I am using the holiday break to get caught up on my blogging.  This is a catch-up blog on an event I went to in September, the International Business Learning Games Competition and Conference, in Lisbon, Portugal, run by the Business Excellence Institute

Business learning games are trending, both in the consulting world and in the higher education world.  They are trending for a reason. They engage adult learners in relevant, motivating and challenging experiences that make their professional and business learning memorable.  As humans we retain memorable learning experiences and these experiences are therefore worth the time and financial investment for everyone.  In other words, business learning games work.

Here are the basics to look for in a good business learning game, using the International Business Learning Games Competition finalists, whose games I tried, as examples.

A business learning game should have clear learning objectives.  Don’t use a game just for the sake of using a game.  While it may be fun for your staff or students for a while, at the end of the experience, they will have the question “So what?” unless they also learned something.  You want them to have a “Wow, I learned a lot and it was fun, too” experience, not a “That was fun, but so what?” experience.  The learning objectives should relate to real life, addressing either a real life problem or a real life skill set.

Here are some examples of the learning objectives of the games I tried. The learning objectives for Outta This World are the foundational skills for entrepreneurship, innovation and creativity.  The learning objectives for AdVenture are also foundational entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship skills.  The learning objectives of Mythical Mailbox are communication skills needed by geographically dispersed team members working remotely and often in the absence of full communication input.  The learning objectives of Unlock Project Management are, as the name implies, project management skills.  And the learning objectives of Actee Leadership are, once again as the name implies, leadership skills.

A business learning game should have a theme or setting—either an imaginary one or a real life one.  The purpose of the theme or setting is to hook participants in.  An imaginary theme or setting adds fun to the game.  A real life theme or setting adds relevance to the game.  The team building game The Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine uses a wild west gold rush theme.  Another game by the same company, The Collaboration Journey Challenge, uses wagon racing as the theme.  The Trip Game from Mindflow has a travel theme, Outta This World has a space theme, while Innovate or Dinosaur has, you guessed it, a dinosaur theme.  As examples of real life settings, the Future of Energy Simulation takes place in the energy sector and the Innovation Management Game in the health care sector.

A business learning game should have concise, clear, and easy-to-understand rules.  The more complicated the rules, the longer it takes to explain them, the longer it takes participants to master the game, and the greater the chance participants will make mistakes with the rules. If the game is complicated, some game designers will build in a game master, whose role it is to jump in whenever participants stray from the rules or have questions about the rules.

A business learning game should have a clear end point.  This might be reaching the finish line on a game board as in The Search for the Lost Dutchman’s Gold Mine, the Trip Game from Mindflow or Outta This World.  It might be constructing something, as in robots that participants make in the Mythical Mailbox.  It might be reaching a decision point in a case study as in Actee Leadership.  Or it might be reaching a certain financial or business position in a simulation such as the Future of Energy Simulation and the Innovation Management Game.

Finally (for this blog at least), a business learning game, should be based on sound theory about the learning outcomes towards which it is directed.  For example, Actee Leadership is based on the emotional intelligence work of Daniel Goleman.  Innovate or Dinosaur is based on ideas about creativity from Edward de Bono and Roger von Oech.  The Future of Energy Simulation is based on a solid understanding of the complexity of the energy sector. Interestingly, one game in the competition, Entrepreneurial Thinking, took the opposite approach.  It was designed as a research tool to determine the theory behind how entrepreneurial thinking is actually developed.

Now that I have walked you through some of the basics of business learning games, stay tuned.  More business learning games catch-up blogs coming in the next few weeks. 

Oh, and check out the winners, photos and speakers from the International Business Learning Games Competition.