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Training games are a form of experiential learning typically used to facilitate dynamic group processes. They encourage participant involvement and interest in training content. Facilitators can customize published games to suit their specific training needs, and when off-the-shelf games are not suitable, they can create their own.

Pre-game: do your research

To choose the right training game, it is crucial to first gather more information about participant needs and learning objectives. Talk to the program champion, managers, and, if possible, potential participants.

Once you know the total number of participants, you can determine whether you can play the game with the whole group or whether you should divide the group into smaller subsets. Determine if there are any participants who have special needs that may inhibit them from involvement in a certain game.

Investigate any potential constraints such as time and space limitation, training facility features, venue rules, and hidden costs. Once you gather this information, you are ready to customize or create a game.


Designing the game: unleash your creativity

This is the fun part: depending on your experience and the training requirements, you may quickly come up with a game idea, or it may take longer. To get your creativity juices flowing, think of existing games you can customize. Toys such as balls, balloons, board games, cards, party games, and so forth are great materials to work with, and  many games make use of such materials.

Traditional games are great sources for ideas. For example, the game "blind man's bluff" ( a person who is "it" has to chase others while blindfolded) can bu used in team building training by allowing team members to guide the blindfolded person. Search stories, fables, and mythology for additional game ideas.

Once you have a basic idea for a game, think of what materials to use and how to set up the game considering any given constraints. Think about how you will illuminate the motives that underline behaviours related to the participant's real like experiences. Allow your subconscious to work for you. Sometimes, ideas come in a flash of insight. Be alert to ideas that can pop up in conversations or during activities such as watching television or cooking.

Once you have constructed the complete game idea, write down the procedure, rules, and instructions in detail to prevent mistakes that can derail the game or the entire training session. Finally, pilot new games so that you can modify them to address procedures and prepare for participant reactions and questions.

Learning objectives guide game design

Games can be created for any kind of training program. The most important factor when considering a game is the kind of experiences it would render for participants, whether they can relate those experiences to the learning objectives, and then apply them in the workplace. Following are some ideas for customizing games for different training programs.

Team building. Consider how the game would bring out the group dynamics. Does it offer enough scope for different experiences of cooperation, collaboration, and competition? One of the ways you can accomplish this is to have several groups complete different activities or create multiple games that depict different group processes.

For example, to demonstrate cooperation, split pieces of one large jigsaw puzzle among different subgroups. Once participants realize that other groups have their missing puzzle pieces, they will unite efforts to complete the puzzle. In this instance, beyond discussing the collaboration and cooperation that occurred within and between groups, observe for different team roles: who played the role of an idea generator? Who was a leader? Who was a follower? Why did some participants withdraw and not contribute?

Communication training. Games that target communication may demonstrate one or more communication skills, such as verbal versus non-verbal skills, active listening and empathy, persuasion, assertiveness, and so forth. If the training goal is to become familiar with a new language, word games can test vocabulary, spelling, or grammar.

Leadership training.There are many published games designed for leadership training scenarios. Games that can demonstrate leadership characteristics and behavior such as trust, decision making, risk taking, mobilizing a group, and so forth, are excellent for demonstrating leadership skills.

Creating games with different instructions for different groups may help to generate diverse behaviours within the classroom. Using the previous example of blind man's bluff, give different instructions to a variety of leaders. Ask one leader to navigate a number of hurdles so that the follower is bumping into obstacles along the way. Ask another leader to choose a very straight path. Ask a third leader to give confusing directions. During the debriefing session, discuss the different leader behaviours and follower expectations.

Creativity. Games that stimulate idea generation or deductive and inductive thought processes can be used in creativity training. These games can take the form of individual or group experiences. Give the sample puzzle to a single person and to a team, and after the game, the whole group can discuss the pros and cons of the individual and team problem-solving approaches.

Time management. These games can also be played by individuals or in groups. Ask participants to complete a task using a complex process that involves a variety of activities. Then, discuss activity planning, coordination, and prioritization. Similar games can be used for other management skills, with a focus on different aspects of planning, coordination, and decision-making.


Designing games for e-learning

Today, many companies offer computer-or Internet-based training games. Some of these games use programs that can be downloaded for free or purchased from the developer. For example, there are programs that can help to create quizzes; jigsaws and other puzzles; memory games; or proficiency games that test cognitive skills such as strategy, planning and so forth.

E-learning games are typically individual games played by one learner who accesses the training at his own pace. Online multiplayers games are also popular for group training scenarios. The organisation's intranet can be used to host some of the multiplayers games created for your training. You will need to work with IT or network experts to implement these ideas.

While computer-based or online game modules can provide a powerful learning experience, they do not account for the richness of face-to-face interaction. Therefore, it is important that you include discussion or self-evaluation questions that encourage the players to analyse his/her experience. For a blended learning program, you may choose to debrief the game experiences in class or make use of online discussion boards.

Overcoming pitfalls

No matter how much planning or thought you put into designing your training games, be prepared to face some of the following situations when the game may not go as intended:

  • No one succeds in the group. This can lead to frustration and anger. Some participants may even mentally withdraw from the game. Be alert and give hints, extra time, and encouragement to keep learner morale high. Discuss these frustrating experiences in the debriefing time.
  • The game is too easy. In this case, present the next level of the challenge so participants have to work a little harder.
  • The desired outcomes are not as you envisioned. If participants think of other ways to solve challenges in the game, welcome the solutions, and, while debriefing, discuss these ideas.
  • Be prepare for contingencies. Be prepare to substitute materials, reduce time for the game, and adapt to other last-minute changes.


Training games are means to enhance and enrich training experiences for participants and facilitators alike. Activities can be designed for any training program's content and for any medium chosen. Games are an enriching and engaging pedagogy for training, and with each group that brings new experiences and perspectives to the same activity, you will grow as facilitator.


T+D, ASTD, July 2011.

Swati Karve is a corporate trainer and consultant in behavioral and soft skills, based in Michigan, USA.

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Informal learning has emerged as an important element in employee development, and collaborative tools and technology help facilitate this process.

Forward-thinking companies realize that while corporate training continues to play an integral role in advancing today's workforce, informal learning has emerged as an equally important, if not more critical, element. In today's hyperintense workplace, companies are blending informal learning into their development methodologies, recognizing the value of better informed and better skilled employees who are supported at their point of need, and thus creating more competitive advantage throughout the business.

Organizations seeking to build their competitive advantage through workforce development must evolve their learning management strategies and systems to incorporate informal learning. Not only do today's employees interact, learn and work in different ways, but most organizations also have an increasingly mobile and geographically dispersed workforce.

Traditional, or formal, learning often takes a top-down approach to educating employees, but informal learning is a more user-driven process that facilitates knowledge and idea sharing when and where it's needed.

E-Learning: A Precursor
The evolution of technology has made it easier and more effective to adopt informal learning across an enterprise, and the emergence of e-learning has inspired many organizations to shift focus from more traditional classroom-based training.

At its core, e-learning is the computer- and network-enabled transfer of skills and knowledge. Information can be delivered via the Internet, intranets and extranets; satellite TV; and CD-ROMs and DVDs, either self-paced or instructor-led.

While e-learning has made it possible to extend consistent and reliable learning to an entire organization — offering anytime, anywhere access to training and development resources — it's still seen as an extension of classroom-style, or formal, learning. That's not to say it doesn't have value. Formal learning, whether face-to-face or electronic, remains a popular way to train both new and experienced employees to ensure they have the skills, knowledge and competency required to perform their jobs and deliver business results.

Why Embrace Informal Learning? 
In the context of corporate training and education, informal learning is used to describe the many forms of learning that take place independently from instructor-led programs, including books, self-study programs, performance support materials and systems, coaching, practice groups and expert communities.

Some of its chief characteristics are:

  • It often takes place outside educational establishments, including corporate training departments.
  • It doesn't necessarily follow a specified curriculum; it often originates accidentally or sporadically, in association with certain occasions, from changing practical requirements.
  • It is experienced directly in its natural function or course of everyday life or work.

By embracing informal learning — through adoption and encouragement of social media, networking and collaboration tools — organizations can achieve a number of direct benefits.

Increased innovation: Informal learning provides a platform where employees can find and interact with experts and share knowledge on key issues or topics. It's not just socially driven; content can be created and delivered to serve any purpose, whether it's employee onboarding, a new product launch or the creation of a project team. In such instances, the information can be managed by the end users themselves, making it more relevant and applicable to their jobs.

Improved productivity: Informal learning helps increase workforce efficiency and productivity because users are in greater control of the information. With the ability to quickly post questions, share documents, discuss best practices and connect with experts, users find themselves getting what they need when they need it at a much more rapid pace, enabling them to perform their jobs better.

Increased, more cost-effective knowledge transfer: In today's "do more with less" environment, employees are asked to take on expanded or different roles, thus requiring additional learning and development. Informal learning can facilitate job transitioning and project collaboration in a much more rapid and purposeful manner.

Taking the Plunge

Informal learning is a way to improve organizational performance and demonstrate that investments in people, learning resources and information technology can have a direct positive impact on company results, including revenue, profitability, customer satisfaction and employee retention.

One way organizations can accomplish this is by creating, or co-opting, collaborative learning environments, where formal and informal learning are seamlessly tied together. It doesn't take huge amounts of time, resources or money to get started. In fact, organizations might increase their success by integrating informal learning into their system one step at a time. While there will be challenges along the way — for example, getting agreement from IT, learning, HR and other stakeholders on how to capture and recognize these informal contributions — blending cost-effective, efficient and relevant informal learning into the organization's overall learning and development platform can yield significant results in the long run.

Source: Chief Learning Officer

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No matter what the topic, format, or circumstances, many people in the room simply are not on board when a facilitator walks through the door. Every facilitator has witnessed eye rolls, inattention, negative remarks, and body language that signals disinterest. Some people might be curious and questioning, others actively antagonistic.

Few professionals know how to deal with resistance, yet it's a key part of the facilitation process. Sometimes it is even the first sign that people are coming together. Working with resistance - and welcoming its expression - can resolve conflict, help people feel heard, and increase the trust needed for collaboration.

The first step is simply to realize that there are reasons for the resistance. Sometimes it springs from pure obstinacy, but that's much rarer than one might think. Among many other factors, a workplace's penchant for cynicism often makes it more acceptable for people to respond to any initiative with an attitude that "this won't work here." On a deeper level, however, cynicism can serve a more practical purpose. It puts the cynic in a vulnerable position - protecting a sense of fear, exhaustion, alienation, or disappointment.

This type of cynicism is well earned. Most people do not come into their workplaces cynical. Rather, they have grown that way from negative experiences. After 10 or 20 years with an organization, why should they believe consultants who suddenly appear and say everything will change?

Behind that question lies a key insight into dealing with resistance - those who resist act as if they know better, and sometimes they do. They have seen the results of failed change efforts and known the disappointment that comes with failure. As a result, their resistance holds a great deal of data - about system flaws, leadership, and the organization's ways of interacting - that can transform our effectiveness as facilitators if we know how to work with them.

Engaging everyone in the room

To work with these individuals and their data, we have to hear them. Our first step in any session is to learn everything we can about the participants and their experiences. If we make time to hear all participants, including those who express resistance, our insights into the organization will be more penetrating and our work more effective. The trick is to hear resistance without getting derailed or defensive.

This listening has critical fringe benefits as well, especially in group settings. In one session, I was stressing the importance of greeting people authentically and saying hello when a participant said, "I've seen you around many times, and you've never said hello." It would be easy for me to get defensive in that situation, especially since I had indeed greeted him on occasion. Instead, I heard him, apologized, and talked about the challenge of consistently practicing what we preach. Not only did this soften his anger, but it allowed me to model positive behavior and set the tone for everyone in the room.

Note the last two points. Whatever we say to an individual, we are saying to the group. Each time we work through resistance with a participant, everyone else watches how we do it. They take cues about how safe the room is for voicing concerns, and this sets new norms for constructive conversation on difficult topics. Since I lead sessions as an expert in inclusive behavior, they assume that I behave inclusively. If even I cannot do this, learners are justified in assuming that they can't, either—and that "this won't work here."

Engaging people who express resistance is more of an art than a science. A few tips:

  • Don't label anyone as merely obstinate or divisive. Accept that people are speaking their own truths. Part of our work is to change their reality going forward and their perspective about what is possible.
  • Recognize that people who express resistance may well be speaking for others in the room.
  • Acknowledge that, in many cases, resistance indicates someone is wrestling with new ideas and trying to make them work.
  • Thank people for expressing their resistance and, in so doing, making it safe for everyone to speak out.

So much of this comes back to basic inclusive behaviors. When we listen as an ally, we often turn away anger and resistance. As we accept what others say as true for them, address misunderstandings, and resolve disagreements, we have a far better chance of engaging our participants and collaborating with them to co-create sustainable change.

Source: ASTD. Mickey Bradley has been associated with The Kaleel Jamison Consulting Group since 1994. His work focuses on effective communication strategies while also encompassing client consultation, data collection and feedback, education, and executive coaching.

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