Why detecting and training Soft Skills [with commercial video games] is crucial to meet the challenges of ICT Society

“Mr Smith, your productivity has been falling during the last months. We need you to play Gran Turismo two hours a day in online races in order to overcome anxiety and also DOTA2 one hour a day to improve your team working skills”. Such that very enthusiastic way Marco Fernández has written a very fresh article on Pentavox about one of our projects called xBadges, based in the possibility of evaluating Soft Skills through the use of   ̶s̶e̶r̶i̶o̶us  commercial videogames.

When talking about Soft Skills evaluation some questions related with the definition of these skills arise, also questions about their purpose and usefulness and how to get the best from them. Let’s join us to analyze some of these questions to know how valuable the Soft Skills are and how much can impact and be beneficial in our everyday lives.

¿What are Soft Skills?

Asking to the popular mother of knowledge (wikipedia) Soft Skills are defined as the “combination of interpersonal people skills, social skills, communication skills, character traits, attitudes, career attributes, social intelligence and emotional intelligence quotients among others that enable people to effectively navigate their environment, work well with others, perform well, and achieve their goals with complementing hard skills.” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soft_skills)

Soft Skills are the skills we usually learn from nonformal learning, this is, not from the formal curriculum education but from other multiples manners which are terrific useful in our personal environnement. Here it is an example: we are hiring two jobs positions in our company, one of them is a profile who has to expend a lot of time alone taking care of information systems while the other is a profile who has to share the office with a team which have to work with tightly. We receive two CVs with two both very similar professional and academic background, almost identical. Because we do not know closely any of them we send the most sociable profile to the ‘isolated room’ to maintain the information system and the less sociable to the very populated and social space… One month after the first one is totally depressed and unmotivated and the other one is locked in the restroom with agoraphobia… 

Maybe this sounds like a very extreme situation but it is useful to clearly illustrate that Soft Skills truly exist and they influence (a lot) in the development of our professional, familiar, social… abilities and achievements.

21st- Century Soft Skills

Some educational organizations emphasize the necessity to define Soft Skills and their relationship with education and work. Australian’s PPI (The Indonesian Students Association) highlight six factors related to valuable Soft Skills needed to be developed in an educational context: knowledge and creativity, communication skills, teamwork, resilience, planning and organization, and ethics and integrity (Kyllonen, 2013, p. 6).

About the first on PPI’s list -that is Creativity- Schulz says (2008,  p. 149):

“This skill is often misinterpreted as being only useful for artists, whereas in the science or business arena only structured logical thinking should be applied. However, this perception is wrong. Applying creativity results in “thinking out of the box”, which means that given conventional rules and restrictions are left aside in order to find innovative approaches to problem solving.”

Schulz definition of this Soft Skills leads us to think about its utility, hence a new question arises…

How important are Soft Skills… specially in labour market?

Heretofore we have seen how important and useful the Soft Skills are in any aspect of our lives, however -and until now-, industrial labour market have considered just a little about them focussed almost exclusively in technical/professional abilities (Hard Skills).  How many skills did you put on the last CV you have send? Maybe just a few or even no one, so at this moment looks like there is not enough awareness of making these important skills visible.

According to Schulz (2008, p.154) even when “Soft skills fulfil an important role in shaping an individual’s personality by complementing his/her Hard Skills. However, over-emphasising it to such an extent should not taint the importance of soft skills, that hard skills, i.e. expert knowledge in certain fields, are demoted to secondary importance”, the good news is the trend is moving forward thanks to ‘behavioral science research in psychology and economics which suggests that noncognitive factors—soft skills such as motivation, work ethic, teamwork, organization, cultural awareness, and effective communication—play a role that is as important or even more important in determining success in school and in the workplace.’ (Kyllonen, 2013, p. 9).

In Anglo world considering Soft Skills so important begun in the 90s when the personality models were set by some Psychologists. Some research contributed to the knowledge about these Skills and about their importance according to five basic personality models.

Economic Literature discusses about the new concepts of human capital. “Human capital is a worker’s set of skills, broadly defined, that enhance productivity. They can be cognitive skills, abilities, knowledge, dispositions, attitudes, interests, etc.” According to Killonen “a 2012 study by Millennial Branding found “communication skills,” a “positive attitude,” being “adaptable to change,” and “teamwork skills” to be the four most important traits employers are looking for when they are hiring. Finally, seems like ‘corporate training, a $50 billion dollar industry, is concerned to a considerable extent with Soft Skills’ (2013, p. 3, 4 y 6)

Map of Soft Skills

In addition, OECD and World Economic forum are also taking part in the initiative highlighting the importance of Soft Skills in both educational and labour markets. These skills -and depending on the sector- could be different and more valuable according to the context, for that matter some skills as emotional intelligence, team working and concentration abilities could make the difference between two very similar academic and professional profiles when we are hiring, as pointed by OECD under topic What Skills are needed in the labour market?:

“All these skills are valued by employers. In surveys, employers mention a combination of some social and emotional skills, job and occupation-specific skills and cognitive skills as the most important when recruiting higher education graduates (Humburg, van der Velden and Verhagen, 2013). Empirical analyses based on employer surveys show that lack of social and emotional skills can create a strong barrier to employment, especially for low-skilled jobs (Heckman and Kautz, 2013).” (OECD, 2015, p. 22).

A 2013 report by European Commission considers the most valuable skills by employers to take decisions to hire. Within a list of hard and soft skills it is nice to see how some of the Soft Skills as “Interpersonal skills”, “Innovative/creative skills” and “Strategic/organizational skills” sum the 50% of the arguments by the employers to decide whom to be hired.  (Humburg, van der Velden, & Verhagen, 2013, p. 50-51).

We have noticed how important Soft Skills really are specially in the labour market, according to this there is a third question even more important than the previous ones.

Is it possible to evaluate and develop Soft Skills?

In our research we have found some differents models to define and evaluate Soft Skills. Some of these models are based on 80s and 90s ideas by Gardner and are called the Theory of Multiple Intelligences. This theory proposes the existence of different kind of intelligences which are susceptible of both being identified and improved:

“The Theory of Multiple Intelligences (Garder, 2005) is based in a model focussed in the role of the learner, oriented to the development of skills which all the intelligences are involved: Linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, visual-spatial, body-kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal and naturalist. All of them are susceptible of being improved within an enriched cultural environment full of stimulation and throughout systematic strategies and activities. (Del-Moral-Pérez, Guzmán-Duque, & Fernández, 2014, p. 2).

According to Hampson & Junor (2009, p. 16 and 19) it would be possible to train all these skills in different levels of development, depending on the experience and function demanded by employers. All these skills by level would be classified as follow:

  • Level One skills which involve to be able to build a base of experience through practice and reflection
  • Level Two the learner is reaching a degree of automaticity that can enable them to apply experience independently and automatically
  • Level Three skills involve being able to use a base of knowledge at a level of automatic proficiency while solving new problems
  • Level Four, creative solution enables the sharing of existing knowledge to create new solutions
  • Level Five, an expert is actively shaping solutions through systems development based on individual and collective expertise and leadership.

Besides the level of expertise in skills development, González & Wagenaar (2006, p.9) summarize these Skills according to their functional typology in 3 large groups:

  • Instrumental Skills:
    Those having an instrumental function as Cognitive, Methodological, Technological and Linguistic skills.
  • Interpersonal Skills:
    Individual abilities relating to the capacity to express one’s own feelings, critical and self-critical skills. Social skills relating to interpersonal skills or team-work or the expression of social or ethical commitment.These tend to favour processes of social interaction and of co-operation
  • Systemic Skills:
    Those skills concerning whole systems. They suppose a combination of understanding, sensibility and knowledge that allows one to see how the parts of a whole relate and come together. These capacities include the ability to plan changes so as to make improvements in whole systems and to design new systems. Systemic competences require as a base the prior acquisition of instrumental and interpersonal competences

Kyllonen says (2013, p.9) employers are seeking new methods to reduce the cost of identifying this skills through behavior interviews, in a first place trying to use communication technologies to identify the skills remotely but this method implies yet the intervention of a human interviewer hence the process is still expensive when used to evaluate massive receptions of CVs.

In Educational System the scope of Soft Skills identification is maybe more tricky than in the labour market because all these skills have not even being considered as evaluable. In most cases because there is not any standard methodology to identify and train them available for educators, who barely have enough time and resources to evaluate and train curriculum skills (the hard ones) so it would be very harmful for them to overburden a learning agenda with an additional program of Soft Skills identification in terms of time and resources needed to deal with.

As a summary it is possible and needed to evaluate and develop Soft Skills but, the issue is both not the educational system neither the labour market have found affordable and accessible methods to make it.

Evaluating and training Soft Skills with commercial videogames (xBadges Prototype)

After we have detected the demand we have started working in a model to demonstrate something we had already intuited from a long time ago: Commercial-off-the-shelf video games can be used to identify, evaluate and even to train Soft Skills and… even they already are been used for those purposes without being aware of it.

In our research about the possibilities of using evaluation systems inside and outside the learning space we meet again with Del Moral in Evaluation and design of video games: generating learning objects in communities of practice points to a list of Soft Skills developed by video games, all these skills can be measurable if we are able to develop a control system within the video games we use (Del Moral Pérez et al., 2012, p.8):

  • Psychomotricity Skills
  • Assimilation and Retention Skills.
  • Information Search and Treatment Skills.
  • Organizational Skills.
  • Creative Skills.
  • Analytical Skills.
  • Skills for Decision Making.
  • Skills for Problem Solving.
  • Metacognitive Skills.
  • Interpersonal Skills.

This research was complemented by Triplett’s thesis on how video games can help players to develop the skills needed to pilot drones. Triplett makes a list of ‘gained skills through playing the games players use today’ (2008, p.59). Among the most relevant listed skills are the following:

  • Finding sources of information outside the game
  • Memory such as working combinations of buttons
  • Processing information quickly
  • Managing inventory and resources
  • How to work with diverse cultures
  • Understanding the status of the situation
  • Making decisions in real life, learning skills of adversaries
  • Situational awareness
  • Pattern recognition
  • Rapid decision-making
  • Managing information
  • Anticipate situations, etc.

All of them are very useful Soft Skills to be applied in such different sectors, professionals and non-professionals ones.

According to Del moral (2012) and Triplett (2008) the mentioned skills are already being trained through digital simulations as popular video games are so, in case of being able to setup a cuantitative/qualitative methodology to recognize the trained skills thanks to the use of COTS video games we would work in a new Soft Skills certification scenario. In this case, we would be able to certify Soft Skills as CV Attributes. This will benefit not only to educational organizations but also to the videogame, HR, training and recruitment sectors. Thanks to this new methodology we will be able to identify which particular Soft Skills have being trained by what kind of video games and to what level of maturity, in this way we would communicate to her teachers, employers, etc. the acquisition and impact of these Soft Skills and the sector to be applied into.

All these premises were presented to be researched and prototyped as technological model in the Spanish Ministry of Industry call AEESD (Economics and Digital Society Strategic Action), the name of the project is xBadges. Fortunately our project was approved and the research and prototyping were both initiated in late 2015 until now. This research and prototyping are helping us to set a series of experiments to know if our formulated hypothesis are correct or not:

  1. Thanks to the use commercial video games is possible to develop certain Soft Skills
  2. Commercial video games used by the actual massive public are already training millions of people to acquire Soft Skills even when they are not realizing that or being parameterized in order to quantify it.
  3. It is not needed to develop certain specific games (commonly called serious games) thanks to the huge catalogue of commercial games and the big amount of Soft Skills trained by them, specially because the better appeal in terms of graphics and gameplay of commercial games and how expensive is to develop a Serious Games
  4. The commercial video games catalogue is able to be used in different sectors to cover their needs in terms of Soft Skills recognition, evaluation and development.

Some of the results have been published in Soft Skills And Video Games: Love At First Sight, an excellent article by our friend and also author of the experiment Sergio Alloza. The article is demonstrating how Persistence and Stress Control, Spatial Reasoning and Risk Taking and Adaptability are potentially measurables and also earned by training them through the use of commercial classic video games.

References

  • Del Moral Pérez, M. E., Villalustre Martínez, L., Yuste Tosina, R., & Esnaola, G. (2012). Evaluación y diseño de videojuegos: generando objetos de aprendizaje en comunidades de práctica. RED. Revista de Educación a Distancia, (33), 17.
  • Del-Moral-Pérez, M. E., Guzmán-Duque, A. P., & Fernández, L. C. (2014). Serious Games: escenarios lúdicos para el desarrollo de las inteligencias múltiples en escolares de primaria. EDUTEC, Revista Electrónica de Tecnología Educativa, (47).
  • González & Wagenaar (2006). Introduction to Tuning. Tuning Educational Structures in Europe. Lifelong Learning Programme. EU Commission.
  • Hampson I. & Junor A (2009). ‘Employability’ and the Substance of Soft Skills. University of New South Wales. Industrial Relations Research Centre.
  • Humburg, M., van der Velden, R., & Verhagen, A. (2013). The Employability of Higher Education Graduates: The Employers’ Perspective. Maastricht, The Netherlands. doi:10.2766/54258
  • Patrick C. Kyllonen (2013. Soft Skills for the Workplace. Change: The Magazine Of Higher Learning Vol. 45 , Iss. 6,2013
  • OECD. (2015). OECD Skills Outlook 2015: Youth, Skills and Employability. Paris, France: OECD Publishing. doi:10.1787/9789264234178-en
  • Schulz, B. (2008). The Importance of Soft Skills: Education beyond academic knowledge. NAWA Journal of Language and Communication, June 2008. p. 146-154
  • Triplett, J. E. (2008). The Effects of Commercial Video Game Playing: A Comparison of Skills and Abilities for the Predator UAV. Air Force Institute of Technology. Air University.

See also: