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Video games in business training? Don't reject the idea just yet

The ancient motto said “repetitio mater studiorum est” – repetition is the mother of learning. Back then, information was a very scarce commodity. Universities were few and far between and libraries did not exactly issue member cards. Valuable information needed to be stored in the all-time amazing filing system that is the human brain.

Today tiny humans begin their formal education at a very early age with the use of colorful cards, skillfully designed toys and the use of those wonderfully lovely nursery rhymes. Once they grow, they no longer need to remember large quantities of information because the growing digitization of everything makes it a breeze to instantly find out what the names of all Santa’s reindeer are or the estimated population of any city on the planet.

This is both a good and a bad thing. It’s good because basically information is power and being able to access it so easily and quickly has enormous benefits. The downside is that we are so overwhelmed by the amounts of stuff we read, see and hear that very little sticks and affects our capacity to discern what is important to remember.

Memory formation – an important part of learning

Furthermore, learning is not only about remembering pieces of information. As adults we need skills and competencies that develop starting from basic information but also need experimenting and practice in order to be perfected. Memory formation is of the utmost importance in the learning process and since technological advance has rendered us more dependent on our devices than on our own mind, practicing this skill we becomes imperative.

In middle school this is done by learning songs, poems and parts in the end of the year plays. Having to remember and reproduce lines and rhymes is a great way for the brain to train memory formation. But grown-ups don’t really dwell in such activities and as a result they get more and more forgetful.

They use apps that generate pop-ups and sounds to remind important things such as office meetings and project deadlines but even some menial ones like picking up milk on the way home or changing the cat’s litter box. These helpful reminders may keep things running smoothly in everyday life but they don’t do much in the lines of helping the brain create and store memories.

Luckily, there is one very popular activity that teenagers and adults engage in and that is highly beneficial for practicing memory: video gaming.

Statistics show that more than 200 million people in the United States play video games regularly. The average American gamer is a 33-year-old adult, with 80 percent of gamers aged 18 or older. And these people are in workplaces of all kinds.

Scientists have recently reviewed over one hundred studies conducted in this field and centralized the key findings. One of the most important findings was that video games alter both the way our brain behaves and its actual structure. One function that is obviously affected by video gaming is attention. The studies included in the review show that video game players display improvements in several types of attention, including sustained attention and selective attention. Furthermore, the regions of the brain that play a role in attention are more efficient in gamers compared with non-gamers, and they require less activation to stay focused on demanding tasks.

Evidence also demonstrates that playing video games increases the size and competence of parts of the brain responsible for visuospatial skills — a person's ability to identify visual and spatial relationships among objects. In long-term gamers and individuals who had volunteered to follow a video game training plan, the right hippocampus was enlarged.

Video games increase cognitive performance

Another positive outcome of engaging in video games is that they can greatly improve cognitive performance. Studies were conducted to quantify their use as brain fitness for the elderly. After 12 hours of training over the period of a month, study participants aged between 60 to 85 years improved performance on the game that surpassed that of individuals in their 20s playing the game for the first time.

Moreover, two other significant cognitive areas were improved: working memory and sustained attention. These skills were maintained 6 months after completion of their training. "The finding is a powerful example of how plastic the older brain is.", says Dr. Adam Gazzaley, Ph.D., UCSF associate professor of neurology, physiology and psychiatry and director of the Neuroscience Imaging Center. He also notes that it is encouraging that even a little brain training can reverse some of the brain decline that occurs with age.

And L&D professionals should care about all this because...

There is much more to be learned about the effects video games have on brain function and player behavior. It is however already very clear that apart from their entertaining value video games are a present-day solution to our dwindling attention span and fading memory.

Learning specialists need to keep up with the evolving technology and the changes in learner preference. Video games are easily incorporated in e-learning programs and have the capacity to greatly boost engagement and results.

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