(Quebec) Game-based Learning in Vocational Training: A Powerful Approach

Several examples demonstrate that incorporating games into education, even in a context where students are no longer children, can have positive impacts on learning. Our contributor, Marc Vézina from RÉCIT Vocational Training, presents some of these examples in the context of vocational training.
Marc Vezina

By Marc Vezina
Educational Consultant
RÉCIT Vocational Training

Students enrolled in vocational training (VT) are highly motivated to learn how to perform tasks related to their chosen trade, whether it involves caring for the elderly, preparing meals, or driving trucks. It’s usually what they expect. In this context, the typical flow of a lesson begins with setting the context, followed by a demonstration that students will have to reproduce, before reflecting on the knowledge acquired during the experience. 

It becomes increasingly challenging to keep them motivated when it comes to acquiring notions linked to these tasks, such as infection and contamination prevention, hygiene and food safety, or the various regulations governing transportation. However, while using a variety of pedagogical approaches and an increasing array of technological resources, VT teachers are trying to make lessons more engaging and dynamic, thereby fostering student participation. Several examples show that incorporating games into education, even when students are no longer children, can be a positive factor.

Games in distance Education

For many VT Health Services programs of study, the traditional approach is to walk students through the steps of a workbook learning textbook, as they read to acquire information and complete exercises to assess their understanding. Spencer Buttle, when he was a new teacher in the Institutional and Home Care Assistance program, didn’t want to limit himself to this model. 

For one thing, the centre where he teaches, The Anchor Academic and Vocational Centre in New Carlisle (Eastern Shores School Board), covers a vast territory. Since he had to conduct the majority of his lessons online, he was concerned about challenges related to student engagement and participation. 

Moreover, having grown up watching and enjoying game shows such as Jeopardy and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?, he naturally decided to incorporate this type of game into his lessons. “Integrating games is more fun, and it changes the perspective of a traditional class, just reading all the time”, he says.

He used templates found on the Internet, such as interactive websites and downloadable slideshows. He crafted questionnaires focused mainly on the concepts to be reviewed, inserting a few new elements to stimulate students’ curiosity and encourage them to share knowledge previously acquired in their professional or personal lives. 

By dedicating approximately thirty minutes nearly every day to these games, he observed a positive impact on student engagement and knowledge retention. He also attributes the high quality of interpersonal relationships he observed among his students to the fact that he had them play as a team. 

Transforming Competency 1 into an Exploratory Game

Most VT programs in Quebec begin with Competency 1: The Trade and the Training Process, which aims to introduce new students to the reality of their future occupation.  It also helps them understand the learning path ahead  program and clarify their career orientation. They’ll usually have to research career prospects, meet people in the trade and occupation, reflect on their aspirations, discuss professionalism, and so on. 

To this end, teachers of the Secretarial Studies program at the Centre de formation professionnelle et d’éducation des adultes de Sorel-Tracy (Centre de services scolaires de Sorel-Tracy) wanted to invigorate the roadmap provided to students by giving it the typical attributes of an exploration role-playing game. They used a municipal map as a support for the itinerary, which leads to various written or audiovisual documents to be consulted or completed. 

Non-player characters, such as the teachers’ orientation or the secretaries to be interviewed, are embodied by animated avatars created with Zepeto, a Korean content creating and sharing platform. Zepeto allows users to create a 3D character that comes to life using the voice of an original audio recording. 

Jean-François Jutras, local RÉCIT consultant at the CSS de Sorel-Tracy’s, supports teachers in the ongoing development of this project. He emphasizes the importance of personalizing the experience by associating the game presentation with each student’s school account. Everyone also receives an individualized cloud-based copy of the documents to be completed, enabling direct feedback from the teachers. Jutras adds that it’s important to also offer an authentically fun experience. “Like in Mario Bros. at the end, you have to save the princess. You can’t just say to the student, ‘click here and it’s over’,” he says. The team therefore plans to conclude the journey with a congratulatory video, which will only be accessible once all the stages of the game have been successfully completed.

The Game Doesn’t Replace the Teacher

The research of the doctoral candidate in communications and instigator of the Bad Game Arcade event, Scott DeJong of Concordia University in Montreal, focuses on various aspects of gaming in education, including the use of video games in general education (for young or adult learners). His analysis of the difference between gamification and game-based learning, and of the role of teachers in a gaming context, is particularly relevant to Vocational Training. In an article published in 2023, he explains that too many educational games attempt to replace the teacher when they should instead enable them to better fulfill their role as a facilitator.

“Good facilitation weaves the lesson and game together for reflection before, during and after play”. 

– DeJong, 2023

The teacher must therefore remain in a position to discuss the students’ interests and challenges, establish connections with previously covered concepts, and understand the game from the player-learner’s point of view.

Winning Conditions

The use of games, especially with more mature learners such as those in vocational training, is not a guarantee of learning success. It is rather the precision of the pedagogical intentions and alignment with the curriculum that matter; the fact that students are having a good time doesn’t ensure that the concepts or procedures to be understood have been assimilated. Mr. DeJong hits the nail on the head when questioning whether the intention is to “teach students or kill time”.

The Sorel-Tracy project highlights the importance of the school-team’s involvement in the appropriation of the applications and tools used to build the game. Only after considering other options and undergoing several trials and errors, were the following digital applications chosen: Jepeto, Genially, YouTube, Google Maps and MS Word. It is largely the motivation of those involved in the project and the time invested that made the Secret de secrétaire exploration game possible.

For his part, Mr Buttle points out that in education in general, but particularly in a program focused on empathy and care such as the one in which he teaches, the most important aspect is not the context, the gadgets or the resources used, but rather the quality of the relationship established between teacher and learner. “The classroom has to have a nice environment, be open, fun and active all together”.

1- In Vocational Training, each section of a program is labelled as a ”competency” and it includes a ”statement” outlining what the student should be capable of achieving, along with the ”elements” that define the various types of tasks associated with it.

2-  Gamification incorporates game elements, such as a timer or scoring, into learning activities.  Applications such as Kahoot! or Socrative serve as good examples. Game-based learning goes a step further by creating games specifically designed for learning. It even involves students in the game’s design, with the intention of aligning closely with the content to be learned and the intrinsic motivation of learners.

Useful links:


Wheel of Fortune

Who Wants to Be a Millionaire


EL V3 2 2023 Winter Cover jpg

Curious about the gamification of education? Don’t miss out on Engaged Learning‘s newest edition, focusing on integrating game elements into elementary and secondary teaching to enhance motivation and, consequently, learning. Explore the innovative strategies that are reshaping classrooms and making education an engaging adventure! Available in digital and print version.

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EngagED Learning

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