Thursday, March 19, 2009

Games in Corporate Training? Sacrilege Indeed!

Learning by playing is neither a new invention nor a gift of the digital times we live in. All of us remember our first toys that taught us to count beads, recognize shapes, build a tower, win a business park, spell words, solve crosswords, and so on. We learned! Very effectively indeed! Because we had fun!

The problem with learning usually starts when it becomes divorced from fun, when it becomes a chore, a “must do”, a training requirement to be accomplished. This is very frequently the case with corporate training. It is seen as a very serious need—which it indeed is. An organization’s productivity, survival, profit, its competitive edge, and everything besides depend on the efficacy of its employees for which ongoing training is needed.

But we also know that putting people in a training room with a trainer and expecting a miraculous ROI to occur never worked—unless the trainer is exceptionally brilliant and knows the pulse of the learners and the organization inside out. This arrangement is also expensive with enough logistic issues (especially if the organization has more than one office in different geographies) to drive even the most placid HR or training department slightly insane.

Most companies, realizing this, have resorted to (or will soon resort to because others are doing so) transferring all their training materials to CDs or web-based training that is a little better or sometime worse (because of the lack of a dynamic trainer) than badly designed PPTs. All of this in the name of “just-in-time” training, learner-centric training, use of the web in training, e-learning, and so on. The training department rejoices because now the courses can be tracked, no logistics need to be arranged for, learners do not spend “productive” time away from their desk, learning can happen at a time convenient for the learner, and all of this within the training budget (which is the first thing that has undergone reduction during this recession). And the training department—for whom this has been a new venture (more of a hit-and-miss adventure because they are new to the e-learning concept) can proudly tick off one more task accomplished from their task list.

Training is over; everyone has taken the course. Eighty percent of the learners have received above 80%--the set pass criteria. The rest twenty percent have been sent a mandate to take the program again—within the next three weeks. For the ensuing two quarters, managers, heads of departments, SBU heads, and the training department anxiously follow the productivity matrix, the delivery quality, the client satisfaction surveys, process and project delivery cycles—and come to the conclusion that things are much the same.

The training department head, the initiator of the program, now vaguely recalls the e-learning consultant saying that the kind of program required to make the training effective and bring about a behavioral change in the learner could not be addressed by just simple “click and reveal” slides. This would require an initial investment much higher than the budget put forth. But the end result would be effective. The complexity of the training need required an approach that would bring about the necessary behavioral change. “How”, had been the question from the skeptical training head. “By making the training fun, by incorporating games”, had been the answer. “Oh, games! No, no, not required. We don’t want our employees to play games. They need to be trained to work effectively. Just make all the content available through CDs and the internet.”

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