing and fun was a vehicle for learning. Yet with the huge explosion of the games industry, it seems that somehow along the way our culture has decided that games are just about entertainment. But they can be about learning too and we can use games to enhance learning. When people have to do something and we want them to enjoy it, a game can be a perfect approach.

Games have an advantage because they are much more engaging than other methods of learning.

There’s a reason why some of the oldest human artifacts are games of some description. It’s in our nature to learn very well as we play. It’s mostly to do with harnessing the reward system and psychology – what you did was good, so here is a reward. That makes the brain want to repeat the activity and associate it with positive emotions.

Many companies and organisations realise that games are really powerful. You could give employees some slides to read and a quiz to complete to demonstrate their learning. But how much more engaging would it be to be asked to play a game, such as growing plants in your biodome in space, unlocking new plants or tools by completing learning tasks?

Of course, a game isn’t always the right answer. There may be a better vehicle to meet your goal or your budget requirements. But increasingly, there is a way to incorporate games or elements of games into many things. Think about Fitbit. They want you to do more exercise and become healthier, but they have enhanced the experience with reward and gamification by giving you badges for achievements, presenting data in a very visual way, and creating stars and fireworks for when you hit your goal.

The wiring in our brains is to learn well through fun and enjoyment.

Over the past five years, I have already seen a huge change in understanding that games can be so much more than just entertainment and can work really well for learning. Games can be the learning itself, or they can be part of encouraging the user to complete the learning. You see this in children’s academic apps – answer the five maths questions for today and unlock time to play the super-fun potion-mixing game with your wizard.

For business learning, the game should be meaningfully integrated with the learning, so that learning, development and fun are all linked to effort and performance. These types of games have huge longevity for learning as well, as you can regularly introduce new learning modules, which could unlock new aspects of the game.

Including users in game development is a great opportunity. As a learner, having agency over your learning and development makes you put more effort in. That’s where the whole concept of personalised learning has come from. If we put people in charge of their own learning, not only do they have more control, but they also take more responsibility.

Users can be involved in elements of the visual design and/or the functionality. The more you can co-design or allow personalisation, the more invested users will be in completing the learning. They feel part of the process and encouraged to complete the learning because it has been tailored to their own learning preferences. For example, at the beginning of a learning experience, you could choose an assistant to help you through the scenario you are facing. This helps build buy-in right from the start and creates emotional attachment, as the learner has directly chosen the desired assistant.

For most employees, B2C software and apps can be a huge part of their life. Whether it’s networking online, checking their internet banking, or even playing games, these apps have a great user experience and look amazing. To me, B2B software should be no different. I do hope we are heading in the direction of creating engaging, enjoyable and immersive learning experiences for business audiences as well.”

At Ososim we are thrilled to be working with Nat to integrate her experience and best practice to continually improve our simulations and the experiences they provide our clients.

Working in over 85 countries with major global companies, as well as government institutions, leading business schools and non-profit organisations, our digital learning experiences enable individuals, teams and companies to perform at their best.

To find out more about our highly engaging business simulations please contact us on +44 (0)1223 421 034 or email info@ososim.com.

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