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Playing With Virtual Money: How Gamification Is Changing The World Of Business Education

With Bloomberg’s virtual trading rooms, students of finance can now experience real-world problems in the classroom—but gamification is impacting business programs across the board

Fri Dec 21 2018

So-called Generation Y may be independent, enthusiastic, and tech-savvy, but because of shorter attention spans, they’re also the hardest generation to teach, some studies have shown.

For this reason, hackathons are becoming increasingly popular at business schools—intense, product creation challenges where business students often work with coders to solve global problems in a short amount of time.

But schools are also increasingly turning to another dependable way of engaging students with learning: video games.

Gamification, a way of introducing virtual game interfaces in the classroom, is now a feature of many business programs, especially those in the field of tech or finance.

Indeed, Bloomberg work with over 100 universities to incorporate virtual trading into the classroom, helping students gain practice in financial markets. Cass Business School, Stanford Graduate School of Business, and IÉSEG School of Management use Bloomberg’s financial trading rooms as a way of teaching students on their masters in finance programs.

Gamification is creeping into other business programs too. MIT Sloan offers free online business simulations for course directors and lecturers on broader MBA and Masters programs to teach skills like entrepreneurship, decision making, and strategy.

Hands-on experience

At IÉSEG School of Management in France, Bloomberg...

l trading rooms have become a key component of their postgraduate finance programs.

“We have tried to use Bloomberg in as many different courses as possible,” explains Renaud Beaupain, academic director of the MSc in Investment Banking and Capital Markets at IÉSEG.

“And the way we incorporate Bloomberg is that the courses are taught fully in the trading room, so the theory and the application are fully integrated,” he explains. “In the lectures, we have about 50% theory and 50% participation where we apply the concepts with data.”

Bloomberg isn’t the only way that IÉSEG is integrating gamification into their business programs—they were also the first university to start using an online mediation simulator in their MBA classrooms. Students are required to play the role of a mediator in an interactive game, during which they're scored on how well their decisions fared with virtual parties.

IÉSEG are increasingly incorporating games into the learning environment as part of a school-wide strategy to make learning more involving. Loïc Plé is the director of IÉSEG’s Center for Educational & Technological Innovation, a center created in 2012 in order to facilitate the development of an online learning platform for the school. Now, the center is dedicated to tracking developments in teaching and learning, and training professors in new ways of teaching.

Loïc is clear that gamification offers an opportunity for students to engage with theory in a way that fundamentally enhances the whole learning experience.

“I would say that it’s not just a question of skills but also the way that they learn it and how much it will be imprinted in their mind,” he explains. “It’s much more involving for the students, and thanks to this involvement you can generate emotions—this is known to have a better effect on learning overall.”

READ MORE: From Fashion To Fintech: The Growing Popularity Of Hackathons At Business Schools

©Stefan Kny

Gaming as study

At Vlerick Business School, they've also found an innovative alternative to a traditional module assessment. During the Online MBA, students have two chances to play simulation games, once on the accounting core module and again at the end of their MBA as the culmination of their learning.

Maarten Van der Biest (pictured), the business unit manager of the Online MBA at Vlerick, says the game is a useful way of testing their students' knowledge.

"One of the best ways to make insights stick is to do them and try them out," he says. "We never do gamification for the gamification, but it helps to make some of the things stick, or to integrate them." 

As part of the core accounting module, students participate in FAST (Finance & Accounting Simulation Tool), a game in which students take over a company that sells speedboats, with the aim being to guide the company into profit.

"I’m very proud of it actually!" Maarten smiles. "The underlying things that we want to bring across are the more dry things like return on asset, cash flow, return on investments, which are all explained during the game."

The gamified capstone experience comes at the end of the online MBA, with IMEx (Integrated Management Exercise), a management game that takes place over seven weeks but simulates three years.

"We divide participants into groups of four or five people, and they take over a company that just went out of a crisis," Maarten explains. "Then you and your team are responsible for that company, and for every decision made during the first three years." 

Students must make decisions impacting supply chain, recruitment, marketing, and more—"all those mangement domains that you’ve learned throughout the online MBA," says Maarten.

To add a veneer of reality to the game, teams can even be fired at the end of the simulation if they haven't successfully managed their virtual company.

"It’s a unique opportunity to be in that stress but in a safe environment," adds Maarten. "Everything that happens there doesn't have consequences for the rest of their career, so that's a really valuable thing that we give them." 

Having participated in IMEx himself, Maarten knows how immersive it can be. "It can be very time consuming—you are so involved in the game that you want to do everything!" he says. "The fact you are competing against your felllow MBA participants also gives it another element of immersive gamification."

The future of teaching

A 2014 study from the University of San Francisco found that, in a controlled study of two accounting classes at a US business school, the class exposed to gamification learning actually performed better on a final assessment than the class taught through traditional lecturing methods.

Students in the gamified learning class also reported greater involvement in class and a more positive learning experience than those in the traditional class.

So, will gamification soon become a staple at business schools?

While Loïc is confident that both online and offline forms of gamified learning may be useful ways of teaching graduate business students, they do come with their challenges.

He describes gamification as “teaching without a safety net,” as professors have to deal with unexpected problems with technology, as well as the uncertainty that comes with the new learning experience.

“You might have some questions from the students that you may not have the answer to,” Loïc suggests. “There may be some questions that go beyond the course itself, and beyond the knowledge of the professor.

“The professor needs to be aware of that in advance, and they have to be able to admit that in front of the students.”

Student Reviews

Bayes Business School




On Campus

Best Journalism school in Europe

When I first stepped onto the campus of City, University of London, I knew I was in for a ride - and not just on the Tube! With its vibrant energy and an impressive repertoire of programs, City U became my home away from home. The Journalism program was kind of a big deal. Rumour was that we were the best in Europe! The lecturers were not just experts in their field; they’re practically journalistic royalty. They were invested, passionate, and had a knack for turning the most flat press release into a riveting news story. With their guidance, I’ve learned to navigate the chaotic world of media like a pro. The campus was a melting pot of every culture, being that we had such a diverse international crowd. Being in the heart of London, I had the world at my fingertips - there was always a new corner to explore, a hidden gem of a cafe to discover, or a street performer! City, University of London wasn't just a university; it was a chapter in my life story that I’ll never forget.




On Campus

Learning environment

The teacher-learner ration is manageable, giving each learner a chance to gain personal attention. It is also easier following up on the progress of a student, as the numbers per class is not large. the conducive environment for learning includes clean classes, standard desks, world class instructional facilities and the opportunity to engage lecturers even after their sessions. The team spirit at City is above board, with learners getting chance to learn both from instructors and colleagues. This is the university of choice; the place to be.




On Campus


I liked that each class had a manageable number of learners, making the professor-learner ratio favor knowledge acquisition. I also liked that study schedules were manageable, and not overwhelming. The focus on talents and gifts even within the learning environment makes it possible for learners to achieve the best of their potential, and this has worked to the advantage of those that have schooled at City, University of London




On Campus


The diversity at City University facilitates interactions and is a direction toward the unity of the world. The classes are well built to match the number and needs of all students regardless of the elements of diversity that set people apart. The use of technology in delivery makes learning even more interesting and achievable. At City University there is no distinction pegged on the issues that make people unique.




On Campus


The team of lecturers at the Uiversity are well experienced. Their level of insight and the methodologies of delivery works for the interes of the leaeners. My learning experience was largely boosted by the level of knowledge of the professors at the institution, and their passion to transfer the same to learners. I appreciate every class I attended because of the level of insight I was able to gather




On Campus

The best university I’ve been to

The campus and the people I've met have made it a wonderful experience. I was reared in a small town with a graduating class of only 88 individuals, so moving to City University was a huge adjustment for me. My dorm has more residents than my whole high school combined! I enjoy the atmosphere here, and everyone is so friendly. Outstanding academic options and a stunning campus. Really great from beginning to end. The educators genuinely love what they do, and the students are ready to learn. On or around college, there is always something to do with friends, and the social scene is particularly warm.




On Campus

Bayes Business School

As a student at City university attending Bayes Business School I would totally recommend choosing this university as the experience is exceptional with great social networking opportunities . Professors are significantly helpful, delivering with excellence and professionalism. Everyone is happy to help and make you feel welcomed in such an esteem university as City, offering exceptional development and guidance through out the course.




On Campus

Economics and Politics

Incredibly amazing university, the way they polish students and help them boost their morale and think intellectually is worthwhile. Many universities have international partnerships to allow exchanges between their students. The most obvious subjects for these opportunities would be those that involve languages, and the study of people and places.




On Campus

Clinical biology

I really like it it’s perfect for me with not too many people and not too few either. All the modules are amazing. I love the toy bar. I love all the societies that I’ma part of. Especially the colour Bollywood society