E-approaches to training adopt Information and Communication Technology (ICT) to deliver or enhance the delivery of training programmes. This includes educational technology used to facilitate learning on-site (e.g. use of multimedia tools such as instant class surveys, video’s etc); to complement on-site learning with further materials to support learners to digest the lessons learned, develop core competencies, and practice or collaborate with fellow learners; or to create fully virtual learning environments where the overall learning, training and interaction is carried out online (distance learning).
Additionally, organisations working with e-approaches have demonstrated a commitment to use developments in the ICT world to progress the CPPB field forward. For instance, through the development of Web 2.0 technologies, apps, virtual spaces, and crowdsourced data, several platforms and functionalities with relevance to learning and training have emerged.
There is no ‘one’ way in which an organisation approaches training and learning through using electronic methods. Instead, organisations which adopt e-approaches to training use various forms of ‘e-learning’ programmes, tools, and supportive elements. These shall be explored below.
Organisations may use e-approaches as a means of course delivery. Courses can be organised for different audiences, dependent on the target audience of the organisation. This includes:
- Online courses for practitioners/mission staff
- Self-learning free online courses
- Payed online courses for practitioners and interest groups
Here, there is variation as to extent to which these courses are linked to on-site delivery where participants are in the same physical environment as the trainer. We categorise three differen approaches here:
Blended Learning - Blended learning is an educational approach that combines both traditional learning on-site and online digital media and it is applied in the educational environment as well as in training settings. The combination of both approaches can happen in different forms and varies from one educational or training context to another.
Computer based training (CBT) - one of the most traditional eLearning forms involves the use of traditional devices such as a CD, DVD or MP3 devices that play multimedia. Other more recent additions in this category of training include tablets and smartphones than enable playing / teaching software programs or applications. Common uses of traditional CBT include learning languages, computer programmers or other fields that involve static learning processes. CBT may also involve assessment processes in the form of multiple choice questions, drag and drop menus etc. Smartphone applications and tables are the latest innovations in this category and are currently gaining popularity in the overall eLearning field, giving birth to the term m-Learning (m = mobile). The common factor among these tools is the learner sitting alone and digesting pre-defined information, which constitutes a point of criticism for the lack of interaction with other learners or instructors.
Fully online learning - Full-time online learning implies courses that are fully conducted online. Online courses can differ in both the technologies and methodologies used, the objectives of learning and audience characteristics. An interesting evolution in online learning over the last decade has been the rise of free education and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs)
As stated above, E-approaches demonstrate a commitment to utilising technological advances in the ICT world in order to enhance training programmes. This incorporates a commitment to using a series of tools:
- Wikis and Knowledge hubs – user-generated resources which provide a rich source of data on a chosen topic
- Interactive maps - based on crowd-sourced features which can help field practitioners acquire a better understanding of a particular deployment zone
- Peace Indexes - which seek to model intensity of conflict, development need, or security (amongst others) to help field practitioners better understand the nature and intensity of conflict in the area they are deployed or working on
- Serious games and simulations - designed to engage students with ‘real world’ situations and experiences using game-play to educate and develop understanding and capabilities
Backing this up, e-approaches can be complemented by a range of supportive elements to assist training participants. This includes links to broader networks (through search engines), online toolboxes which contain key subject resources, links to bodies and policy which define a particular set of standards or benchmarks, and interactive fora which fosters interaction between trainers and participants, and facilitate engagement between participants themselves.
Expansion of the training field - With the expansion of ICT approaches on a global level, institutes with a commitment to e-approaches are at the forefront of exposing CPPB training to new audiences, and reflecting experiences, knowledge, case studies, and particular CPPB interventions to a wider-range of learners including both current and future practitioners and professionals in the field. The flow of information is not only in one direction, with those practitioners and professionals being given the opportunity to test such ideas, receive feedback on their own experiences, and enhance the overall level of understanding of CPPB.
Collaboration across boundaries - Interactive tools, including online discussion fora, social media, and communication apps can enhance the ability for participants in CPPB training to be linked across boundaries, and almost removes limits related to geography. As e-approaches develop, the use of ‘virtual worlds’ will become increasingly commonplace. Such online environments will facilitate communities of practice – a key professional learning and competency development approach in the field – when practitioner learners are separated across distances.
Standardisation across boundaries - In CPPB, a result of increasing organisational adoption of e-approaches could lead to there being greater chance that standards in the field spread across national boundaries. This is important if there exists a desire to achieve standardisation of training in areas such as pre-deployment training for military. An example here is the uptake of ‘sector-wide content management systems’. This refers to dedicated knowledge management and learning systems for a specific organisation / agency, sector (e.g. early warning, crisis management, gender and peacebuilding), mission or ‘whole-of-the-field’ in a specific conflict/CPPB context. This would involve identification of the key ‘content’ relevant for knowing-learning-retaining-diffusing and the systems for knowledge management and learning.
Safe place to make mistakes and learn - Tools that are used by organisations engaged in e-approaches, such as ‘serious games’ and ‘virtual worlds’ allow users to repeat scenarios to allow them the opportunity to explore possible consequences of alternative decisions that they make. To some extent this can be done in case studies and in simulations, but the costs and time taken to repeat scenarios with real-life role-players is greater than if undertaken in an online environment.
Courses ‘on demand’ - Courses can potentially be undertaken at the convenience of the learner, as opposed to being part of a timetable as defined by a training organisation. This can benefit a whole range of potential learners, from individuals employed to a CPPB mission at relatively short notice, to those who are taking the training alongside a full time profession, to those engaged in the field and wish to freshen up knowledge.
Cost: E-approaches are dependent on the level to which the ‘end user’ can afford the equipment to engage adequately. What could be considered as being a relatively cheap mobile handset or computer terminal in one part of the world, could be prohibitively expensive in another. Therefore when planning to use e-approaches, the extent to which a target audience can adequately afford to engage with the training should be borne in mind.
Reach: similar to the point above, the level of internet access that potential training participants have differs greatly. Whilst high speed broadband internet is an everyday aspect of life in some countries, in others internet speeds will be slower and less reliable. Additionally, different countries may have different regulations governing internet access.
E-approaches can be labour intensive: as outlined in the PeaceTraining.eu report on novelty, the introduction of new systems requires capacities amongst organisations in order to make them function efficiently. To use a medical analogy, a new x-ray machine in a hospital will place additional pressures on the hospital in terms of hiring skilled staff to both use and maintain the machine (in event of any technological problems). If organisations engage in more advanced forms of e-approaches, then it is logical to ask if the organisation has sufficient back-up capacities.
Issues to consider if using it in CPPB training: E-approaches have considerable potential in enhancing the work that is undertaken in the CPPB field. There is little doubt that as ICT spreads across the globe, the potential for CPPB training providers to reach new audiences will increase. Increasing dialogue across borders also has the potential to enhance a type of elective approach whereby ‘established’ approaches to CPPB are tested by participants from the conflict zones themselves. This is significant as those who once may not have been able to physically attend CPPB training (due to cost, or logistics) will now have access. Additionally, an approach using an online fora may also encourage the training coordinator to act as a facilitator. Those who are at the forefront of development with regards to e-approaches will better understand how ICT can better replicate more traditional approaches that sees participants in the same room, facilitated by a trainer. ‘Virtual worlds’, Serious games, and even more interactive approaches through using apps and social media offer new channels of communication which will challenge the primacy of traditional approaches as being the ‘only’ way in which competencies are developed. However, there is still much to be said for ‘traditional’ approaches whereby participants are physically share the same space, and those approaches identified as being at the forefront of the field only represent a small part of e-approaches. In terms of developing competencies, skills, and knowledge, the question of using e-approaches is not so much ‘how can e-approaches replace traditional forms of training?’, but ’how can e-approaches be incorporated into existing training frameworks to enhance the learning experience for the target participants?’
- Fischer Marcus, Winkelmann Axel, Heim David (2017) Improving Concepts of E-Learning by Using ERP Systems for an Interactive Knowledge Diffusion, Springer International Publishing AG Lothridge, Karen; et al. (2013). "Blended learning: efficient, timely, and cost effective". Journal for Forensic Sciences.
- Mayes, T. and de Freitas, S (2013), Review of e-learning theories, frameworks and models., CURVE Minhong Wang, Weijia Ran, Jian Liao and Stephen J.H. Yang (2010) Educational Technology & Society A Performance-Oriented Approach to E-Learning in the Workplace NATO e-Learning Concept, 2014
Wikis and Knowledge Hubs
A Learning Management System (LMS) is a software application which allows training providers and trainers to communicate efficiently with course users through ICT technology. An LMS consist of a web platform through which registered users can get access to course materials uploaded by providers. Users can access content including text documents (Word, pdf), audio-visual materials or online quizzes and surveys. An LMS can also foster communication and interaction between course users and providers and directly between course users with each other. Users can receive alerts when new content is uploaded and can often also contact providers directly with questions and upload assignments through the system. Communication between users is often stimulated by means of a course forum. Major providers of LMS worldwide include SumTotal Systems, Blackboard, Cornerstone OnDemand, NetDimensions, Moodle and Canvas. Many limited free options exist (e.g. Blackboard, Moodle), but may include hidden costs, restricted features etc. Furthermore, when using free software, you cannot always charge fees yourself for the course.
LMS can be used in the framework of blended learning, which combines online with face-to-face/classroom learning, or for fully online courses.
Major training providers in the CPPB field make use of their own Learning Management Systems. The European Security and Defense College (ESDC) hosts its courses on the ILIAS platform, UNITAR uses the learnatunitar.org platform, the Peace Operations Training Institute (POTI) also has its own online classroom platform. In the humanitarian sector, the learning platform of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Society is worth mentioning.
There are clear benefits of LMS in CPPB Training. For a blended course, they allow course providers and users to communicate effectively and efficiently on practical and content-related matters pertaining to the course. Additional materials (documents, videos, podcasts etc.) allow users to study and reflect on learning material outside of the classroom at their own pace, or can be used as preparatory materials before the start of a course or for post-training follow-up. Features such as quizzes, surveys and forums allow for a degree of interaction with the material and between users and trainer. Features such as view and progress tracking can also allow trainers and teachers to identify users which show signs of problems with the learning material and devote extra attention to them.
For fully online courses, the LMS provides similar benefits. The difference is that as users and trainer no longer meet in a single physical space setting, the LMS must accommodate to all forms of communication between user and provider. Besides uploading learning material content, its interactive features can become more important to support interaction and the development of a learning community. Such features can include, for instance, meeting through 'avatars' in a virtual classroom and interacting through video chat.
While LMS provide easy ways of communication between user and provider, they are not always used in a way that is conducive for interaction between users and between users and trainers, in particular in the CPPB field. Indeed, discussion boards are too often seen as the predominant tool for interaction, yet many are left unused in practice. This is also the case for UNITAR, ESDC, and POTI, for instance. This low usage and lack of interaction is especially important for fully online courses which are often considered ‘boring’ by existing solely out of pdf documents and slides etc. These types of contents can also be termed passive content and, while necessary, can overburden participants and lead to attention deficits. This is why it is recommended to supplant passive content with active content in the form of quizzes, or blogging exercises, wikis, online gaming and simulations, and virtual classroom models with real time or video interaction with an online trainer/facilitator.
Nonetheless, it is important to emphasize that the system requirements of LMS must also be take into account. As a general rule, the more features that are installed, the higher the costs and requirements (-operating system as well as Internet speed) of an LMS. Hence it can be important to carefully analyse which features are needed for the target audience. In the CPPB field, this can be particularly important when considering users in developing countries where access to technology and Internet can be very difficult. In these situations, focusing on the ‘essentials’ might take priority over active and creative content. This approach appears to be taken by UNITAR and POTI, for instance. Furthermore, mobile phones are increasingly important in developing as well as developed countries, hence LMS should be compatible with mobile phone systems. As an example, it is worth mentioning that PATRIR, in cooperation with Conciliation Resources, is developing courses that can be taken in the field via WhatsApp as it's more accessible and requires lower data usage.
The first question you should ask is whether you and your organization need an LMS. Some fully online courses actually do not require having an LMS (e.g. ENTRi’s e-learning courses on Inter-Cultural Competence), for instance. If an LMS is necessary, the choice for free online software versus purchased software generally depends on the number of courses which will be hosted, the number of users, the price of the course you want to offer, and the features of free versus purchased software (as well as customer support). In some cases, your organization will need specialized software to comply with organizational privacy/security regulations. These cases require software to be designed in-house or via specialized contracts.
Before deciding on the features of the LMS, it is important to study and consult target audiences as well as training or teaching staff. Determining the learning needs of target participants as well as their technological background and context is crucial to make an informed decision on LMS features. As mentioned, many users benefit from active content designed to support interaction with the learning material and the other course users in the form of quizzes, surveys, chat fora, blogging, or virtual classrooms. These forms of active content can be synchronous (users participate in the course at the same time) or asynchronous (users participate in the course at different times). A virtual classroom requires synchronous learning, for example. On the other hand, however, such features might be too complex either from the perspective of system and internet requirements as user experience with technological learning environments.
You should also consult with training staff on the features they would or are most likely to use to make an informed cost/benefit analysis. If trainers are mostly concerned with blended learning modules, active content might be less important, and the focus could lie principally on passive content (documents, video’s, links) – a standard feature of LMS. However, if trainers wish to make more extensive use of the potential of LMS in evaluations, student tracking, and fostering interaction, more elaborate features are required. Keep in mind that the full potential of an LMS which allows for the introduction of a range of interactive features might also require additional training of staff. The market for LMS software is relatively broad and multiple options exist. Ask for packages and explanations from a range of companies and check with colleagues in the field on their experiences.
- Du, Z., Fu, X., Zhao, C., Liu, Q., and Liu, T. (2013). Interactive and collaborative e-learning platform with integrated social software and learning management system. In W. Lu, G. Cai, W. Liu, and W. Xing (eds.), Proceedings of the 2012 International Conference on Information Technology and Software Engineering, Lecture Notes in Electrical Engineering 212 (pp.11-18). Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013
- ENTRI online courses (no LMS) www.entriforccm.eu
Online courses can differ in both the technologies and methodologies used, the learning objectives, and the target audiences. Traditional online courses are usually available to a limited audience of registered users and involve online materials in the form of texts, slides, infographics and videos. The learning method is usually linear but may also offer the opportunity to jump from one lesson to another. Some of the most traditional or first-generation eLearning forms include slide-sharing and limited texts. With the evolution of technology, videos, chat rooms, online-gaming and multi-player simulations, and other interactive materials have become more commonly used.
It is possible to distinguish between two broad types of course formats:
- Self-paced courses (asynchronous) are courses in which the material can be accessed at a time of the individual participant’s choice. The assessment method may be through multiple choice questions, drag and drop menus etc. and the certificate can be acquired at any time.
- Instructor-paced courses (synchronous) have a definite starting and ending date and are facilitated by an instructor who takes the audience through all lessons in a linear way. The assessment methods can be a combination of multiple choice questions and open parts (essays) which are evaluated by the instructor at the end of the term.
Learning Management Systems (e.g. Blackboard) are used to distribute learning materials to course participants and to facilitate trainer-trainee communication.
Training institutions in the Conflict Prevention and Peace Building (CPPB) field are increasingly investigating the potential of e-learning applications, and developing online learning platforms, course modules, and participant evaluation systems. The European Security and Defence College (ESDC), a network college responsible for training personnel deployed to Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions, uses the ILIAS e-learning platform for its courses as well as several online training modules or Autonomous Knowledge Units. In addition, several online courses have been developed through the ENTRi project, which was funded by the European Commission’s Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace. The United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) and the Peace Operations Training Institute (POTI) also offer a wide range of online courses on UN (peacekeeping) activities. Most online courses in the CPPB field have an asynchronous format.
Nonetheless, there are also examples of instructor-paced courses in CPPB training. The United States Institute for Peace has recently launched instructor-led online courses, for instance. Protection International, an NGO focusing on the protection of human rights defenders runs a regular instructor-led e-learning course. While smaller NGOs and civil society actors might fear that they have insufficient or unstable funding for such technological adaptations, the latter example also shows that e-learning can also be a tool for smaller NGOs, and that by offering more personal, instructor-led courses important additional values can be added. Furthermore, they can offer courses through available platforms instead of creating own web platforms (see LMS).
The main rationale for the increasing use of ICT approaches in CPPB training is cost-efficiency as e-learning modules, once developed, can be distributed over a wider geographical and temporal scale. In blended learning formats, participants can also follow several course modules online prior to learning in a classroom setting. This approach reduces the number of training days required.
- Given that the number of international staff involved in CPPB missions has been steadily increasing since the end of the Cold War, this also raises questions with regard to the sustainable training and professionalization of this increasingly specialized sector. As professional short-term training (4-10 days) can already be very expensive, CPPB staff often lacks training and goes into the field relatively unprepared. This can, of course, have consequences for the effectiveness of staff in the field. Online courses can bring more cost-effectiveness to the field. Although e-learning systems and courses can have significant start-up costs, in the long-term they can prove to be more cost-effective than short-term trainings requiring high travel costs on participants and their organizations.
- The above advantages also have the potential effect of broadening participation to peace training by providing opportunities to people from the developing world or less affluent groups of society to enhance their competencies.
- Participants can access the course from different locations, and if the course is asynchronous, at different time periods. This allows for flexibility in time and training management.
- Online courses can also support on the job training as participants can access the course while being in the field (if computer and internet facilities are sufficient). This is beneficial as it allows 'real time' application to their work which 'on-site' trainings often don't. They can practice things and then come back to the course and get further support.
- Online courses can also allow for sustained engagement of participants across different sectors and countries. Some on-site courses allow this for a short duration but do not necessarily have the sustained engagement made possible by online courses.
- Relatively basic materials, e.g. basic safety training or basic level training in conflict analysis, can be covered through standardized online courses, helping participants get to more advanced levels for on-site training.
A number of weaknesses can be associated with online courses in the CPPB field, however:
- The first challenge associated with e-learning is related to costs. Although costs are expected to be lower than face-to-face learning over time, developing learning systems and online courses can require high initial costs. Software requires regular updates and changes, which bring additional costs. E-learning course modules require updates if the content is to remain relevant for new users. For example, factual knowledge on EU crisis management structures requires updates in the light of changing legislation and operations. Even something as simple as website links need to be monitored and checked. Courses can eventually save money because learning software and online courses are available for extended periods of time. Development of an e-learning course is often dependent on the audience one expects to reach with the course, which should be large enough, but also whether the content is relatively robust to changes in the political, legislative, and operational landscape.
- • A second issue besides costs concerns access to e-learning. As internet availability is a common requirement, personnel already deployed in missions do not always have ready access to online platforms and materials. In general, for practitioners from developing countries it can be more difficult to acquire the knowledge base necessary to function effectively in the field. In order to ensure the availability of learning platforms for target groups with varying access to internet and technology, learning tools sometimes have to be adapted and simplified so that they depend on only minimal system requirements and connectivity. Innovations in the use of WhatsApp as a platform for e-learning courses have helped to address some of the challenges associated with use of data intensive systems.
- Thirdly, online courses should be able to reach participants with varying degrees of technological knowhow, This means that learning systems and courses should be user-friendly and intuitive or risk losing user engagement.
- A fourth challenges concerns the levels of learning one can achieve with online courses. Often such courses only relate factual information on EU or UN structures, key declaration or treaties etc. While critical notes can be made in the course text or via videos, podcasts etc. these courses do not always develop critical reflection on CPPB practices. Furthermore, it can be difficult (though not impossible) to train skills and develop attitudes via such means. More advanced online courses integrating use of full immersion and in-depth simulations can help to address this and represent a significant advance in the field, but require good internet connectivity and may not always be as accessible.
- The factual knowledge often contained in online courses also has implications for self-evaluation methods. The most common method is a multiple choice quiz for the user to test his or her knowledge. Many questions just require basic remembering of course texts, however. Moreover, information can be copy-pasted or put up on a different screen, which makes the final test score not always that reliable. This can also give rise to accusations of ‘certificate-hopping’ , with course participants simply clicking ‘next’ on the pages of the course, trying the test a couple of times and/or cheating, but at the same time collecting certificates for their CVs.
- Finally, online learning often remains an individual exercise. Learning platforms distribute material for course users and can enhance communication between trainer and trainees, but communication between participants is often minimal. Even if learning platforms provide fora for users to engage in discussion, these are not always actively used. Online courses are commonly used on an individual basis and rarely require group work. Hence, many current online courses do not follow the principles of adult learning. This is mostly a question of design, however, as techniques exist to make online learning more collaborative.
Designing an online course is strongly tied to the capacities of your Learning Management System, and hence both are preferably thought out together. Furthermore, an online course – whether fully online or part of a blended format- must be based on a clear design in its curriculum and defined learning objectives based on the needs of the field. The crucial question in designing an online course is whether the course will be asynchronous or synchronous or a combination of the two. An asynchronous course can be easier to manage as once developed relatively little time and effort has to be put in supporting the course: it remains available to registered users to be accessed at a time and place of their convenience. Synchronous courses are more difficult to manage as they require students to follow lectures in a timely manner and respect assignment deadlines. The costs are higher, because one or more online facilitators are required, as well as (guest) lecturer(s) if the class is based on video-lectures (although these can be reused in later cycles of the course). While management costs are higher, synchronous courses can be better to support collaborative learning and to reach higher levels of learning.
For asynchronous courses, the following guidelines can be offered:
- As the course is mostly based on content put online, ensure variations in the type of learning materials offered: PowerPoint and pdf files can be used, but are preferably also accompanied by video’s, podcast, and/or small interactive elements like quizzes and discussion forums to ensure sufficient variation and avoid attention deficits.
- When using interactive elements such as quizzes, make sure that they are not considered too simple or redundant by the audience. If this is the case, leaving them out might be the better option.
- When working with reading material, offer a print-out view as some participants find it difficult to follow on a screen for too long.
- Add an audio explanation of the course material together with reading material (e.g. slides) to reach multiple senses of the participants and foster better learning.
- Adapt language to a non-expert audience. Often courses in the CPPB field are based on policy documents, legal texts, or academic articles. The language used in these types of texts can be difficult for some users, especially non-native speakers. Hence, adapting language and concretizing statements as much as possible can foster learning and avoid participants passing quizzes by simply remembering the right order of words in a statement.
- Similarly, ensure variation in how questions and statements in quizzes are presented. Note that varying them from the text in the course can evaluate participants’ understanding better.
- While a forum can be offered to foster communication between participants, these tools are often left unused and finding outdated comments etc. to which no one replies does not provide a positive learning atmosphere. It can hence be recommended for a training facilitator to regularly check the forum and respond to comments (e.g. by becoming an online moderator).
- As the visual environment forms the core of the course, make sure that the lay-out is user-friendly and appealing.
- Evaluate the online course by using a test audience and make adaptations based on feedback.
- Add view trackers to evaluate the course and analyse which parts participants skip or when they drop out to adapt the course.
- Add limits to the number of times participants can take the final test consecutively to avoid simple guessing and remembering. It is also possible to allow participants to take the test only when a certain amount of time has passed to support actual individual-based learning of the material.
- Include an evaluation of the course by participants in a survey format (with closed and/or open questions) to improve your course further.
For synchronous courses, some of the above guidelines still apply. Additional ones to be taken into account are the following:
- As management of a synchronous course can be difficult, start out with a smaller audience and gradually scale up in new cycles of the course.
- Ensure the training team is well-prepared and experienced in online training, and that sufficient trainers/facilitators are available to respond to student questions and correct assignments.
- Fully make use of the opportunities of synchronous learning by including more complex task assignments (e.g. essays).
- Similarly, foster collaborative learning by allowing questions and answers during video lectures, by fostering communication between participants in fora and chat rooms by taking up the role of a moderator in an online community, or by introducing collaborative and participatory assignments in a virtual classroom.
- Keep into account that technological requirements for a synchronous course are more demanding and require rigorous testing, evaluation, and adaptation.
- Stephen Downes, “Connectivism and Connective Knowledge", 2011
- Badrul H. Khan and Mohamed Ally (2015). The International handbook of E-learning, Volumes I and II. Routledge.
- Rehrl, Jochen; Taitto, Petteri. Pre-deployment Elearning for CSDP missions/operations. The International Scientific Conference eLearning and Software for Education; Bucharest Vol. 1, : 483-486. Bucharest: "Carol I" National Defence University. (2015)
- Rehrl, Jochen. Eeducation and Etraining: challenges and trends in crisis management and security and defence. The International Scientific Conference eLearning and Software for Education; Bucharest Vol. 1, : 11-16. Bucharest: "Carol I" National Defence University. (2016)
Games or virtual simulations – both concepts are used as synonyms here - are often associated with entertainment and spare time activities. Nonetheless, the educational and training world has increasingly looked at games as a tool to achieve particular learning objectives and “serious games” have been created for educational/training purposes. These may still retain significant entertainment value or qualities which make them attractive and engaging for participants, however. In fact, this can actually increase learning and instill positive attitudes towards gaming and simulations as a means of improving capabilities. Different types of educational games exist and can serve different purposes. While games can transfer knowledge, they are also focused on skills development by placing players in virtual situations based on real-world scenarios allowing them to test and adapt behaviour based on responses on their actions.
Games can have different formats, including single-player games, multiple player games in which a limited number of players are present on the same location, or multiplayer online games which can accommodate to a large number of players accessing the game from various locations. The latter can also be called Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) or Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG). Games can be linear in the sense that the players go through a scenario determined by the game and with little freedom of choice in the sequence of actions or stages of the game taken or they can be non-linear allowing more freedom of action and sequencing to the players. Between linear and non-linear lies a continuum of possibilities. While games are often associated with violence and competition, they can also be non-violent and cooperative. Games and simulations may range from very basic level interactions to full immersion experiences.
Games and virtual simulations have only recently made their way to training in the field of CPBB. It is necessary here to make a distinction between military and civilian training. For military training, gaming and simulations have been increasingly used in recent decades. Importantly, however, there has been little focus on the use of gaming for peacebuilding and prevention, with military application primarily focused towards preparing soldiers for active combat situations. The U.S. army has funded several games for training purposes and important cross-overs have been made with entertainment games such as Doom, Quake, and Call of Duty. As CPPB has brought troops to previously unknown locations and terrain, such novel features have also been accommodated in games. The virtual Afghanistan village was designed for NATO training needs in Afghanistan, for instance, and replicates the entire map and geographical terrain of Afghanistan, while also providing a detailed virtual village to operate in. Not all games designed for military training are combat-related. For instance, the CultureShock Afghanistan game is designed to improve inter-cultural competences by placing players in the role of an Afghan village elder.
For civilian training, games are not yet commonly used. MissionReady has used game elements to prepare humanitarian workers for the field. The Gaming for Peace (GAP) project, funded by the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, is developing a game which aims to support the development of soft skills (trust, empathy, intercultural negotiation, diplomacy) for personnel operating in multilateral CPPB missions. Several organisations, in particular Search for Common Ground, have also pioneered use of games for promoting CPPB skills, knowledge and attitudes in countries they work in, such as Cedaria Blackout developed for Lebanon. Another interesting gaming application is Mission Zhobia, which brings players to a fictional country where the rule of law needs to be developed. The learning objectives of the game include conflict analysis, identifying stakeholder perspectives, building trust, engaging stakeholders, and adapting to unforeseen peacebuilding challenges.
Gaming is increasingly being combined with video lessons and ‘briefing’ tutorials, sometimes delivered through Avatars, and participant-based reflection and debriefing exercises and gaming experiences which can help to improve the learning and retention value of gaming for CPPB training.
- While game design has substantial start-up costs (see below), in the long-term it can be more cost-effective. Especially in military training, games can allow for real-world experiences while sparing great costs for equipment and travel. Yet this is also the case for more civilian applications. While online courses are often less effective in skills-training in comparison to face-to-face training, games can fill this important skills-development gap, while being accessible to a large number of people over time and space
- Moreover, while role-play and simulation are good methods to develop skills in face-to-face settings, a trainer or facilitator does not always have a good control over the flow of the simulation regardless of a well-prepared scenario as the actions of the other players are not always predictable. Especially in single-player games, the developer/training provider has more control over the reaction of the game to the player and hence has more certainty over the accomplishment of the learning objectives. This can also help to test and prepare trainees for how they will respond in a wide range of contexts they may face in the field - and be able to learn and improve their performance in the relatively safe context of the game
- Games which are well-designed and create an enjoyable learning experience for participants may also increase frequency of participant engagement, enabling them to continually develop and improve core skills and knowledge
- The start-up costs of a serious game can be substantial. For instance, the GAP project is funded at around 2 million euro for research and development. Nonetheless, costs can be far lower when building on existing platforms such as Second Life, for example
- Another challenge is ensuring the game is sufficiently realistic as well as complex. A game which is too easy/straightforward will not challenge players, and indeed, it is exactly this challenge which makes learning possible (e.g. through multiple iterations of the game). A game that is not sufficiently realistic or does not fit players experiences and expectations can also lead to disengagement and failure to accomplish the learning objectives
- The game should allow for sufficient variations and adaptations. To be cost-effective, the technology should allow for expansions to accommodate new developments in the CPPB field or organizational context
- It is important to address the possible ‘transfer hurdle’ as participants need to be able to apply knowledge and skills developed in gaming into the ‘real world’. This is not always easy and games or further coaching, training and in-the-job/on-the-job support should address this to avoid possible dangers with assumed capabilities - developed through gaming - that might not actually be operational on the ground / in context
- The quality of the design of the game is crucial for its success. The learning objectives of the game must first be clearly spelt out, however, and a credible and relevant scenario developed. The scenario describes the tasks of the player(s), the choices/issues they face, their possible actions, and the consequences of their actions. The learning objectives are primarily skills-based
- The type of game (single-player/multiple-player) is also important. While single-player games offer more control over the flow of the game, multiple player games can support collaborative learning, and perhaps in themselves instill certain soft skills through player cooperation. Mediation role-plays, conflict analysis exercises, and designing of peacebuilding interventions are exercises that could potentially be rediscovered in online multiplayer gaming formats. Such exercises can help people look at conflicts from different perspectives (according to the role they take up) and stimulate interagency cooperation and coordination (different stakeholders working together on a task)
- While the flow and objectives of the game are crucial from a content perspective, technological possibilities and requirements should be carefully analyzed and thought out together with the scenario
- In the same vain, it is important to be well-informed on development and running costs of the game as short-cuts because funding runs out clearly jeopardize the quality of the game
- This also includes ensuring sufficient time for pilot testing and adaptation of the game before release
- When using the gaming for training purposes, there exist different options. Either the game is available for registered users online, without a facilitating role of a trainer in a face-to-face setting. A fully online game must provide clear instructions, but also a debriefing which explains to the player(s) how he/she has ‘performed’ in the game, what were wrong/better/right courses of action and why etc. via an automated briefing or online facilitator. This ensures and supports the learning value of the game. When the game is used as an additional learning tool in a classroom situation, preparatory instructions and debriefing can be delivered by the facilitator
- Ralf Dörner, Stefan Göbel, Wolfgang Effelsberg, Josef Wiemeyer (Eds.). Serious Games: Foundations, Concepts and Practice. Springer.
- Gaming for Peace-GAP: D4.1. Report on Learning Outcomes for Gamification Prasolova-Førland, Fominykh and Darisiro (2013).Virtual Afghan Village as a Low -Cost Environment for Training Cultura Awareness in a Military Context.