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Gamification of management education

Gamification provides a safe environment for experiential learning

"Tell me and I forget, teach me and I may remember, involve me and I learn" said Benjamin Franklin.

This quote epitomises the importance of experiential learning, especially in management education. The neuroscience of learning tells us that the brain needs conditions under which it is able to change in response to stimuli and able to produce new neurons. The most effective learning involves engaging different parts of the brain for the learning task, invoking understanding, remembering, as well as higher-level cognitive functions such as decision-making, association and motivation. The higher-level more complex cognitive processes are more beneficial for learning because they involve a greater number of neural connections.

Interestingly, gamification stimulates this type of learning as well as collaborative learning where solutions to problems are realised through the input of several people. This strengthens diversity of thought because people learn more from other types of mindsets.

Gamification techniques can help to leverage people's natural inclination for socialising, learning, achievement and competition in a psychologically-safe environment. Game-based concepts are applied to meet specific learning outcomes, and enable learning to move from a descriptive to experiential model of learning.

Educational gaming has a long history in business and management (Wolfe, 1993), providing many benefits. For example: business games give participants an opportunity to learn from their involvements with structured experience, learning by doing provides an important paradigm shift from the tutor perceived to be knowledge disseminator or expert towards the participants as active processors of information. Gaming ensures that all participants engage in experiential learning and it provides self-awareness through peer interaction and feedback.

Gaming can aid skill development in a relatively risk-free environment, e.g. decision-making, problem solving, negotiation, creativity and initiative. It also provides versatility among learning methods. Furthermore, business games can help turn theory into practice, enable wider involvement, facilitate discussion and structured flow, enable sharing mindsets and teamwork.

Some of the issues and potential pitfalls related to gamification of management education include:

Knowing your audience

Even most intuitive and aesthetically well-designed games available may not produce the desired learning goals if they are not aligned with training objectives and if learners are not inspired to engage with the content.

Gamification could be complex

It is important to do proper preparation and explain learning objectives to learners, and discuss possible execution options and the expected outcomes of playing the game.

Choose the right game

With a plethora of choices for educational business games, it is important to choose the game that is fit for purpose and that will lead to the desired learning outcomes, as well as a fun experience for learners. Once a game is selected and incorporated in a training course it is important that the trainer plays the game with a pilot group and collects feedback.

Knowing when to stop using the game

If there is a concept that can be reinforced or taught with a game then the presentation of that concept should be emphasised as the game’s primary function. If a game is not teaching concepts related to key learning objectives then it is better to stop using it as it could distract learners.

My Humane Capital strategy board game was created to help practitioners implement knowledge captured in the Humane Capital book. It has been used by various business schools and corporations for executive education.

The gamification of management learning using this and other similar games provides a safe environment for experiential learning, enables the common vision to be shared and cascaded with the wider organisation, and facilitates a clearer understanding of the impact of the concepts explored on the organisation. As such it provides a valuable addition to traditional management education approaches.

Vlatka Hlupic is professor of business and management, Westminster Business School, visiting professor at Birkbeck, University of London and CEO of The Management Shift Consulting