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Can a Video Game Teach Just as Well as a Professor?

A team at Hult International Business School has developed a game that offers roughly the same educational benefit as an MBA class.

The chance to learn about leadership and management from top corporate strategists is part of the business school guarantee. But what if your B-School professor could be replaced by technology, without sacrificing any educational payoff?

An experiment conducted by John Beck, Ph.D., at Hult International Business School found that a business strategy video game proved just as effective in teaching students as a professor.

Beck recruited 41 undergraduate students to take an an MBA-level course in that business strategy. Half of the group was taught by a professor. The other half spent the same amount of time playing a video game called One Day that Beck designed and developed with his consultancy, North Star Leadership Group. 

When tested on class material, both groups got the same overall score. The gamers performed slightly better than the traditional learners on the exam's multiple choice section and both groups averaged the same score on the interview portion.

There was one portion of the test in which the traditional students scored higher than the gamers: the written case study. One Day works well for teaching students how to apply fundamental concepts to a scenario, but it doesn't teach teamwork or the more complicated nuances of a situation, Hodges said. "The problem with case studies in business school is that they are always simpler than real life," he said, adding that professors can help expose students to those real world complexities in a way digital games can't. 

This was Hult's first foray into online education, said Hult President Stephen Hodges Ph.D., The experiment comes at a time when many business schools are experimenting with making their curriculum more virtual, and some find themselves competing with online degree programs. 

Hodges thinks One Day offers students the best combination of digital resources and professors. "Online programs seem to be either outdated or trying to replicate a classroom experience," said Hodges. "No one is really developing a new pedagogy that wouldn't be possible in the classroom." 

In the game, which is based on the course Beck taught at Hult, players create a business strategy for an airport based on data reports and interactions with characters that change every time a student plays, said Hodges. 

The game requires students to think independently, which is different from the group work in classrooms, said Hodges. "Students who played the game reported that they were exhausted after playing," because the game forces players to make decisions constantly.

"Do I think gaming is the sole way to complete an MBA? No," said Hodges. But games take up some of the educational burden, giving professors more time to help students refine their skills, he said. 

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