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Game-Based Learning Applications For Safety and Health Training
I have been an environmental, health and safety professional for 19 years and have been training for almost as long. As any health and safety trainer will tell you, communicating information about state or federal regulatory standards is not particularly fun. The challenge for educators in our profession is to find ways to engage our students and keep them interested. If students are interested, they participate and remember the material. If the memory and the experience are strong enough, a change in behavior occurs. That is, in short, what we are looking for: a worker who uses his knowledge to involve his mind and his body; keep themselves and others safe at work.
Games have the power to engage learners in this way, leading to those outcomes. The fact that a well-constructed and implemented game can be an effective learning tool is no secret. The concept of game-based learning has been around for about 10 years and is gaining more and more attention. Many white papers describe an increase in retention rates with the use of a well-thought-out game. In fact, the newly formed organization called the Games for Learning Institute (G4LI) is a collaboration of university institutions that looks at how video games can be integrated into the formal learning of elementary school children. G4LI’s work should produce research findings that are also applicable to adults. After all, what are adults but children with big bodies? Video games aside, there is a wider implication for the effectiveness of games in general. For example, I still remember several of the questions I missed in the Trivial Pursuit games I played about 25 years ago. That’s the power of a game: information stays with you as a result of a fun and sometimes intense activity.
There are several key elements to consider when selecting, building and using a game for training purposes. They include:
o Use of teams or individual participants:- team participation provides the opportunity to collaborate across knowledge and “skill sets” to solve a problem. This encourages teamwork and does not alienate or single out someone for lack of knowledge. Teams also prevent someone from “hiding in the back of the room” – they are accountable to their team. Note that you should divide the group into closely matched teams; you don’t want uneven wins. However, the advantage of individualized review of “game quizzes,” administered through the use of a portable classroom “clicker” or online through a learning management system (LMS), is that they allow for individual performance. tracked and recorded.
o Your questions are easy, difficult or impossible: the quality and level of difficulty of the content covered must be carefully selected. If the questions are too easy or too difficult, the participants leave. It’s good practice to make sure you know a little about those attending a training session and prepare the game accordingly. Are the participants novices in their knowledge or veterans in their vocation? A game that allows a progression of content from easy to hard usually works well and offers “a little something for everyone”.
o Customizing your content: the content of the game must reflect and support the learning objectives and the educational material covered. Having the flexibility to customize game content and other aspects of the game is beneficial. Computer game shows offer that flexibility and add a little of the true “look and feel” of show-style games (eg, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” “Wheel of Fortune,” or “Jeopardy”).
o Game dynamics and you, the host: The host is responsible for preparing and managing game activities. This aspect is often overlooked and can make or break the gaming experience. A host lacking energy and unwilling to encourage participation will result in a less than entertaining time. The host is responsible for the pace of the game, being the ‘judge’ in case of dispute and ensuring that the principles of learning are reinforced (ie extended discussion of topics and reflection on completed training).
o Game appeal: Choose a game that meets the needs of (and appeals to) a variety of learning styles and requires the use of as many senses as possible. A “one size fits all” approach is not a good idea. A game that requires physical activity (typing, raising your hand, ringing a bell, etc.) is a must. Offer “fabulous prizes” to winners (and losers). Prizes don’t have to be extravagant—they can be vendor-supplied safety trinkets, candy bars labeled “think safe,” or something fun from the dollar store.
o Game Purpose/Intention:– have a clear goal and purpose for using a game. Using a game before a training session allows the instructor to gauge the knowledge base of their students. Using a game in the middle of a multi-day event helps break up boredom and encourages participation. The use of the game at the end allows for an evaluation: how well did the students understand the material (and how effective was the trainer in communicating the information)? In most cases, games are used to review or update the content covered rather than to present a topic. Although the sky is the limit, use your imagination!
Game applications for health and safety training
Whether you prefer computer-assisted games or something more low-tech, games should be created to meet your needs. Below are two examples of low-tech options used in the security industry for training purposes. A high-tech option is described in the case study.
The need for information to be communicated correctly is fundamental to all aspects of health and safety in the field. This might include a spotter talking to a crane operator — describing where to raise and lower a 10-ton object — or a supervisor describing daily tasks and what safety precautions workers should take. The following exercise is a great low-tech option for teams of two and focuses on interpersonal communication skills. The exercise requires the use of Lego’s(TM).
With a common barrier between two participants, one describes a “structure” being built, the other cannot see it. The goal-to create a mirror image identical in shape, color and space. It is not an easy task unless it is heard and communicated properly. Words and terminology, but not hand signals, can only be used.
The ability to recognize a dangerous condition and take appropriate action to correct that condition is at the core of a strong safety mindset. This recognition is the result of knowing the safety rules and applying that knowledge to “train the eye”.
A series of photos (real or manipulated) are prepared in which there are multiple dangers. The goal: identify all hazards. The photos are reviewed and the participants write down their answers on a piece of paper. Participants then exchange papers and grade each other’s work. The twists in this activity include a team competition, timed to offer extra speed points for those who can cite a rule breaking rule.
Game-based learning: A case study of health and safety training
One of the most versatile features of the games is that they can be used almost anywhere, from a formal classroom to a construction site trailer. Shell Oil is a large international company that conducts exploration and production of oil and gas in remote locations around the world. These activities are inherently dangerous with physical, mechanical and chemical hazards around every corner. The need to keep Shell’s employees and the contractors they hire safe is paramount to its success. Security training is, therefore, a basic element in many phases of your operations and is necessary for the orientation of new employees, periodically as an update and as corporate policies and procedures change. To improve the effectiveness of training and achieve the desired safety outcomes, Shell decided to introduce gaming activities into its safety training curriculum.
“We were looking for a way to better engage everyone involved in our safety training sessions,” says Shelly Kuck, operations safety specialist at Shell Exploration & Production Co., Meeker, CO. “After some research, we chose to use the HSLS computer gaming platform that allows us to combine OSHA’s regulatory content with our own policies and procedures.” A game’s ability to be customized to address specific learning objectives is important to achieving desired outcomes. For Shell, that included the development of content related to its Change Management policy: transition control to ensure continuity and bug-free (safe) compatibility. “We wanted to combine Management of Change, Shell’s site-specific safety policies and chemical safety into one game activity…a very unique challenge,” says Kuck.
In most cases it is difficult to link play activities, where information is reviewed for reinforcement, to measurable safety outcomes (ie, fewer injuries). Security performance is a product of all aspects of a corporate security program, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. However, it is well established that a properly constructed and administered game results in higher content retention. The ability to review information in an entertaining way while incorporating team building activities is almost always a crowd pleaser. “We got exactly what we wanted, engagement from people who don’t normally participate in our training sessions,” Kuck said. “With this success, we will continue to develop and refine our gaming activities to meet our training goals for our employees and contractors,” Kuck added.
The future of game-based learning
Looking ahead, I predict that game-based learning will grow even more and have different applications. For example, “serious games” are video game applications that are used for training purposes. These virtual world computer simulation games allow employees to interact with their work environments, preparing them for what they can expect to encounter in the real world. Such tools are now used in retail sales and allow employees to experience and manage confrontational customers, shoplifters, emergencies and other critical management activities. There is a lot of optimism regarding the use of video games for training. These tools can certainly have powerful physiological effects on the body: increased heart rate and breathing, perspiration, etc. These types of experiences create lasting memories.
A well-constructed and implemented game provides an effective means of communicating information while having fun at the same time. As complex as content games are, they are a very engaging way to get your students up to speed on any type of content. After all, the more critical the information, and all security training is critical to, the more important it is that students remember the content. Whether you’re introducing material to newbies who are just on the job, or refreshing veterans on regulatory information, games are a fun, effective and memorable addition to your training. After coaching for nearly 20 years, I’ve found that game-based learning activities work wonders to break up the monotony of classroom instruction and even give students something to look forward to.
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