Obviously The Future: Professional Training through Gaming
Situation: Three realities shape professional skill development and assessment.
First, learning is difficult. Learning new skills takes focus and dedication. To achieve a high degree of competence at any given skill requires persistence over a long period. Additionally, the achievement of learning, particularly higher-order skills, is often difficult to measure. Exams are imperfect and often narrowly precise.
Second, AI and automation increasingly hallow out training-on-the-job. Automation and software have produced error-proof technology to replace many previously manual tasks. These include increasingly high-skill tasks like flying airplanes, making accounting reports, and gathering and cleaning data. The result is fewer errors for things that are routine, but now there are larger, more catastrophic errors when a higher-order skill is called upon and doesn't exist because of skill degradation. A prime example is airplane malfunction as I've described before: GPT-3 and the Curse of De-Skilling.
Third, many companies are suffering from a skill gap. To close the gap, at least in the US, companies avoid paying for skill development and instead either hire fully skilled employees or outsource the function to specialists.
Solution: Online Games and Simulations
Online games and simulations are no longer just for kids. Given their increasing sophistication, they can also be used to develop higher-order functional, skills such creative problem solving, collaboration, and strategy. This means they are a viable tool for learning and demonstrating mastery of skills.
The research indicates support for video game performance:
Using games and simulations is a well-researched, efficacious learning technique. Playing through games can drive engagement and make the persistence aspect of learning easier. This pedagogical approach is not new. There are many online games used in learning, particularly for grade-schoolers demonstrating the potential. Now is the time to see more of this for professionals.
Academic research supports this proposition as well.
- Good gamers, good managers? A proof-of-concept study with Civilization: Under controlled laboratory conditions, we asked forty business students to play the Civilization game and to participate in a series of assessment exercises. We find that students who had high scores in the game had better skills related to problem-solving and organizing and planning than the students who had low scores.
- Exploring the relationship between video game expertise and fluid intelligence (article)
- We discuss and extend previous videogame literature on intelligence and videogames and suggest that commercial video games can be useful as 'proxy' tests of cognitive performance at a global population level.
The idea of learning and assessing skills through games and gaming is not new. Google has used logic puzzles in its hiring process for years. The US Air Force has hired video game players as drone operators and seen strong results. Many startups have tried to devise a solution and so far it is difficult to point to a clear winner. Why has it been a challenge?
First, many of the directly marketed solutions hadn't proved reliable in indications of skill competency. The dedicated solutions overpromised, and employers hesitate to adopt a half-baked solution.
Second, there's been a stigma around gaming as something for children and that play was antithetical to professionalism. Yet now the popularity of gaming among the fast-growing and profit-dominating technology companies made the value visible.
Third, developing a high-quality video game can be expensive. The best game developers have used their skills for the die-hard gaming community, and the strategic money has been behind video games as the next big form of entertainment and not as deliberate about the educational elements.
That's beginning to change.
Costs are going down. With the rise of platforms like Unity and Roblox, the cost to make a high-quality game is lower than ever before and dropping quickly. This should decrease the barrier to entry and new entrants should join the field.
Video game use is flourishing. They are now more accessible and widely adopted. 55% of Americans played a video game in 2020.
Video game performance is being seen as a credential for hiring. At least at Shopify.
Companies indicative of this trend and further reading:
- Shopify (see above)
- All the gaming/metaverse companies - Unity, Roblox, Epic
- Examples of directly educational games: Civilization, Factorio, FoldIt (protein folding), Glo-Bus (business strategy)
- Gamification in recruiting effectiveness