Deutsche Bahn

"Catching" Trainees with Complex Serious Games

Jörg ProhaszkaKarlsruhe (GER)/Augsburg (GER), December 2019 - Jörg Prohaszka is convinced that learning should be fun. Prohaszka is Head of Digital Qualification at the Augsburg based Training Centre of the DB Bahnbau Gruppe, the German Railways Construction Group subsidiary. One of the Centre’s projects, "Serious Games in the Building Trade - Apprentices Turn Into Avatars", strives to stimulate the trainees’ drive to learn through the use of well-known avatars. On 30 January 2020 at 11.30, he will report on the results of this learning project at the LEARNTEC Congress.

In recent years, Deutsche Bahn has initiated and implemented a wide range of learning projects for its trainees in various professions, including "WebZubi" and "PRIME". What are the expectations associated with "Serious Games in the Building Trade - Apprentices Turn Into Avatars" and have they been fulfilled?

Jörg Prohaszka: Many of Deutsche Bahn's learning projects didn't really corral the target group, the industrial-technical apprentices. The "Serious Games" effort is geared specifically to the needs of this particular target group and reflects the trainees in their everyday working life in certain learning situations. The project’s expectation was linked to the following causal hypotheses: Industrial-technical trainees, such as the people who lay the tracks, have considerably difficulties concentrating on the acquisition and practical application of technical knowledge. Many of them find the use of traditional learning tools like textbooks and lecture notes challenging.

Today's apprentices learn differently. Complex computer games, which they often play in their leisure time, can be learned in a very short time and with almost no instruction. The game’s complex interrelationships are learned and applied quickly and intuitively. Characters and their roles, tools, and functions are grasped and internalized with extreme speed. The concept behind "Serious Games in the Building Trade" took advantage of this knowledge. The expectation that we would be able to "catch" the apprentices has been totally fulfilled.


What difference do serious games make in training compared with traditional learning programs?

Jörg Prohaszka: Based on the requirement that learning should be fun, various entertaining learning games have been created. However, identification with job-related contents was often missing. To a great extent, this is due to the fact that trades involving apprenticeships such as railway-track and building-site construction were often only chosen because the trades the applicants desired were not available or their qualifications were inadequate.

In summary, genuine interest in occupations requiring apprenticeships is usually low, and this renders the learning context even more complicated. Through the use of familiar avatars such as the trainers, vocational school teachers, or peers from other classes, "Serious Games in the Building Trade - Apprentices Turn Into Avatars" seeks to raise attention, increase the identification content, and stimulate and activate the natural urge to learn. Moreover, it also improves the apprentices’ motivation and interest in their own professional activity. Furthermore, because they are given the opportunity to participate in the creation of tasks in the game, they experience a sense of special esteem from the company. This is how we hope and expect to strengthen our employees’ bond to the company and increase our attractiveness as employers.


Do apprentices learn better, faster, more sustainably as avatars?

Jörg Prohaszka: They learn in a different way. The awareness while playing constantly connotes "I’m playing and learning here in my everyday environment. I know the figures around me, and I identify myself with them because they are like me". Learning ceases to be interpreted as an anonymous memorisation of material, but as part of life on the job.

Examination results have improved considerably since the deployment of the learning games, and interest in the occupations has increased because even complex work steps have become easier to grasp as a result of the greater attention trainees’ pay to their subjects. This, in turn, has enhanced the sustainability of the learning.


What is the duration of the project and on what does its continuation depend?

Jörg Prohaszka: The project came along so successfully that an entire department was set up in September 2019 to deal with the topic area. It is important for the games’ future that new experiences, levels, and challenges be continually integrated into them.


What were the lead times and costs involved in the implementation?

Jörg Prohaszka: Overall, the development time for the first prototype dragged on for over a year because a lot of work was done on a low priority basis. Many trainers and education specialists worked on its development by the hour or by the day and chipped in content when they had a chance. As a cost saving measure, a lot of activities were done by students working part time. Overall development costs have amounted to about 300,000 euros.