Improving Higher-Order Skills with Serious Games and Simulations

Workshop Session 2

Session Materials

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Brief Abstract

Are you interested in integrating higher-order thinking skills into serious games and simulations? Do you find that many so-called "games” are just expensive and simple quizzes? This session will help you raise the bar with innovative techniques to get your learners thinking, analyzing, and making better decisions.


Ben has over 20 years of experience teaching critical thinking, is a former Kaplan Curriculum Director responsible for industry-leading LSAT and GMAT courses, and has designed the program that ansrsource uses to improve these skills in its own employees. He has created award-winning online learning systems, trained hundreds of writers and teachers, and has personally helped thousands of students achieve their educational goals. He also designed taxonomies for Kaplan Test Prep, Pearson Education, and many other organizations. Ben got his J.D. from NYU, graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Bowdoin College, and completed the General Course at the London School of Economics. He has earned 99th percentile scores on many of the most rigorous and competitive tests of critical thinking, including the LSAT, GMAT, and the Watson-Glaser. In 2016 alone, Ben has spoken to packed rooms at OLC Innovate, the 2016 International ATD Conference & Exposition, the Chief Learning Officer Exchange, and the 21st Century International Conference on Learning, Teaching, and Student Success at Harvard.
Susan Schoenberg, Associate Vice President of Digital Learning at ansrsource, is passionate about educational technology. Susan graduated magna cum laude from Harvard University and began her career as a software engineer developing learning games and interactive media for math and science learners. She has worked in numerous learning companies creating experiential educational software and eLearning courses. Before joining ansrsource, she headed a group developing higher education digital courses used by hundreds of thousands of students each year. At ansrsource, Susan researches and writes about digital learning trends and helps guide the digital media team in the creation of innovative interactive learning experiences. Her teaching experience includes leading in-person and remote seminars on simulation and interactive media design. She also has experience running focus groups with both instructors and students to discuss teaching and learning tools.

Extended Abstract

Serious games and simulations have the potential to bridge the gap between abstract concepts and real-world applications, but most efforts fall short of this lofty goal. Too often, simulations limit themselves to lower-level skills such as memorization, resulting in glorified quizzes that are expensive to produce, feel artificial, and fail to connect with real decision making. In other cases, simulations and games try to engage higher-order skills, but do so ineffectively. When games are not designed well, the decisions that get rewarded are subjective and arbitrary, leaving learners frustrated and disempowered.

This session will address this fundamental problem by:

• Identifying and modeling higher-order thinking skills that can be measured and improved by using serious games and simulations.

• Describing how to turn flat, quiz-like experiences into sophisticated, thought-provoking applications.

• Exploring how to use game design mechanics to improve learner engagement while addressing higher-order skills.

Through case studies and group work, we will uncover ways to use techniques such as badging, challenge scenarios, and working with imperfect information to accelerate past rote learning while providing a more interesting and fun learning experience. Participants will also apply a model of critical thinking to help learners identify assumptions, analyze arguments, and make better decisions.

Key Takeaways:

• By identifying the higher-order thinking skills that are most important in today’s organizational environment, participants will be able to articulate better goals for serious games and sims. This will help them in the design phase, because knowing what technology needs to accomplish is always a necessary step. 

• By learning techniques for measuring and improving critical thinking skills, participants will open new pathways to enhancing the skill sets of people in their organizations. Every time a decision is made, these skills make better outcomes more likely.

• Through the application of game and simulation design techniques, participants will build more effective and more engaging serious games and simulations.

Participants should have at least a basic background in the design issues surrounding serious games and simulations, but even experts will pick up innovative techniques to improve their products. No specific subject matter expertise is required. Rather, the session will identify and illustrate design principles that will be effective across disciplines.

The session will be led by Susan Schoenberg, VP of Digital Learning. Her team has decades of combined experience in interactive media and assessment and has developed over 100 role-based simulations.