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Serious Games: Serious Fun

Last week saw the UK’s National Learning at Work Week and, once again, British Airways wholeheartedly embraced it. BA employees were encouraged to head to the theatre located in the Waterside HQ and learn something new. In this learning room they had the opportunity to make world-class paper aeroplanes; fly the new A380 (simulation of); speak Spanish; learn to conduct better meetings; dance salsa and take part in ‘laughter yoga’ sessions.

As a supplier to BA, LINE was lucky enough to be invited along to introduce something innovative in our field. And so, Mr Patrick Thomas and I proudly picked up our LINE banners, a copy of the Sim Game we’ve designed for BP, together with our Virtual Tour of the Boeing 777 and headed down to Waterside to ask the question – How effective are simulations or serious games as learning tools?

Firstly, a brief description of our two demo-pieces:

BP – Energium

A bird’s-eye view sim game (Energium), which models the key aspects of a large energy business, developing strategic thinking in an open-ended game space. Energium is an integral part of a wider induction programme, Discover BP.

Players assume the role of CEO as they take on the company operations; creating supply chains for oil, gas, biofuel and wind power. Players measure their success by monitoring their cash and share price and via their game achievements. The game will occasionally throw up world events and business challenges which players need to respond to. The players’ decisions affect their safety, trust and values record.

BA – 777 Virtual Aircraft Visit

In partnership with British Airways, LINE developed a computer-based experience designed to give a sense of the relative size and dimensions of the Boeing 777, for use in training cabin crew.

The 777 Virtual Aircraft Visit programme enables BA airside crew to review the features, systems and layout of the Boeing 777. This just-in-time learning is aimed at those individuals who have previously flown on the 777 but have spent some time away – either due to maternity leave or flying different aircraft. Typically getting crew onto an aircraft while it’s in Engineering is a real challenge as BA moves these aircraft through very quickly. Moreover, getting security clearance and crew schedules synched with the availability of a 777 in a hangar requires an enormous amount of coordination. The Virtual Aircraft Visit allows crew to brush up on features of the Boeing 777 whenever they feel they want to refresh their memories or to gain confidence before getting back onboard. The programme can also be adapted to create virtual visits for other aircraft types.

And so to our question:

How effective are simulations or serious games as learning tools?

When we demonstrated the programmes, we found that the majority of people we spoke to were generally positive towards the learning potential of serious games or simulations. Although one passer-by admitted that this style of learning wasn’t their cup of tea, many said that they could easily identify a place for them in an industry as complex as BA’s.

With the 777 Virtual Aircraft Visit, many saw an opportunity to expand this type of training to the other aircraft types. The tour solves many of the issues around the availability of the right type of aircraft for orientation and training purposes. For example when demonstrating the water shut off point for the toilets, there are only so many people you can physically fit into the tiny toilet to see where the shut off switch is located! The simulated environment proves more effective than real life tours when presenting areas of the aircraft that are difficult to get into and features that are changeable across the various types of 777 aircraft or difficult to explain (eg communications systems). There was also a general consensus that allowing people to make key, job-related decisions in an environment where it’s safe to make mistakes was highly beneficial for learning.

The BP example impressed those we spoke with, particularly for the way it weaves in BP’s core values in a highly engaging manner that adds to the game play. Throughout the course of the day, Patrick and I worked at building an energy empire which was visible on the big screen behind us. We found that the very action of doing this aroused the curiosity of passer-bys, eager to have a go. There is an inherent part of our human nature that makes us want to join in when we see someone having fun. Very soon, these curious sorts were building energy distribution centres and setting up chains between natural resources and end-customers. Part of the game throws-in business challenges along the way – a bribery situation for example, which brought about discussions and decisions from our audience – happily most knew their anti-bribery pretty well!

By the end of the day, our BA inspired fictitious energy company had expanded into three continents, tripled its revenues and share price, won the trust of its employees and all the while adhering to world-class safety standards. Not a bad day’s work.

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