Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Learning Lessons from Black Ops 2

by Jonathan Shoaf

As a boy growing up in a neighborhood full of kids, I understood the importance of a challenge. A challenge is where you put all your skills to use to beat an opponent. The challenge pushes you beyond your current skill level. It is something to prepare for and something to learn from. In my days the challenges involved things like throwing rocks, wrestling, and bicycle racing. Today, multiplayer video games are a more likely place to find millions engaged in a challenge against their fellow man.

“to boost my performance and become more valuable to my team”
Recently while playing one of these multiplayer video games it occurred to me that I learn the game for the same reasons I learn at work--to boost my performance and become more valuable to my team. I started to think about how I learn in the game. I quickly realized that there are many similarities between learning to excel at a multiplayer video game and learning to excel on the job. There are lessons here.

For a point of comparison, I've chosen the game Black Ops 2. This is a first person military battle game that is the latest iteration of the acclaimed Call of Duty franchise. The Call of Duty games have been the top selling video games for the past few years. For those unfamiliar with the multiplayer game, it's basically a game where you try get a higher score than the opposing team. You do this by gaining points every time you defeat an enemy player. Player ability and teamwork both come in play in order to win the game.

Here are some of the lessons that can be taken from Black Ops 2.

People don't have time for learning

In Black Ops 2 you are given a weapon and a countdown and suddenly you are in the midst of a fight. Stop to figure things out and you'll quickly be defeated. When the match is over, you have about one minute to lick your wounds and consider how you would do it differently next time. But the next match brings a different challenge and a different competitor. You don't have time to practice what you just learned.

The same is true on the job. Most people get thrown into a job and are asked to start performing. Even if an employee goes through some amount of formal training, they are still not completely prepared when they get started. An instructional designer may prescribe job aids or electronic performance support systems to those with limited time for formal learning.

Leverage mistakes as teachable moments

With so little time, how do you learn in Black Ops 2? The answer is real world teachable moments. The Call of Duty franchise has provided a simple moment of learning that every player is exposed to. It's called the Kill Cam. Each time you are defeated you get to see a replay of how the enemy defeated you. You learn their technique and can use it against other opponents. Skip the Kill Cam and you miss a potentially valuable lesson.

Well, most of us don't have the equivalent of a Kill Cam on the job. The closest learning tool to that may be to use coaching. A supervisor can bring in an employee after making a mistake and coach them on what do differently next time. Learning from our mistakes is what all of us animal-types do. Do you have a plan to leverage mistakes as teachable moments?

Talking to people makes a difference

On most gaming systems Black Ops 2 players have the ability to communicate with each other through voice chat. You can learn a lot from more experienced players. For example, you can share strategy for a particular situation against an enemy. Players can teach each other the best places to defend and score points against an enemy. You can also ask questions to other players who are often very forthcoming with their knowledge. Why won't my Dragon Fly deploy? The other player may know the answer.

Talking to people makes a difference on the job too. Just like in a game, some people are afraid to speak up and ask questions. As learning professionals, we should help setup environments for sharing. Examples of this may include apprentice/master relationships or social media and other knowledge sharing opportunities. Coach supervisors to set expectations that their employees should communicate and learn from each other.

There are some things that only experience can teach

You can understand all the weapons, all the support packages, and the rules of the game; but, when you step on the battlefield its not always apparent what to do next. Playing Black Ops 2 means you have to learn to adjust to unpredictable playing styles and situations that only experience will teach you how to handle. It's one thing to walk through a jungle with teammates with no signs of opponents. It's a completely different experience to walk through when you've heard a sniper up in the trees and you see another opponent coming down the path in front of you and you realize no teammates are there to support you. Another thing experience will teach you is to not stay in the same spot too long. Remember that Kill Cam? Opponents learn too.

Learning from experience is true on the job as well. An employee may know all the facts, but until they've handled a variety of situations over time, they'll still be lagging in performance to more experienced employees. Having newer employees partner with more experienced employees is one way to share some of the experience. However, there's not an easy substitute for true individual experience.

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