Fun as a Strategic Advantage: Applying Lessons in Engagement from Commercial Games to Military Logistics Training

Open Access
Conference Proceedings
Authors: Jesslyn AlekseyevMadeline ChmielinskiEmmanuel MalleaJo KurucarVincent MancusoRobert Seater

Abstract: Games have been identified as a potential solution to improving learning outcomes in educational settings. Game environments offer many elements to augment traditional classroom learning such as lectures and static reading assignments. They enable players to explore concepts through repeat play in a low-risk environment, and can integrate feedback into gameplay to enable students to evaluate their own performance. Commercial games leverage a number of features to engage players and hold their attention; they typically use enticing graphics and visual elements, and break game play down for new players. But do those methods have a place in instructional environments with a captive and motivated audience? Our experience and measures suggest that yes; applying lessons in engagement from commercial games can help students become more invested in their learning. Though the military may not prioritize fun, they are interested in leveraging potentially effective training methods.MIT Lincoln Laboratory worked with the Office of Naval Research Global TechSolutions (ONR Global TechSolutions), the Marine Corps University Expeditionary Warfighting School (MCU EWS), and the Marine Corps Expeditionary Energy Office (E2O) to develop an interactive, web-based serious game prototype that teaches the principles of logistics and their trade-offs. Developed from a proposal by Marine Corps Captains, the game’s overarching objective was to improve the education and training of Marine Corps University students on the topic of energy management and logistics. Throughout development, MIT LL conducted game assessments at regular intervals, both with internal personnel and Marine Corps University students to validate project goals and guide development. A final test was conducted at the conclusion of development to measure usability against earlier results to measure learning outcomes, and examine the impact of engagement on learning outcomes as well as user reported experience. The game was tested with 12 students and 4 non-student personnel, who represented a mix of operations, logistics, and other disciplines. Students were split between “engaged” (7 students) and “de-engaged” conditions (5 students), where the “de-engaged” condition replaced introductory movies with equivalent static content, and removed decorative elements. Game rules, game information, user support information, and user workflows did not change between the conditions. Though testing was conducted throughout with a relatively small sample size, qualitative and quantitative measures suggest results relevant to how game-based and digital learning tools are designed. Reported usability increased considerably throughout development with less coaching and support, including during development phases focused almost exclusively on improving engagement and applying lessons from entertainment games. In the final assessment, those in the “engaged” condition reported higher usability scores as expected, but also reported making less mistakes and finding play easier. Additionally, those in the “engaged” condition reported finding stronger connections between the principles of logistics presented, indicating that there is a connection between engaging features and learning outcomes. Though more research is needed to see if results hold up more broadly, these results indicate that the integration of engaging features can improve engagement and perception as well as potentially improving learning outcomes even with communities that may not traditionally prioritize engagement.

Keywords: Gaming, Training, Usability, Engagement, Military, Logistics

DOI: 10.54941/ahfe1002399

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