How Higher Education is Being Transformed by Experiential Learning

The advent of games as a pedagogy is set to revolutionize the higher education industry. With their higher student engagement and retention levels, games score above all other modes of teaching.
MBA institutes across the world have followed two broad pedagogies to impart management concepts to their students – Lecture Mode and Experiential Methods. Lecture Mode is the traditional method of teaching where a faculty member delivers concepts and relevant examples. It has limited student participation and hence low retention levels.
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Case studies are the first experiential learning tool where students are given a business problem and the relevant context, and they find solutions to the problem. Learning happens when the instructor asks questions which lead the students to think about different perspectives of the problem. The pedagogy suffers from its static nature since the students cannot observe the results of their decisions. The students also find it difficult to truly empathize with the protagonist of the case study and generally think in third person terms.
The modern experiential learning tools solve these issues to varying levels of success. They include role-plays, simulations, and games. The key benefit in all three modes is that the student is the protagonist and gets a first-person perspective of the problem.
Role-plays are usually used to teach soft skills such as communication and negotiations. There are two or more parties each playing a different part within the same context. Each would have their own goal and often these goals might be closely linked. Students who aren’t a part of the role-play get to observe the dynamic interaction between those who are. Learning happens when the instructor helps the students to analyze the situation and discusses possible solutions. The pedagogy has high engagement levels. One downside of the pedagogy lies in limited application to the type of skills it can be used to train. Another downside is that students treat each interaction is a one-time affair and act accordingly when interactions in the business world are rarely one-time.
Simulations are a relatively new tool which improves upon the traditional pedagogies significantly. Multiple students are given the same situation and compete against each other in a simulated business environment. The simulation is run for multiple rounds and the consequences of the students’ actions in any round can be observed at the end of the round. They also impact the results of future rounds. The biggest benefit of the pedagogy is that it is dynamic in nature i.e. your results depend not only on your actions but also on what your competitors do. To do well, students must analyze and respond to the actions of their competitors. This gets the situation close to a realistic business environment. Managing the fallout of a bad decision in a dynamic situation is far more instructive than being told about it in a lecture mode. The biggest downside of the pedagogy is the amount of time it takes to implement.
Games are the latest innovation in experiential learning and by far the most effective. They have the highest engagement levels among students. Games are also versatile enough since they can be designed to teach any concepts or skills. The students are generally competing or collaborating to achieve certain goals. The game is designed in a way that to do well, the students would be required to apply the concepts that are being trained. The game session is generally followed by a debrief session where the instructor connects the student experiences from the game to the learning objectives of the session. Instructor also bring real-business examples where these concepts apply. The key benefit is that students associate the learnings with the game, thereby increasing the retention levels and application of the concepts learnt. The pedagogy also allows the students to identify the gaps in their knowledge or in their ability to apply the concepts to real situations.
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Games are an improvement over simulations in three ways. Firstly, as already mentioned, games ensure higher engagement and retention levels. Second, they require lesser explicit data-crunching and are hence have lower entry barrier for students. Thirdly, they take lesser time to implement compared to simulations.
While being so effective, games are also the most difficult method to implement well since the instructor must ensure that the experiences in the game would connect to the desired learning objectives. This requires the instructor to design the game such that the learning objectives would automatically come out every game. Since only a handful of higher education institutes use this pedagogy currently, there is not enough knowledge in the system to train new faculty members in implementing this pedagogy. This gives a unique advantage to the institutes which are already using games as a teaching tool. IIM Udaipur is the leading institute in using games as part of its curriculum.
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