What Computer-based Training is Getting Wrong

I have a confession:  I became a game designer because I had been subjected to so many bad computer-based training programs when I was a naval officer.   I felt that there had to be something Keith and I could do to make training better, more engaging, and maybe even …. enjoyable.

The military and government training programs that looked like games actually fall under a classification of “Gamification” — they’re not games at all.  I walked away from these feeling frustrated and utterly patronized; I had to spend an hour sitting at the computer clicking through a childishly portrayed scenario to get my certificate so I could say I was properly “Trained” on the topic.

However, I have realized why so many of these training platforms are failing military and government personnel, and how game-based training has the potential to create true learning outcomes for adult learners in this workspace.

The key to this is the fact that we have to take into account that we are training adults, not children.  As a result, we should be using the principles of andragogy in the design of these training programs, not pedagogy.  Everyone uses the term pedagogy when referring to learning; however adults learn in a much different way than children.

And, the way that adults learn actually lends itself to game-based learning better than the way that children learn.

Let me break it down for you:  first, let me highlight the differences between pedagogy and andragogy; then I will align andragogy to the traits of games, and how they operate.


So you can see that adult learners are more intrinsically motivated, and can self-evaluate their learning.  However, in order for adult training to have these traits, the material must focus on problem-solving,  discussion, and experiential learning.

To go back to my vignette at the beginning of this post, that is exactly where computer-based training is failing the modern work force today.  When training is didactic, it is patronizing to an adult.  

And, that’s where game-based training comes in.  Games have the following five traits:

  • Games have the following five characteristics: a goal, rules, implements, a feedback system and voluntary participation. They immerse the player in a fictional game world that he/she must prescribe to in order to play.
  • Games are participatory: they provide players with agency and volition.
  • Games are about problem-solving: they put players in ambitious and uncomfortable situations.
  • Games provide safe spaces for experimentation, creativity and ingenuity; failure is part of the process in a game in the attainment of the ultimate goal and win-state.
  • Games are autotelic.

So how are games better at teaching adults?  Let me break it down for you:


So why are many  computer-based training solutions failing to engage personnel?  Because they’re using pedagogical structures as the basis for their training.  As a result, learners feel patronized.  They feel like computer-based training and by association, game-based-training, is useless and ineffective.

But by embracing andragogical principles in the instructional design in REAL game-based training, instead of a “Gamified” PowerPoint presentation teaching through didactic principles, professional enterprises will be much more effective in engaging their workforce in computer-based training.

If you want to read more on andragogy, there are a couple great books you need to read:


Kimberly Himmer is a retired U.S. Navy Commander, and a designer and developer of serious games.  She has led teams of 3 – 300 personnel, and has worked for NATO and the Canadian Government during her career as a U.S. Naval Intelligence Officer and Surface Warfare Officer.  She is also a former Naval Academy English Literature professor, and the recipient of the 2016   Military Faculty Teaching Excellence Award and William P. Clements Award in Education.  You can read more about her background on the About Us  page, or look her up on LinkedIn.      


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