New interactive games make workplace e-learning fun for Canadian employees

Workplace safety, emergency preparedness, hazardous materials handling or the impact of climate change on your business success — all these seem pretty ponderous topics.

But don’t be daunted if you need to (or want to) bone up on them quickly.

There’s a fun and easy and effective way do that, according CSA Standards, Canada’s largest standards development organization.

At a show-and-tell event in Toronto last week, CSA unveiled a series of e-learning applications that rely on interactive gaming technologies to teach a variety of topics.

SEE VIDEO – Online games make e-learning come alive

These range from workplace accident prevention, to disaster response strategies, and from financial skills for auditors and business operators to best practices for tapping the skills/leadership qualities of immigrants in the workforce.

While the topics are fairly varied, they all harness digital gaming technology to make the learning experience come alive.

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“The interactive CSA e-learning tools you’re experiencing today are the culmination of two years spent in development,” Lance Novak, vice-president of sales at CSA Standards told the media present at the launch.

And design and development of these digital game-based learning tools wasn’t just handed over to a third-party.

Instead CSA Standards acquired the assets and intellectual property of Distil Interactive Ltd., an Ottawa-based developer of e-learning products.

Prior to the acquisition, Distil Interactive had already achieved notable success in using video games technology as a business communications tool.

“We decided to purchase this Canadian built technology and bring the team onboard for full-time e-learning development within CSA,” said Novak.

The acquisition, he suggested, has a broader significance for CSA, as it helps the non-profit organization expand beyond its roots as a developer of standards and codes.

CSA Standards, Novak said, is now positioned to offer e-learning tools that address the needs of business, academia, government, and even consumers.

A selection of these applications was unveiled last Thursday.

One of them is Response Ready, an online training game targeted at safety professionals, site and operation managers, and emergency planners and responders.

“The trainee assumes the role of a manager in an industrial park challenged with preventing a dangerous explosion occurring at a gas station,” said Novak.

Players can also assess the appropriateness of their responses to other emergency scenarios, such as a factory chemical spill or a train derailment.

The idea, said Novak, is to help the user visualize – with a high degree of realism – the large-scale threat or emergency even before it happens.

Another e-learning module focused on safety management was demoed by Amanda Wellspring, product/curriculum developer eLearning, education and training at CSA Standards.

The audience for this game – Safety at Work – is more generic, Wellspring noted. “The module is great tool for frontline staff, for just-in-time training before the auditor gets in, or for new employee orientation packages.”

She said the Safety at Work application is very basic and takes no more than an hour to complete.

“It requires minimal commitment, but is very engaging,” Wellspring said. “You learn all the key terms associated with workplace safety – such as ‘acceptable risk’, ‘corrective action’ and ‘hazard identification’; you learn about underlying causes and the value of a structured occupational health and safety (OHS) management system.”

The module would equip any employee for an audit of the OHS management system, she said.

“When the auditor comes in you – as the client services representative sitting in the sales department, for example – would be able to tell them about your OHS policies, and brief them on what continuous improvement you do in your area to meet the needs this management system.”

CSA executives say workplace safety is a key focus area of CSA’s first set of e-learning gaming apps for a very good reason.

“In Canada more than 315,000 workers reported lost time injury in 2007,” Novak noted. “That’s the size of a large Canadian city.” He said in the same year the Association of Workers Compensation Boards of Canada reported 1,055 fatalities.   

These numbers, he said, speak to the need for instruction on health and safety and work – a need that CSA’s e-learning tools meet in an engaging and effective way.

The changing profile of the Canadian worker is another reason why introducing e-learning games in the workplace makes so much sense, noted Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting

“Employees visualize scenarios so they can understand how to respond in case of an emergency.” – Michelle Warren

Warren’s Toronto-based firm helps firms harness technology to achieve key business goals.

She noted that the new generation entering the workforce is used to playing video games. “In fact, most people less than 40 years old in North America have been exposed to computer games at some level. And the generation entering the workforce now – the 25 years olds –are even more exposed.”

She said the ability of digital games to engage the players attention also make them great tools for workplace instruction.

She noted that – for a variety of reasons – many employees today many suffer from attention deficit disorder. “Interactive games would definitely help with information assimilation and retention.”

And when it comes to training in “onerous topics such as workplace safety” gaming can be a very effective way to communicate information, the consultant noted.

Warren said she’s attended and even conducted sessions on workplace safety. “The topic can be dry, but participants often need to visualize scenarios and interact with the information so they can understand how to respond in case of an emergency.”

She said this interactive environment is something video games definitely provide.

But CSA is also designing e-learning offerings for use in areas beyond emergency management or health and safety.

One of these – a CSA project in development – is for a social networking game dubbed TalentNet.

The free online game is based on a training model developed by Linda Manning, director of the Leveraging Immigrant Talent to Strengthen Canadian Business project.

The project is funded, in part, by Human Resources and Social Development Canada, and hosted at the University of Ottawa.

TalentNet – which will be officially launched on October 2 – is meant to assist employers and managers keep pace with the changing demographics of Canada’s workforce.

For instance, it would help them identify and harness the talent of employees, many of whom are immigrants.

“From their ranks will come tomorrow’s leaders, but their talent continues to be undervalued today,” said Gabriela Lopez, stakeholder relations specialist with the Leveraging Immigrant Talent project.

“It’s been said that when employees quit they don’t leave the company they leave a bad manager.” – Gabriela Lopez  

Lopez was a presenter at the CSA Standards event in Toronto.

She said when managers don’t recognize and value talent the company is the ultimate loser.

Managers, Lopez noted, are key to employee engagement and productivity.  “It’s been said that when employees quit they don’t leave the company they leave a bad manager.” 

TalentNet is designed to help managers recognize and empower employees from diverse cultural backgrounds.

To that end players must complete three missions with a multicultural team of characters. “The first is to engage employees by building their trust. The second, to conduct performance appraisals that recognize and value their talent. The third is to select high-potential employees for the company’s leadership development program.”

In the course of the game, Lopez said, the player learns about the cultural background of the characters and how to identify those destined for leadership.

Built into the game, she said, is a process that enables the manager to identify areas for improvement, set targets, and measure progress.

So for instance, before playing the game, the player enters a survey that identifies where they are with respect to their practice of certain qualities.

After completing the three missions, the player enters another survey.

“Three months later they would receive yet another survey to help them determine if they have changed their practices in the workplace,” Lopez noted.  “And that would be the proof of the learning experience.”

Driving some of the strongest capabilities of the e-learning program is a technology dubbed the “configuration management platform.” It was developed by Distil Interactive, the Ottawa-based e-learning firm whose IP and assets were recently purchased by CSA Standards.

This technology enables CSA to “develop relevant and client-focused learning scenarios, and to deliver the end product quickly,” said Don Wilford, managing director, centre of photonics, Ontario Centres of Excellence.

He said the “platform” also lets CSA take existing tools and broaden them to provide for their custom base.

Based in Toronto, OCE co-invests in co-invests the research and development of industrially relevant information and communications technologies. The Centre had provided $250,000 to support the launch of Distil Interactive (previously called i2 Learning). 

Another special feature of the configuration management platform is enables the performance of individual users of e-learning modules to be benchmarked against experts in the field.

“So you can provide instant personalized feedback on whether you’ve got it right.”

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