Who's gamifying bized?

15 October 2020

Director of Business School Services Ian Hawkings reflects on bized gamification, and why it's taking so long to materialise at a time when more and more students are looking to learn in short bursts.


Some years ago, I did a bit of work with an executive education provider called Mannaz, based in Denmark. They used the online game World of Warcraft to teach a leadership programme titled ‘Are you an orc?’

I just dug out the press release from (gasp) 2009, and their in-house psychologist is quoted as saying “Managing and directing international teams increasingly means that the traditional ‘face-to-face’ model of leadership is no longer possible and, for younger employees in particular, not even relevant. In this sort of context leaders need to be collaborative, consensual and inclusive. And, ironically, given its name, that’s exactly what a role-playing game like World of Warcraft teaches.”

Now transpose that statement to the current situation in the world of international business education. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? The traditional ‘face to face’ approach to teaching isn’t possible, and faculty need to find new and better ways to create a ‘collaborative, consensual and inclusive’ environment online.

So... how much use is being made of online games by business schools? I may be wrong, but it doesn’t feel as though much progress has been made in the last decade - particularly in the undergrad or pre-experience masters space.

Obviously, the technology has improved and I am sure there are more offerings like this out there.

One of our clients, Aston University Business School recruited two game designers and is using them to deliver a variety of tools for executive education programmes. Minecraft for education has its own website, but is largely aimed at a pre-university audience and Lego has long been a staple of many teamwork exercises, but I just don’t hear of that many instances where games are being used to teach in business education... And yet ‘gamification’ seems ideally suited to solve a number of problems posed by the current crisis – particularly the issue of truly engaging learners when they are unable to access face-to-face interaction in a physical classroom.

A 2014 paper written by academics in the US, titled ‘Get Your Head in the Game: Using Gamification in Business Education to Connect with Generation Y’ addressed this in a pre-covid world by stating that ‘Generation Y learners think and learn differently. They seek learning environments that are relaxed, flexible, interactive, and engaging. Gamification incorporates game mechanics to nongame contexts and has been found to motivate or incentivise students using rewards such as points, badges, and certificates.’

And perhaps this is where the threat lies... Our own research has told us that prospective business school students are increasingly open to studying in short bursts, rather than in degree formats that require a commitment of years – and the same research has found that employers are more open to recruiting learners who have digital badges or online credentials from the likes of Google, LinkedIn and Unacademy.

If progressive EdTech companies use technology and games to truly engage with students in a way that is relevant to younger learners, and are becoming increasingly accepted as an alternative to traditional higher education, then the risk is that they eat into business school’s potential student-base.

Does this stand to reason? Or are games and online simulations being used at business schools more than I am aware of? I’d be interested to hear from business school faculty that use gamification in their teaching – is it proving useful? Is it becoming more prevalent? Do students like it?

Let me know!


Photo by Ylanite Koppens from Pexels

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