Do Training Games Really Teach?

Although we rarely receive any refund requests, my publishing company offers a no-questions-asked refund policy to any dissatisfied customer. Last month a customer returned one of our books and explained why she was dissatisfied.

"These games don't teach," her note complained. "They just review things that have been already taught."

Thanks for the explanation, Jane.

Many people share Jane's belief. They want the games to really, actually teach. Their mental model of teaching is presenting and explaining the content to participants. They are obviously ignoring my friend Harold Stolovitch's dictum: "Teaching ain't telling!"

Content and Activity

So what exactly is teaching? If we accept learning and improved performance to be the required outcomes of teaching, then teaching has two critical components:

Content: presenting and explaining new information (including facts, concepts, principles, and skill demonstrations)

Activity: providing practice and feedback opportunities by asking questions and conducting application exercises

Jane's mental model focuses on the first component and ignores the second. My mental model emphasizes the second component. I believe that teaching should go beyond dumping data.

Content is important--and it is everywhere. Training games can be integrated with different content resources and used to motivate the learners to process bits of content and construct meaning out of them. The primary function of a training game is to provide practice and feedback.