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Serious Games in the classroom: what stances should the trainer adopt?

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A publication by Valérie Sallaz, independent educational designer. Valérie teaches management and project management and advises companies. She acquired interactive design experience from various companies, including Daesign.

This article recounts her experiences of teaching management on an initial training course (master’s level), based essentially on the use of serious games in the classroom. It analyses the impact of this method on the trainer’s stance and offers avenues for reflection on the support tools that should be made available to teachers and trainers. At this stage, and failing a quantified assessment of the skills acquired and a comparison with the results obtained in a traditional approach, it concludes with the qualitative perception students have as to the benefits of this teaching. Given the students’ profile, the group density and the teaching scenarios used, it seems perfectly possible to transpose these conclusions onto continuous training in a corporate setting.

From design to coordination

As a designer of serious games for more than 10 years, in particular managerial simulations and role-plays, I have approached many training projects from the perspective of the customer’s need. This was most often expressed by their desire for a return on investment (ROI), and therefore measurable teaching effectiveness. How can this be obtained? For serious games, this effectiveness is gained through careful work on the game design, which should be closely intertwined with the scenario, and the goals and the teaching content. This means we promote involvement and consistent focus, and better anchor the knowledge and skills acquired over time.

I now devote some of my time to teaching: I work with second-year master’s students specialising in Strategy and Digital Communications (Université Savoie Mont-Blanc) and first-year master’s students in Transmedia (Sciences Po Grenoble), on the themes of management and project management.

Naturally, I chose serious games as a method, and made them the backbone of my course. In collaboration with Daesign, a benchmark publisher in the field, I chose to base the teaching (fifteen hours per group) on 3 of the serious games in its catalogue:

  • Time management
  • Delegating a task/duty
  • Managing remotely

The experience has been very positive: I have seen the effectiveness of the tool and the satisfaction learners gain from using it. But above all I have been able to measure the impact of using serious games in the classroom on the role of the trainer themselves. Lesson preparation, teaching methods and the stance adopted in the classroom have been transformed.

As a designer, my questions were: “will the interaction between the learner and the serious game go as I imagine and will it provide them with all the benefits that the product promises?”

As a trainer, this question became: “When I see the students getting involved, thinking out loud and challenging themselves… what stance should I adopt as a trainer in the lesson to take advantage of this energy?”

At the end of the experience, I identified three…

1. The trainer-designer

This is the very specific scenario – which can clearly not be generalised – that I found myself in in the first sessions. I used two serious games that I had actively helped to write, of which I knew the scenario, the gameplay, the interface and above all the model.

By ‘model’, I mean all the rules, principles, best practice and tools used as a reference, and the way in which the scenario connects them to determine the action sequences, the score calculation, the choice of feedback… everything that makes up the learner’s journey and progress.

Consequently, having created or co-created the models underlying the simulations and their staging myself, I was prepared to receive and even anticipate any comments or questions from the learners, and to respond with a constructed argument.

I therefore naturally made the use of serious games the core of the lesson. I made it the guiding theme and the main material. The students (12 in total) played in sub-groups or together. The session was systematically followed by group feedback. I addressed the points of the programme not traditionally covered by the games (theory and practical scenarios) in separate sequences.

In a few words:

  • Once serious game sequences are launched, they always generate their own dynamic: the students get hooked and involved in their choices and interact with each other and the game.
  • The teaching messages are passed on through the exchanges that are naturally established during the game sequences. It is then easy to explain and highlight them in the feedback which gives rise to many comments and debates.

The traditional lesson sequences are then seen as a break with the previous ones, and it is difficult to maintain the connection and fluidity.

2. The trainer-user

This is the most common set-up, which I had already observed in many projects. The Serious Game is provided to the trainer as a teaching tool (like school textbooks or other materials, whether digital or not), and they incorporate it in their lesson, in one or more sequences.

I had the opportunity to learn more about this stance, because one of the serious games I used was not as familiar to me as the others. I had practised it, I knew the scenario and the principles, but I did not master the underlying model.

I implemented the same teaching methods as in the first sessions, prioritising use in sub-groups and/or together, followed by sharing.

In a few words:

  • The game and feedback sequences were interactive and dynamic, as for the others.
  • So it remains very positive, but a double-edged sword… The students were teeming with questions, criticisms and ideas: “Why this result?” “What if we had made that choice, what would have happened?”  It is sometimes difficult to answer these questions about the bases of the game… and to not answer them. And it can be frustrating, because these moments are always an opportunity for a constructive discussion for learning.
  • Similarly, it is difficult to get away from the framework of the game and make way for improvisation and adaptation. Both are however necessary because students – and this is the aim – have no difficulty leaving the framework behind. Adopting deliberately counter-productive strategies (in other words, ‘doing it all wrong’), for example, and seeing the consequences they generate, is often their first reflex. You can do it for the fun of it, but using it to aid learning by discussing the resulting effects and their causes is even better.

3. The trainer-Game master

Feeling confident after these initial experiences, I approached the last sessions differently. I worked with the game designers until I knew the model they had developed inside-out.  I questioned them on the theoretical bases, the biases, the general philosophy and the specific cases. I then designed a structure with the serious game as the focus, as in the other cases, but I enhanced the feedback sequences by spending more time on extracting key ideas, the best practices to remember and the relevant theoretical knowledge, regardless of whether it was covered by the serious game, in different levels of depth.

In other words, I made the serious game not only the initial material for passing on knowledge, but also for building the rest of the lesson.

In a few words:

  • The game sequences showed the same degree of intensity and interaction. The questions, suggestions, points of view and discussions demonstrated the game’s ability to create active, engaged and spontaneous learning.
  • The session was fluid and it formed a coherent whole, with no break in pace.
  • The students had maximum freedom. If you feel it is relevant, adapting to their ideas, desires and sometimes challenges in real time, always emphasising what they project, and then what they take out, is possible.
  • As a trainer, I always had maximum freedom. It was evident in two key prerogatives of the traditional game master in role-plays:
    • The game master defines the missions : they use the serious game scenario but may choose to stray from it, for example: asking learners for an unusual result which makes them think differently, sheds light from an oblique angle, and makes them experiment with different consequences and new challenges.
    • They hold and express ‘the game’s truth’. The trainer is entirely responsible for the answers learners give to questions that are not provided by the serious game itself. They are free to incorporate their vision of things into that of the game, giving themselves a further possibility to lead students towards relevant and constructive reflection.

The term ‘Game master’ takes on its full meaning. And the word ‘game’ refers just as much to the serious game, which the trainer masters and uses as they wish, as to the whole learning session.

In their stance as game master, the trainer puts their personal expertise, knowledge and vision of the theme they are teaching to use. They play a cross-functional and comprehensive role.

Is the serious game the trainer’s super power?

At this stage we won’t go that far, but using serious games is a real benefit, irrespective of the stance adopted, because:

  • There is a high level of interaction: between the students and the game, between the students themselves, and between the students and the trainer. Interaction means lively, dynamic, engaging… excellent conditions for effective learning.
  • The formats are varied: the educational messages are passed on via the instructions, the animations, the dialogues, the feedback… and of course through the many choices offered to the learner. Variety means busting boredom, it means complexity, challenges and awakening cognitive and creative abilities.
  • The serious game, and simulation in particular, enable learners to try, gauge, start again, compare, etc. Learning means trial and error, which means progress.
  • A gameplay, with a mission, goals, levels of difficulty, challenges and a score… makes a serious game worthy of its name. A game means fun and motivation.

Added to this are the freedom of action offered to learners and a fluid session that is conducive to discussion from start to finish… for the trainer-game master stance at least. This therefore requires knowing the secrets of the serious game.

But how can the trainer do so? By being trained by the designers, of course, as well as playing, playing and playing again… testing with a pilot session, which is always full of lessons to be learned. Prices are not that high if we look closely, especially as the time invested initially will be recuperated since sessions are easier to prepare. And of course, you don’t have to do it alone.

Training by the people who designed the tool is a simple and accessible solution, but other tools, such as trainer guides (paper, and/or online and interactive), may be sufficient, in a lighter and more flexible way.

Publishers must incorporate classroom use into the design of serious games, and create the corresponding tools. These will enable trainers to take ownership of the products quickly and easily, and to add their own expertise. Everyone will benefit from it, first and foremost the learners.

And what do they say about it?

The students’ opinions

I will come back to the students’ detailed reactions, during and after the sessions, in a later article. In the meantime, an online questionnaire gave me some initial feedback. To each statement, the students answered on scale of 0, meaning ‘Completely disagree’, to 5, meaning ‘Completely agree’.

For the questions concerning the general benefit they derived from using the Serious Games, here are the results:

Statement Average score /5
Using Serious Games made the lesson:

. More lively

. More modern

. More effective for learning




In comparison to a ‘traditional’ lesson I felt that:

. I understood better. I remembered better

. I will be able to apply it better




From an educational perspective it’s beneficial because:

. We get involved, so we concentrate We compare our choices

. We compare the virtual situation with our experience




These results are subjective for the time being, but very encouraging, and will be extended next year to a panel of more than 100 students, which will enable several methods to be put in place, tested and compared. Food for thought…

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