ATD Blog

Fun and Games and Learning Too

Monday, December 14, 2020

First appearing in Japan in 2007, escape rooms have grown in popularity and expanded across the globe. While we know escape rooms to be an adrenaline-boosting experience to enjoy with friends, they are now being used for learning to engage and energize participants. As Lisa Haberman writes of escape rooms in “Lock In Learning With Escape Rooms,” “In a world where we are constantly driven to grow personally and professionally, escape rooms are an effective way to introduce a concept or solidify that your training session has stuck with learners—in an enjoyable way. Learners will be able to come together—whether in person or virtually—to use their different strengths and knowledge to work through the puzzles together.”

Start With Learning Objectives

As with other learning and training initiatives it’s important to start with the fundamental question, “What is it that your learners need to know after undergoing the escape room experience?” Are you seeking to improve management skills? Make training sticky? Or perhaps increase team and trust building? Each of your learning objectives should have its own escape room activity, notes Haberman.

A second consideration is how many participants you anticipate having. A good number of participants is three to 10 so that everyone has a role and learners can collaborate. If you have a greater number of learners, consider breaking the attendees into multiple teams. A typical escape room game lasts one hour, but when planning the experience, factor in whether the escape room will be a standalone activity or part of a larger training event or conference. Remember to factor in time for an introduction to the experience as well as the time for each activity within the escape room.

Choosing a theme as well as a story will help engage learners. You may employ more traditional non-learning escape room experiences such as those with themes of art heists or escaping a locked room before a bomb is set to explode. Haberman continues, “Tied to your theme, a captivating, full story for learners enables them to connect to the event and get into character. That immersion also will bring your game to a new level of interactivity, along with the stickiness you want for your learning objectives.”

It seems logical, but ensure that you have a clear way for a team to “win” the escape room experience, whether that is by coming up with a code to unlock a box, having everyone on the team perform the necessary activities, or finding a hidden object.


Gain Buy-In

One of the most critical aspects around a training or other development initiative in addition to understanding the learning objectives is gaining buy-in of stakeholders: leaders, subject matter experts, and the learners.
Though escape rooms don’t need to cost a lot of money to create, you may get pushback from some leaders who think that fun activities don’t equate to learning. When you discuss the idea with decision makers and SMEs, have data in hand that supports how games increase mental acuity and can increase problem solving, creativity, and a team mindset.

To sell the escape room experience to learners, partner with your marketing and communications team (if that’s an option). Make sure that learners (and their managers) understand what’s in it for them. Give learners an idea of what to expect by creating intriguing messaging such as email and physical communications around the office if you’re on site.


Measure Success

Taking time to measure how successful the escape room experience was will help you improve it and provide you with further data to show leaders after the fact. You can use familiar measurement tools to do this, such as a survey or observation:

  • Ask participants, “Which of the skills you learned during the escape room do you plan to use when back on the job?”
  • Observe whether participants are engaged during the activities.
  • Query managers approximately 30 days after the escape room experience about whether they have noticed a change in learner behavior.

In closing, Haberman advises to “Design with the end in mind and have fun. Immerse yourself in the elements you’re using to set up the game and reflect to see whether each activity is something you would willingly and excitedly participate in. If so, you’ve succeeded in creating the fun, collaborative, purpose-driven atmosphere that an escape room provides.”

About the Author

Patty Gaul is a senior writer/editor for the Association for Talent Development (ATD).

1 Comment
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Great article, Patty! The TD at Work is good and you've highlighted the key areas. Thanks for reminding us of what's important.
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