Games without frontiers

Can games technology be employed in effective training programmes? The Volvo dealer network is using a ground-breaking software engine that could finally make 3D a viable option in training applications

There’s a lot more to selling cars these days than knowing what’s under the bonnet and having the gift of the gab. Car salesmen need to be well versed in legislation such as the Data Protection and Trade Descriptions Act, as well as be fully up to speed on consumer credit laws and financial regulations.

Finding time to release staff from the forecourts to undertake the necessary training to equip them with this knowledge is a job in itself. Plus, there is the additional challenge of finding a way to engage them in what are traditionally dry subject areas for training.

The Volvo dealer network has found a way around the problem by employing the use of a ground-breaking 3D games-based learning system that can be accessed via the internet or pre-loaded onto a PC.

Bob Moore, sales development manager, Volvo Car Finance, and Anne Woodward, Selected Used Cars product manager, were the driving forces behind the initiative within Volvo. They wanted an e-lea rning solution that would educate staff in key legislation and also be flexible enough to include product training. “We’d already used web-based product training with some success,” says Woodward.

The solution, Knowledge Drive, came from a collaboration between software-based e-learning developer Caspian Learning and FIMTRAC a face-to-face training and corporate development company that specialises in the motor industry (it also handles recruitment).

Knowledge Drive is available to all 150 dealers in the Volvo network and it is targeted at all levels of staff within these dealerships, from sales administration staff to sales managers and dealer principals.

Breakdown of the course

There are five modules making up the training programme: trade descriptions, data protection, consumer credit, financial product sales and Volvo brand values. Each feature interactive 3D-based scenarios that incorporate a range of learning tasks.

Typically, a user will enter a 3D environment and meet 3D figures and/or situations along the way, designed to impart information. “At the lowest level, these virtual environments expose them to knowledge,” says Graeme Duncan, chief operating officer of Caspian Learning. “Then they are able to drill down for further knowledge.”

In the customer presentation scenario in the financial product sales training, Duncan describes how the user enters the showroom and is introduced to a customer. “They are then told some facts about the person and what they are looking for,” he says. “It’s the kind of information that any good salesperson can then use to make some assumptions.”

Next, the user picks up relevant information as they progress through the scenario and deletes anything they do not need, ultimately building an appropriate presentation for the customer.

Technology behind the programme

The use of 3D has often been cost-prohibitive for training programmes but Caspian claims to have developed a software engine that makes it more affordable. Called Qcognition, it was developed by husband and wife team Chris Brannigan and Dr Angela Owen, chief executive officer and chief intelligence officer respectively.

“We have fused two pieces of science to come up with the engine,” explains Duncan. “The first are best practices based on our learning and memory research and focus on cognitive thinking; and the second is based on interactive 3D-gaming technology. The result is an immersive learning application that ensures the desired learning outcomes and goals are achieved.”

There are four stages to Qcognition, which is basically a set of reusable templates and processes that enables Caspian to produce the 3D learning environments cost-effectively.

Built into the templates is a revision system that provides real-time mentoring and feedback to the delegate. It analyses errors made by the user and links them to feedback and revision information. To help the trainer manage the learning and measure the return on their training, a performance measurement stage is also incorporated.

“All dealer sales managers have access to the programme tool to see which staff have used and completed the programme and how well they have scored,” says Anne Woodward, who adds that targets are set within each individual dealership.

Challenges

Most of the challenges arose at the research and development stage of the product, which was around two and a half years. As well as making 3D programmes more affordable for a broader range of organisations, the technology has made it more practical for downloading and accessing over the internet using a broadband connection.

Duncan admits though that there can sometimes be a perception problem in using an interactive 3D-gaming technology for learning. “There are some sceptics out there who think games for learning is an oxymoron,” he says. “It can depend on the age range of the recipient but really there are no hurdles or issues.”

Roll-out and feedback

So far, the programme has been rolled out to more than 110 dealerships and feedback has been positive. One of those employees to have undertaken some of the modules is Alan Rennison-Rae, sales manager of Volvo dealer Mill Garages in Newcastle.

“The applications are great; they deal with quite boring areas in a way that is more interesting and engaging than other training methods,” he says. “Because you can carry out the training in short, sharp hits, the intrusion into selling activities is very little, which is another huge plus.”

Andy Strutt, sales consultant at Kastner Volvo in Exeter, also welcomes the ‘always on’ nature of the training. “We’re very busy here and it’s useful having the training there to access when you have a spare minute. It’s certainly helped us with our product knowledge and our knowledge of legislation” he says. “Typically, I’ll spend about 10 minutes on the programme at a time.”

What next?

Caspian is currently working on the next phase of the programme with Volvo, and the car company is likely to broaden use of the application.

“The programme has been a success,” says Woodward. “New elements are being added this autumn and there is scope to use the same tool in other areas of the business, too.”

Caspian has put together a guide for training and HR directors on the use of 3D-gaming technology in learning. To download your copy of the guide, visit the website at www.caspianlearning.co.uk


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